My father, Kevin McCarthy, was born in Co. Wexford in 1919. At the age of three he moved with his family to Dublin after the death of his mother. When he was ten his father died too, and he was raised by his older brothers and sister. His first job was with the ESB, based in Waterford. Then the ‘Emergency’ came along and he decided to join up for a short while, intending to return to his former work when the whole thing blew over. The ‘Emergency’, which to most other people would be better known as the Second World War, lasted from 1939 to 1945. My dad had been given a temporary commission as a Lieutenant and in 1946 he decided to go the whole hog and sign up for the permanent army life. He became an artillery officer and served with the U.N. on two occasions, in the Congo in 1961 and then in Cyprus in 1967. In 1975 he retired having reached the rank of Commandant.
In 1946, too, he married my mother, Marian ‘May’ Moran, from Kerry. His work brought them to Mullingar where they spent more than twenty-five years. In this time they brought seven children into the world. The second child, Ailish, died after only eight days. In 1959, after five daughters, along came the one and only son, and last member of the family, me. My oldest sister, Kay, got to choose my name, Niall.
Ours was a typically Irish Catholic home, mass every Sunday and, in my early years, confession regularly and the rosary and Angelus almost every day. I even served as an altar boy in the local cathedral for several months. (That involved training for a few months, one evening a week, learning the responses to the priest during mass, in English, Irish and Latin!) One thing I remember from those days was my father encouraging me to read from the giant family Bible we had at home. He suggested the gospel of Luke, which I think must have been his favourite. I did read it a little but being about seven or eight I usually found the beautiful illustrations more interesting than the text!
My memories of Mullingar are distant now. Mostly they’re very good. From 1963 to 1968 we lived in the Army Barracks. As you can imagine this was like a giant playground for a young boy, soldiers, guns, firing range, armoured vehicles, artillery pieces and so on. On a couple of occasions I recall special events when the twenty-five-pounder guns would be fired in the Barracks Square and there were times when a helicopter would drop in, too. All very exciting for this youngster. School life was also great fun for me. All in all I remember those early years with fondness.
In the summer of 1968 my dad became the Civil Defence Officer for County Louth and we moved to Dundalk. In April 1969 we moved into our new home in the village of Knockbridge, about four miles outside the town. This was to be our family home until 1993. The change from living in an Army Barracks to the countryside seemed to dramatically affect me. Here I became shy, developing a strong stammer, quite a change from the cocky little officer’s brat I had been in Mullingar! Nonetheless I also remained arrogant and very argumentative!