Sunday 19 January 2020

Nostalgic window to the past shines light on childhood

Boy Wonder - Tales from the Sidelines of an Irish Childhood
Boy Wonder - Tales from the Sidelines of an Irish Childhood

Book review - Alan Aherne

Sooner or later it engulfs each and every one of us, and there's simply no escaping it.

And it's not such a bad thing either, because the topic I'm referring to - nostalgia - shines a light on the happier moments of our dim and distant past.

The cycle of life never ceases to fascinate. The younger generation tend to switch off as soon as they hear an elder uttering that immortal and oft-repeated line: 'back in my day'.

However, before they know it, they too will reach a stage in life where the natural inclination is to look back and reminisce on the world as it was through rose-tinted glasses.

And that's why I gleaned such enjoyment from Dave Hannigan's memoir, 'Boy Wonder - Tales from the Sidelines of an Irish Childhood'.

If you were a child growing up in that period from the late-1970s to the mid-1980s, you will instantly recognise yourself in this fond recollection of the author's formative years.

He was born and raised in the suburb of Togher on the southside of Cork city, and it's clear that his heart is still very much on Leeside although he is now working as a professor of history on Long Island.

Hannigan was an excellent sports writer at one stage with the now defunct 'Sunday Tribune', and also contributes a weekly column to the 'Irish Times', so he has the happy knack of being able to draw the reader in on his journey through boyhood.

I'm roughly 18 months younger than Hannigan, so all of the activities of his youth that he recalls with such clear detail are a microcosm of my own younger years.

Street football sadly appears to be a thing of the past, but in the early eighties it was part of our ritual, playing games daily against the nearest housing estates on any available green patch.

Whatever was on television at the time, it was replicated by the children on the streets so, for example, tennis was an annual fortnightly obsession when Wimbledon was on the box.

Hannigan recalls such happy times with a warmth that brings it all back. It's there in every detail - the tiny four-foot by two-foot snooker tables that we thought were the business, and the Subbuteo football game that involved a flicking action between thumb and finger.

Money wasn't particularly plentiful in the Hannigan household, but his parents always ensured that their youngest boy didn't miss out on any sporting opportunities as a result.

He may have relied on hand-me-downs of playing gear from his big brother, but at this far remove he can really appreciate the Trojan efforts of his late mother and father to make his youth as enjoyable and fulfilling as possible.

It wasn't all a bed of roses either, and Hannigan learned some harsh life lessons on the way up, similar to the rest of us.

There was the day he shared a schoolboys soccer pitch with Roy Keane and realised that a career in the game was never going to happen for him, or the humiliation of being taken off before half-time while assisting St. Finbarr's in an Under-16 county hurling final.

They went on to win the title, but the writer was lost in his own sad world until a few comforting words from his mother repaired some of the damage. This is a lovely book all told, a nostalgic trip back in time for any boy of the 1980s.

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