The Class of ’74
THE Statler Brothers sang, “Things get complicated when you get past eighteen, but the class of ’57 had its dreams.” In this poignant song, we hear of how various classmates’ lives turned out after they left school. As in our own lives, some turned out well while others never fulfilled their dreams.
This song came to my mind when I heard that my first form teacher in Rathcoole Secondary School retired last June from his post in Newtownabbey Community High School. He started teaching on the same day that I went into the ‘big school’ as a pupil. Then it hit me. In June 2004 I it will have been thirty years since I left Rathcoole Secondary School! Where has the time gone?
I wondered what had happened to all those folk who were in my class of ’74. The only one I ever see on any regular basis manages a bookshop in Belfast city centre. I met another old classmate last July walking along the O’Neill Road, although I admit that he recognised me first. What of the rest, then? Did they fulfil their dreams?
Nowadays, to help our enquiries, we have the Internet and the famous Friends Reunited site. After registering on the website I discovered that quite a few of my former classmates are listed there. A few are still in the Rathcoole area but many have left Northern Ireland altogether. One girl is now living in New Zealand, but still thinking of home. It was good to see how so many of the old gang have turned out.
Any of my classmates returning to the estate for the first time since leaving school would have difficulty recognising the place. Rathcoole has changed immensely since 1974. The school itself has long gone. The powers-that-be allowed it to be swallowed up by its old rival, Hopefield High School. Newtownabbey Community High was established on the former Hopefield site on the Shore Road at the bottom of the estate.
Rathcoole is no longer as massive as it once was. Who remembers the banana flats in Rathcoole Drive and the ‘hole in the wall’ where the taxis stopped? What about the maisonettes in Innis Avenue where I once lived? They’re away too. The maisonettes in East Way were transformed into houses. The bleak and hideous Diamond has been completely remodelled and the hanging “Angel of Rathcoole” statue on the end of the VG store has been taken down within the last year. The statue was the best thing about the old Diamond.
When I was a youngster my sister and I used to stand directly below the statue and lean right back to give the illusion that it was falling on us. We never knew who sculpted the piece or who or what she was supposed to represent. Was she really meant to be an angel? I’d like to hear from anyone who can enlighten us! Where is the statue now? Let’s hope that Newtownabbey Council, the local Housing Executive or whoever has the statue in storage will be able to find a new home for her.