My father Mal, was the greatest and most powerful influence on me as a child. Things he instilled in me would have a lasting and profound effect on my life. Although I didn’t realize it as it was happening, his influence has guided my footsteps subconsciously, and still does, even from beyond this earthly realm. He grew up in a small village in Ireland called Crossmaglen, County Armagh and Armagh city has the unique distinction of being the Ecclesiastical capital of Ireland and has two Cathedrals. It is also known fondly as the orchard county, so named for the profusion of fruit trees grown there. My father had twin brothers and two sisters. I was named after one of his brothers, Anthony, who died tragically at age 13. He and some of his friends were playing a dangerous game where they would leap from rooftop to rooftop. Anthony fell between two houses and landed in the space between, dying immediately.
In my fathers’ time Crossmaglen had a population of perhaps one thousand and sat, just a mile inside the imaginary borderline drawn on the map by the British authorities after the civil war ended in 1922. This line was etched on the map with cold, calculated precision to ensure that the population within its bounds remained protestant by majority. This would ensure a loyalist vote in favor of the Unionist party who had sworn their allegiance to the English crown. The British forces occupied Crossmaglen from the moment the border was drawn as they were convinced that the inhabitants were anti British rule.It had then and indeed still has, a reputation for being a hotbed of rebelliousness and complete dismissal of British authority.
Mal was not an overly voluble man. He was reserved in his way of speaking yet he managed to instill in me tacitly, all of the fundamental qualities that he believed I would need in life. He led by example. He showed me. He seemed to know things instinctively and had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. He believed that it was the duty of every man to pass on all positive knowledge to everyone. Holding it back and keeping it to yourself, he believed, was self-centeredness and tantamount to disaster. He took things apart to understand better, how they worked and amazingly, could re-assemble them perfectly without the aid of manuals. Whether it was a clock that he felt ticked slower than it should or a motor bike that he felt was not quite right, it mattered little to him.
When we got our first television set, it too could not escape his ever curious mind. Convinced always that he could improve the reception, it was not unusual to find him up on the roof adjusting and re-adjusting the antenna. He was undaunted. He detested naysayers and the word impossible and was adamant that the word was only used by complainers and defeatists. A favorite expression of his was, “Nothing is impossible! If you let Impossible into your life, you will most assuredly die with regrets!”
Photo of Dunluce Castle licensed from Istockphoto LP.