On and off, I’d been intimate with Connie so I knew that most of the Cosmo stuff was nonsense. (‘Sleeping around but cool with it, Eddie, you know?’ she’d routinely yawn with a crafted nonchalance.) But there couldn’t have been any suggestion of traducement—which is as it should be, whether for a country and its citizens or a brace of self-consciously mutinous individuals coquetting in the gloom of a seventies bedsit.
Or arguing about art and politics in the Pembroke, debating the latest production in The Cellar, the little theatre Mairead Curtin had founded.
The Socialist Workers’ Party met weekly in the CIE hall in Marlboro Street. The decade was exclusively ours—we were certain of that. Connie would always be on hand for a spirited rendition of The Internationale—taking impressive command of the rostrum with that sturdy voice we all admired.
‘It’s ours for the taking,’ we told ourselves. And meant it. But the seventies came and went, as did a Marlboro Street hero of the time, a charismatic advocate of the approaching revolutionary decade—defecting first to the right and then, before we could satisfactorily vent our fury, inconveniently dying.
I don’t know how to put it—I suppose it would be accurate to acknowledge a gradual disaffection. But the truth is, essentially, that I had recently fallen in love with another woman—a pal of Connie’s, as it turned out, also a party member—Olwyn Price, who was beginning to make a name for herself as an artist.
I had met her first in Wynn’s Hotel, across the road from the magazine office where she worked part-time, a listings periodical for which she also occasionally drew cartoons. It had happened pretty quick, and unexpectedly— among the whiskey-reddened priests and overfed countrywomen, the wives of farmers and rural politicians, who made up the greater proportion of the clientele at that time. The hotel was close to my place of employment—just across the bridge from O’Connell House and the road traffic division of the Department Of Transport.
We had both been attending a massive PAYE march. She’d come breezing through the door of the hotel with a bulging folder of files under her arm, tossing back her corkscrew hair as I brought her a gin and tonic. She’d always had a reputation for forthrightness, of which I’d been unaware when I fell for her. She moved the folder and rested her chin on her fist as she stared at me. ‘I’ll come straight to the point,’ I heard her say as she contemplatively clinked the ice in the glass. ‘There isn’t any point in us continuing like this. Because I don’t love you, Eddie.’
I met her on and off after that but didn’t spend any great deal of time with her until my father’s funeral in 2005. She had travelled specially up from Dublin. I’d like to say, like you so often read in stories, that she looked as beautiful as ever—or that she was even more attractive, in a kind of distant and glamourous way—but it wouldn’t be true.
She had ended up teaching—from which she had taken early retirement— citing exhaustion, she told me. Not to mention disappointment, that much was evident, with her artistic career—which, having flourished briefly in the early to mid-eighties with a number of highly regarded exhibitions, had eventually stalled.
Before obscurity claimed her, or so I inferred. That day of the funeral was one which might have been selected specifically for the occasion, direct from the pages of a nineteen-fifties short story—with soft rain sweeping in swathes across the cemetery, as all the old soldiers of the Fianna Fáil party lowered their heads, displaying their medals on suits of blue serge. She had known my father, Olwyn—even if just a little. The old warrior, I remember she had called him with gratifying respect and affection—before finally departing and heading back to the city.
In The Errigal Hotel afterwards—through the great picture window you could see the rain lashing the sides of the majestic granite mountain—my father’s brother Laochra was animatedly relating some of his celebrated stories—in his way, just like Matthew, an old battler too. ‘I’ll never forget the night Mattie Bonner riz the roof! Proceeding to declare, after a couple more whiskies, that he personally would have no problem going over to bomb the House Of Commons. ‘To hell with Churchill and all his Irish lackeys! There were no turncoats for the likes of Commandant Bonner—whatever else he might have done, he went to his grave never having sold the pass!’
As a very young man, aged only fifteen, my father had fought in the 1916 Rising, and in the War Of Independence and Civil War later on. We’d been brought up on all of it. Which was how my brother Brendan had become involved. We’d had many arguments—mostly about my growing leftist tendencies.
‘There isn’t any room for such luxuries, I’m afraid,’ was a not uncommon utterance of his around that time.
He had always been impulsive, Brendan—arguably naive. Although maybe in retrospect that’s unfair. Anyway, eventually, when the Troubles broke out again, after Derry in 1972, he became deeply and seriously involved.
Once he had called to my office in Dublin—unmistakably in a state. That was the night I hid the pistol. Although ‘never again’ I told him and meant it. It was things like that that kept us real close—even though I considered his commitment misguided. With it turning out the firearm had belonged to a friend from Tyrone—soon to be a hunger-striking colleague. One of the lucky ones who didn’t die, a Hugh McGeeney from a townland called Lavey. Which was, and remains, a place where they viewed things rather uncomplicatedly. That they’d been fucked for years and now were fucking back.
When he put his name forward as a candidate for the proposed hunger strike—or should I say put their names forward, for McGeeney was equally as enthusiastic as my brother—to be honest I found myself devastated, and the coming dread I sensed had returned that wet grey afternoon when Olwyn had sat across from me in the hotel lounge bar and coolly, unflinchingly announced as she licked the Rizla paper: ‘You see, the situation, Eddie, is—I just don’t love you.’
I hadn’t bothered going back to the office, deciding instead to drink and wander aimlessly around the city, right through the day and into the night. Mimicking as I did so the compulsive, map-less journey of the protagonist of a movie I picked up along the way—a disturbed schoolteacher played by Diane Keaton in Looking For Mr Goodbar, an uncompromising and transgressive exegesis of self-loathing and uncertain identity.
My brother had ultimately decided that he had no option but to commit himself and become involved in the struggle for liberation, as he had no problem calling it. Eventually setting up a stall in the Dandelion Market, flogging his personally authored pamphlets about James Connolly and the necessity of ‘cleansing’ and left-wing revolution. A federalist solution was the one he favoured most, he would insist, with his speech unconsciously echoing that expression of clipped certainty and truncated delivery that so identified ‘colleagues’ of their persuasion during those years—combined with their regulation livery of vented leather jacket and flared denim jeans, a separate tribe of Northern sympathisers.
He would give me regular lectures in The Buttery in Trinity, where we met occasionally after he’d called into the office. ‘It’s like the old man used to say,’ he announced once more with unshakeable conviction, ’that as sure as grass grows and rivers flow there will never be peace in Ireland until Britain relinquishes her illegitimate claim to our territory.’
They had fired a volley of shots over my father’s grave and an old civil-war comrade had affectionately clasped my hand as the two of us stood there. ’I seen that man,’ I remember he began, ’I seen him defying a Brigadier, a right bastard, who was shoving a red-hot poker into his face. Do your worst, your father spat back, for you do nothing but further undermine your already untenable position. I despise you and your illicit authority. That was what he said, Matt Bonner. I heard it myself. And it fair shook the Tommy.’
Brendan had always been proud of that story and I’d heard him repeat it many times. Then in 1971 or thereabouts he had become involved with another splinter group—Aiséirí, they called themselves, pledging themselves anew to the time-honoured faith of rebirth and resurrection.
‘Rebirth!’ he declared, ‘and this time we’ll finish it. Aiséirí, Edward! That’s all that matters now—with the Irish nation once and for all reborn!’
He had composed and published a number of small pamphlets for them, detailing the precepts and principles of their cause.
‘A necessary purgation,’ he had growled at me one night, drunk, ‘and them that’s not with us, let them be advised to stand aside!’
I remember sitting there half-dazed one evening after a particular arduous day at work, in front of a one-bar electric heater when I turned towards the window of the ground floor flat and saw him standing outside the window—unusually furtive, disturbingly agitated. I would lose my job if they found him there, I told him. As he leaned forward in the chair, drawing repeatedly on the cigarette as he stammered: ’Of all the things to happen, Eddie. Of all the things to fuckin‘ happen, you know?’
A policeman had been wounded in the bank raid. He hadn’t been arrested—not on that occasion. When it had all blown over, he had re-emerged on the scene and could generally be found in his usual spot—in the Toby Jugg pub, a brass and burnt oak place directly across from the market where he kept the stall.
McGeeney would show up there the odd weekend too, having driven all the way down from Tyrone. ’Ah, the reluctant nationalist!‘ he’d snort impatiently with derision when he’d see me. ‘Boys, but your father would he feel let down!’
These were the days just prior to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings when the conflict seemed remote and reasonably contained. With the streets of the secure southern city ringing out nightly to the sound of ribald, sabre-rattling ballads popular at the time, including: ‘We’re on the one road!’, ‘Four Green Fields’, and the more conciliatory ‘The Town I Loved So Well’.
Olwyn had been gone from me close on a year when I heard the news about McGeeney. He’d been apprehended with a consignment of explosives on a backroad in South Armagh and taken to Castlereagh Barracks for interrogation, before eventually receiving a sentence of twenty-five years.
It was after that I committed what can only be described as a brazen act— calling up Olwyn on the night of his conviction, shamefully courting her sympathies—trading on another man’s wound, as my father might have had it, quoting his hero Ernie O’Malley.
‘I’m becoming really worried about Brendan,’ I said, ‘this is really getting fucking serious. Do you think that maybe I could come around and talk about it?’
I ought, of course, to have known—and perhaps I did—that she’d instinctively intuit my shabby motivations. ‘It’s selfish, she said, ‘you doing this—thinking only about yourself in such circumstances. It’s beneath you. And as well as that, unnecessary. I’ll always be your friend, Eddie—but the fact is, I’m seeing someone else.’
I had wound up that night in the company of Connie and Big Janis, an American who flitted around the fringes of our circle—arguing over some inconsequential drama production or other. In this case a Gaelic language version of Samuel Beckett’s Krapp‘s Last Tape, which Mairead had mounted against all advice, to her eternal regret. ’If The Cellar Theatre’, wrote The Evening Herald, ‘wished to radicalise and reclaim this great playwright, they might have engaged the services of an Irish speaker who could actually act.’ There was subsequent talk of closing the theatre down but, as so often before, it never happened and we continued with our regular weekend meetings in The Pembroke Inn.
I continued to wonder who Olwyn’s new lover was, regularly telephoning O’Connell Bridge House to inform them yet again that I wouldn’t be making it into work. Preferring instead to walk over to Drumcondra, where I knew she was lecturing part-time in the evenings. I only caught a glimpse of her once— climbing onto a bus, with her hessian bag swinging out behind her.
So often I could sense her presence beside me, with the prominence of a missing tooth—as I did now, in the dim afternoon interior of the Abbey Street cinema the two of us had used to frequent. Absurdly, I found myself reaching out to touch the absent hand. As Mr Goodbar again continued unspooling— taunting me, it seemed, with the suggestion that I might possibly consider exchanging places with Diane Keaton—join her in her obsessive and compulsive hunt for ecstasy through self-abasement, in the parlous domain of midtown Manhattan, trawling one murky singles bar after another.
It was while I was mopping the film of sweat off my brow turning all these ideas over in my head that I suddenly felt the entire cinema quake to its foundations—stumbling blindly out of my seat as the lights blazed on, with the harsh sound of sirens already tearing up the calm of early evening. I emerged into a city in the process of being remorselessly devastated. A woman stumbled past me holding a shoe as I shrank back into a nearby doorway, a steel girder falling to earth in front of me. Across the street, a department store window caved in—then came the sound of yet another explosion, only this time duller. As a young policeman pleaded through a loud-hailer: ‘There may be other devices! Please go home. Please will youse for God’s sake go home?’
As though intoxicated, I picked my way through the mounds of blackened masonry and just sat there, blankly, in the corner booth of a deserted café. Outside the fire engines raced past in a crimson blur. I lost all track of time.
It transpired that over four hours had elapsed when I eventually got back to the flat in Rathmines, finding the landlord standing waiting for me in the hall—observing me darkly as I turned to close the door behind me, still over- alert in the aftermath of the catastrophe. Just as he was, suppressed and wired standing there in the shadows.
‘Your crowd!’ he hissed, ’a ring of steel around the border is what we want!’ Special Branch had been watching the flat for months, he told me—with my simply being Brendan’s brother enough to validate such a degree of attention. ‘I’ll have to ask you to leave,’ he concluded, ’I’ll want the keys by Saturday at the latest.’
That was the end of the romance with Northern nationalists. Even the snug in The Toby Jugg was not immune. As I was to realise only a few nights later, at the ballad session which was normally lively and spirited by nine o’clock, with renditions of ‘Only Our Rivers Run Free’ and similar anthems raising the rafters. Now there wasn’t a sound to be heard. With everyone, it seemed, reaching for their drinks in slow motion, glassily endeavouring to comprehend the enormity of what had happened—already halfway to being corpses themselves.
‘Here is the news read by Maurice O’Doherty.’ I lifted my eyes towards the flickering screen. The Red Hand Commandoes—a loyalist splinter group—had issued a statement vowing to ‘extirpate all remaining Fenian scum, every Irish treasonous rat that remained in Dublin. Make no mistake: there will be more bombs,’ they said.
As, with the pint glass almost splintering in my hand, sitting there in the dim corner of the bar, I experienced a vision of Olywn Price hurrying anxiously out the gates of Scoil Mhuire as another bomb blast rent the air and the hessian bag went flying and I heard her call out helplessly: ‘Eddie Bonner! It’s you I want!’
As, across the landscape of a credulous, over-heated mind, a comically fictive ambulance rushed towards the scene. As the real-time newsreader confirmed further details of yet another casualty, an elderly lady who had only just passed away in the Royal Victoria hospital.
‘Our sympathies go to her friends and family,’ said the priest who had been first on the scene of the explosion. ‘I just hope that the people who did this can live with themselves. And are happy with the consequences of their blood-and-death cult. For that’s what it is. Rebirth? Death, I call it. Death and suffering, for that’s all it ever brings.’
Brendan had lasted forty-seven days on his hunger-strike. I had received the news in the middle of the night.
The reception arranged in the aftermath of his interment had been impressively dominated by Dessie Milner—subsequently a European minister—with his kiss curl and trademark grin very much in evidence as he moved effortlessly through the crowd, immaculate in his cream-white suit.
At one time he and Hugh McGeeney had been inseparable. But now—after his participation in the ultimate sellout, when the country had been offered on a plate to a cabal of international financiers and bondholders, his former colleague would willingly have put a bullet in his head.
‘That was the day it ended for me and Dessie Milner’, he had told me, ‘what I like to call The Day Of The Traducement—when I saw that fleet of black Lexus cars coming in and out of Government Buildings after they had signed the deal with our so-called ‘European partners’—effectively bankrupting the fucking place, Eddie—and then to deny that any kind of deal had been done! When he knew the fucking truth—when he knew what had happened was we’d been bullied into the ground by the Troika and we took it, like we always seem to do in the end—time backs aching for the lash. Our day will come, my old mucker used to say—well, it has. And it’s gone, and along with it the ghosts of the idiot dead—committed patriots and fucking-well innocents alike.’
After that day in 2008—what he insisted on calling ‘The End Of Ireland’—I had begun to visit him regularly up the mountains.
Old habits die hard, sighed Hugh McGeeney lugubriously, poking away at the insides of a watch—a horologist by trade, those skills had proved most useful indeed during the course of the Troubles.
When he had initially heard of my forthcoming plan, he told me that he thought that I’d been drinking or taking ‘something’.
But I didn’t flinch. ‘I’m going to take the whole thing down, McGeeney—blow the shit out of it, once and for all. A proper Aiséirí, I guess you might say. Government Buildings—one last big strike.’
He nodded for a bit and then lapsed into a brooding silence. Then, raising his head, gazed challengingly, piercingly into my eyes, sighing wearily as he swilled from the can of cheap beer.
‘You’re just like him, aren’t you? You might as well be fucking Brendan Bonner’s twin. Just as obsessive as he was when it comes to it. Like I say, old habits die hard—the faith of Laochra Bonner, ancient old warrior, lives on. It’s not just his face that you’ve got. One big fucking strike—man fucking dear, some mothers do ‘ave ‘em!’
A kid, if Olwyn and I had been so fortunate, I found myself thinking as the two of us stood there—she had planned to call Rosa, after her heroine Rosa Luxembourg. There had been talk at one point, also, of maybe buying an artisan dwelling—perhaps in The Liberties, which was fashionable then. But there wasn’t going to be any artisan dwelling—or any children called Rosa either.
I had left the Toby Jugg that afternoon in another brandy-and-Guinness fuelled stupor, almost managing to get myself into a fight with the police. All I can remember about the details of the dispute is the officer in question giving me a vicious shove—actually close to breaking down himself, I now realise.
‘Just, for Christ’s sake, go on fucking home—don’t you know the sort of times we’re living in? Please!’
But I didn’t—go home, I mean. Instead I boarded the Belfast train—at Amiens Street, Connolly, climbed aboard the Enterprise for Belfast.
York Street, Bombay Street, Cawnpore Street, all these winding arteries of empire, I kept thinking—in the middle of my bemusement somehow managing to lose my way—Fraser Street, Trillick Street, Kashmir Road—before finding myself right back where I started.
It eventually became a bewildering maze. Before, in a bar beside a car park— typically deserted and showered in glass—I found myself talking about the music of Bobby Darin to an old-time rocker of sixty or thereabouts—a fitter, he told me, by the name of Victor.
‘There’s good and bad on both sides,’ I heard him continue. ‘That’s the way it is in this unfortunate conflict. Sooner or later we’re all going to have to get together. I’m just an old-time rocker, my friend.’ He laughed heartily, turning his head to display his ample sideburns. ‘But, like I say, at the end of the day I’ve always had a soft spot for good-time crooners like Wee Bobby Darin.’
I leaned across the jukebox, selecting the disc of ‘Beyond The Sea’, while my new friend smiled appreciatively in warm recognition. Then the door suddenly swung open and an equally rotund associate was seen to enter, around the same age. Who told me he was pleased to see me and heartily welcomed me to his ‘wee city’.
I barely acknowledged him—listening to Bobby as I stared off out across the abandoned parking lot, with its glass splinters swaying—like Bobby Darin’s silver ocean.
‘What takes you up to wee Belfast?’ asked the pal. ‘Maybe I’m searching,’ I returned with some stoicism. ‘Like Diane Keaton— you haven’t by any chance seen her around?’
‘He’s funny,’ the pal chirped. ‘I’ll give him that—he’s funny. But you don’t have to worry, friend—we’ll help you. We’ll help you find this woman of yours. Because we know plenty of dolls like that—don’t we, Victor?’
‘We do indeed,’ replied Victor. ’Maybe.’ I remember there was a paper—The Irish News—lying on the counter as we ordered our final drink. It carried a photo of Dessie Milner on the cover, grinning away, but with the trademark white suit not yet in evidence. ’We will not stop—yes our campaign will continue until the day finally comes—and come it will, make no mistake. When this divided country, this ancient land which has been so cruelly sundered will at long last be reunited.’ His glittering steel eyes were unflinching beneath the kiss-curl.
At what point the woman had joined our company I couldn’t say. She reminded me immediately of the comedienne Barbara Windsor—bouffant- haired starlet of so many British comedies. She sat on my knee with her arm around my neck. Where exactly it was they had taken me, I couldn’t, not with any degree of accuracy, say. It was somewhere in a backstreet in the eastern part of the city. Victor was in the process of fixing more drinks. ‘Molotov cocktails,’ he laughed good-naturedly—before crouching down and reaching deep inside a cabinet. ’He likes Bobby Darin,’ I heard him say—as his associate nodded appreciatively. Victor had found his bottles, he declared, which he then set assiduously about uncapping.
‘Who sings about lovers way out on the ocean,’ he smiled, holding up the opened bottles. ‘Way out on the ocean there and on golden sands. Watching them sailing, you know, wee honey? Watching the what’s that go sailing, honey, do you think?’
‘Ships,’ giggled Barbara Windsor, perkily. ‘Ships, Victor.’ As his associate struck me forcibly—just once—with a single perfectly- judged blow of the wheelbrace. Clearly he had done it before, I remember thinking—and the last thing I saw was her and Victor holding hands. ‘Ships,’ she repeated, as everything folded and he whispered: ‘Mrs Goodbar. Here she is!’ And a blackness of extraordinary immensity overtook me as I was swept
up by a sea of glimmering silver that seemed to flow through all of time and infinite space.
‘Welcome to Manhattan,’ I heard Diane Keaton softly whisper, ‘on this profane altar now at last you’re free.’
‘Look at me! I’m a queen!’ Barbara Windsor was bleating, giddily sporting a rudimentary newspaper-crown. As Victor interrupted and impishly wagged an admonitory finger. ’No!’ he corrected. ‘Not just a queen but the Queen of all England! One that this Fenian fucker is going to pledge allegiance to. Aren’t you, Irish? Going to fall on your knees before Her Majesty?’
‘Oh! I like it!’ Barbara squealed as she began trembling giddily. ’I really do like it, being the queen! It’s fab!’
Chips were shoved into my mouth one after another. ‘The wee man adores me!’ Barbara tinkled—at which point I passed out anew. But not before seeing Olwyn standing wiggling before me. ‘Look!’ she was saying, ‘Look, Eddie, there it is—the future!’
With my father, out of nowhere, appearing then, attired splendidly in slouch hat and bandolier, completely transfigured. ‘I’ve just heard,’ he was saying, ‘Edward, son, I’ve just been told this minute. That everything we fought for has been vindicated. What wonderful news. How our enemies now will hang their heads when they hear that our every demand had finally been acceded to. Aiséirí! Our day has come! And it’s a happy man who stands here this day, before returning to sleep forever soundly in his grave!’
Victor and his associate had administered further savage beatings, as Barbara Windsor The Queen looked on disinterestedly, consuming the chips from her crumpled greasy bag. ‘All you had to do was say whatever they asked you to,’ she sighed impatiently. ‘Why did you have to be so stupid?’
They had simply demanded that I curse the Pope and pledge consummate fealty to Her Majesty, head of the armed forces in Ireland. ‘Never!’ I had obstinately repeated, invoking the shade of my father, wincing before the Tommy’s glowing poker.
’If I didn’t know better I’d swear that Irish wants to die!’ I heard Victor snarl. ‘Why would anyone want to die?’ a now visibly agitated Barbara Windsor responded with her back to the wall. ‘No one could be as stupid as that—not even a Catholic!’
‘Did you hear that?’ snapped Victor, as his pal caught my hair and hauled my head backwards. ‘She says that no one could be that dumb, not even a Taig! Now do what we say. Say you’re forever a subject of the Queen!’
As I thought of Roger Casement and his black-draped casket arriving on a bier, with a volley of shots ringing out defiantly above his grave. My brother and I had been at the repatriation of his remains in 1966.
‘Never!’ I spat. ‘Ooh cheeky!’ giggled Barbara, but you could tell she was on the verge of tears. ‘Please!’ she said to Victor, ‘please, baby, will you let him go—it’s already gone way too far!’
They threw me out the back door of a car and left me lying on a patch of waste ground. When the doctor examined me he told me I was lucky to be alive. At work I never referred to the Belfast episode—lying that I had been in a car accident down the country. If I did become a lot more withdrawn in myself, which I assume was the case, it wasn’t remarked upon. Not even by Devanney, who just continued, every so often, to look up from his paper, muttering derisively as he gave it an impatient shake: ‘Look who’s just decided to join us—laugh-a-minute Les fucking Dawson!’
‘Their inheritance is that of the robber barons of the gilded age,’ Olwyn used to say. ‘And just like them they take their sense of entitlement for granted.’ Before throwing on her coat and heading down to yet another meeting—at SIPTU headquarters or in the CIE hall. On that particular occasion, though, it was the Teachers’ Club in Parnell Square, as I recall. She and some colleagues, she explained as she searched for her keys, were committed once and for all to the amalgamation of the three teachers’ unions. ‘Let the barons beware, for the coming tide will wash over them. Believe you me, this decade is going to be different. There is something inevitable about it, Eddie. So watch out, Soldiers Of Destiny, Warriors Of The Rearguard, and every other sly running dog of capitalism, exponents of self-serving mendacity and sly populism.’
One by one she itemised them, crossing the floor—none of which mattered a great deal now. She called back that she’d meet me in The Buttery at two. We’d lived together in that little Rathmines flat for over a year—a typically spartan attic, with a drab lace curtain and cold-water tap, stacks of black bicycles lying in the hall.
There had always been something of the priest about you, she said, with qualities which might have been useful in politics—had I been interested. I guess she was right for after we parted I might as well have taken a vow of celibacy.
One night in The Toby Jugg, though, sometime in the early eighties, I happened to fall in with an American—high cheek-boned, hailing from some unremarkable Midwestern state. There could be no denying her affections and as we danced blearily to Blondie in some late night club I had to admit that the feelings were mutual.
But, unfortunately, when I awoke in the dawn light back at her place, the face I set eyes on was that of Olwyn Price.
I had once written a schoolboy essay—entitled ‘Sacrifice at Easter’—a precursor, I suppose, of my much-anticipated ‘final strike’ on Government Buildings. Yes, my ‘vanity project’, as Hugh McGeeney had taken to calling it—the one I’d continue to outline for him in comprehensive detail. ‘Aiséirí,’ I said, ‘only this time a proper, co-ordinated revolutionary act and one which has every prospect of military success—with me, effectively, assuming the role of the very first Irish suicide bomber.’
In that much-praised school composition, I had cast myself as Padraig Pearse—with an accompanying sketch illustrating the barrister-turned- schoolteacher surrendering to Christ as a choir of angels called out his name. Against a background of green, white and gold, depicting him splayed cruciform against the heavens as the life force finally began to ebb—like Diane Keaton in a darkened cinema, in night-town Manhattan—crying out in a delirious excelsis, at once sacred and profane.
Afterwards, privately, the incident in Belfast continued to take its toll—with one purported ‘sick day’ turgidly following upon another.
With me remaining alone in my city centre flat, oscillating between the twin images eliding across my subconscious—that of Olwyn dismissively shaking her head: ’It was never destined to work between us, Eddie—and even if it had you’d have probably destroyed it—wilfully, I mean. Because you only respond to what you can’t have.’
And that of my father arriving up beside me—anxious but proud as he laid a familiar, protective hand upon my shoulder: ’Us Bonners, son, in the end we always show them—unyielding, you prevailed! I’m proud of you, son, that we should live to rise again!’
I’d do the best I could to forget them—Victor, his pal the fat one and Barbara Windsor. But then in the night they’d arrive up with scrupulous precision, standing there by the side of the bed and regarding me with voided, indifferent eyes. A state of affairs which continued long after I had sold the mews. Now finding myself lying there as a matter of course—awaiting them, in the capacious suburban house I’d eventually purchased in Rathfarnham.
They rarely disappointed. ‘Somewhere beyond the sea,’ I’d hear Victor whisper, and then he’d be gone. Hugh McGeeney gave me whatever advice he could. ‘Whenever I find myself beginning to get troubled or edgy about things that happened during those years,’ he told me. ’I only have to dwell on the face of Dessie Milner— and after that, all I can do is laugh myself to sleep. Did you know it was him in the car the night we stiffed McElligott?’
McElligott, I knew, was a British agent, an informer of many years standing. ‘It was Dessie Milner, and no one else, who gave the order. They dug him up recently, McElligott—the committee for the disappeared or whatever they call it.’
And as I thought of the clouds of grey smoke rising from the soon-to-be devastated Edwardian majesty of Government Buildings, I couldn’t keep from thinking about how the dead, whether of Dublin or Belfast or anywhere else, are routinely at once recruited and reduced.
‘Everyone is a victim in this conflict,’ I’d heard Milner attest on more than one occasion. ‘Everyone—without exception.’
And lowered my head in sympathy with the traduced departed. ‘We’re used to it,’ I imagined I heard them murmur, ‘we have become habituated to these tediously enervated, reflexive calumniations.’
As I thought of Dessie Milner—in an unfortunate tableau which continued to arrive unbidden in my mind—picking his way through yet another recently bombed town centre. Before bending down as if in the process of preparing to hear the dying man’s confession. Not that he was alone, of course—for he most certainly wasn’t, with a fleet of sleek black Lexus cars discreetly parked, chauffeurs at the ready to collect his new associates, discreet and polite in their smart overcoats and tinted glasses. Who listened patiently as he explained to his moaning, baffled, soon-to-be-former constituents:
‘There’s no need to worry—for you will not have given your lives in vain. And the Ireland you dream of, fear not, it will eventually come to pass. Except, perhaps, in a different way. What? What’s that you say?’
As he covered his face to conceal his exasperation, with the little ginger kiss- curl dropping decadently across his forehead, before a black-suited official discreetly tapped him on the shoulder. ‘Certainly,’ he whispered in response. ‘Just give me one more minute will you—I think this fellow’s on his last legs.’
It must be emphasised, however, that whatever appraisals might come to pass in its aftermath, at no time had my decision to execute a ‘final, conclusive and cathartic revolutionary act’ been arrived at lightly—my private passion play as I liked to think of it. Tossing and turning nightly as I apprehended a bloated cloud of black and grey smoke rising above Government Buildings in glorious, unrepentant triumph.
No, ‘Sacrifice at Easter’ was anything now but a would-be therapeutic, fantastical diversion—it was nothing if not real and very soon would become an extremely formidable reality.
With the complexities of ordnance remaining the sole responsibility of Hugh McGeeney. As he demonstrated yet another bewildering assembly of wheels and spindles, chuckling away softly to himself as he did so. He went through the process a number of times.
‘What escapes me, comrade, is why you should even care. Because the sell- out, my friend, has been and gone a long time now. They published the letter in the paper last week—from the ECB to the Irish government. In which they threatened to see that a bomb would go off in Dublin—if this sovereign state was not seen to comply with their stipulated wishes.’
‘We’ll soon see about bombs!’ I laughed. As did he.
It turned out to be remarkably simple in the end—and for anyone like us brought up on a farm and familiar from an early age with tractor parts, machinery and the like, even more so. A tiny device was attached to the underside of the intended vehicle, and when the car containing the bomb mounted a small incline, the device exploded. The tilting caused water in the switch to be mixed with mercury and this in turn set off an electrical current and detonated the bomb. McGeeney even sold me the second car—the one which was the intended ‘operations vehicle’ as he would have called it back in the day. Once it had been primed, it could be parked close to the bookshop in Duke Street, not far from Government Buildings, where I could pick it up.
‘Go raibh míle maith agat, mo chara,’ I heard McGeeney saying, as he stuffed the remainder of the notes into his wallet, ‘but I hope you know that any of this won’t bring back the brother you used to know, and worse than that in two or three weeks the whole thing will be forgotten—that is, if you succeed with your little vainglorious one-man revolution. That’s something I’ve learned to my cost. You might have a chance, however—providing you don’t clash with Celebrity Doctors.’
It might perhaps have turned out differently had Dessie Millner not been the central figure in an important news report—relayed that night at the very same time as my putative assault on the system—being hoisted aloft by his jubilant supporters at some municipal function or other. Or had I not received a phone call informing me of the recent death of Olwyn Price—from ovarian cancer, in London, where she’d lived for many years.
After that I just remained there, sitting—ossified, half-dazed from the brandy. And all I could see was her climbing again into the car, before turning for just a moment to vow one last time that ‘the seventies would be socialist’.
As Dessie Millner cleaned his gun and bent down to inspect an arrangement of inert and expressionless figures—smiling at the cameras and parting his hands in imprecation as he began: ‘There is no question whatsoever of betraying the Irish people. All of these rumours are mischievous and irresponsible—the fact is, my record stands. And I can safely assure anyone who fears that things might be otherwise that our national sovereignty shall never be impugned. Not on my watch, a chairde: go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir!’
In recent times I go out very little—with just the occasional visit to the shops, for cigarettes or perhaps The Irish Times. Which carries daily financial reports in which the country is reported as ‘behaving well.‘
I had the same dream again about my father last night. With the shots being discharged in a volley over his grave, and all his old comrades together in their blue suits under the trees. Before, to my astonishment, I watched as he clambered across the lip of the oblong hole—in his civil-war green, complete with slouch hat and brown leather bandolier, clawing his way past the still- moist mound of earth. At first he had appeared unusually composed and placid but then his expression altered dramatically.
‘What’s wrong, Eddie?’ I heard him plead anxiously. ‘I’m really worried about you—please will you tell me you’re okay!’
And, with that, he was gone, supplanted by a pen-waving Jeremy Kyle, in the process of berating a feral, dissembling youth for over-indulgence in unprotected sex with a variety of women.
‘Have you no sense of moral or civic responsibility?’ the strutting host demanded shrilly, waving the pen in front of the boy’s face.
Maybe one day it will happen—that they’ll interrupt Jeremy Kyle, and a dramatic newsflash will proceed to describe in great detail the extraordinary exploits of the first home-grown Irish suicide bomber. Who, in what looked like a moment of madness had blown up Government Buildings, himself perishing in the process.
‘First reports would seem to indicate that the perpetrator was a sixty-two- year-old civil servant male.’
And for two or three days, strident debates will follow with round-the- clock coverage: the camera homing in on my dead father’s medal, and the only surviving copy of Brendan’s seventies pamphlet, its single-word title stamped in green on the cover, against a background of white and gold.
‘The seventies will be socialist,’ Olwyn said.
I’ll get the odd letter from Connie still and once Big Janis called when she happened to be back in Dublin. Kay Sherry recently retired as president of the National Women’s Council, after many years of distinguished service.
Mairead Curtin I lost contact with long ago. The suburb is leafy and quiet—almost to an unearthly degree. People call at odd hours and I’ve been thinking seriously of disconnecting the doorbell altogether.
Only last weekend there was a representative from Sky, offering me a ‘knockdown package’—I can’t remember for what.
It’s the Maze Hunger Strikers’ anniversary this coming Easter. Perhaps I’ll find the courage to do it then, expire at the head of my own private insurrection. Yes, see my little hymn of oblation and redemption through to its ultimate, necessary conclusion: Sacrifice at Easter.
Unmindfully waiting for Countdown to begin, in the company of the seasoned, insouciant dead.