Saturday, November 18, 2006

That afternoon at the pub in Kinawley

[testing out rhythms here...]

The legend held more answers than I thought anyone might possess. In a redolent Gaelic rhythm I heard how I had chosen to push the stakes in the war higher by deciding to delay my call to the police. How I knew the lunch hour would bring the maximum danger and get the world's attention again when Vietnam and the election in the States was already letting this Irish problem slip off the front pages. How I had made three calls and sent the Army and the Constabulary on a wild chase with confusing calls mentioning different locations. The detail was astonishing: even that word, "Boom," along that rural road as we walked from the telephone, and the far too casual laughter that followed, had been recorded, though now it had been assigned to my lips. But it was the melody that played most eloquently. In this oral tradition that had reached from Belfast back to Derry and then out into hills and villages, and had been repeated in these whispered sagas over more than thirty years, I had not just been instigator and star, but my crimes and the British desperation to catch me had lead the loyal Provo cadres of Derry to arrange a run south, from where I had periodically snuck back in to lead other attacks. I heard myself become a turn-of-the-seventeenth-century The O'Neill keeping the English east of Lough Neagh in ancient and Catholic Ulster, hitting and running in the lost forests; a 1798 Wolfe Tone mixing romantic poetry and rebellion; a 1916 The O'Rahilly rallying the volunteers in the Post Office as O'Connell Street burned under British naval artillery; a 1921 Michael Collins provoking the British into self destructive responses at every turn.

The man who sang this saga to me this had been born into the rebellion during the Great War in an Ireland still ruled directly from London and reigned over by an English King. He punctuated the tale with a chorus describing his earliest memories – the arrest of his father by the Black and Tans and how he returned beaten and tortured and never the same again, the canons rumbling down the streets behind Army trucks, the shock in the mouths of the adults when they found themselves on the wrong side of the partition, the attacks of the IRA in the twenties, and again in the fifties, the frustrating glory of the 1949 declaration of The Republic – "Poblacht na hÉireann," the phrase spilled like a tenor aria even as he told of the RUC busting into the pub to silence the celebration. He smelled of slightly fruity pipe tobacco, a lifetime of Guinness, and the old-fashioned liniments of persistent arthritis. He drank his pints in thick, short bursts and went to the loo between every pint. He stopped at one point to assure me that "Guinness is life, Guinness is the best for what may ail ya," but that whisky would kill. "Whisky and sometimes rebellion," he whispered, and laughed. His face was red and his eyes cloudy but blue. I guessed I was chalk white with fear. Who knew these stories? Who believed them? How dangerous was this journey back? "You'd be quieter than I expected," this seanachaidh told me. "I think I might be less of everything than you expected," I said in desperation.

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copyright 2005-2006 by Ira Socol

1 comment:

Brenda said...

This is packed, so much going on, being related, what happened, the history, the feelings, the planned terror and its aftermath myths, and somehow a suspension in the midst of it all that's hard to explain, a stillness. It's eerie. Like slow motion. The rhythms read well - a kind of surface lilting and underneath a stone cold frozen. A motion of motives and events and an eerie stillness. Something plaintive and calling across the green meadows, and sharp redness, blood, a bomb. It's all there. Superbly written, if chilling.