Life

Lynette Fay: Tyrone moulded me into the person I've become and I am proud of that

When I called home to tell my parents that I would be writing in The Irish News, my father's response was: 'Well, that's you on the map now.' Sixteen years on the radio, 10 on the telly, but I have now rocketed to superstardom, in our house at least

I PHONE home a lot, just to check in on how everyone is. Facetime isn’t yet a thing in our Co Tyrone homestead, and I don’t imagine that it will ever be.

When I called home to tell my parents that I would be writing in The Irish News, my father’s response was: “Well, that’s you on the map now.”

Priceless, from a man of few words.

Sixteen years on the radio, 10 on the telly, but I have now rocketed to superstardom, in our house at least. No pressure.

Ours is a typical rural household. Entrance is via the back door. You shout the minute the door is opened to see who’s in.

The simple things go down well – walks ‘round the road’ (a three mile loop beside our home), Sunday dinner followed by a good hearty dessert, hot apple crumble and cold custard is my personal favourite. (We’ll leave the custard debate for another day.)

Despite living away from home since I was 18, my Co Tyrone upbringing has moulded and informed the person I have become and I am very proud of that.

I’m a townie, born and raised in Dungannon town – Fungannon, as only the natives are allowed to refer to it. I am a past pupil of St Patrick’s Girls’ Academy, The Girls’ Side as it was referred to. From 1975 until 2003 the Boys’ Academy and Girls’ Academy existed as separate entities, although both were housed in the same building on Dungannon’s Killymeal Road. Boys and girls only crossed paths on the bus to and from school, or while studying a few select A-level subjects.

Despite the teacher’s best efforts, the hormonal teenagers regularly crossed paths illegally at break times, in the tennis courts, the lecture theatre or the back of the music room.The more pious among them met in the school Oratory, a shared place of ‘prayer’. I seriously doubt there was much praying done.

All these rendezvous points were located in the borderland between the boys’ and girls’ ‘sides’. Looking back, it was a mad scenario.

A new chapter beckons, though, and in April a new £27 million school with 83 classrooms, ‘teaching walls’ and touchscreen technology will open its doors. It was far from this we were educated.

Ahead of this new beginning, generations of former Academy students and teachers got together last Saturday to reminisce, exchange stories and marvel how things have changed. Malachi Cush and myself hosted Céiliúradh, a celebration of the Academy – An tAcadamh – in the Armagh City Hotel.

I have nothing but fond memories of school. We sang, we tried to dance,; my love and knowledge of the Irish language and history were nurtured there and, just like the Derry Girls, we had the craic.

I enjoyed every second of the first series of Derry Girls. Writer Lisa McGee perfectly captured the reality of convent school education in the early 90s. I could identify with so many of the storylines, and recognised many of the characters.

There were a few Michelle Mallons in my year and the years ahead of me – and this teenager was in AWE of those girls.

Our school was located beside a British army base. What did this mean to us? Nothing much really, you just got used to it, but it did have its advantages. Our GCSE RE and history classrooms were in huts out the back of the school. Tennis courts to one side, helicopters to the other.

When a helicopter began its warm-up, despite their best efforts, we just couldn’t hear Mrs Murray or Mr McShane until it took off. That sometimes took a whole class.

If the army didn’t provide the distraction, the boys in the tennis court usually came to the rescue. Ah, the good old days.

It has been serendipitous that Derry Girls aired in the weeks running up to the Academy reunion. I have reengaged with my teenage years for many reasons. We were teenagers, growing up, trying to work out what it was all about, never mind the shootings, bomb scares and checkpoints.

I didn’t know everyone in the room on Saturday night at the reunion, and it didn’t matter. We all had something in common, we went to the Acadamh and we reminisced about the simple things …

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