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Dear diary... how a record of teen life in 80s changed NI woman's life


Diary: Bronagh McAtasney’s Twitter account has attracted thousands of followers

Diary: Bronagh McAtasney’s Twitter account has attracted thousands of followers

Diary: Bronagh McAtasney’s Twitter account has attracted thousands of followers

A Twitter account in which a Northern Ireland woman in her 50s has shared excerpts from her diary as a 13-year-old over the past few years has amassed thousands of followers and changed the creator's life.

Bronagh McAtasney (53) received a pocket-sized page-per-day 1981 diary for Christmas in 1980.

In 2013, she decided to start sharing entries as @NrnIrnGirl1981.

Ms McAtasney said the attention given to the account gave her the impetus to quit her job and go to university, thanks to the support she received.

"I was working as a secretary and through a women's network group I got a coach," she explained.

"I'd been doing a lot of work through the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) on women's diaries.

"I quit my job and went and did an MA in Public History at Queen's University and I now work for Northern Ireland Screen doing their 1960s' TV archive. It's a great job and I watch films from the 60s all day.

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"That's completely and totally because of the diary - it's opened so many doors for me.

"There was also a song written about it by Matt McGinn, who is based in Hilltown, called Bubblegum."

In the diary, Ms McAtasney is living in Newry with her parents, brother John and sister Ethna after moving from Holywood, Co Down at the age of 11.

Her entries are largely about school as an Our Lady's Grammar pupil, Mass and music, in between band practice and the famous ones she follows.

The Troubles are mentioned but almost as an afterthought.

Ms McAtasney said it fits in with how teenagers' minds sometimes operate.

"For me, the resounding thing out of Derry Girls was that when the big stuff was happening, the girls were off being normal teenagers because that's what they do," she said.

"Everything that was happening to me was as important as what was happening in the outside world."

Boys also feature, some of whom she still knows.

"Desmond, who sent me a Valentine's card is now my parish priest," she revealed.

"He's lovely about it and thinks it's great craic.

"I try to check with people before I tweet and I don't put in names if someone doesn't look good because it's not fair."

The diary account is so popular because it is universal, Ms McAtasney said.

Ms McAtasney also tweets from @NrnIrnBoy1981 as her brother John, who also kept a "very grumpy" diary from the same year.

In one entry, he wrote about giving himself a disastrous haircut.

"They're the kind of things every family has," she said.

"Lots of people kept diaries and some people think theirs is really boring, even though it's not - but not everybody has to put it all out there."

The account has gained some famous followers in recent years, including the author, music journalist and broadcaster Peter Paphides.

It occasionally gets a surge of interest, said Ms McAtasney.

"It goes through phases - every time someone retweets it, it gets going again," she said. "Even though it's only one year and I repeat it, that doesn't seem to matter."

She never kept a diary again after that year.

"Once I turned 15 there was too much craic," she said, adding she doesn't always feel like the same person who penned those words 40 years ago.

She explained that is "because of a combination of things, like growing up and maturing around things like the hunger strike".

"Now with hindsight I think I could have gone either way," she said.

"There's still a bit of me and I do read it and can remember what I felt like.

"I feel lucky because not everyone has that."

Belfast Telegraph

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