Celtic Illumination, part 275, And the band played on.
Phelim and Metal Mickey drove away leaving us at the ferry terminal in Belfast. It was an early Sunday evening and the place was deserted. The children were hungry and all that was available within the terminal was one vending machine selling what looked like suspect chocolate bars. The terminal was the sort of place that only came to life one hour before a ferry was due in and went back to sleep quite soon after the ferry would depart. I decided to head off into Belfast and find some hot take away food for the children. There were not very many people about. I decided to cross over the Queens Bridge and into a heavily populated area where I calculated I would have the best chance of find a food outlet.
I knew the Queens Bridge well, as a youth in Belfast my protestant friends, the Kinning’s, would take me there as the Orange Orders and bands would be returning from their day out on every twelfth of July. It was a great occasion for a young fellow like myself, all colour and noise. The bands were great especially the big base drummers who were always very funny. Little did I know then that they were all blind drunk. This evening there were no bands or drunk drummers on the bridge, just me. But there was a brutal reminder as I went to step off the bridge of all that hatred and stupidly that I now knew underlined the bands and Orange Lodges. The kerb stones were still painted red, white and blue, tattered flags and bunting lined the streets, making the place look more like a Clootie Tree, but now I faced graffiti that stated K.A.T.
I promise you my heart was in my mouth and I immediately flicked into military mode. My eyes were scanning every nook and cranny; I was listening for any and every sound. I focused in on any movement and sadly identified any object that could be used as a weapon, should I need it. For many of you the letters K.A.T might mean nothing and if I were to say that they actually stand for Kill All Taigs you might still wonder what it means, well; in Northern Ireland a Catholic is referred to, by Protestants, as a Taig. You may also think it strange that an ex serving member of the British armed forces would be terrified in an area of Belfast, but I was. Through an accident of birth I had been born as a Catholic in Northern Ireland and some people would be willing to kill me because of that.
I think the utter stupidity of the situation is told in a joke we used to spread about where a gang stop a fellow in Belfast. ‘Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?’ they ask. The fellow replies. ‘Neither, I am a Jew.’ ‘Aye, but are you a Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew?’ That joke highlights just how stupid people in Northern Ireland can be, but please don’t think that any of it was a joke. The most sickening example of this behaviour was a thug known as Lenny Murphy, a Protestant who led a gang known as the Shankill Butchers. This gang would drive a black taxi into a Catholic area and pick up random people. They assumed that because they were in a Catholic area the person, now their passenger, would be a Catholic. They would then capture them, torture them and kill them, for being a Catholic. Of course they got it wrong sometimes and would kill Protestants. It is believed that they killed at least twenty three people this way.
The worst incident I was aware of was a young Catholic man who was captured by Murphy and his gang and taken to an illegal drinking den on the Shankill Road. He was beaten silly and then tied to a chair on a small stage in the drinking den and they then held a raffle to see who would have the privilege of shooting him in the head. Now you may understand why I felt as I did as I walked in to a Protestant area. I had lived in Northern Ireland and had managed to get myself out of many situations before and throughout my time in the air force I had got into one or two scrapes, but even I knew that one day my luck might run out. I managed to find a chip shop and bought some fish and chips. I knew I was being eyed suspiciously while in the shop but the transaction was quick enough for me to get in and out and away without attracting attention.
I got back to the terminal and gave the food to the family. Despite what I had been through and the fear that I had experienced I knew that I had to return to Ireland, it was where I was from, it was me. I could see that one huge job in Northern Ireland would be educating the people who followed the big bass drum. The institutions that promoted hatred would have to be removed, the flags, the bunting, the territorial markers would have to be taken away as would the hatred that one generation seemed to gladly pass on from one generation to the next. At least in this day and age most people understand that the terrorists, who are still active, are no more than thugs.
I find it so ridiculous that these people actually give themselves military style titles. They love to call themselves Commanders or Brigadiers and they even give their gangs military sounding names, like the First Battalion of the second division of the fourth foot and mouth. It’s laughable. These guys meet in a pub on a Friday night, they are uneducated, usually unemployed with little or no literacy and numeracy skills. They are drug dealing, petty criminals, who will call themselves defenders, or protectors, or even commandos. If I look at someone like Tim Lort, a real life Royal Marine Commando I feel respect for an honest, well trained and very able Royal Naval Officer. When I look at this crowd in Northern Ireland I see knuckle dragging thugs.
Only last week when huge parts of the United Kingdom were suffering flooding one gang showed what it truly stood for. In Belfast the council sent its workforce out to lay flood defences. Large areas were protected with walls of sandbags. It was then discovered that the UVF, the Ulster Volunteer Force, a gang of drug dealing Protestant thugs had been stealing the sandbags and selling them to local people who were afraid their property might be under threat of flood, which of course now had been greatly increased as the thugs had stolen the flood defences in the first place.
As it was a night crossing I had booked a cabin for the family so that they wouldn’t be exposed to the drunken fighting that I knew would be going on in the public lounges. By mid-morning the following day we were all safely back home and I now had time to sit back down and reflect on what we had been through. Did I really want to return to the madness of Northern Ireland or was it just a fanciful dream? Would it be fair to introduce my children to a system that would peg them as being neither one side nor the other? They would actually be in a worse situation than a normal Catholic or Protestant in Northern Ireland for with one parent from each side of the fence, no matter where they went, my children would be viewed as traitors. I promise you, it is stupidly beyond belief. But my children, as so many others are in Northern Ireland, who reject the tribal views, are the future.
Despite all this I still needed to get a job. The decision had already been made for me that I was not joining the police nor the prison service in Northern Ireland. However an opportunity fell in to my lap that could cover all bases by giving me a secure, well paid, job where I wouldn’t really ever have to do a full day’s work, it would take in to account my service with the air force and allow me to return to Northern Ireland without having people shoot at me, well; no more than the normal. I applied to join the civil service, but not just as a pen-pushing, form filler, this was known as the ‘Fast Stream.’ It was an accelerated method of entry into the civil service than placed you quite high up in the rank system and ensured you started off on a very generous salary with great prospects for advancement. All I had to do was attend a centre in Liverpool and sit their entrance exam. Oh yeah, and pass it.