Ulster log: Enchanting true story of Boys from the Blackie stuff
Something clicked with Michael O'Hara when his grand-daughter Chloe asked him: "What was it like when you were a boy?"
So the 68-year-old sat down and wrote about his childhood years on the Falls Road, Belfast, in a paperback book called The Blackie Boys (Forty Times Around the Moon Publications) that has just been published.
The stories all feature the Blackie River - whose source was in the Divis Mountain above the city and which flowed beneath the streets - and a group of lads who grew up alongside it, led by Mick and Franky who, of course, are really the author and his brother Gerry, along with their pal Johnny Kennedy.
"That Blackie River meandered through our lives," says Michael, who also drew the illustrations. "There were no mobile phones, no cars (not in our street anyhow), no television and very little else."
In the plot Mick and Franky rule a gang of 10 mates, aged between seven and eight. And then there is Beano, who is only four-and-a-half and desperately wants to join the gang.
Need I say that this gang of 10 become best friends? It's a gem of a book - and it is not just for children.
It was launched in the Visit West Belfast offices on the Falls which used to be Michael's family home - a place that has many happy memories for him.
Here's a taste of the sort of adventures the boys enjoy:
"Race you to the river!" shouted Franky.
"Too slow!" yelled Mick, getting a head start.
They ran down the street making high pitched engine noises, pushing each other to gain poll position. Slamming on their brakes they slid to the very edge of the river bank.
"I'm the winner!" they both shouted.
A miniature avalanche of small stones, pebbles and dust cascaded down the steep slope to disturb the still, stagnant water of the Blackie River, four or five feet below them.
A long hot summer had reduced the Blackie to a feeble trickle of brackish water, that fed the pools in the deeper parts of the river.
As the water level had dropped day by day, the two boys had stepped on the exposed rocks and bricks until they knew every rusty bicycle frame, discarded pram and empty paint tin.
Why Ceara is among the top brass
Opera singer Ceara Grehan, who specialises in theatrical shows too, will be a guest on the Festival Brass bill in Belmont Presbyterian Church, Belfast next Saturday.
This Belfast School of Music graduate is in demand all over Ireland. She is remembered for her role in The King And I (as Anna Leonowens) with St Agnes’ Music Society. On the bill, too, will be the 52 children of Penrhyn Preparatory School Choir, conducted by Barbara Mawhinney. The compere will be Wilfred Pyper.
All proceeds from the evening will be divided between The Friends of the Cancer Centre (at Belfast City Hospital) and Target Ovarian Cancer.
The concert organiser is Ann Adair, whose husband Stuart is in Festival Brass.
Celebrities who bore me... and all the reasons why
I was asked by a magazine article to name half-a-dozen boring people.
So here goes: 1 Michael Parkinson — I turn the telly off when he comes on to sell insurance), 2 Piers Morgan — his big-headedness knows no bounds. I’m glad I wasn’t on the Daily Mirror when he was Editor), 3 Helen Mirren — she sometimes thinks she is the Queen), 4 actor Hugh Grant — who hates journalists but who would be nobody without Richard Curtis’ scripts, 5 Mr Speaker in the Commons John Bercow — seems to think he has a right to the post, but many MPs disagree), 6 Terry Wogan — he’s lost without his BBC Radio2 show, 7 cricketer Kevin Pietersen — lots of talent both at batting the ball and batting his teammates. Somebody explain why a South African could play for England?. Yes, that’s right — I threw an extra one in for good value.
PS: Why didn’t Prince Charles leave that teacup out of his hand before meeting Gerry Adams for that photograph?
I’m sure he wasn’t bored at the encounter, but it didn’t look too good.