He has described himself as a ‘sectarian bigot’ who rioted against the police but now 17-year-old Christopher McGrath is a born again Christian.
Born and reared a Catholic in Lurgan’s Shankill estate, Christopher was discovered to have slight learning difficulties and suffered from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). He struggled at school and eventually he got involved in recreational rioting.
A teacher at his primary school, St Teresa’s took him under his wing and organised extra tuition. Christopher also spent time at the Lough Road Learning Centre trying to get his education up to speed.
“I found it hard to learn,” said Christopher who had high praise for former teacher Damien Lavery who taught him at St Teresa’s. “He got me on my feet,” he said.
Christopher said he continued to struggle at Lismore and became a rebellious teenager. “I had a sectarian attitude. I hated Prods,” said Christopher. “I was a sectarian bigot.”
At around 14 and 15 Christopher got caught up in rioting and did community service. Through Tullygally Youth club he went to Links in Lurgan where he was mentored by Marty Larkham and Mervin Johnston and others. Christopher is proud of Links and explains about its half Catholic, half Protestant ethos.
“Through Links I got involved with youth work,” he said. “Through there I was brought into the Emmanuel Church and taught about God,” Christopher explained. “They all helped me a lot with my ‘Walk with God’.”
At the Emmanuel Church he met Nick Hutchinson of BNL Productions who took him under his wing and got him work experience within BNL while he was Lismore.
“I have gone from being a sectarian bigot to being a born again Christian,” said Christopher who says he is now helping other people and sharing his new found skills.
Christopher is now studying Creative Media and plans to set up his own media company.
“If it were not for Links I would not be here today.”
His parents Rose and Paul are very proud of him. “They are Catholic but they don’t mind me changing. It is not easy being a Christian,” he said. “Everyone has been very supportive.” He was baptised at the Emmanuel Church on Easter Sunday last year.
“Other people taught me to get over sectarianism and my learning disabilities,” he said. “I want to do the same for others.”
Christopher now plans to go to university to study media, something he believes would have been unthinkable a few years ago.
“When I was young I used to get into a lot of trouble with the police,” he admitted. “I would never have got to where I am today without the help of this youth organisation,” he said. “I started off a negative and now I am a positive.”
“My family is proud of me. I want to thank everyone for their help. I want to show everyone that I am not a down and out.”