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I certainly thought my prospects were improving when I met a lovely young Protestant woman from Rathcoole, but sadly the Troubles put paid to that

By Malachi O'Doherty

I remember Sunday afternoons when I was 16, wrapped round my girlfriend on the grass in the Falls Park, snogging relentlessly for hours and yet going no further, my wrist getting slapped when the hand ventured further than was allowed, and yet she never eased up on munching my face as vigorously as I munched hers.

That seemed the only sex before marriage I was likely to be treated to. Jimmy Nesbitt knew Catholic girls who would go further on a Friday night, before confession the following day, where the priest could erase the sin of her indulging him.

My sense is that girls who were as diligent in their faith as to be going to confession at all in their late teens were unlikely to want to have to tell a priest what they had done with the likes of Jimmy.

I certainly thought my prospects were opening up when I met a lovely young Protestant woman from Rathcoole at the Astor. And they were. There were sofas in corners provided for couples who wanted to take the grapple beyond the slow dance we called smooching, and I was surprised to find myself on one of them, before long, getting my first love bite.

I certainly thought, at first, that her being a Protestant made her more amenable, but some of her friends were Catholic and in the friendships that developed out of that relationship in the summer of '69, one could not have said that those of one denomination or the other were more or less keen on deep physical intimacy. Girls in both communities were more interested in boys who were not the ones they had grown up near, the ones they had known as snotty brats, the ones who could betray secrets to mutual friends and neighbours.

After the first gunshots my trips to Rathcoole diminished.

One tragedy of the Troubles was that we were immobilised and confined among our neighbours.

The loss was not just of sexual opportunity but of a whole sense that the city was larger and more open.

We lost for years the chance to find out that we are not so different.

And no doubt the girl I had snogged so long on the park went on to meet another boy who saw rather more of her.

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