Thursday 31 March 2022

School Segregation in Northern Ireland


To continue on the subject of growing up during the Troubles in Northern Ireland I recall that going to and from school became an anxious ordeal. Schools were segregated along religious lines, they still are for the most part, so we passed each other going in the opposite direction. Now we never played with or socialised with members of the other faith so "they" simply represented the enemy, faceless and featureless.Segregation allows for dehumanisation and that is what happened. Today,nearly 60 years on, only 7% of schools in Northern Ireland officially offer integrated education. (see link at end of poem for more on this.)

We would skirmish daily over the right to walk on the footpath, the losers being forced on to the road way... and some days it got out of hand.



I am ten

and there is blood on my hands

and the faces around me, even the jeering ones, are silent

and there is blood on my coat

and I can taste it in my mouth - I have licked wounds before

and know what blood tastes like: not sweet or salty, but sticky - if that is a taste

and the sea of faces parts

and I am watching them envy me

and it has been coming for weeks : arm- linked gangs, us and them,

and each claiming the footpath for themselves


but this time he broke rank and went for my throat before the chain broke

and I see my mother’s face

and black out

and when I awake my father is talking

and there is shame in his voice

and the boy’s father is here too

and the boy, his face not so close now, holds a box of chocolates in his hands

and he offers them stiffly, his body held back as if he is afraid of it

and my hand reaches out

and I say thank you.


For that is what they want now.


 Copyright 2022 Cathy Leonard All rights reserved

 Published in Speaking for Sceine Volume 11 (Kenmare Poetry Festival)

Segregation in schools in Northern Ireland today

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