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Glashygolgan
Plumbridge
Co Tyrone
BT79 8DX






An Encounter At the New Line Bridge


Up the road for buttermilk
Down the road for candy
Corramore's a dirty hole
And Aughdoorish is the dandy

This was a school ditty that we had.

As a piece of poetry it didn't have much going for it, but it hit the spot that it was aimed at.

Legcloughfin Primary School, which we attended, stood on the side of the road. Children leaving the school at home time either went to the left or right. The story that I am going to relate happened in nineteen fifty two and at that time everybody walked home, some up to four miles each direction. Anyway, the children who turned right walked a distance of around four hundred yards and then the children from the far side veered left and crossed the new line to disperse to Corramore, Quiggy and Clougherney. The rest, including myself, journeyed on to Cranagh, Aughdoorish and Glenchiel.

The ditty that we often recited to the Corramore contingent was tolerated because of our numerical supremacy. But nevertheless resentment simmered under the surface. I was about eleven years of age when myself and Sean Tot were held back by the teacher to tidy up the classroom (there were no domestic staff then and the schoolchildren did this work). Sean Tot had acquired his nickname because he was the smallest in our class, and because he reacted negatively to it, the label stuck. The nickname was handed down to his younger brothers because we were too lazy to think up a new one. We had other nicknames too and among these were Pat the Bap, Frink Stink, Tom Bomb, Jim Toad, James Talldy, Pete Corduroy, Pat the Basket and Oliver Tarpot. I myself was called Mickey Tifter. Anyway, Sean didn't like his nickname and I think it contributed to his mean streak of aggressiveness. He was no pushover.

When Sean and myself had the job finished we ambled our way home. Sean Tot lived on the Corramore side and we wondered what was going on when we saw a number of the Corramore gang waiting at the junction. McSorley, the leader stepped out in front of us as we approached. He got straight to the point. "Would we fight each other". This was a surprise for me. I had no animosity towards Sean Tot but fighting was in my blood. I had been reared on the exploits of the Boston Strongboy, John L Sullivan whose parents were Irish and in my dreams I was one with him. My mother often talked about John l Sullivan and her interest sprung from an old neighbour Peter Oin. Peter was crazy about John L Sullivan and when he became world champion in February eighteen eighty two, he gave recognition to the Irish all over the world and particularly the Irish at home. My mother often related how she saw Peter acting strangely when they were hirdin cattle on adjacent patches of land. At that time someone had to stay with the cattle while they were grazing to keep them away from the other crops (there were no fences then). Incidentally, this may be where the phrase; " the grass is always greener on the other side" came from. I did a bit of this hirdin myself and the divil couldn't watch them. Anyway, when Peter's cattle strayed onto forbidden territory, he would shadow box them back to their proper place. A few jabs to the midriff a left hook and a right uppercut was usually sufficient. My mother would watch him lie on the ditch after this laughing to himself. I'm sure that he was on some stage somewhere and taking the plaudits from his fans. When Peter had the time to spare he would regale my mother, who was then only nine or ten years old, with stories about the exploits of John L Sullivan.

And so at that time, I feared no one when it came to boxing. I suppose that Sean Tot had a point to prove and us being from rival territories, we did have some motivation. We agreed to fight.

McSorley, the promoter concluded that it wouldn't be good to be seen fighting at the road junction and he proposed that we should move inland. It didn't escape my notice that moving inland meant moving into enemy territory but whether it was from supreme self-confidence or just naivety, I readily agreed. This stretch of road was known locally as the New Line. It connected Legcloughfin on the north side of the valley to Corramore on the south side. As we moved inland we were hardly aware of the multitudinous sound of spring all around us. Birds were busy in the hedge rows that garlanded this stretch of roadway and it would have seemed somewhat incongruous for us to be set on violence in the midst of all this, where the sights and sounds of spring renewal were everywhere. Anyway, Mc Sorley settled on a spot beside the new line bridge (this bridge was a two eyed concrete structure which was built in nineteen ten). The contractor for the building was Paddy Clarke from Gortin.)

McSorley, the promoter pronounced that we would adhere to the Bloomsberry Rules and this would be a three rounder of three minutes each. I was glad that he didn't know about John L Sullivan and the "London Prize Ring Rules" for bare knuckle fighting. I knew that Sullivan had fought Jake Kilrain in eighteen eighty nine and that that fight had lasted for seventy five rounds of a scheduled eighty rounds. I thought this would be easy.

The promoter drew an imaginary line on the road and he looked at his imaginary watch and we stepped in and the fight was on. We had about a dozen onlookers and we had all levels of attentiveness from intense to I couldn't care less. Sean Tot was no match for me. I knew that all along. I had studied Sullivan's pose and how he held his arms and fists. I punched from the shoulder. I was a born fighter. Sean Tot was anxious and he had no science. He swung rather punched and while he stung he never hurt.

The first round was going poorly for Corramore and it was cut short. The promoter then went into weight differentials and he proposed that I should take on both Sean Tot and his brother Frank Tot. Bloomsberry was being stretched! This must have been pre planned but it didn't bother me much. Joe Louis, the greatest of boxers, was once asked if his opponent had a plan to beat him and he said; "Sure, everyone has a plan until they've been hit" and I knew that I could hit. "That's unfair', someone from the back of the group shouted. The promoter turned angrily towards the source of this comment. "Shut your mouth," he roared "What would a girl know about boxing". "I just said it's unfair "she retorted, and I got a quick glimpse of a steel flash of defiance in her blue eyes. She turned angrily towards the bridge. I had mixed feelings about this intervention. I didn't need anyone standing up for me, especially a girl, but at the same time I admired her for breaking ranks with the group.

The second round started tactically, my opponents in opposite sides of the "ring". I closed in on Sean Tot as I felt that he was the weakest and I intended to finish him off quick before concentrating on Frank. Frank joined the action by jumping on to my back. This might have seemed to an onlooker to be a bad omen for me but as I was moving quickly Frank's capacity for violence was nullified by his efforts to hang on. Meanwhile, Sean feeling that the balance of power had swung in his direction, moved in for the kill. He threw caution to the winds. He was wide open and I punched him viciously on the eyeball. He collapsed immediately holding his eye and he began to cry.

Just at that moment, as if by coincidence, the girl on the bridge shouted excitedly. "Oh, look everyone at that huge fish swimming under the bridge!"

Frank got down off my back and trundled off sheepishly towards the bridge and the others followed. The promoter grasped the opportunity to gather his wits. He stared down into the waters below but I knew that he was looking at no fish. I guessed that he was planning another onslaught on Bloomsberry and I grasped this break in hostilities to make good my escape. I grabbed my satchel and ran!

The promoter was slow to notice my departure but when he did see what was happening he sprung into action. He ran after me shouting, "Come back you coward". The rest of the group had lost the stomach for the fight and the promoter was on his own. The promoter was an organiser not a fighter and it wouldn't have been his scene to have a head on confrontation. I easily outpaced him and as I rounded the corner at the crossroads I shouted back. "Up the road for buttermilk----" and I smiled happily as I imagined the contortions on the promoters face.

Now, it's a funny thing that though I was not beyond a little boasting I never mentioned this episode to the down the road ones and you can be sure that Corramore never talked about it.

But there was something else that was bothering me now. I couldn't understand why the girl should break ranks and try to defend me. And then there was that other thing when her intervention offered me the space to make good my escape. I knew deep down that she had thought it out and that she had outmanoeuvred the promoter. I knew that kind of subtlety was way beyond me. I was totally upfront. Women must be different that way I thought.

That night in bed all these thoughts were tumbling through my head and new feelings and emotions were making me confused. I would have been ashamed and embarrassed if Corramore had seen me that night for I cried myself to sleep.