Ann Allan: Memories No 4

6EF6D1FC-1FBD-4CF7-B59A-C5B51DC4E7C2As I entered the sixties life was changing. I was still too young to appreciate how much. I still didn’t know where babies came from even though at eleven there was another addition to the family when my brother was born. My dad took us out for a drive and by the time we got home he had arrived. This ignorance lasted until I was almost fourteen when a precocious friend who was much mature than the rest of us informed us in great detail how babies were conceived. We reacted with disbelief. There was no way my parents indulged in such gross behaviour. However that turned out not to be true when my only sister arrived when I was thirteen.

The following year my maternal grandmother passed away. I was heart broken. I 9E61CFFA-A639-4464-9638-0F321CC164F7loved her and as a child spent time in her home in Camlough. She had been a widow 5F399CD2-8662-4CF5-8815-4FA5DCE056BFfor twenty odd years. When she died it was my first loss of someone close to me and I was horrified by the whole funeral and burial thing. Similarly my paternal grandmother was a widow and as a result I never knew either of my grandfathers. It seemed normal in those days and I’m just so glad that my grandchildren have known all four grandparents.

I had been at grammar school for almost two years at this time. I went to Our Lady’s grammar school in Newry having passed the eleven plus. It was a bus journey to get there and meant an early start in order to catch the bus to Newry.  I became friends with an English girl from Liverpool who had come to live over here.  We are still friends 54 years later. Together we got into a lot of mischief. We were both rebellious and didn’t appreciate being told what to do. She was the first to have her ears DBE97F56-7862-4B69-9575-9ACA0D03CBA3pierced and the first to go for a geometric Mary Quant hairstyle. Despite both of us being intelligent we were not studious so tended never to make it to the top of the class. However I excelled at debates and  any occasions where I could argue against the status quo. I also had a vivid imagination and my essays were always interesting to say the least.

In 1962 we had the Cuban crisis. Being taught by nuns the rosary beads were produced and we sat at our desks waiting for… Well I’m not sure what, but it was frightening as the world was holding its breath unsure also as to what was going to happen. Luckily Russia backed down and we all breathed a sigh of relief.11D2125B-02B9-4F6E-81D6-A606441445BF
I disliked most things about school and had little respect for many of the teachers. Our history teacher smelt of alcohol, our French teacher spent her time talking about golf and most were anything but inspiring. The one exception was the English teacher who awakened my interest in literature. She spoke with passion and talked to us as if we were adults and not children.

I scraped though junior certificate with average marks and no one was surprised. In fact the principal wrote on my results ‘Eh bien ma chere’ Most of my studying was done with a copy of Jackie hidden beneath my books. Jackie having replaced Bunty and Judy as my must have magazine.
When I was fourteen, for the third time, in my life I almost said good bye to this world.  Walking with a friend at a local bathing place, called the slope, we decided to walk along a ledge during a full tide. As it was winter time I was wearing a heavy tweed coat. The tweed coat had been specially made by a Mrs Heidi who had a craft shop in the village. Halfway along the ledge I slipped and went into the water up to my neck. My friend tried to pull me from the water. However the tweed coat was now twice the weight and pulling me down. I was out of my depth, couldn’t swim and the water was freezing. All I could think of was that my mother was going to kill me for ruining the expensive coat. I grimly held on to the ledge as my friend pulled and hauled. Luckily a passer by glanced over the wall and quickly rushed to our assistance. Back on terra firma I had one of the longest walks of my life as I headed home, water dripping from everywhere. The coat had stretched so much with the water it was now around my feet. I do remember being told off but think there was much relief that things hadn’t been worse so the coat wasn’t mentioned but I think it needed altered as it was now much too long.

Busses played a huge part in my social life in the early sixties. I took a bus to and from school. That was where romance blossomed as all schools in the area used the same busses. It took at least half an hour to get to Newry and we picked up all the students in Warrenpoint on our way. Some of the busses came from Kilkeel. Childhood romances began and ended on the busses. When I was twelve my mum found a diary in which I had written ‘Terry has been my boyfriend for six months’.  I was banned from seeing Terry and poor Terry was warned off by my dad. Another young man who had a huge crush was only able to show his affection by teasing me and pulling my hair. We are still friends fifty years later.

When I was fourteen I got my first summer job working in a Warrenpoint chemist. I got paid £3 per week and I loved it. I couldn’t wait to get into work in the mornings. Ten o’clock was tea time and my job was to pick the pastries from the bakery next store. How I loved that. I worked along side a real character, Uncle Charlie, as he was known to everyone. On one occasion a customer came into the shop asking for a packet of Durex. I hadn’t a clue what that was but as was the practice I headed for the drawer marked D ( it was a simple system in those days ). Unable to find it I shouted the length of the shop. ‘ Charlie, where do we keep the Durex?’  Any chatter in the shop stopped. I watched as Charlie told the now hugely embarrassed customer that we did not stock her requirements. This was followed by an even more embarrassed Charlie explaining to me that as this was a catholic shop we did not sell Durex or for that matter did we stock the pill. I went to my precocious friend who furthered my sex education with an explanation as to what a condom was. I was beginning to wonder if this sex thing sounded worth the effort.
After 6 weeks I headed for Belfast with my best friend and blew my wages in C&A ‘s. I remember one of my purchases was a pink sponge petticoat. This was worn under a skirt to make it stick out. Made a change from the liberty bodice and the scapular.  Not sure that was a good buy. It was uncomfortable to sit on, extremely warm and impossible to wash. Twist dresses were also in fashion as were reefer jackets. But fashion was about to change and Mary Quant was influencing the change. The Beatles were influencing the pop charts. Every Sunday we recorded Pick of the

imagePops on a large tape recorder that used large tapes and then played them over and over till my dad said ‘no more’ My friend had a record player and we bought our first single together. It was I think three shillings and four pence and it was Peter and Gordon’s ‘ Please lock me away’

Boys were becoming more interesting and much of our conversation was about the latest loves in our lives. Summers were spent hanging out on the roof of the baths at Warrenpoint.  Radio Caroline played in the background as we sun bathed and enjoyed the banter. No drinks, no drugs but I hate to admit it a lot of smoking. We were unaware of the danger back in the sixties and we felt very sophisticated as we puffed on our Gold Leaf. 84BB3E8E-3AEE-4F21-9DB7-AD1301A324C5

We had our own local pop group in Warrenpoint in the sixties. The T- Set who managed to play as a warm up to Dave Dee, Dozy. Beaky, Mick and Tich when they played in Banbridge.


  • Summer was over. Time to go back to school.

Ann Allan: Memories Part Two Growing up in Rostrevor.

24966197-8745-4797-8CDE-81CC82F7068F.jpegIn 1950 George VI was on the throne. Northern Ireland was governed by Unionists under the leadership of Lord Brookeborough.

We never discussed politics at home or at least not in front of the children so we were oblivious to the nuances of the time. Until the attack at the bus depot, which I reckon was in 1956, we didn’t know EF2D5198-F1FB-4FF1-B98A-91C55153FD02what was going on in Northern Ireland politics. We were, I think what is now referred to as Castle Catholics. We were happy with the status quo but others around us were awakening to the fact that there was a need for change. Lord Brookeborough had in 1950 been Prime Minister for nearly 20 years. The explosion at the bus depot was the start of a bombing campaign along the border. I remember being in bed and hearing the loud explosion. The lights dimmed and we were all very frightened. However, the campaign fizzled out and for many years things remained calm, until a young preacher called Paisley appeared on the scene. He formed the Free Presbyterian church in 1951 and his sermons mostly focused on his contempt of Roman Catholicism and homosexuality. He didn’t get involved in politics until the late fifties, but he was to feature in the instability of Northern Ireland through the thirty years of the troubles.

The G.A.A. was an integral part of life growing up in Rostrevor.  Weekly football matches provided entertainment. My dad was a staunch GAA supporter and I accompanied him with my brothers to matches in Croke Park. I was there, when in 1961, Down won the all Ireland championship and brought the Sam Maguire Cup across the border. I remember waiting in Newry for the bus returning with the team and the cup. Unfortunately my interest in sport waned from then on but my dad and my brothers were staunch Down supporters. I was unaware of the fact that Gaelic football was a sport confined to the catholic community until I was a lot older.

I was actually very lucky being born in 1949. The war now over, the Labour F41BC61C-9BBD-40A5-AA46-D94EE31CBBD5government, with the vision of Aneurin Bevan introduced the National Health Service. The welfare state was introduced in the UK in 1948 and my siblings and I were able to enjoy the benefits of free education. Those, living in the United Kingdom, were now able to avail of free health care, from the cradle to the grave. With free education the way was open for those who wanted to better themselves and to challenge those who had held the majority of power at Stormont for almost 40 years. Unfortunately that didn’t work out to well and it was nearly thirty years before the Good Friday agreement was put in place guaranteeing equality for all citizens of Northern Ireland. However that agreement has stumbled along half heartedly and as a result has come to a stalemate and we are back to the pre 1998 days.

I had to avail of the  health service earlier than I would have wanted, when at age of seven, I was rushed to hospital with a septic appendix. I knew even at age seven I was seriously ill when a priest appeared at my bedside and administered the last rites. Never thought much of the Catholic Church after that. My opinion would be justified in years to come. What were they thinking? Frightening a seven-year old!  Unlike today, when most patients are discharged within twenty-four hours, I remained in hospital for two weeks, followed by bed rest for another two weeks at home. Visiting hours were extremely strict. I remember to this day feeling that while in hospital I had been abandoned by my parents and refusing to 063997B6-9278-4E01-9EE9-6DB30B970CF0speak to them when they did visit. Thankfully visiting restrictions were lifted or at least relaxed which made my second stay in hospital at the age of ten less traumatic. The local doctor called quite often during my convalescence and the district nurse called every day and administered intravenous antibiotics. Due to some misunderstanding the district nurse didn’t stop after two weeks and I received the injections for nearly a month.

My dad was the local town surveyor and many times I accompanied him while he worked. I often went with him to a water source at Kilfeaghan. A trek by car up the side of the mountain and then across a river. Then a long walk to make sure that the good people of Warrenpoint were not having any water problems. Well, with their drinking water anyway. At the top, in a ramshackle cottage lived a farmer called Dan White. He lived there through all weathers with his collie. He grew potatoes in the clean mountain soil. We left with bags of them and they were delicious, boiled in their skins and eaten with a knob of butter nothing like them in the shops today. He would walk into Rostrevor to do his shopping, carrying a large stick and with a large rucksack over his shoulder. His collie dog by his side. He smelt of burning wood from the fire in his cottage. I recently discovered that Dan’s cottage has been renovated and can now be rented out. A beautiful location for a holiday.

Check out Dan White’s Cottage on Facebook or at CA6ACC3F-ACEF-4F70-B275-649F270AA8BE

We also had two lovely district nurses in Rostrevor in the fifties. One was my aunt, who sadly died from Motor Neurone Disease in the sixties but while she was able they used to take us girls from the local area on outings to a cottage beside Dans. We had picnics, played games and enjoyed the mountain air. A makeshift swing hung from one of the trees and many happy hours were spent swinging and pushing others.  I dread to think how many of us piled into the cars that took us there. It was also867267BF-0DA7-4A18-8A66-FCB45B992F9E my first introduction to an outside chemical toilet. After using it for the first time it became the practice to go before I came out or wait until I got home.

While on the mountain with my dad he used to scare us by telling us about an American plane that crashed in a bog on the mountain. He told us that their ghosts roamed the area and we had better watch out. It was very quiet up there and we were very gullible. It was also extremely marshy and I can remember many heart stopping moments when my wellies sunk into the bog. In later years I did learn that there was some truth in this and that an American plane had indeed crashed in the Mournes, only closer to Annalong. It was beautiful up there and we loved the feeling of freedom. 8ED7D9BB-8B35-4A20-BDD3-F5E8FFF678DD

Being the eldest in the family I tended to accompany my dad quite a bit and one of our trips during the period of rationing in Northern Ireland was to cross the Lough in a small boat to a ‘pop up shop’  opposite Narrow Water. There we could buy sugar, butter and other rationed items. I think my dad bought cigarettes although he wasn’t a big smoker but he did enjoy a cigar on a special occasion. There were no customs to check on the purchases unlike when we crossed the land border. Another crossing was from Warrenpoint to Omeath but that was usual for an afternoon out and a visit to cousins who had a pub and a hotel there. My cousins owned the Park Hotel and I remember spending a week there. Not exactly the Costa Brava but it was a change. We could look across the Lough and see home.  A fact that may not be well-known is that Padraig Pearse drafted the 1916 Proclamation while a teacher at the local Irish College, now the Park Hotel.

I also accompanied my father on a survey of the outlying districts of the area one summer in 1956 /57. We visited tiny little cottages where peat fires were lit in the kitchen and the lady of the house wore a long black dress with a shawl.  Chickens wandered in and out of the kitchens, there was no electricity and the toilet was an outhouse at the back. Coming from ‘the village’ I was amazed at the living conditions not realising how hard life was for them as they tried to make a living from the land.  The lanes and fields round these cottages smelt of wild flowers and on a sunny mikadohow_kettle_workssummer’s day it was idyllic. We brought a Volcano kettle with us and dad made us tea and we ate mikado biscuits.. Some things don’t change. You can still buy both the mikado biscuits and the Volcano kettle.

There were here many religious rituals in Rostrevor in the fifties and sixties.  Palm Sunday and we paraded with pieces of palm supposedly brought from the Holy Land. Corpus Christi, when there was a procession through the village to the Convent of the Apostles. Holy Thursday when I think we scattered petals. Christmas when we sang in the choir. We sang the mass in Latin in four parts and it was wonderful. After tea every evening we would be called by my dad to say the rosary. My brothers and I would kneel behind the couch were my dad couldn’t see us and we would giggle and carry on until he realised what was going on.

In November we had ‘devotion’ every night in the local chapel and many nights I walked home on my own. On one occasion in November I was on my way home when someone rushed out of a shop visibly distressed. President Kennedy has been shot, they shouted. I was terrified. Did the Russians shoot him? This was, after all, the time of the Cold War. Did this mean war? By the time I reached home he was dead. My father had tears in his eyes as we clambered around the television  soaking up any news that BF531899-EB36-43D0-9C91-9E2B0E0B9164would mean that the assassination wasn’t going to result in a war. The following days were tense until it was established that on the face of it the Russians weren’t involved.

I remember life in the fifties as colourless. Everything was painted brown or green. The floors were covered in oilcloth. Everything symbolised the austerity of the time. Furniture was heavy and dreary, no bright colours. No Ikea in those days.   Rationing was still in force and Britain was recovering from the war. Flower power, the Beatles, Hippies, Mods and rockers were yet to influence us.

Out of the Adoption Box by Anon.

“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage – to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness”.

– Alex Haley

I entered this world in late 1971, born to a single mother in her early twenties. I was given up for adoption and placed with my adoptive parents in early 1972. I don’t remember at what age I was told that I was adopted but I do remember being read a story from a book that was used at that time for adoptive parents. The book was used to explain to adopted children why they were “chosen”, “special” etc and how they as a family all lived “happily ever after…”

My family consists of my mother, father and an older brother and sister who were also adopted. The three of us were from different birth mothers.

During my childhood I was made to feel different because my family members bore no physical resemblance to one another. When out and about meeting new people we were constantly reminded of this. People would say things like ” oh, you couldn’t be related, sure you don’t look alike…” These comments continued through primary and grammar school and my sister and I were told the same by friends and teachers. Consequently, from quite a young age I felt “different” and was always embarrassed that we stood out so much as a family.

Apart from that, I would describe my early childhood as happy enough, doing the normal things that children do with their families and friends. Thinking of my natural mother is not something that I remember during those early years.
As I grew into adolescence and early adulthood, I started thinking about my natural mother more and more. She was always on my mind. Every birthday and at various times over the following years I would go through periods of wanting to find her. I would often picture our reunion in my head and what it would be like for both of us. Equally, there were a lot of times when I was angry with her and wondered why I would want to meet her when she had given me away. Surely if she really wanted to keep me she would have found a way.

The main reasons that hold adoptee adults back from finding their natural mother is the fear of rejection again and that in most cases she will have married and have had a family.  Chances are they may never told anyone about you,  although, their parents and siblings would have been told at the time of pregnancy. As a result, you think that they are not going to want you upsetting their lives. The other big factor is the huge guilt that you bear for your adoptive parents. These two people have given you everything in life and yet deep in your heart all you want is your “mummy”.

Four years ago aged 39, I reached the stage where I had a real desire to make contact with my natural mother. My identity and heritage started to mean more to me, which I think is probably something that comes with getting older. I also needed to know if there was any medical conditions of a genetically inherited nature that I should know about.
I made contact with Social Services, found out my mother’s name, age at birth, where she had come from and where I was born. This was the only information that I was given.

Deciding what to do caused me huge anxiety. I had all sorts of thoughts going through my head, I was afraid of upsetting my birth mother’s life and also that of my adoptive parents. I knew that if I found my birth mother and all went well, than my relationship with my parents would never be the same again and they could be deeply hurt. I had also read about cases where adoptee adults had got in touch with their natural mother only to find out several months down the line that they didn’t connect and didn’t want to keep in touch. Added to this was the fact that my sister had not had a successful reunion with her birth mother who rejected her again. My brother was in a similar situation. After a lot of thought I felt that perhaps this was something that for all concerned was best left in a “box” unopened.

However, I knew this wasn’t really what I wanted so I continued to look for her on and off through Internet searches. I was hoping to find even a photograph. On my last birthday I looked her up again on the Internet only to find her obituary. You can imagine the distress and upset this caused me. The final realisation that I would never get to meet my mummy opened up the “box” that I had kept all my feelings in for a long number of years. This has resulted in me needing counselling and medication to help me cope emotionally with the huge loss. In fact I have suffered from mild depression for a number of years, which I now realise, has been linked to my adoption. Because of the stigma of mental illness I have never talked to anyone about this except my husband. I just battled on keeping it in its “box”.

You see, for me as an adoptee adult, it is not only the loss of never having had the mummy that I should have had, but of a whole life with the extended family with whom I should have been brought up. People who I would have looked like, shared personality with, shared mannerisms, had things in common with, all those simple things that “normal” families take for granted. I am left at 43 years of age with adoptive parents who whilst they raised me very well and have always loved me, I do not feel a connection. Through counselling I understand that there would be no connection, as such, because I am not theirs in that sense and so therefore can’t have any of their personality etc. It has also been explained to me that it is a bit of a lottery as to who adopts you and what type of people they are. There are people who are adopted and have a very happy life with their adoptive parents and never feel the need to look for their natural mother. We are not a close family and have never been, though my parents would think we are. I did try over the years to do things with my adoptive mother but gave up about ten years ago because we have  nothing in common and we are completely different people. For many years now my biggest regret is the loss of having a lovely Mum that I could go for coffee with, have a day out at a spa, go shopping and have fun, like lots of other mother/daughter relationships. That includes my own relationship with my daughter. I appreciate that there may be people reading this who have their natural mums and don’t get on with them, but at least they are your mums, I never got that chance.

I will be forever grateful to my parents for all they have done for me. However my adoption was never right and should never have happened simply because my mummy became pregnant at a time when it was frowned upon by the Catholic Church.

I do support adoption in cases were people are not fit to raise children or where they have been abused. However my mummy would have been perfectly able. It was just in those days it was an embarrassment to families for their daughters to be pregnant. This makes the whole thing so sad. I am happy that in modern adoptions there is a link maintained in some form with the natural mother.

On a happier note, I have now been reunited with my natural Aunt who is the most amazing person to come into my life and we connected immediately. They are, as a family, extremely sorry for what happened and acknowledge that my adoption should never have happened. I have found out lots of things about my mummy, my grandparents and extended family. I have an album of the most beautiful photographs of her and most special of all is that I have some of her jewellery and several handwritten letters. My mummy wrote these at the time of the adoption when she was trying so hard to find ways of keeping me. I have also met a cousin, his wife and children and there are plans to meet other uncles and cousins over the Spring/Summer. It is so good to finally see someone who I resemble and my daughter who will soon be twenty-five is very like my mummy. It is wonderful to finally know my heritage and for my daughter and some day my grandchildren to know theirs. I can now be who I am. What I find so sad is that my mummy did go on to marry but had no more children. I can’t imagine how she got through her life living with the fact that her only child had to be given up for adoption simply because it was an embarrassment.

What I want to say to any adoptee adults out there like myself is: Please, if you want to find your mummy stop thinking and worrying about it and just do it now. Please stop feeling guilty about your adoptive parents. Don’t feel that you are doing something wrong in hurting them. Put yourself first because this was never your fault. I can’t promise that it will be a happy reunion but at least you will have tried. My failure to do so will be the biggest regret of my life and I am struggling to come to terms with that.

To anyone who is judging me because of my feelings towards my adoptive parents, I would say it’s not as simple as two people raising you and loving you all your life. Remember they chose to adopt and always knew that their children had a heritage of their own and some day would want to find their natural families. We have a right and a need to do so. My parents are not the type who ever talked about the adoption, nor did they actively encourage us later in life to find our natural mothers. I understand this is because of their fear of loss but I feel this is selfish on their part. Please think how you would feel if you had been sent off to another family. Babies deserve to be brought up by their mummy.

And finally to any families who have fallen out. Life’s too short. Make amends and be thankful that you all have each other. What I would give to have had the family in my life that I should have had.

Name has being withheld to protect families involved. For help and advice contact: