ONCE a staunch republican, now an Elder in the Presbyterian Church, one Belfast man has exclusively revealed to TGL his super-amazing journey between the extremes of Northern Ireland’s polarised society.
Johnny ‘Younker’ Smith, christened Sean Óg MacGabhain 36 years ago, has described his ‘Road to Damascus’ moment whilst renewing his Sinn Fein Party membership at his local north Belfast GAA ground five years ago.
“It was if I was hit on the head with a sliotar*,” he confessed, “I suddenly realised that the republican right to armed struggle was the moral abomination Dr Paisley always said it was.
“I saw that it was completely right to sing God Save the Queen in this part of the UK instead of singing rebel songs about violating people’s right to life, health and liberty.
“I knew then it my duty was to cast aside the Roman Catholic religion and embrace the Reformed Protestant faith.
“I was so filled with the power of this wonderful denomination that it was as if Scottish martyr Patrick Hamilton himself transported me over the peace wall.
“Next thing I knew I was running up and down the Shankhill knocking on the doors of churches and Orange halls looking to join up.”
Johnny recalls that he was soon spotted by concerned community workers who took him under their wing.
The following Sunday he was at the front of Belfast Metropolitan Tabernacle singing hymns like a lark.
Since then he hasn’t looked back.
He has moved to the village of Berrymekosh in Co Down where he is an Elder in the Presbyterian Church, a Poppy Appeal collector, a Rangers supporter, a BB leader, a member of the Loyal Orders, a fluter in Berrymekosh Sons of Liberty Flute Band and a DUP member.
“I’m an unlikely enough DUP member, with a Da in the Ra,” Johnny admits, “from Shinner to repentant sinner, it’s been a journey.”
* ball used for playing hurley
©Ten Grand Leo