Mr. Kenny Donaldson, Director of SEFF (South East Fermanagh Foundation), a victims/survivors group in south east Fermanagh, was guest speaker at the Lisnaskea High School Celebration of Success last Thursday night.
Describing his first two years in Armagh Royal as "tough", the former Ulster Unionist election candidate admitted he had been "bullied fairly badly".
In a very personal address, he told the students, parents and school staff: "I'm going to share a story which I wouldn't necessarily recommend young people follow my example but it did resolve the bullying issue which focused upon me a culchie, farmer, sheep interferer and that sort of nonsense.
"One day I came into school and the usual main bullies (there were two of them) who were two years older than me started a vicious rant on me and I struck out and gave both of them a couple of good clips under the jaw and inflicting a black eye on one.
"Just as this happened the Vice-Principal (who had a notorious temper) came by and of course I was called to his office. I expected to be for the high jump but instead he reached out his hand and shook mine and said that I had done a job of service today for all young people who had been bullied by the two individuals concerned. After that day because a lowly second year had got the better of not one but two fourth years, their bullying stopped," he said.
Mr. Donaldson said through his experiences he would empathise with young people today. "Hence [I] would empathise with the experiences that vulnerable young people go through today and of course with the advent of technology, there are now ways for this practice to be done both at school and outside of it, with the developments we've seen with mobile phones and social networking," he said.
His first day at primary school had also brought its challenges.
"I was born and bred in a Border area, just two miles from Crossmaglen in South Armagh and because of the religious demographics of that area, I had some eight miles to travel to the nearest state school of Newtownhamilton Primary.
"I remember my first day at school very well, setting off the day after I turned four years old to board a bus with a small number of others from our area. My recollections of the journey are very vague but what I do remember is arriving to class and after a short period hoking in my pockets where I found a packet of Strawberry Chewits - my Mum had put them in there as a surprise for me and a treat on my first day at School. I took the packet out and sat it on the desk but without me noticing, the Chewits went missing. At lunch time another boy was eating Strawberry Chewits and when I challenged him that he'd stolen mine. He, of course, denied it".
Mr. Donaldson went on to describe how he reacted: "After lunch when he went to sit down at his desk I pulled the chair from under him and he fell back and bumped his head. Now the teacher at the time was able to do what can't be done in 2012 -- she smacked me on the bum. That day's experience lived me with for many years because it was my first sense of an injustice that had been done which I sought to rectify. Did I do it the right way then -- probably not -- but that experience in part helped shaped the young man I grew into and the larger, rounder man that I am today".
"After seven very happy years at Newtownhamilton Primary School and then after passing the 11+ I set off for Armagh Royal (or as it was known in my area - the snauby joint). Looking back that was not the right decision for me to have made because whilst I was considered 'clever' I was not from a family who were 'social elitists' or who bought into the falsehood that smart kids go to Grammars and stupid kids go to Secondary or High Schools. That wasn't how I saw the world -- the reason I chose to go to that school was more so about my belief that I'd have a stronger opportunity to advance in sport which I was extremely into at that age - athletics and football particularly. Of course when I arrived to the Royal, it was rugby and cricket that were the sports to be played and to excel and football was given no status whatsoever," he said.
He went on to describe his career after leaving school.
He has been Director of Services for SEFF for the last four years. For full coverage of Lisnaskea High School Celebration of Success see pages 36 and 37.