"...stories birling through my mind..."
A literary journey
Nostalgic Irish prose
Irish culture & folklore
Ulster-Scots short stories
"...stories birling through my mind..."
The Bully up the Brae
I went to Moyle Primary School. It was the best school in Larne. It was the best school in County Antrim. It was the best school in Northern Ireland. It was the best school in Europe. It was the best school on earth. It was the best school in the universe.
It was wile good.
I liked Moyle Primary School, but on my first day, there were girls and boys who were crying to go home. What did they have to cry about? There were fat, juicy pencils, the likes of which I’d never seen at home. There were trays with coloured cubes that made me feel so happy that my tummy got a wee bit fluttery. There were easels with big, white pages. They were the widest, shiniest pages I’d ever seen. I wanted to dip a brush into a big blob of blue paint and make a line of sky.
That was Miss McBride. She said children instead of weans. She had black hair and a lovely, long skirt that matched her scarf. She had a wile nice smile when she was happy, but when she was cross, she would say, ‘Now children. Don’t be naughty!’
We learned to read and write at Moyle Primary School. The teachers were smart, but they didnae understand the local language.
I would say to my p2 teacher, ‘I cannae spell that.’
She would say to me, ‘You mean you can’t spell that, Angeline.’
I would say, ‘Aye.’
She would say, ‘You mean yes.’
I would say, ‘Mm hmm.’
I didnae like food, so I didnae. That means, ‘I didn’t like food’ in case you’re a teacher at Moyle Primary School who didnae learn the local language. My mammy tried to get me to eat food all the time. She tried to get me to eat the jam sandwiches in my piece. The jam seeped through the bread and made the bread pink and squelchy. Every day my mammy would look in my lunch box with its uneaten sandwich and say, ‘There are hungry weans in Africa.’
I felt right and sorry for the hungry weans in Africa.
There was a brae on the way up to Moyle Primary School. It was for the weans from the 'Fectory.' The Fectory was a place that used to have a factory and the brae was the steepest brae in the universe. Beside the brae, there was a spooky graveyard. It had grey stones and twisted trees and a big, wide wall that was covered in spiders.
It was wile scary.
There was a bully who walked down the brae every day. She would gulder at the P5s. That means she would do an awful lot of shouting, just in case you’re a teacher at Moyle Primary School who didnae learn the local language. I was feard of thon yin: frightened of that particular girl.
My sandwich problem didnae improve. My mammy tried everything: soda bread, pan bread, plain bread, wheaten bread, Robinson’s jam with bits, Robinson’s jam without bits, Hartley’s jam with bits, Hartley’s jam without bits and even my aunt Nan’s homemade jam. Nothing worked, for I didnae like food.
One day, as I walked down the steepest brae in the universe, I came up with a plan. My friend Melanie was footering away with her recorder and the bully was at the bottom of the brae near Myra, the Lollipop lady. I took a deep breath and tossed my pan bread seeped in Hartley’s blackcurrant jam (without bits) over the wall of the graveyard. Melanie was brave and engrossed in ‘Ode to joy’, so she didnae notice the joy on my face. From that moment, I was the happiest wean in Larne. I was the happiest wean in the universe.
But I felt right and sorry for the hungry weans in Africa.
The bully got me one day. She got me at the top of the brae and she grabbed me by my pigtail and she spat on my shoe and she said, ‘You’re wile skinny!’
I was wile feard.
I was alone at the top of the brae and my big brother was already at the wee park near the Fectory. I had to think fast.
I said to the bully, ‘There are ghosts in that graveyard and they can see everything you’re doing!’
She said, ‘No there areny.’
I said, ‘Yes there are. And they dinnae like bullies, so they dinnae’
She said, ‘I’m telling my daddy on you, so I am.’
I was so feard that my skinny legs trembled like Bambi’s when Bambi was learning to walk.
‘So!’ I said, squeezing the strap of my leather bag to quell the shaking.
The teachers still hadn’t learned the local language by P5, so when Mrs Bell spoke to me the next day, she said, ‘Angeline, did you annoy this girl in p6?’
I said, ‘No, I didnae.’
She said, ‘You mean, you didn’t?’
I said, ‘Aye.’
She said. ‘You mean, yes?’
I said, ‘Mm hmm’
The next day, the bully was waiting for me at the top of the brae. I was shaking like a leaf.
‘I taul on you,’ she said.
‘So what?’ I said.
‘My daddy said there areny any ghosts in the graveyard,’ she said.
‘There are!’ I said.
I was asking for trouble.
‘How do you know?’ she said.
‘Because ghosts eat jam sandwiches, and look down there!’
I was in luck. It was a Friday. I pointed to the sandwiches scattered all the way down the graveyard.
The bully gasped, turned a shade of ghostly white and sprinted towards the Fectory.
I was so feard of seeing the bully again that I told Melanie I couldnae go to the wee park by the Fectory.
‘Och!’ she said. ‘Snot fair.’
That weekend, I felt right and sorry for the starving children in Africa, so when no one was watching, I made myself a ham sandwich with a plain loaf, no butter and the crumbs cut off the ham. It was better than the soggy jam. So, I said to my mammy.
‘Mammy, I want a piece ‘n ham.’
‘Ham in your piece?’ she said. ‘Sure you dinnae like ham.’
‘Aye, well, I dinnae like jam,’ I said.
‘Ye hud better eat it,’ she said, ‘for there’s starvin’ weans in Africa.’
‘Mm hmm,’ I said.
The weekend passed by in a blur of drizzle, kerbsy and cabbage patch kids. On the Monday, I was glad to get back to my reading and writing.
I was wile good at it.
On the way home, I was less feard and I only threw the ham to the ghosts. The ham sandwich with plain loaf and no butter tasted better without it.
I never bumped into the bully on the brae again. I was ready to tell her that the ghosts didnae like jam anymore, and that they were there eating their ham (with no crumbs), but I didnae have to bother for she never bullied anyone near the graveyard with the spiders on the wall ever again.
That made me wile happy.
Children of Latharna:
Above is the original version of the story, but the Bully Up the Brae led to a fully illustrated book. You can check out the other stories and some pictures from the book here. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to order a copy.
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Scene from Snugville Street
82 Waterloo Road
The Teacher Voice
The Last Day of Summer Scheme
Uniquely Girls' Brigade
The Children of Latharna
The Band Stick
The Bully up the Brae
God Created Butlins
History & folklore
Fiddles and Melodeons
Martha Taylor's diary
Jean McCullagh at 104
Ballymena & the McConnells
Arms in Irish Dancing
Catholics & Protestants in Irish dancing
Irish Dancing: The Festival Story
The Protestant in Irish Fiction.
The Protestant in Irish fiction II
Ulster-Scots in Irish Fiction
An author in Wonderland
Dancing in Victorian Ulster
Learning the Irish Language.
John Hewitt Summer School
Thirteen Reasons for Peace
So Young then (Andrea Corr & me)
Lesley Allen & Helen Nicholl