[Note: Bear in mind this is just a first rough draft.]
Religion played quite a big part of my early years.
My father was a Catholic, born and raised a Catholic like most Irish. My mother however was English and had been raised in the Church of England. As was the condition of marrying a Catholic she had to convert to Catholicism and swear to raise all their children in the Catholic faith. I would describe my father’s faith as “indifferent” but my mother, as frequently happens with converts, became an ardent believer.
So I was baptised a Catholic (in Westland Row church) and was sent off to the nuns as soon as I was old enough. My mother saw to it that we all attended Mass every Sunday, usually in Terenure but occasionally in Crumlin and sometimes in Mount Argus. The line was drawn though at religious pictures in the house and we didn’t say the Rosary or Grace at mealtime. I think that was my father’s influence! He was prepared to go along with the Sunday thing but that was that.
Between my mother and the nuns I became an ardent Catholic and by the age of five I had already mapped out my life. I was going to become an Altar Boy, then a Priest, a Bishop and ultimately the Pope. When it came to religion I was ambitious. Unfortunately my plans came off the rails when I missed a chance to become an altar boy due to a dose of some illness or other. In retrospect, I had had a narrow escape.
Naturally I went through the various stages of Catholicism, having my First Holy Communion and later my Confirmation. During Lent I would be called early in the morning and my mother and I would cycle to The Manor up the road for daily morning Mass. Kimmage Manor was a huge institution belonging to the Holy Ghost Fathers and covered many acres, including their own farm (now of course all built over with housing estates). I hated those morning trips and it was the beginning of the rot for me where religion was concerned.
In those times the Catholic Church was very powerful in Ireland. They dictated most aspects of our lives and even laws had to have the approval of the Archbishop before being passed. I was taught that if I was walking along the pavement and met priests walking in the opposite direction, I had to stand in the gutter until they had passed. Living near The Manor meant I spent a lot of time in the gutter.
In secondary school I was under the strict gaze of The Brothers. They too pounded religion into us. We were basically taught two things – everything they said was true (and must never be questioned) and that everyone else was wrong and destined for hell. As well as Sunday Mass I was now subjected to monthly Benediction when each month we would all be marched from the school up to The Good Shepherd church in Churchtown. At least it was an afternoon free of lessons.
Coming up to exam time we were subjected to a new torture – Retreats.
[To be continued…]