His nickname was ''Stitches,'' because he fought a lot. His family was militantly Nationalist. His father and two uncles were in jail because of activity in the provisional wing of the Irish Republican Army.
''He was a pretty tough kid,'' recalls Robert O'Connor, but one summer in the United States may have changed all that. From the accounts that Mr. O'Connor has heard, this teen-ager from Northern Ireland is back home telling his friends not to throw stones at Protestants.
What helped to change his life may well have been the Irish Children's Fund, based in suburban Chicago - one of about half a dozen American groups that brings Northern Irish children to the United States for the summer. This year's group: 80 Roman Catholics and 80 Protestants. During their six-week stay, the children lived with American families and attended a camp where they slept, played, and prayed together.
''The goal of our program is to help break the circle of violence and hate that exists in certain parts of Northern Ireland,'' says Mr. O'Connor, who started the program last year. ''I think it's an educational process - taking them to communities that are pluralistic, interreligious. We're helping to develop peacemakers who will live right in those troubled areas.''
The fund has begun a follow-up program to keep those children mixing once they return home. So far, O'Connor says, the interest and turnout have been excellent.
''I believe the only solution in Northern Ireland is for people to turn to the Lord and put it in His hands,'' says O'Connor, a Catholic from Dublin who married a Protestant. ''There will have to be an openness to Him before anything can happen.
''What we are doing is what God has asked us to do. We don't know what it will (accomplish).'' But, he adds, ''Perhaps there's a need for people on the outside to play a part in Northern Ireland.''