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Author Colette Turner reflects on her childhood in new book 'Life in Lurgan'

It was an era when kids played with skipping ropes and marbles, luxuries were scarce and once a week the whole family queued to take turns getting washed in a tin bath set in front of a blazing fire.

A nostalgic look at life for working class families in the Fifties and Sixties has been captured in a touching book written by a grandmother from Lurgan.

Simply called 'Life in Lurgan', it captures Colette Turner nee Donnelly's memories growing up as the eldest of 10 children in a devout Catholic family who shared a two-up two-down terrace in the Co Armagh town's Waring Street.

Money was tight for the Donnelly family, as it was for most working class people at the time, and Colette, who says she wrote her book "from the heart", gives a sincere insight into the joys and challenges of life during her childhood.

A large part of her story is devoted to her conversion from Catholicism to being a born again Christian at the age of 21, attending the local Baptist church where her "wee granny" also later got saved.

In a town as deeply divided as Lurgan was even back then, switching religions was unheard of and a young Colette had to deal with being called a "turncoat".

Today Colette (68) is an active member of Moira Baptist Church where her husband Joe (69) is a deacon. Here she is involved in a card ministry making personalised cards for people who are ill or bereaved.

The couple who live in Lurgan have two children, Brian (49) and Joanne (36), as well as four grandchildren.

Colette's book charts details of her childhood from her birth in 1949 and moving in with her granny across the road when she was 11 as her tiny family home began to burst at the seams.

She was a pupil at St Michael's Grammar and while she could have gone on to university, she had to leave school at 16 because money was tight at home. Colette worked as a stitcher in the former Saracens Factory in Shaerf Drive and later in Grattan's supermarket which was destroyed in an incendiary attack in 1975. She then got a job in Craigavon Office Supplies before retiring because of arthritis some years ago.

Now, she devotes her time to making and selling jewellery to raise money for Christian missions and charities.

Colette says God led her to record her memories and is delighted that her book has been enjoyed by hundreds of readers including ex-pats all over the world.

She says: "I just started to think about my past and all these memories kept coming back to me about my childhood. I would get up in the middle of the night and write them down. I felt like God was telling me to write a book and I knew it would be something for the next generation who wouldn't believe how we lived.

"Bit by bit it all started coming back to me. The games we played and how tough it was for families back then. Also it was very important to me becoming a Christian. The book deals with that - the most important decision I ever made was accepting Jesus into my life.

"People love the pictures in it of the old outside toilets and tin baths and some of the toys we played with. Many people have told me it has brought back memories of their childhood which was lovely to hear.

"My daughter thanked me for writing it because it gave her an idea of where I had come from and told her things she never knew. My grandchildren couldn't believe that we had to go outside to the toilet."

In her book Colette recalls: "Times were very hard back then and work was very difficult to find. We lived basically on a day-to-day basis, feeding a family of 12 was quite a challenge. My dad, Hugh, was often out of work and sometimes he had to go to England to find employment."

It was a time when you were regarded posh if you had a TV and her childhood hours outside of school were spent playing hopscotch, football, conkers and skipping.

She writes: "We spent most of our time playing outdoors as there wouldn't have been enough room for us all indoors. We stayed out until dark and then mummy or daddy would call us in for bed."

It was a time when there was a great sense of community. She adds: "Although we were poor, everyone was in the same boat so we didn't feel any different. The front doors were always left open and neighbours would drop in and out for a wee chat. The families looked after one another and helped each other in any way they could."

Clothes and shoes were often shared and "handed down" in the street and Colette remembers cutting a piece of cardboard to put in the sole of her shoe to cover a hole.

In her two up two down, her parents slept in one bedroom with the youngest baby and the other 11 children shared the second bedroom with the four boys in one bed and the girls (there were six in total) in another, covered in coats to keep them warm.

Colette was in her teens when she met her first husband who was "from the other side of town", and shortly after their marriage, she discovered she had made a mistake. She spent some time as a single parent with her son Brian which she described as very hard years.

It was during this time she went along to the Busmen's Meeting Hall which was a Christian meeting house in Market Street in Lurgan.

It was very different from the Catholic services she had grown up with: "I was a very devout Catholic as a child and went to mass every Sunday and confessional and all the missions.

"This meeting was so different to anything I had been to before," she adds. "It wasn't a church or chapel, just a hall with rows of chairs. They sang choruses and had lovely music and they told the Gospel and how God wanted a personal relationship with us. That really spoke to me and made me think.

"I then went along to what I thought was a service in Lurgan Baptist Church, but it was a prayer meeting. People got up and prayed and this one man got up and started to pray to the Lord and it went to the depth of my soul. He was praying for people lost in their sin. I was a devout Catholic who believed in God, but I didn't have a personal relationship with Him and I realised if something did happen to me I wouldn't go to heaven.

"I waited until the meeting was over and spoke to the pastor who shared some verses with me and I asked God to come into my life. It was the most wonderful experience I have ever had in my life.

"God has been with me ever since and has brought me through lots of storms and good times. I have been so happy ever since."

Colette lost touch with her family for some months after her conversion, but continued to visit her granny every day.

She says in her book: "When my family heard that I had become a Christian they were not impressed that I was now going to a Protestant church. They didn't understand the situation and thought I had just changed religions. Some people called me a turncoat.

"My aunt reported me to a priest hoping that I would be admonished - but the priest said 'don't worry it will all work out'."

She also met her husband Joe through the church and the couple married in 1974. Shortly before the wedding Colette decided to visit her family home. She was understandably apprehensive as it was the first time she had been to see them in many months.

She recalls the event in her book: "I didn't know what kind of reception I would receive. When Joe, Brian and I arrived at the house and greeted each other, it as though we had never been apart. Mammy and my family were so pleased to see the three of us."

Sadly shortly after that visit, she heard her mother Faye had cancer and tragically passed away a month after Colette and Joe's wedding in November 1974, aged just 51.

Colette has recently had her book reprinted and it is available for £3 in a number of local shops in Lurgan and Dollingstown, and can also be bought on eBay.

The price is going to cover printing costs after which any profits will be donated to charity.

She adds: "People have been so generous.

"I've been blessed to be able to share my story and I just hope people will enjoy it."

  • Life in Lurgan by Colette Turner, is priced £3 and is available from local bookshops and eBay. Some proceeds will be donated to charity


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