NOEL BRIEN (in Canada) emailed YPAM with the following story proving that
fact can be stranger than fiction !!
Following evacuation to the country during The Blitz,
our family returned to Belfast but, since another addition
was on the way, instead of returning to our small Strandburn
Drive house, we relocated to Cardigan Drive, in
consequence of which my two older sisters and I attended
Belfast Model Elementary School on Cliftonville Road.
Among the neigbourhood boys I became good friends with over
the years was Chris MacAree who lived on nearby Kingsmere
Avenue, he later attended St Malachy's
while I went on to "Inst". During that time he developed
a spine problem which required him to lie in a body
cast for many months, and after school I would often
go to see him in the City Hospital, marvelling
at how patiently he bore this trial, and at his
resulting decision to become a doctor. He had had an
older sister marry a Canadian airman from Oshawa, to
where his older brother later emigrated, and following
my own 1954 departure for Canada we lost touch.
Decades later when people would refer to
"the troubles" and I would cite how "the divide"
simply didn't exist for many people including
Chris and me, I would often wonder whether he had
survived to fulfil his medical career ambition, and
what had become of him. Strangely, he and
others from those years have been in my mind recently
much more than usual.
Last Thursday evening our fax number rang, but when
I looked no paper message had emerged from the fax machine,
its dial simply showing "communication error".
When this happens I usually look next at my phone's Caller
ID display, but the number it showed was not familiar,
so in trying to be helpful I dialled it anyway.
A male English-accented voice answered and I told him
my fax had rung but since no message had arrived, I
thought he would want to know.
It quickly became clear that instead of dialling a
friend's phone number at 3527, his finger had slipped
on to the 4 by mistake - a truly "digital" error!
We might easily have just left it at that but, as I
often do, I remarked on his accent, enquiring from
which part of England he came, to which he answered
"Ipswich, but that was a very long time ago, 1953 in
fact", so I responded that I had emigrated from Belfast
just a year later.
"Oh" he said, "I have a very good friend, a doctor,
who came from Belfast not long after that" mentioning
the Montreal hospital in which he had first worked,
and went on to tell me that his friend had subsequently
become a professor of psychiatry in the USA. "May
I ask your friend's name?" .... "Yes, Chris MacAree"
I was almost dumbstruck with astonishment at this
amazing coincidence, which the caller chose to
describe as 'the finger of fate'! He kindly
provided Chris's phone number and encouragement to use
it, so I need hardly add that I phoned early the next
morning, both of us being delighted at renewing a contact
lost fifty years ago!