November 29, 2004
[Ed. This the prologue and first chapter of a yet-unpublished novel.]
NORTHERN IRELAND: 1998
(Swans - November 29, 2004) On Saturday, April 11, the Good Friday Agreement overcame its first test with 55 members of Ulster Unionist Party Executive voting for and 23 voting against. The Agreement was drafted and signed by both the Irish and British governments on Good Friday, 1998, after protracted negotiations with republican and unionist parties involved in the conflict. Designed to bring peace to the province through a devolved assembly made up of members representing both sides of the sectarian divide, the Agreement was due to be voted on in an all-Ireland referendum in May.
The next day, at a series of Sinn Fein rallies throughout Ireland to commemorate the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916, speeches were delivered which appeared to give the Good Friday Agreement a cautious welcome. The IRA issued a statement saying they would judge the Agreement "against its potential to deliver a just and durable peace in our country."
United States President, Bill Clinton, said, a few days later, that he would visit the province if it would help ensure the success of the Agreement.
The Grand Orange Lodge, ruling body of the Orange Order, decided not to support the Good Friday Agreement, recommending that members vote No in the referendum.
British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, stated that the Royal Ulster Constabulary would not be disbanded and that only those prisoners whose organisations were on ceasefire would be eligible for early release under the terms of the Agreement.
On Tuesday, April 21, Adrian Lamph, a Catholic civilian, was shot dead by the Loyalist Volunteer Force at the council yard where he worked in Portadown, County Armagh.
The Democratic Unionist Party held a series of anti-Agreement rallies in the run up to the referendum. The Republican 32 County Sovereignty Committee issued a statement rejecting the Agreement as "fundamentally undemocratic, anti-Republican and unacceptable."
On Saturday, April 25, Ciaran Heffron, a Catholic civilian, was killed by loyalist paramilitaries as he walked through the village of Crumlin, County Antrim.
On Wednesday, May 6, the Sinn Fein leadership confirmed their support for the Good Friday Agreement and recommended that members and supporters vote Yes in the upcoming referendum.
The next day it was confirmed that a new republican paramilitary organisation had emerged. Formed mainly from dissident members of the IRA unhappy with the Agreement and the ending of the war, the new group declared themselves the Real IRA.
On Friday, May 22, the Good Friday Agreement was voted on and passed with an overwhelming Yes vote in a historic all-Ireland referendum which attracted a huge turnout.
In the aftermath of the referendum the issue of the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons began to dominate the political agenda, with Martin McGuiness, Vice President of Sinn Fein, warning against "falling into the trap of trying to make decommissioning the most important item on the agenda."
On Saturday, August 15, at 3:10 p.m., twenty-nine people died when a bomb exploded in Omagh, County Tyrone. The bomb had been planted by the Real IRA. The death toll represented the worst single incident in Northern Ireland since the conflict began.
On Friday, September 11, the first paramilitary prisoners were released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. Three republican and three loyalist prisoners were released as part of a programme that was expected to take two years to complete.
Gerry wanted her as soon as he set eyes on her.
She was on the dance floor, twisting this way and that, punching the air as if engaged in some primal, ritual dance, feeling the music and its energy lift her up and out of herself, hair swirling wildly around her head as the dress she had on struggled to contain a body built for fun.
And just like the other men standing at various points around the dance floor, Gerry watched while imagining all sorts of sexual scenarios.
The girl's name was Tania, and the night before she'd spent with a Swedish guy passing through on his way home from an extended trip across South America. Tall, blond, well built and with deep blue eyes, he was exactly the European type she liked. But because his English wasn't that great she'd found it hard to communicate with him beyond a certain point, and the night hadn't been as much fun as she'd anticipated. She'd met him here, in this very nightclub, and tonight she was back to see if there were any other men she could have some fun with.
Why else come to Miami on vacation?
Gerry was here by himself, having flown down to escape New York for a few days, where he was staying at the home of a sympathizer. As with every sympathizer he'd ever met anywhere, his host's head was full of romantic shite about the cause and the "old country" -- about the ceasefire, about how the war should be fought if and when the ceasefire collapses. And he just wouldn't let up, that was the worst thing, asking the same questions over and over, being obsequious to the point of nausea. Then, as if that wasn't bad enough, what does the stupid bastard go and do? Brings a couple of his friends home late one night, that's what; with the back slapping and the songs starting up, and Gerry feeling like slitting the cunt's throat for opening his big fat mouth when he knew fine well that he didn't want anybody to know about him, about who and what he was, and especially not that he was in New York lying low for a spell.
So to get away he'd purchased a ticket to Miami, planning to spend a week or two in the Florida sun thinking over his options and working out his next move.
Certain people back in Derry were under the impression that he was only visiting the States for a month or so, getting away to clear his head and take things easy for a while before returning and helping in the organizing and training of the Volunteers, keeping them ready and prepared for the war should it ever start up again.
But unbeknown to them, Gerry Lynch had had enough. Enough of the hate and violence, of trying to stay alive and one step ahead of the Brits, the RUC and loyalist paramilitaries, enough of being reminded every day of the friends, relations and comrades that he'd seen killed or maimed And so, after getting out of jail, he'd left with the intention of never going back. A normal life far away from war and hate was his dream, one he'd thought about every night of the five years he lay in a small, cramped cell in Long Kesh just outside Belfast.
Now, free at last, he was determined to make the dream real, determined that nothing and nobody would take him back to the hate and violence and sectarianism which existed in a small corner of northern Europe.
Not normally one for nightclubs and bars, tonight he'd made an exception. On vacation, and in a place where nobody knew him, why not? Gerry couldn't even recall the last time he'd been with a woman, and masturbation had become a mechanical, depressing exercise, with his stock of sexual memories and fantasies for the purposes of hand relief long having reached the point of exhaustion. Upon his release from prison he'd turned down the opportunity to sleep with a few of the usual suspects who were always available. From past experience, it just wouldn't have been the same as being with someone who saw you as a person, an individual, and not as an IRA Volunteer, whom you felt duty-bound to sleep with for the cause.
So on a warm night in South Beach, wandering along Washington Boulevard past the various bars, restaurants and clubs, all of them heaving with people and noise, Gerry wound up outside this particular nightclub alongside the multitude waiting to get in.
An establishment which prided itself on a select clientele of models, actors and various other celebrities, gaining entry to this place was considered to be an achievement in itself. It was the domain of the beautiful people, and they could be found in abundance on any given night, blending in with the avant garde decor while eagerly throwing back two hundred dollar bottles of Cristal champagne in scenes reminiscent of the most outlandish Roman orgies ever documented by historians.
Gerry had stood outside ten minutes or so before the promoter noticed him standing at the back of the crowd and beckoned him forward. The crowd parted as he walked up to the rope, all of them wondering just who the fuck he was, or thought he was, and why he was being allowed in before them. The guys who'd been waving fifty and a hundred dollar bills at the promoter in vain for the past half hour were angrier than most.
So what is it about this fucking guy that makes him so special?
The promoter, who'd gradually grown sick and tired of the business and the people in it, had noticed that this particular guy was the only one not shouting his name for one thing. Nor was he waving money at him or pushing against the rope in an effort to attract his attention. There was an aura about this guy too, something hard to put into words but certainly different from what he was used to encountering. It was an aura perhaps of humility mixed with a quiet dignity which the promoter -- a man who after all made his living judging people on first impressions -- had immediately picked up on.
Gerry, for his part, did not consciously set out to cultivate an image or aura to impress anyone. He wasn't that kind of man and, anyhow, whatever it was he possessed wasn't something that could be cultivated. It had grown inside him after years of being involved in a violent conflict which most people couldn't even begin to comprehend, much less stomach. Not that he considered this to be any kind of attribute or something to be proud of. On the contrary, he was damaged goods and well aware of the fact. The only thing which provided any sort of consolation, that could be considered a positive in his life, was that he'd survived. This, he knew, made him luckier than most of his comrades.
Take Big Kieran Malone.
They grew up together in the Bogside in Derry, the second largest city in the six counties of Ireland designated Northern Ireland by Her Majesty's government. Growing up in the sixties and seventies, theirs were destinies all but mapped out. As the swinging sixties in London spilled over into the seventies to continue unabashed -- a cultural and social revolution encompassing music, fashion, recreational drugs and disposable income -- in the six counties a revolution of a different kind was underway.
It was a time of guns and bombs, a time of resistance to British and unionist rule in a country riven by religious bigotry, a land where if you were a Catholic you were denied the same right to house, a decent education, or a job, where a system of apartheid determined that you could either leave for the mainland and beyond, or accept the status quo of social and economic injustice and all the indignity that came with it.
As kids, Gerry and Kieran reveled in the stories and legend of the infamous Battle of the Bogside, when the entire community rose up to resist an attempted invasion by the police and the British Army with petrol bombs and other missiles in the summer of 1969. The authorities were determined to enter their community to search for weapons and make sweeping arrests in an effort to clamp down on militants. But they were repelled, forced to retreat by the nationalist people of the Bogside after a fierce battle that inspired beleaguered nationalist communities all across the province.
The conflict continued all throughout the seventies, with young men like Gerry and Kieran eagerly embracing the rise of nationalist militancy travelling like a shock wave through poor Catholic ghettoes.
They joined the IRA at the same time in the mid-eighties. Kieran had already tried to join a few years earlier, immediately after the last hunger striker died in 1981, but at fifteen years old he was too young. Still, the anger and desire for revenge brought about by the hunger strike, by the deaths of ten volunteers who starved themselves to death in protest at being denied political prisoner status by the Brits, never left Kieran, and when he finally did join the Provos he was more than ready to do some damage.
Gerry and Kieran became a vital part of the same active service unit in the Derry Brigade of the Provisional IRA, a four-man cell of Volunteers who outdid themselves and other active service units with their effectiveness and the damage they wrought both in Derry and surrounding areas. They prided themselves on claiming every single target which they set out to eliminate, and were responsible for the assassinations of army personnel, RUC men, loyalist paramilitaries, along with various high profile Brit collaborators.
But Gerry should've seen it coming, the warning signs of a man about to crack, and to this day he still blames himself for the consequences of his inaction.
A slow and gradual change took place in Kieran. Whereas before he liked a laugh and could lighten even the most serious of situations with a joke or some banter, he suddenly became morose and detached. Nobody knew that Kieran had turned, that he now questioned the war and everything about it. When that happens, you become a danger both to yourself and to your comrades. You need to look upon the enemy, the people you're killing, as uniforms and targets rather than human beings. It's the only way to handle it mentally.
But by the time of the SAS ambush it was already too late. Kieran was driving the car the night they were making their way to a secret arms dump across the border to pick up some bomb-making equipment and semtex for a fresh bombing campaign planned to take place in the run up to Christmas. It was the beginning of December and a heavy cold rain was battering off the car's windscreen, making it almost impossible to see out. From Derry, Donegal on the other side of the border is only a short drive along quiet roads through some of the greenest countryside anywhere in that part of the world. When darkness descends it becomes ideal country for ambush.
The SAS had been tipped off and were waiting for them two miles from the border.
Suddenly it erupted, rounds coming in at them from all sides and Kieran panicking and accelerating the car forward right into the midst of the crossfire. Kieran and Paddy Doherty were chopped to bits while Gerry managed to keep his wits about him long enough to escape, jumping out of the car and throwing himself into the bushes, before plowing his way through the countryside, his left arm smashed to pieces by a high velocity round from a Brit submachine gun.
It was a lucky escape and Gerry vowed never to be in that position ever again.
Most of all he vowed never to let anything enter his head, any thoughts or questions about the war, that could slow him down or cause him to hesitate while on active service. Because that's what happened to Kieran; he hesitated for a split second when it went off, and it was a split second that cost him his life.
They danced for two or three songs, barely speaking to one another throughout, just staring at one another with their bodies pressed together in a grinding rhythm of physical attraction.
Gerry had decided to make an approach after watching her reject a big guy who'd walked up to her on the dance floor. As soon as he'd slinked away, Gerry, acting on impulse, had decided to go for it, hoping that a more subtle approach might bring him more success than the other guy had met with.
He'd made sure she could she him coming, which she did when he was six feet or so away, negotiating his way through the crowd. He'd stopped two feet in front of her, looked into her eyes and smiled. She'd stopped dancing to study him for a second. Then, smiling back at him, she'd put out her hands and Gerry had stepped forward and grabbed them in his.
"Guess what?" she'd shouted in his ear.
Smiling, Gerry had shrugged his shoulders.
"I just lost my purse."
Gerry's reply had been a smart comment about that meaning she wouldn't be able to buy him a drink, thinking to himself at the same time that if she thought he was stupid enough to be taken in like an idiot then she was in for a shock.
But Tania really had misplaced her purse (it would turn up later with her friend who'd left the club without saying goodbye, forgetting as she did that she'd placed Tania's purse in her bag for safekeeping while Tania was on the dance floor), and the statement hadn't been meant as a cheap excuse to get him to the bar. However, his witty response had the effect of endearing him to her, reflected in the smile she gave him which beamed out of her very eyes as she looked into his. Even the couple of small scars on his face, one just below his left eye and the other on his right cheek, she found attractive. And though his clothes and hair spoke to her of a man who did not follow the latest trends in fashion, imperfections that would normally put her off, on him for some reason it didn't seem to matter.
At Gerry's suggestion they left the dance floor, found a vacant table and sat down, whereupon they attempted to get to know one another. Both claimed to be in South Beach on vacation, Tania having flown in from San Francisco to spend her thirtieth birthday with one of her girlfriends who'd recently moved to Miami to take up a new job. Gerry, who couldn't take his eyes off Tania's body, finding it hard not to be intimidated by the salacious curves and golden brown skin that was smooth and glistened with sweat under the lights, told her he was living in New York, recently arriving in the States from London to stay with friends and travel around a bit. He told her he'd come down to Miami to get away for a week and see if he liked Florida better than New York, which was too busy and manic for him. All of it was small talk, superficial conversation which counted for nothing except as a prelude to the sex which they both now knew would come later.
But then came the guy whom Tania had rejected on the dance floor, barging in and grabbing hold of her arm, demanding to know in a drunken booming voice where she'd been for the last half hour. Tania tried to pull away but the guy wouldn't let go, all the while staring at Gerry with contempt, as if challenging him to do something about.
There was a time when Gerry would have done something about it, when he would have picked up his beer bottle and rammed it into the guy's face without a second's hesitation. But five years in prison, locked up with nothing to occupy his mind except all the guilt, remorse and bad memories, had produced a change deep inside, an ontological shift of mammoth proportion. Tentativeness and circumspection had come to replace violence and rage, and now, in the face of another man's aggression, Gerry felt weak and powerless.
Nonetheless, he couldn't just leave this woman to be molested by some moron. Which is why he got up and made an attempt to calm the situation down through talking to the guy; trying to cajole and appease him, doing so in the manner of a supplicant dog at the feet of its bigger rival. As he did, Tania took the opportunity to scuttle behind him for protection.
Gerry's adversary wasn't interested in being reasonable with anyone; he'd been watching this slut the entire night, and as far as he was concerned she belonged to him and nobody else.
"Get outta my way, dickhead," he growled at Gerry, "I'll fucking hurtcha!"
And now Gerry paralyzed, rendered impotent by the fear which had enveloped him. Suddenly a hand flashed through the air and landed hard on the side of his face. A bitch slap.
Gerry felt that he wanted to do something, knew that he should do something, but he was unable to move an inch, unable to do anything except stand helpless as his attacker stood sneering at him.
"What's the matter, bitch? No fuckin' balls?"
The arrival of the bouncers and the manager saved Gerry further humiliation. The bouncers, four of them, ushered the big guy away from the scene; the guy eyeballing Gerry on his way out, relishing his victory, his domination over another man.
A wave of revulsion rose up from the pit of Gerry's stomach when he looked up and saw two dozen pairs of eyes examining him from a distance, all of them witness to his humiliation and degradation.
"Let's go, sweetie," Tania said, gently taking hold of his hand in a gesture of reassurance that only made the feeling worse.
He looked at her, still trying to come to terms with his fear, with how and where and why.
Before they got very far they were confronted by the returning bouncers and the manager, intent on receiving some kind of explanation.
"It's okay, we're leaving," Tania said assertively.
And, with that, she led Gerry past the bouncers and the manager, past everyone watching, and out the door.
· · · · · ·
America the 'beautiful' on Swans
Joe Davison, originally from Scotland, where he was a member of the Scottish Socialist Party, has lived in the U.S. for 5 years. He continues to be active in left wing politics. He currently is a member of the IRSM (Irish Republican Socialist Movement), and has been an organiser in the anti-war movement. Davison wrote this piece struck by the fact that everything happening today in Iraq and around the world, namely the march of one power as it attempts to dominate the globe culturally, economically, politically, and militarily, finds its antecedent in history.
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