The days were getting warmer and the last of the daffodils had closed their brown heads inwards as the budding blossom peeped out from the leafy branches.
Preparations were being made for the May Procession, in church and school. Special celebratory hymns for Mary were being learnt as this was her month and needed to be acknowledged.
It was a time of joy as white dresses were washed and starched, while veils, ankle socks and white shoes retrieved from shoe boxes under the bed ready for the big day. New blue ribbons were threaded on miraculous medals and attached with tiny gold safety pins to boys shirts and girls dresses.
Our Lady’s statue was dusted and cleaned, the church filled with flowers and all the brasses polished. At an early age I remember asking what a procession was as I’d heard talk of it around the house. It didn’t take long for me to find out.
Babes in arms, the whole school and the rest of the parish turned into Victoria Road, ignored the traffic lights as they reached John Street, proudly parading their faith.
We walked with our class and teacher and wore some wore first communion clothes – if they still fitted – or alternatively their Sunday best. The boys wore their school trousers,white shirts and red ties.
It all began in church by saying the first decade of the Rosary and we waited instructions to follow each other out of the benches in order to keep everything right.
The priests and the altar boys were first, the leader swinging a thurible so hard the cloud of frankincense almost covered the first three benches. There was an air of specialness about it all, a bonding, a community.
Inevitably, a few were always late and tried to get into church while everyone else was going out. The domino effect was spectacular as the reception class spilled backwards into the church porch but once everyone was on their feet we began to process once more. ‘Bring Flowers of the Rarest’ sprung out of the Tannoy system filling the Sunday afternoon air, the choir staying in church to lead the singing.
Our Lady’s statue was carried by the Children of Mary wearing blue satin cloaks and white veils. They were older and their miraculous medals were bigger and on longer ribbons. It was a brilliant spectacle of faith.
The police closed the road and put traffic cones out and as spectators lined the pavement outside Forsters and Collinsons to watch us, we kept our eyes focused ahead, praying and singing. When we reached the piece of waste land behind the Post Office we lined up in front of the temporary altar for the last decade of the Rosary.
Our Lady’s statue was then crowned with flowers as we sang the final chorus twice, ‘Oh Mary we crown thee with blossoms today Queen of the Angels and Queen of the May’ As the service and procession ended and before we dispersed we were asked to kneel down on hard gravel for the blessing.
It’s only now, over fifty years later having to deal with the arthritic swelling below my patellas that I’ve come to the conclusion I have ‘catholic knees’.
A huge thank you to Lorraine Weightman for writing this fantastic article.