Watch: Shocking reality of teenage drinking in Cookstown revealed

editorial image

A night out with Cookstown Street Angels when the teenagers hit town is not for the faint hearted.

When invited out with the voluntary service a few weeks ago, the Mid Ulster Mail went with the preconception that there was going to be carnage.

Reports of teens lying drunk in the street and police operations in which sizable amounts of alcohol were confiscated, suggested Cookstown had a big problem - but we didn’t see it.

On Friday night however, this reporter certainly had her eyes opened.

Buses from across Northern Ireland and even the Republic descended on the town and with them brought hundreds of teenagers.

And while most made their way successfully to a teenage club night, some could be seen staggering down the street before they had even reached their destination.

“There’s no way they are going to get in,” I heard the Angels say numerous times.

And when they didn’t “get in”, that’s when the Street Angels came into play.

Aside from sending two children to hospital in an ambulance, the 14-strong crew wheel-chaired 10 others throughout the course of the night to Positive Steps Community Centre which is managed by the group that supports the Angels - Cookstown & District Women’s Group.

One was found lying in a pool of their own vomit while arguing with police, another simply keeled over and spewed all over himself in the Gathering Place Soup Kitchen.

One was propped against the window of a fast food outlet vomiting on their own shoes, another - from the Republic of Ireland - was found alone on a bench also being sick while another, this time a local lad, was laid on the floor of the Gathering Place having badly cut his mouth and grazed his face in a fall.

All of them were young men.

Youngsters not fit to stand because some had finished off a “half bottle” or “a 10-glass bottle” of Vodka on buses into to town.

As well as these admissions, the Angels discovered a boy not old enough to drink with a bottle of Buckfast - others were found abandoned in the street.

While contending with the sick, the Angels were also inundated with requests for space blankets to ward off the cold, flip-fops to sooth feet, sore from towering heels, and on a more positive note - requests for photographs and messages of thanks for their efforts on previous nights.

They cleaned up puke, doled out containers to the unwell, tended to cuts and bruises, gathered lost wallets and a penknife to hand over to police and mopped up urine from those too far gone to hold it in.

And what’s more, they did it all with smiles on their faces, soothing words for those in distress and a sense of humour.

“We’re here to help them in a safe way,” said one Angel - a former ambulance technician.

“All the members are trained in first aid and in the [Positive Steps] centre they are in a safe environment.”

When I spoke to another Angel just after she had cleaned up a pool of vomit, she said: “I got it tight now. The first night I came out I found it very tough, but I just got used to it.”

Although the job is hard and at times extremely testing, every Angel I met spoke of the gratitude of young people they helped.

“They’re very appreciative and they couldn’t be nicer,” said team leader Michelle.