Celtic Illumination, part 228, The old home town looks the same.
As Tom Jones once sang, It’s good to touch the green, green, grass of home, and it was, although I don’t think he was referring to someone face down on the ground with a fully armed Rock Ape kneeling on his head. I have to say the Rock Apes were quite an excitable lot; even the dog was going mental. They ripped my wallet from my rear pocket and passed my identity card around till they could find one of them who could read. Once it was established that I was in the air force, I was helped to my feet and questioned. It was the usual line of questioning, who are you, what are you doing here, have you ever kissed a girl and if so what was it like? The one question they asked which had them stop and think for a moment was ‘Who gave you permission to walk across my bloody airfield?’
You know me, unable to tell a lie. I pointed to the nasty loadmaster who was still stood standing by the nose of the Fat Albert we had just come in on. ‘Him.’ I said. ‘He gave me permission to walk across your airfield.’ I didn’t hang around to see if the loadmaster would, like I had, be wrestled to the ground for questioning, instead I made haste to the air operations building and stepped inside. I simply followed my nose and made my way to the operations room. I saw my man at a desk and went over to lean against the counter next to him and wait for him to get off the telephone. I began to look around and as everything in the military is kept as simple as possible, it was easy to see that I was right in the centre of air operations for Northern Ireland. The walls were covered with lots of maps, with lots of red circles.
It was just as well that I wasn’t a terrorist because listed before me in nice huge, easy to read, letters were all the call signs, frequencies, code words and squadron locations and strengths. That’s when I felt someone breathing down my neck. I don’t mean that someone was standing close to me, well I do, but I could actually feel this person breath on my neck. Probably because he was shouting at me. I wasn’t expecting another encounter, well; not so soon after my previous one. This fellow was a squadron leader, I quickly checked his chest and could see no indication that he was a fast jet pilot. I was lucky enough to be meeting an air trafficker, who was in charge of the operations room. “What are you doing in my ops room?” he screamed. “Who gave you permission to come in to my ops room?”
I mean, I felt like telling him if his ops room was so important he should perhaps try locking the door but I kept silent, this was an air trafficker, he would already know everything. He was going mental and insisted that I follow him to his office. I did so and he told me to stand in the doorway facing in to his office. I wasn’t to look at any of the information in his ops room. He insisted that I gave him my identity card and he was going to telephone command to see if I actually had permission to be in Northern Ireland and if I didn’t, I would be placed under arrest and held in custody until the next flight back to the UK which I would be put on. There was a war going on, Northern Ireland was a dangerous place. It’s at times like this you look at people and wonder how on earth they became such an arse. This was the sort of fellow who would serve six months in Northern Ireland and be given a medal, which of course he would brag about to all the pretty little things in his next unit. What about the poor people of Northern Ireland who lived through thirty years of shit, they never got medals.
He was quite disappointed when he found out that I had permission to be there but insisted that I remain standing where I was as he didn’t want me looking at any of the sensitive information. I was certainly meeting all the important people that day. I had met a Rock Ape who owned the airfield and now a failed fast jet pilot who seemed to own the operations room. Next thing you know is that a civilian driver comes in to the operations room looking for his VIP passenger. As a bit of a giggle, my man in Aldergrove had told MT that there was a VIP in air ops who needed driving over to the main gate. I don’t think the idiot in charge of ops had heard what was going on, so I explained that my transport was here and I should be going. He waved me away and I nodded in appreciation at my man, before meeting up with the driver and heading outside to the car.
It was a nice big limousine and he was a very good driver. I thanked him as I got out at the main gate and walked over to the sanger. The security of the airfield, inside the fence was down to the Rock Apes, or as they liked to call themselves the Royal Air Force Regiment. Outside the perimeter security was down to the army so I now found myself standing with some army bods, or as we liked to call them, pongo’s. Why? Because everywhere the army goes the pong goes. As the pongo’s on guard had seen me get out of a VIP limousine they assumed that I must have been some sort of dignitary and reacted accordingly, saluting me and offering me a seat in their sanger. All I had wanted to do was nip home for two days and have a quick beer with Fegan and Rogan but this journey was certainly turning into a farce, by the way that’s an Irish farce not a French farce, no vicars losing their trousers in this one. Well apart from the pervert priest who was picking me up.
One of the pongos came over and asked who, or what, I was waiting for. I said that a priest was on his way for me and told him what sort of car I was expecting and the name of the pervert priest. Next thing you know is that the pongo is on the radio, blowing this information out to all the road blocks in the local area. Thankfully five minutes later the pervert priest arrived with a certain look of astonishment on his face. I say thankfully, for while sitting in the sangar I felt that I was sitting in the centre of a target and felt quite uncomfortable. One of the pongos went over and opened the passenger door for me. I really did not expect him to salute me as I got into the car and wished that I had a safe journey. As we drove off the pervert priest looked at me and asked ‘What exactly is it that you do in the air force?’ and I hadn’t the heart to tell him. Seems that he had joined a queue of cars at a road block and was waiting his turn when he noticed the soldiers point at him and run toward his car. Normally priests were asked to give the last rights to those dying or dead and he wondered what was going on as the pongo rapped on his window.
Once established that it was the pervert priest he was waved forward and through the road blocks and found that he was the only car moving on the road as all other road blocks leading to Aldergrove held their traffic and waved him through. I was so looking forward to having a quite beer with the boys and to try and forget the events of the day when the pervert priest explained that I was not going to Warrenpoint. It was a little ‘lively’ there at the moment. The British had their secret services, informers and spies collecting information and sometimes paying for it, but I had the church and knew that after confession on a Saturday night the priests knew more about what was going on in the North of Ireland than the whole spy network put together. If this priest, pervert or not, was saying that Warrenpoint was a little ‘lively’ at the moment, then I could take his word as gospel.
I was going to Lurgan where I would be staying with my cousin Paul. My mother was already there. This was certainly going to be an interesting day or two for Paul was a leading solicitor in Lurgan who had a reputation for defending IRA men in the courts. On top of that he didn’t like anyone speaking English in his house. At least I knew most of the IRA men in Warrenpoint and felt safe enough among them, but I only knew a few of the Lurgan guys, who I had been to school with. It was only then I started to feel that perhaps this trip had not been a very good idea, but it was a wee bit late to be turning back now. I sat back and enjoyed my drive through the Irish countryside and began to recall as much of the Irish language as I could remember.