'Do you believe in the Virgin Mary?' the kid asked as we played together at the back of the local school one evening. He was conscious that my friends and I were Protestants. He had questions to ask. He was curious.
There was a sense of growing up as a community apart. That was most obvious in the fact that we went to different schools. I know perception is not always reality but I feel that what drew the Protestants together was not primarily what they were but what they weren't. There was a common identity in not being Catholic. After all, my Church of Ireland friends didn't seem particularly devoted to their faith.
Of course defining yourself by what you are not, rather than what you are, is a recipe for snobbery towards the 'other'. It wasn't until I was a boarder in a school in Dublin that I really saw this attitude in action. I don't think our year was typical. Perhaps it was partly because a couple of the guys lived closer to the border that we were so conscious of being Protestants (or more precisely that we took pride in not being Catholics).
One of these boys was annoyed with a priest who was refereeing his rugby match in Blackrock College and protested towards this official after the game. 'You are a disgrace to your religion', he said. This guy knew which tribe he came from.
I remember a boy from Cork joining our dormitory in second year. He was upset by this anti-Catholic banter. I assured him it was only banter. But, rightly, he did not like it. Thankfully as the years progressed things changed, particularly when a strong character, who happened to be Catholic, joined us in fifth year.
So it is with embarrassment that I think back to us all standing as 'God save the Queen' was being played on the TV before a sporting event (I know that we were laughing and it was something of a joke). It is with confusion that I look back on a talk given by one of the (Catholic) rugby coaches who told us (with a smile) to go and beat the 'Catholic' opposition. But it is with anger that I look back on a Protestant culture that told its sons that they would not inherit the farm if they married a Catholic. I hope such attitudes are long behind us!