I teach the kids in the gym to be tolerant and to walk away from trouble. Tit-for-tat retaliation achieves nothing but destruction for everyone involved.
When I was 15 I worked in a woodwork factory called Cramptons in Dublin with an old IRA fella called Frank Teeling. He knew my father well, they both kept pigeons, but they were opposites. My father was pro-English and Frank was Irish Republican.
In 1920, during the Civil War Frank shot a British secret service man in the head. The same day the IRA killed 12 British agents and only Frank was caught. He was sentenced to death but the IRA sprung him from Kilmainham gaol in Dublin and he disappeared for many years.
I spent a lot of time talking to Frank. One day, I said to him, ‘Frank when you shot the British secret service man, how did you feel? Nothing, he said, it was a job. The English controlled our country for 800 years. If the Irish had controlled the English, what would they have done? I had orders to shoot them and I shot them.
‘But what about you being a Catholic?’ I said.
‘Well, don’t forget the national religion then was the Church of Ireland and Protestant. We were going to change all that. We got orders to shoot people, we went out and shot ’em and that was it,’ he said.
The same afternoon the Royal Irish Constabulary Force, went up to a Gaelic football match in Croke Park in Dublin and opened fire on the players and the crowd, 14 were killed and many more injured. It’s known as Bloody Sunday.
During the 1980s, my house in Wincobank was raided many times by the police because I was reported as an IRA sympathiser. When I was out and the police heard my Irish accent, I’d be stopped and searched. Now, I wasn’t happy about it, but I understood why I was under suspicion. And don’t forget, I didn’t want to get blown up either.
It’s now 10 years since the IRA laid down their arms. The Queen walking out on the hallowed nationalist turf at Croke Park represented the once unimaginable becoming the norm.
What I have realised over the years is that even when a situation seems impossible to resolve, if the desire is great enough, it can be achieved.