Those opening words belong to the late Seamus Kelters – part of his thinking back to his young schooldays in west Belfast in the early 1970s when life was anything but normal.
When we sprinkled soil into his grave on the last day of September 2017, most of us were unaware that in his fight with cancer at that time, he had also been in a race to finish a childhood memoir – just recently published by Merrion Press under the title, ‘BELFAST AURORA’.
On its pages you will read about the sharing of apple cakes and ‘drops’ of tea, family gatherings and holidays, friendship, conversation and community – communion and confirmation.
It is a book of many threads that work their way to the machines in the Belfast mills and at Mackies; a compilation of stories that remind us of the importance back then of radio and of listening, and there are lines about bricks and bombs and bullets and, all of this, long before Twitter and alike bombarded us with opinions on everything and nothing.
Kelters’ childhood was in an era when people spoke with and to each other.
‘Troubles had come again to Belfast, this city of history, hard men and hatred,’ Seamus Kelters, Belfast Aurora.
The Kelters memoir is set in the Hell of those early conflict years – the story of how his family lost their home in 1971 – the ‘Bloody Sunday’ and the ‘Bloody Friday’ of the following year, and the many other bloody days of that time.
‘My father, hit hard that terrible night, somehow emerged without bitterness and never swayed from understanding that we had lost only bricks and mortar where others had lost lives,’ Seamus Kelters, Belfast Aurora.
In having to leave their home, Seamus with his parents – Jim and Maura – experienced what many families suffered – so many in the wrong place and at the wrong time as an anger exploded across this city spitting its shrapnel everywhere.
These were times of survival, of holding on; times when everything was stretched – our nerves, our minds, our patience, money and food.
Seamus, of course, came to understand that there was nothing ‘normal’ about ‘The Troubles’ – the trauma that results from it still very much a part of our Present – not our Past. The unfinished peace.
‘The nightmares did not start until I was sixteen. I would sit bolt upright in bed, staring at the shape imprinted on my mind’s eye, the man through the rain and the windscreen wipers,’ Seamus Kelters, Belfast Aurora.
At the time of his death, when he was aged just 54, I wrote that those of us who had Seamus Kelters as a friend had someone very special in our company and in our lives; quietly brilliant – never looking for a stage on which to take a bow.
I hear his voice in Belfast Aurora – remember the craic and story-telling during many ‘drops’ of tea when we worked together at the BBC, and I hope that this book will become his stage – its 175 pages telling both of heartbreak and happiness.
In its foreword, the veteran journalist David McKittrick – a guiding star for many of us – writes: “Belfast had many heroes and many villains, but it only ever had one Seamus Kelters.”
McKittrick and Kelters – with others – brought us the acclaimed ‘Lost Lives’. It is one of the tallest pillars of journalistic work; a book that in its words and on its pages remembers and records the dead of the conflict period.
After reading Belfast Aurora, I understand more why Seamus became the engine and the energy of this project.
Back in 2017, his great friend and colleague Mervyn Jess urged him to get his childhood memoir finished and to get it out there.
Seamus’s wife, Camilla, and their boys, Brendan and Michael, made sure that happened.
So, we hear him again. Know a little more of his story. Know the roots from which this man grew, and know, that for him, it was family more than anything else, that really mattered.
At his funeral, we laughed and cried. Kelters had written his own eulogy.
These, four-plus years later, as I turned the pages of BELFAST AURORA, I laughed and cried again.
We hear you Seamus. We miss you.
BELFAST AURORA is published by merrionpress.ie