Belfast Telegraph

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Madness star Cathal Smyth's misery over childhood bullying in Coleraine

Suggs, performs next to Chas Smash at the Glastonbury Festival 2009 in south west England. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor
Suggs, performs next to Chas Smash at the Glastonbury Festival 2009 in south west England. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

By David O'Dornan

Madness star Cathal 'Chas Smash' Smyth has revealed he quit school in Northern Ireland after being targeted by bullies as a kid.

The ska legend was 11 when his family moved to Coleraine in 1970 because of his dad's job as a petrochemicals engineer which had previously taken the Smyths to Baghdad.

Chas (60) said: "1970 was not a great year to have an English accent in Northern Ireland. It was in the midst of the Troubles.

"On shopping trips, you'd walk past soldiers with rifles at checkpoints, or you'd be passing through sandbags and barbed wire just to get into Woolworths.

"It was weird. The same shops as in London, but like being under occupation. Paramilitary graffiti on houses and walls.

"I suppose I must have had some good times there, but if I did, I can't remember any. I joined in a game of soccer once and quickly became the football.

"In cookery class, I got a pan of water poured over me. The nun said, 'Smyth, what are you doing?' I said, 'I had an accident, sister.' I couldn't grass or I'd have gotten worse."

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Chas said he stomached the abuse for a number of weeks before packing it in - and said he preferred living in Baghdad than on the banks of the Bann.

He said: "After about a month of being bullied, I told dad what was happening. He just said, 'F*** 'em, stay home.' The year before, my mum had given birth to twins, my brother Dermot and sister Bernadette. So, I stayed home and helped mum with the twins.

"Northern Ireland was a far cry from Iraq. We'd lived in Baghdad in '68, which was beautiful. At night, on the banks of the Tigris, you'd see fires where fishermen would be cooking their catch. You'd hear the call-to-prayer every morning, which I loved."

Pop group Madness (from left) Cathal Smyth, Suggs, and Daniel 'Woody' Woodgate at the Dr Martens store in London's Covent Garden to launch the limited edition 1460 boot which is embossed with the band's logo.
Pop group Madness (from left) Cathal Smyth, Suggs, and Daniel 'Woody' Woodgate at the Dr Martens store in London's Covent Garden to launch the limited edition 1460 boot which is embossed with the band's logo.

In new book Before We Was We: Madness by Madness, Chas told how he had also been picked on at his Finchley school in London before his move across the Irish Sea.

He said: "My first day there was a disaster. Mum hadn't bought me long trousers - being summer she tried to convince me that everyone would be wearing shorts. They weren't. I spent the day being wolf whistled at. I felt a right f***ing plum.

"To get home, you had to walk through a park to the bus stop. Passing by the pond that first day, I got pushed into it. I sat on the top deck of the bus going home, sodden wet, squelching and dripping water.

"I hated school. By the time I'd learned everyone's names we were on the move again - that year it was Coleraine in Northern Ireland."

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