A nineteen-year-old youth is made to dig a shallow grave in waste ground beside railway tracks near Limerick bus station and then shot with an automatic pistol.
Eyes blue-green, brown-speckled, of blackbird’s eggs.
He wears a hoodie jacket patterned with attack helicopters.
Murdered because he was going to snitch—go to the guards about a murder he’d witnessed—his friend Cuzzy had fired the shot. The victim had features like a western stone wall. The murder vehicle—a stolen cobalt Ford Kuga—set on fire at Ballyneety near Lough Gur.
The hesitant moment by Lough Gur when blackthorn blossom and hawthorn blossom are unrecognisable from one another, the one expiring, the other coming into blossom.
Creeping willow grows in the waste ground near Limerick bus station—as it was April male catskins yellow, with pollen, on separate trees small greenish female stamens. In April also whitlow grass which Kennedy’s grandmother Evie used to cure inflammation near fingernails and toenails.
In summer creeping cinquefoil grows in the waste ground.
He was called Kennedy by Michaela, his mother, after John F. Kennedy, and Edward Kennedy, both of whom visited this city, the latter with a silver dollar haircut and tie with small knot and square ends. He must have brought a large jar of Brylcreem with him, Kennedy’s father, Bongo, remarked about him.
‘When I was young and comely,
Sure, good fortune on me shone,
My parents loved me tenderly.’
A pious woman found Saint Sebastian’s body in a sewer and had a dream he told her to bury him in the Catacombs.
Catacumbas. Late Latin word. Latin of Julian the Apostate who studied the Gospels and then returned to the Greek gods.
The Catacombs. A place to take refuge in. A place to scratch prayers on the wall in. A place to paint in.
Cut into porous tufa rock, they featured wall paintings such as one of three officials whom Nebuchadnezzar flung in the furnace for not bowing before a golden image of him in the plain of Dura in Babylon but who were spared.
Three officials, arms outstretched, in pistachio-green jester’s apparel amid flames of maple red.
The body of Sebastian the Archer refused death by arrows and he had to be beaten to death. Some have surmised the arrows were symbolic and he was raped.
As the crime boss brought Kennedy to be murdered he told a story:
‘I shook hands with Bulldog who is as big as a Holstein Friesian and who has fat cheeks.
‘It was Christmas and we got a crate and had a joint.
‘He said “I have the stiffness.”
‘He slept in the same bed as me in the place I have in Ballysimon.
‘In the morning he says “Me chain is gone and it was a good chain. I got it in Port Mandel near Manchester.”
‘He pulled up all the bedclothes.
‘He says “I’ll come back later and if I don’t get me chain your Lexus with the wind down roof will be gone.”
‘He came back later but he saw the squad car—“the scum bags,” he said—and he went away.
‘A week later I saw Cocka, a hardy young fellow, with Bulldog’s chain, in Sullivan’s Lane.’
The crime boss, who is descended from the Black and Tans, himself wears a whitegold chain from Crete, an American gold ring large as a Spanish grandee’s ring, a silver bomber jacket and pointy shoes of true white.
He has a stack of nude magazines in his house in Ballysimon, offers you custard and creams from a plate with John Paul II’s—Karol Wojtyla’s—head on it, plays Country and Western a lot.
Sean Wilson—Blue Hills of Breffni, Westmeath Bachelor.
Sean Moore—Dun Laoghaire can be such a Lonely Place.
Johnny Cash—I Walk the Line.
Ballysimon is famed for a legitimate dumping site but some people are given money to dump rubbish in alternative ways. Millionaires from dumping rubbish, it is said of them.
By turning to violence, to murder, they create a history, they create a style for themselves. The become Ikons as ancient as Calvary.
Matthew tells us his Roman solder torturers put a scarlet robe on Christ, Mark and John—a robe of purple.
Emerging from a garda car Kennedy’s companion and accomplice Cuzzy, in a grey pinstripe jersey, is surprised into history.
Centurion’s facial features. A flick of hair to the right above his turf cut makes him a little like a crested grebe.
South Hill boys like Cuzzy are like the man-eating mares of King Diomedes of the Bistones that Hercules was entrusted to capture—one of the twelve labours King Eurystheus imposed on him.
‘If I had to choose between Auschwitz and here,’ he says of his cell, ‘I’d choose Auschwitz.’
As Kennedy’s body is brought to Janesboro church some of his brothers clasp their hands in attitudes of prayer. Others simply drop their heads in grief.
Youths in suits with chest hammer pleats and cigarette-rolled shoulders. Mocksnakeskin shoes. With revolver cufflinks.
One of the brothers has a prison tattoo—three Chinese letters in biro and ink—on the side of his right ear.
The youngest brother is the only one to demur jacket and tie, has his white shirt hanging over his trousers and wears a silver chain with boxing gloves.
Michaela’s—Kennedy’s mother—hair is pêle-mêle blanche-blonde, she wears horntoed, fleur de lys patterned, lace up black high heels, mandorala—oval—ring, ruby and gold diamante on fingernails against her black.
Her businessman boyfriend wears a Saville-Row-style suit chosen from his wardrobe of dark lilac suits, grey and black lounge suits, suits with black collars, wine suits, plum jackets, claret-red velvet one-button jackets.
Kennedy’s father Bongo had been a man with kettle-black eyebrows, who was familiar with the juniper berries and the rowan berries and the scarlet berries of the bittersweet—the woody nightshade—sequestered his foal with magpie face and Talmud scholar’s beard where these berries, some healing, some poisonous, were abundant. He knew how to challenge the witch’s broom.
John Joe Criggs, the umbrella mender in Killeely, used send boys who looked like potoroos—rat kangaroos and prehensile tails—to Weston where they lived, looking for spare copper.
‘You’re as well hung as a stallion like your father,’ Bongo would say to Kennedy. ‘Get a partner.’
In Clare for the summer he once turned to Michaela in the night in Kilrush during a fight.
‘Go into the Kincora Hotel and get a knife so I can kill this fellow.’
He always took Kennedy to Ballyheigue at Marymass—September 8—where people in bare feet took water in bottles from the Holy Well, left scapulars, names and photographs of people who were dead, children who’d been killed.
He fell in a pub fight. Never woke up.
His mother Evie had hung herself when they settled her.
Hair ivory grey at edges, then sienna, in a ponytail tied by velvet ribbon, usually in tattersal coat, maxi skirt, heelless sandals.
On the road she’d loved to watch the mistle thrush who came to Ireland with the Act of Union of 1800, the Wee Willie Wagtail—blue tit—with black eyestrips and lemon breast, the chaffinch with pink lightings on its breast who would come up close to you, in winter the frochán—ring ouzel, white crescent around its breast, bird of river, of crags.
On the footbridge at Doonas near Clondara she told Kennedy of the two Jehovah‘s Witnesses who were assaulted in Clondara, their bibles burned, the crowd cheered on by the Parish Priest, and then the Jehovah‘s Witnesses bound to the peace in court for blasphemy.
Michaela’s father Billser had been in Glin Industrial School. The Christian Brothers, with Abbey School of Acting voices, used get them to strip naked and lash them with the cat of nine tails. Boys with smidgen penises. A dust, a protest of pubic hair. Boys with pubes as red as the fox who came to steal the sickly chickens, orange as the beak of an Aylesbury duck, brown of the tawny owl.
Then bring them to the Shannon when the tide was in and force them to immerse in salt water.
The Shannon food—haws, dulse, barnacles—they ate them. They robbed mangels, turnips. They even robbed the pigs’ and bonhams’—piglets’—food.
‘You have eyes like the blackbird’s eggs. You have eyes like the céirseach’s eggs. You have eyes like the merie’s eggs,’ a Brother, nicknamed the Seabhac—hawk—used tell Billser.
He was called the Seabhac because he used to ravage boys the way the hawk makes a sandwich of autumn brood pigeons or meadow pipits, leaving a flush of feathers.
He had ginger-beer hirsute like the ruffous-barred sparrowhawk that quickly gives up when it misses a target, lays eggs in abandoned crows’ nests.
A second reason for his nickname was because he was an expert in Irish and the paper-covered Irish dictionary was penned by an Seabhac—the Hawk.
Father Edward J. Flanagan from Ballymoe, North Galway, who founded Boys Town in Omaha and was played by Spencer Tracy, came to Ireland in 1946 and visited Glin Industrial School.
The Seabhac gave him a patent hen’s egg, tea in a cup with blackbirds on it, Dundee cake on a plate with the same pattern.
Billser used cry salty tears when he remembered Glin.
Michael’s grandfather Torrie had been in the British Army and the old British names for places in Limerick City kept breaking into his conversation—Lax Weir, Patrick Punch Corner, Saint George’s Street.
Cuzzy and Kennedy met at a Palaestra—boxing club.
Cuzzy was half-Brazilian.
‘My father was Brazilian. He knocked my mother and went away.’
‘Are you riding any woman now?’ he asked Kennedy, who had rabbit-coloured pubes, in the showers.
‘You have nipples like monkey fingers,’ Kennedy said to Cuzzy, who has palomino-coloured pubes, in the showers.
The coach, who looked like a pickled onion with tattoos in the nude was impugned for messing with the teenage boxers. HIV Lips was his nickname.
‘Used box for CIE Boxing Club,’ he said of himself. ‘Would go around the country. They used wear pink-lined vests, and I says no way am I going wear that.’
‘He sniffed my jocks. And there were no stains on them,’ a shaven headed boxer who looked like a defurred monkey or a peeled banana, reported in denunciation of him.
A man who had a grudge against him used scourge a statue of the Greek boxer Theagenes of Thasos until it fell on him, killing him.
The statue was thrown in the sea and fished up by fishermen.
In the Palaestra was a poster of John Cena with leather wrappings on his forearm like the Terme Boxer—Pugile delle Terme—a first century BC copy of a second century BC statue which depicted Theagenes of Thasos.
John Cena in a black baseball cap, briefs showing above trousers beside a lingering poster for Circus Vegas at Two Mile Inn—a kick boxer in mini-bikini briefs and mock-crocodile boots.
Kennedy and Cuzzy were brought to the Garda Station one night when they were walking home from the Boxing Club.
‘They’ll take anyone in tracksuits.’
Cuzzy, aged sixteen, was thrown in the girls’ cell.
Kennedy was thumped with a map lamp, a telephone book used to prevent his body from being bruised.
Cuzzy was thumped with a baton through a towel with soap in it.
A black guard put his tongue in Kennedy’s ear. A Polish guard felt his genitals.
Kennedy punched the Polish guard and was jailed.
Solicitors brought parcels of heroin and cocaine into jail.
Youths on parole would swallow one eighth heroin and fifty euro bags of heroin, thus sneak them in.
One youth put three hundred diazepam, three hundred steroid, three ounces of citric in a bottle, three needles up his anus.
Túr, Cant for anus.
Ríspún, Cant for jail.
Slop out in mornings.
Not even granule coffee for breakfast. Something worse.
Locked up most of the day.
One youth with a golf-ball face, skin-coloured lips of the young Dickie Rock, when his baseball cap was removed, a pronounced bald patch on his blond head, had a parakeet in his cell.
Cuzzy would bring an adolescent Alsatian to the Unemployment Office.
Then he and Kennedy got a job laying slabs near the cement factory at Raheen.
Apart from work, Limerick routine.
Drugs in cling-foil or condoms put up their anuses, guards stopping them—fingers up their anuses.
Tired of the routine they both went to Donegal to train with AC armalite rifles and machine guns in fields turned salmon-colour by ragged robin.
The instructor had a Vietnam veteran pepper and salt beard and wore Stars and Stripes plimsolls.
The farmer who used own the house they stayed in would have a boy come for one month in the summer from an Industrial School, by arrangement with the Brothers.
The boy used sleep in the same bed as him and the farmer made him wear girl’s knickers.
In Kennedy’s room was a poster of Metallica—fuschine bikini top, mini-bikini, skull locket on forehead, fuschine mouth, belly button that looked like a deep cleavage of buttocks, skeleton’s arms about her.
‘It was on Bermuda’s island
That I met with Captain Moore…’
‘It’s like the Albanians. They give you a bit of rope with a knot at the top.
‘Bessa they call it.
‘They will kill you or one of your family.
‘You know the Albanians by the ears. Their ears are taped back at birth.
‘And they have dark eyebrows.
‘I was raised on the Island.
‘You could leave your doors open. They were the nicest people.
‘Drugs spoiled people.’
Weston where Kennedy grew up was like Bedford-Stuyvesant or Brownsville New York where Mike Tyson grew up, his mother, who died when he was sixteen, regularly observing him coming home with clothes he didn’t pay for.
Kennedy once took a €150 tag off a golf club in a Limerick store, replaced it with a €20 tag, and paid for it.
As a small boy he had a Staffordshire terrier called Daisy.
Eyes a blue coast watch, face a sea of freckles, he let the man from Janseboro who sucked little boys’ knobs buy him 99s—the ice-cream cones with chocolate flake stuck in them, syrup on top, or traffic-light cakes—cakes with scarlet and green jellies on the icing.
He’d play knocker gawlai—knock at doors in Weston and run away.
He’d throw eggs at taxis.
Once a taxi driver chased him with a baseball bat.
‘I smoked twenty cigarettes since I was eleven.
‘Used work as a mechanic part-time then.
‘I cut it down to ten and then to five recently. My doctor told me my lungs were black and I’d be on an oxygen mask by the time I was twenty.
The youth in the petrol-blue jacket spoke against the Island on which someone on a bicycle was driving horses.
A lighted motorbike was going up and down Island Field.
We were on the Metal Bridge side of the Shannon.
It was late afternoon, mid-December.
‘They put barbed wire under the Metal Bridge to catch the bodies that float down. A boy jumped off the bridge, got caught in the barbed wire and was drowned.
‘They brought seventeen stolen cars here one day and burned all of them.’
There were three cars in the water now, one upside down, with the wheels above the tide.
‘When I was a child my mother used always be saying “I promised Our Lady of Lourdes. I promised Our Lady of Lourdes.”
‘There’s a pub in Heuwagen in Basel and I promised a friend I’d meet him there.
‘You can get accommodation in Paddington on the way for £20 a night. Share with someone else.’
He turned to me. ‘Are you a Traveller. Do you light fires?’
He asked me where I was from and when I told him he said, ‘I stood there with seventeen Connemara ponies once and sold none of them.’
On his fingers rings with horses’ heads, saddles, hash plant.
His bumster trousers showed John Galliano briefs.
Two stygian hounds approached the ride followed by an owner with warfare orange hair, in a rainbow hoodie jacket, who called Mack after one of them.
He pulled up his jacket and underlying layers to show a tattoo Makaveli on his butter-mahogany abdomen.
‘I got interested in Machiavelli because Tupac was interested in him. Learnt all about him. An Italian philosopher. Nikolo is his first name. Put his tattoo all over my body.
Spelt it Makaveli. Called my Rottweiler-Staffordshire terrier cross breed after him. Mack.
‘Modge is the long haired black terrier.
‘Do you know that Tupac Amaru Shakur was named by his mother after an Inca sentenced to death by the Spaniards?
‘In Inca language: Shining Serpent.
‘Do you know that when the Florentines were trying to recapture Pisa Machiavelli was begged because he was a philosopher to stay at headquarters but he answered,’ and the youth thrust out his chest like Arnold Schwarzenegger for this bit, ‘that he must be with his soldiers because he’d die of sadness behind the lines?
‘They say Tupac was shot dead in Las Vegas. There was no funeral. He’s alive as you or me.
‘I’m reading a book about the Kray Twins now.
‘Beware of sneak attacks.’
And then he went off with Mack and Modge singing the song Tupac wrote about his mother, ‘Dear Mama.’
‘When I was a child my father used take me to Ballyheigue every year.
‘There’s a well there.
‘The priest was saying Mass beside it during the Penal Days and the Red Coats turned up with hounds.
‘Three wethers jumped from the well, ran towards the sea.
‘The hounds chased them, devoured them and were drowned.
‘The priest’s life was spared.’
They were of Thomond, neither of Munster or Connaught, Thomond bodies, Thomond pectorals.
The other occasion I met Kennedy was on a warm February Saturday.
He was sitting in a Ford Focus on Hyde Road in red silky football shorts with youths in similar attire.
He introduced me to one of them, Razz, who had an arm tattoo of a centurion in a G-string.
‘I was in Cloverhill. Remand prison near a courthouse in Dublin. Then Mountjoy. You’d want to see the bleeding place. It was filthy. The warden stuck his head in the cell one day and “You’re for Portlaoise.” They treat you well in Portlaoise.’
‘What were you in jail for?’
‘A copper wouldn’t ask me that.’
A flank of girls in acid-pink and acid-green tops was hovering near this portmanteau of manhood like coprophagous—dung-eating—gulls hovering near cows for the slugs in their dung.
A little girl in sunglasses with mint green frontal frames, flamingo wings, standing nearby, said to a little girl in a lemon and peach top who was passing:
‘There are three birthday cards inside for you, Tiffany.’
‘It’s not my birthday.’
‘It is your fucking birthday.’
And then she began chasing the other like a skua down Hyde Road, in the direction of the bus station, screaming, ‘Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to you.’
Flowers of the magnolia come first in Pery Square Park near the Bus Station, tender yellow-green leaf later.
A Traveller boy cycled by the sweet chestnut blossoms of Pery Square Park the day they found Kennedy’s body, firing heaped on his handlebars.
I am forced to live in a city of Russian tattooists, murderously shaven heads, Romanian accordionists, the young in pall bearers’ clothes—this is the hemlock they’ve given me to drink.
The Maigue in West Limerick, as I crossed it, was like the old kettles Kennedy’s ancestors used mend.
Travellers used make rings from old teaspoons and sometimes I wondered if they could make rings from the discarded Hackenberg lager cans or Mr Sheen All-Surface Polish cans beside the Metal Bridge.
I am living in the city for a year when a man who looks as if his face has been kicked in by a stallion, approaches me on the street.
‘I’m from Limerick city and you’re from Limerick city. I know a Limerick city face. I haven’t seen you there for a while. How many months did you get?’