Celtic Illumination, part 339, And when they were only half way up,
I suppose many of you think that the choice I had before me was an easy one, as they say these days, it was a ‘no brainer.’ Here was my chance to get back to Ireland, there was no way I could turn it down. Well; it wasn’t as simple and straight forward as that. It was very kind of mother number one to say that I could come home and stay in her house for three weeks. I think that it is possible to go somewhere and within three weeks be in full time employment which would then allow you, in week four, to find alternative accommodation. The niggling problem was, that only being allowed to stay three weeks in what was supposed to be my family home, the one they never gave me the address to when they moved, didn’t exactly match up to the statement that, “I will do whatever I can to help you.”
And there was another little problem that not just I had to get my head around but Irene would have to as well. Half the population in Northern Ireland would hate me for being brought up as a Catholic, the other half would hate me for having been in the British armed forces. And when I say hate, I actually mean that many of them would be willing to kill me. It’s stupidity off the scale. Take the Woodvale Road for example, where we used to live and where a mob of Orange Loyalists very decently asked us to leave our house before they could burn it. An orange parade was stopped on the Woodvale Road last July and every evening since then groups and bands march up to the police lines, demanding their right to pass along a stretch of road. At the beginning of February it had cost seven million pounds to police this protest. They claim that their culture is being stopped, which is like the Klu Klux Klan demanding the right to hang black people from trees, because they’re always done it and it’s their God given right and culture. Because it is the Woodvale Road I have a certain interest and monitor various media feeds.
Two nights ago I saw a clip showing the usual band marching up to the police lines but I caught the name of the band, the Rathcoole KAI Flute Band. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and actually went to their website hoping that my assumption was incorrect. Unfortunately I was right; the KAI in their name stands for Kill All Irish although they claim it is in honour of a Dutch footballer. The humour in the situation is that I bet every member of the Rathcoole flute band was born in Belfast, which of course is in Ireland, making them all Irish. There’s not much hope for Northern Ireland if cretins like this are allowed to parade their hatred so publically. And once again please allow me to say that one side is as bad at the other, my own family, many of whom were highly educated and successful professionals still regarded my children as bastards as Irene and I had not been married in a Catholic church.
I knew that I would be under pressure if I took my family back home, Irene and I would be considered to have a mixed marriage, our children would have to choose if they wanted to be ‘them-uns’ or ‘those-uns.’ Despite all the craziness I still felt that Ireland was the most beautiful country in the world and I missed it. I hoped that I could educate my children against the bigotry and hatred that keeps Northern Ireland ticking over. So after a couple of long hard talks Irene and I decided that as a family we would be much better off living in the madness of Northern Ireland rather than Skelmersdale. We understood that it might take me six months to get myself sorted out, but as we were used to me heading off on detachment, when in the air force, we decided to adopt the same approach as we did then.
I telephoned mother number one and informed her I would be arriving on the following Thursday, which I did, for as you all know I’m a man of my word. Warrenpoint was lovely but I was aware that this was not an adventure; this was a very serious business. On the Thursday evening I hooked up with the good ol boys down the street, which roughly translated means that I met Phelim and Peter in a local pub. I explained that I was home for good and that they were to help me. Two seconds later Phelim had called a fellow over from the bar. “Hey Frank,” he says. “Are you still looking for someone to run your company?” “Aye,” says Frank. “Have ya met Boris?” It turns out that Frank ran the local taxi firm and wanted somebody to manage the operation for him, only problem was that I would have to have a valid Northern Ireland taxi driver’s license which would take six weeks to get.
After about an hour with the good ol boys I had secured myself a decent enough job, which admittedly I couldn’t start for six weeks and I had found myself accommodation, as Phelim had a spare room in his flat which I was welcome to have, for as long as I wanted at no charge, as long as I wouldn’t mind contributing to the electricity and food. It was sad to think that your friends would give you more support than your family, but as Charles de Gaulle once said, ce la vie. First thing the following morning I reported to Frank’s office, completed the relevant paperwork and sent it off in the post, then I went for a dander to see Phelim. Phelim worked at his father’s house or as they would call it ‘the yard.’ It is where he operated from as a mechanic and it was next door to the graveyard.
I was immediately asked to help out and found myself leaning in to an engine compartment, holding on to something that was very oily and very heavy, and no, I’m not talking about one of them Turkish wrestling fellows. Phelim was underneath swearing at a bolt and hitting it with a spanner which I understand is the trade mark of the true professional mechanic. It was as I noticed the first drop of sweat fall from my forehead that I started to laugh and was soon joined by Phelim. Why the pair of us were falling about with laugher I have no idea, perhaps it was some form of release, but it certainly felt good. Phelim’s father came out with a mug of tea for the pair of us and we wandered over to the graveyard to have a look at my father’s grave. The grave was a double plot and had been concreted over, then covered with those small white marble chips. There was a hole in the concrete.
I knew exactly what had happened to make the hole appear and felt that something should be done about it. Phelim agreed so we drove off looking for a building site. Within minutes we found a small building site where half a dozen houses were being constructed. Phelim knew the guy in charge, so did I, but I had lost that connection in the mists of time. He had been the manager of the Rendezvous Tavern in Warrenpoint where we had all learned to drink and jive among other things. I vaguely remembered him and shook his hand, he remembered me. I asked if there was any cement lying about that we could use and pointing to a wheelbarrow he told me to help myself. The conversation then turned to where I had been and what I had been up to. I skirted about the details, saying bland things like. “Oh I’ve been over the water. But I’m home for good now.”
In a natural sort of way the conversation exposed the fact that I was looking for a job, something simple and straightforward for six weeks. “I’ll take you on; you can start on Monday as a labourer.” Phelim went back to the yard and I took the cement over to the grave where I began to repair the hole. The cement was in a plastic shopping bag and I was using my hands, it might not sound very professional but I did make a good job of it. When finished I noticed someone lying on the ground further on up the central path. It looked as if a body had been dropped and forgotten about so, I wandered over. It was Vincent Byrne, a lovely fellow who I had known for years. He recognised me immediately.
Vincent too was working on a grave except he had trowels and tools and was producing what looked like was going to be a very detailed and impressive piece of work. Vincent explained that buried in the grave was a friend of his who had been homeless and unemployed, a tramp if you will. He had been given a paupers funeral but Vincent felt that as he had been such a nice fellow he deserved a nice grave and Vincent had taken it upon himself to create such an edifice. It put a smile on my heart to discover that despite all the madness and bigotry, bile and hatred, there were some really beautiful people in Northern Ireland, all I would have to do was keep them around me and my family and hope we could ignore the cretins.