We had decided on a change of venue and moved into the living room. I was sure, there I would find that bottle of Port I had bought a few days ago. Trying to assimilate my wife’s thinking, I made the educated guess that it might be at the bottom of the corner cabinet.
“So, did you ever contact that person that Stiofain recommended?” I asked Finn while fiddling with some fabric that was lying on top of the various bottles.
“Yes, I did.” He sat down on the couch. “His name was Kevin Donnegan. He lived in Killarney in the county of Kerry, not too far away from Cahersiveen. Officially, he made his living as a freelance journalist and served a number of Irish and even English newspapers.”
Donnegan’s job as a journalist and his need to investigate events on site provided him an excellent cover for monitoring British troops and their movements.
His heartfelt passion, however, was the education of young Irish people in surveillance, reconnaissance, and investigations targeted at the English invaders. Eventually, Finn became one of his students known among the locals as Kevin’s kids.
“There it is!” I burst out.
The Port was hidden under a pair of small jeans in the cabinet. My son had refused to go to school the other day, and while I was on a quick visit to the bathroom, he had decided to take off all his clothes and hide them. When I came back, he sat on the couch, bare-naked, with a grin from ear to ear while I tried to gather all his clothing. Needless to say, Daddy was not thrilled.
“Was that your role in the conflict?” I asked. “I mean, surveillance, reconnaissance?“
“Yes,” he interrupted me. “I am sorry, but let’s not get too far ahead.”
“That’s all right.”
I found two glasses and poured the Port.
“I did not contact Kevin immediately,” Finn went on after his first sip. “What I mean is, not immediately after I met my brother and Shauna. There were just too many things going through my mind as you can imagine. I went back home for a few months to help with the farm. Naturally, I did see Shauna on a regular basis, mainly during the weekends, but sometimes even after a long and hard day of farm work.”
I noticed the dreamy, distant look on his face.
“You know, another wise man once said that you do not know when love begins, but you definitely know when it ends. I guess it refers to the pain you feel during a breakup. I myself can say that I know exactly when I fell in love with Shauna and that love, no matter what happened and what will happen, will never end.”
It was time to pace again. He stood up and started his walk.
“I still remember those nights when we couldn’t say goodnight. There were many nights when her parents would get mad and call out for her. ‘You will come back, won’t you?’ she would ask every time, and every time I would tell her, ‘Anything you want, my love. Anything.’ ”
He closed his eyes for a second and then continued.
“Eventually, it was time to tell my parents about my plans for the future. Before I did, I drove to Killarney to meet Kevin at his house just outside the center of town, and I showed him Stiofain’s letter – well, if you can call it a letter. It was more of a note, written hastily on a small scrap of paper.”
“What did he write?” I asked. “I assume you read it, too.”
“Of course, I did,” he said. “It was short and said something like, ‘Take care of him. He is knowledgeable, eager to learn, and may be good for our cause.’ Kevin – of course, I called him Mr. Donnegan at the time – well, Kevin was very impressed. None of his students had ever come as highly recommended by a top-ranking officer of the IRA as I did, but he also made clear his differences with Stiofain’s philosophy during this first meeting.”
Donnegan’s precise role in the conflict was to provide vital reconnaissance information to the IRA, such as movements of British troops, detailed reports on RUC raids, and anything else that might be of interest. His dilemma, though, was his dissatisfaction with, as he called it, the “crude” actions that resulted from his service. Unlike Stiofain, he did not believe that the mere killing of British troops would help their cause. In fact, he hated every loss of human life, regardless of who would suffer, British or Irish.
“Only a fool shoots as soon as the chance is presented to him,” he would say. He strongly believed in “surgical” operations targeted at the enemy’s heart. His philosophy was, “To destroy the enemy’s pride and reputation, and to show the world and especially the English people that their troops serve no honorable cause.”
In reality, however, the IRA took actions well before he was satisfied that he had investigated all aspects of a report in order to create maximum impact with minimum fatalities. These premature actions, be they bombings or shootings, killed a substantial number of innocent bystanders.
“And this was the philosophy he taught his students,” Finn continued. “Unfortunately, I am sorry to say, most of his students did not live up to his ethical standards.”
“Then again,” he added wryly, “most of them didn’t live long enough to make him proud either.”
He paused, took another sip of Port, and went on, “My father’s chest swelled with pride when I told him about my plan to join the fight against British occupation. My mother, of course, started worrying about my well-being. A few days later, I told Shauna, and she was all right about it, especially after I assured her that the ride to and from Killarney was not a big deal.
“This then, is how I came to live away from my parents for the first time in my life. I visited them nearly every weekend and most times I took Shauna with me, even though her parents didn’t like the idea of losing valuable kitchen help over the weekend. My parents enjoyed her and loved her very much, and those feelings were mutual.”
Finn moved in on a Sunday night, due to start his training the next morning. The great size of Kevin Donnegan’s home allowed him to provide accommodations for up to four students. He also maintained two classrooms and an extensive library.
“I hadn’t met any of his other students before breakfast that Monday morning. I first met Paul and Daniel, both of whom left within months of my arrival to fight the British invaders. I never heard of Paul again, but he still may be very much alive. Danny, as we called him, was killed in Belfast when he tried to install a bomb under a car that was reported to belong to a high-ranking SAS officer.”
Then, suddenly, there was a smile on his face.
“And then there was this little, somewhat peculiar guy. He was only about five-feet-six-inches tall. He had dark red, curly hair and more freckles than I have ever seen in another face. A real leprechaun, you may say, and he could be vicious like one. He compensated his height with a brain, an even bigger attitude, and a huge portion of humor. We became best friends immediately. His name was Martin Sheehan. We called him Marty, which suited him much better.”
Donnegan had also hired the service of a local teacher to fill the time when he was on an assignment. On occasion, he would take one or two of the senior students to travel with him.
“For the entire time I knew him, he drove this old car, a 1958 Morris Wagon. You must imagine the technology, no blinker lights, but so-called trafficators, a 0.9-Liter engine, thirty-seven horsepower, and a maximum speed of one hundred and four kilometers per hour. And, my God, did he push that car to the limits.”
He looked at me. “That’s roughly sixty-four miles per hour.”
I was thankful for the conversion from Metric units.
“You have been to Ireland, right?” he asked.
I nodded, “Yes.”
“Well, then you know how narrow the streets can be.”
I nodded again. My experience was with a Fiat Punto, made for the small size of the average Italian person, driving on what I call the wrong side of the road. You use your left hand to operate the shift stick of the standard transmission, and to make the challenge even greater, my size thirteen feet were dangerously oversized for pushing the toy-size clutch, brake, and gas pedals.
My wife screaming, “I am finally pregnant, and now I am going to die,” did not help to lower my blood pressure while I was trying to maneuver through the narrow roads. At times I can still feel how her nails dug deeper and deeper into my left arm.
“Now, imagine going sixty-four miles per hour on a very narrow street and there is a large omnibus in the oncoming lane. In my mind, I died several times while he was calm as can be, smoking his pipe and wearing the Donegal tweed flat cap he hardly ever took off.”
He made the facial impression of a person smoking a pipe while his hands were steering a large wheel. I couldn’t help but laugh.
Finn smiled and then he continued. “Marty had been one of Kevin’s kids for more than a year, which made him senior over me, and within another year he was released, ready for action, but we never lost contact. He would visit every now and then. He lived a long life, much longer than the average student did. Then again, he was not the average student.
“His first assignment was in Belfast, and it turned out to be very successful, at least in the view of the IRA.”
Finn refused to give me all the details, but Marty played a vital role in compromising an undercover operation in Belfast, maintained by the British MRF, the Mobile Reconnaissance Force. He had helped to identify two IRA double agents who were then interrogated by the Provisional IRA. That interrogation led to the killing of several SAS soldiers.
Finn went on, “The MRF was eventually replaced by the 14 Intelligence Company, or sometimes referred to as 14 INT, 14 Company, or simply ‘The Det’, as a reference to detachments. As far as I can tell, the 14 Company was nothing else but a skillfully trained bunch of monkeys.
“While they did give us some occasional headache, they also had a reputation of blowing reports out of proportion to maintain their reputation as the most successful undercover operation of British Intelligence. Just to name one example, they dealt with deluded adolescents carrying nineteenth century guns, and they called it the prevention of a terrorist act. Their role in the conflict was neither heroic nor patriotic. They just acted like gleeful children allowed to play with adult toys. When it came to dealing with real threats, they called the SAS.”
He took a deep breath. “I will tell you more about the 14 Company later. My final assignment involved the surveillance of one of their members.”
What followed was a brief history of the Irish conflict.
“As I said before, I am not here to teach you a history lesson,” he said. “But I think it is imperative that you are aware of the chains of events that led to the greatest atrocity of this war.
“To put it in a nutshell, the trouble with the Irish troubles was always that the murder of a Catholic would be revenged through the murder of a Protestant. The murder of a Protestant would most certainly lead to the murder of a Catholic. The German language has a fitting word, Teufelskreis, the devil’s circle. The term describes a vicious circle one can not escape, and that was what the troubles were about.”
There was a grim look on his face. “And for the record, the Irish War was never a religious war, even though it very well looked like one. This war was about the oppression of the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland and still is about the occupation of the provinces that truly belong to the Republic of Ireland.”
The British occupation of the Irish island began as early as the late twelfth century, and attempts to annihilate the Irish identity fill the history of English rule. Some of these attempts carry a striking resemblance to Hitler’s henchmen trying to eliminate the Jewish population in Germany, although not quite as methodical.
History is also filled with constant acts of Irish resistance, and no ruling king or parliament was ever able to solve the problem. The saying is that the nineteenth century Prime Minister William Edward Gladstone tried to deal with the Irish question, but never found the answer as the Irish continued to change the question.
December 1921 saw the signing of the Articles of Agreement for a Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland, which established a free Irish republic with jurisdiction over twenty-six of the thirty-two counties. It also created the separate province of Northern Ireland that remained under British rule. It consists of the six northeastern counties of the predominantly Protestant Ulster region.
The terms, as negotiated by the founder of the IRA, Michael Collins, did not find the approval of the entire Irish population and, even though the Republic of Ireland was officially established, the battle for Irish reunification began. The importance of the IRA, though, endured a slow, but steady decline until the late 1960s, which saw increased confrontations between the Civil Rights movement in Northern Ireland and British officials, especially the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
The Civil Rights movement’s demand was, just to name one particular issue, for equal voting rights. The current system allowed only house owners to vote in local elections, and they were predominantly Protestants supporting British rule in Northern Ireland. The Protestant majority defended their superiority by engaging their own militias against Catholics, and they were actively supported by the predominantly Protestant RUC.
By the summer of 1969, these disputes reached the dimensions of an outright Civil War, and in August of 1969 the British government deployed troops to Northern Ireland with the intent to restore public order. “Operation Banner” ended at midnight on July 31, 2007, thirty-eight years later, instead of the planned “few months,” and it represents the longest deployment in the history of the British Army. The death toll included more than 3500 civilians and 763 soldiers.
“Just to give you an example of how deluded the English are to this day,” Finn commented. “General Michael Jackson, the British Army Chief, called Operation Banner a successful combat. Nothing could be further from the truth. The English army became part of the problem very quickly, and they turned out to be another player in the conflict, not a referee.”
Initially, the Catholic population welcomed the presence of the army in the hope they would serve as a neutral force and protect them against the RUC and Loyalist forces. However, their hopes were shattered in July 1970 during a British operation called “Falls Curfew,” which resulted in three days of rioting and battles between the British Army and Irish Republican paramilitaries. In the final tally, five people were killed, and three hundred were arrested.
“This was the situation right before I entered the conflict,” Finn said. “It was an Orwellian nightmare of oppression for every working-class Catholic. English soldiers walked into homes at night just for a head-count and, most disturbingly, there was internment without trial. It was an in-your-face harassment put under the cover of counter-intelligence, but it was also a simple repetition of civil rights violations they had committed wherever they were a colonial power.”
The streets of Derry endured a long line of events filled with violence and the rage among the Catholic population turned not only into increased support for the IRA. They expressed their anger in a series of protest marches. One of these marches took place in Derry on January 30, 1972. That day was seared into the memories of the Irish people as Bloody Sunday.
“Ironically,” Finn went on, “This was not the first Bloody Sunday in recent Irish history. It was on Sunday, November 21, 1920 that the IRA killed fourteen British agents, an operation planned by Michael Collins. The same day English forces opened random fire on a crowd in a football match North of Dublin, killing fourteen innocent civilians.”
He shook his head. “Here we go again. A Catholic death for a Protestant death and a Protestant death for a Catholic death – what a waste.”
He had stopped his pacing, and to my surprise he took a seat on the couch. I leaned over and refilled his glass. We both needed a short break.
A moment later he resumed, “The thirtieth of January, 1972 was a bright wintry Sunday. I remember it well. Seamus and I had come to Derry the day before to visit my grandmother over the weekend. I had heard of the civil rights march that was scheduled for the afternoon and my plan was to have a look at it, while Seamus chose to stay with our grandmother.”
The Civil Rights Organization of Northern Ireland had contacted the RUC’s Chief Superintendent, Frank Lagan, to inform him of their intention to hold a non-violent demonstration and to protest against internment without charge or trial. The internment, officially named “Operation Demetrius,” allowed the RUC and the British Army to detain suspects without justification.
Lagan, in turn, notified the British Army and requested they keep away any military interference, a wise recommendation and, if followed, could have prevented the bloody events. The army, however, turned down before, was eager to prove that their well-rehearsed plan would put an end to the riots in Northern Ireland.
“I thought I had learned enough after the events at the guildhall to stay out of trouble,” Finn continued, “but I swear to the Mighty Lord that I have been thrown into the line of fire without my doing.”
“You must admit the situation in Derry had been explosive for years before Bloody Sunday,” I couldn’t help but add.
“Yes,” he acknowledged. “Derry has seen more than a fair share of violence.”
Just a week before Bloody Sunday, at an anti-internment march held at Magilligan Strand, British soldiers beat a number of protesters with such an intensity that their own officers had to physically restrain them. An attack on the patrol car of two RUC officers resulted in their deaths the Thursday before Bloody Sunday at Creggan Road.
Nevertheless, the organizers of the Sunday march, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association, had called for a peaceful march. They tried everything to prevent a repeat of the events at Magilligan Strand.
The march started almost an hour late from Central Drive in the Creggan Estate and proceeded toward the Bogside area of Derry.
“I joined the march late, near to its end. It was some time after 3:30 p.m. I waited somewhere close to the Bogside Inn when it turned up Westland Street and went down William Street. The sheer size of the march surprised me. It was nothing like I had ever seen before. I was surprised to hear music and people singing. It all looked so peaceful in the beginning.”
The official report, produced only a few weeks later by the Widgery tribunal, tried to downplay the magnitude of the march and gave an estimated number of somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000, while organizers claimed a number as high as 20,000. The correct figure was likely somewhere in between.
The organizers had intended to direct the march toward the town’s guildhall and hold a meeting there, but British military units had erected a number of barriers at strategic spots to seal the demonstration in the Bogside area away from the guildhall. They had also positioned a large number of snipers at strategic points around the perimeter of the Bogside area.
“Just before 4:00 p.m. the march came to a halt at the barrier at Waterloo Street,” Finn continued. “This gave me a chance to catch up and walk close to the front of the march, yet keeping a respectful distance to the soldiers behind the barrier. I saw a great number of people my age, probably forty to fifty of them, throwing stones and shouting obscenities at the soldiers.”
At that point, he jumped up from the couch and continued his familiar pacing. I had wondered how long he would be able to restrain himself.
“You must understand,” he said. “The barriers, the snipers, the stone throwing, and the verbal abuse – all this was as familiar territory for the demonstrators as it was for the soldiers, who were very well protected in their anti-riot gear.”
The marchers did not suspect that the army’s reaction would be somewhere out of the ordinary. Maybe they would see some rubber bullets fired at them, maybe some gas, and then they would proceed to their meeting with the feeling they had fought well for their cause.
“Not many people noticed the red berets,” Finn said, “but I saw them at the Presbyterian Church in Great James Street, on the roofs of Little James Street, in the ruins of Richardson’s Factory, and they were carrying their FN rifles.”
These soldiers belonged to the 1st Battalion of the Paratroop Regiment, and they were transported from their base in Belfast that morning to deal with the protest. They had never before been in Derry.
“I also saw the water cannon coming up behind the barrier, and it sprayed dyed water all over the young people in front of the march.”
It was common practice to add brightly colored dye to the water, helping the British forces to identify and arrest troublemakers after a riot
“There were also rubber bullets and CS gas, and I heard somebody yelling, ‘Back to Free Derry Corner for a meeting.’ The call was repeated and went down toward the end of the march, which was about a mile long at that time.”
The Free Derry Corner, the scene of the Battle of the Bogside in 1969, was located at the corner of Lecky Road and Fahan Street.
As so often before, Finn stopped and turned toward me to ensure my attention. “You see, in order to get from that point on Williams Street to the Free Derry Corner, the march needed to back off and take a right turn into Rosswell Street, quite an undertaking for a mile-long march as you can imagine.”
He continued his pacing. “I must admit I got scared. I tried to fight my way back, but I only made it so far. I decided it was better going with the stream toward the Free Derry Corner and then try to find my way back home from there. I followed some people who moved across a vacant lot on Williams Street trying to reach the Free Derry Corner.
“At that moment, I did not care much for the few relentless youths who continued throwing stones at the paratroopers. My thoughts were to get out of there and go home to see Shauna. Suddenly, there was a noise I didn’t recognize, and I heard somebody screaming, ‘I’m shot, I’m shot!’ ”
He took a deep breath. “I didn’t see the boy who was shot in the thigh, and I didn’t know him. I learned much later that his name was Damien Donaghy. He was just fifteen years old, and, other than throwing stones, he posed no threat whatsoever. The soldiers who shot him claimed they had come under nail-bomb attack, but I am telling you, I did not hear or see any bomb go off. In fact, to this day there is no evidence that would confirm their testimony.”
Another demonstrator, fifty-seven-year-old John Johnson, hurried toward the wounded boy to help him. He, too, was hit by a bullet in the leg and another one in the shoulder. While the stone throwing, the shouting, and the firing of rubber bullets continued, others carried the two wounded demonstrators into nearby houses. Johnson died in June 1972, but there is no solid evidence that links his death to his injuries.
Finn continued. “I don’t believe that the majority of the marchers even knew that shots had been fired, but they did sense that something was going wrong, that this was a kind of riot Derry had not seen before.”
There were no more shootings for the next ten to fifteen minutes. According to the army’s estimate, this should have been the time the IRA would intervene. They were prepared to take care of them, but they were disappointed.
“I cannot tell you why I stayed around and did not follow my plan to leave. The size of the crowd and its intensity overwhelmed me. I worked my way through the crowd, and I lost all sense of where I was. This was not a march anymore. It was a large mass of people moving toward the Free Derry Corner, where they believed they would be safe and allowed to continue a peaceful demonstration.”
Out of Finn’s sight, near Chamberlain Street, the shooting unexpectedly continued. Seventeen-year-old Jack Duffy and Peggy Deery, a mother of fifteen children, were shot down almost simultaneously.
Jack Duffy was killed with a single shot to the chest. A Catholic priest walked in front of the people who carried Duffy’s body waving a white, bloodstained handkerchief toward the soldiers who continued the shooting without mercy.
Mrs. Deery was shot in her thigh, causing a wound that never entirely healed until her death in 1988. She was the only woman shot and injured during the events.
At that same time, the British army engaged into a massive combat operation. They lifted their barriers to make way for their troops. Armored cars raced up Rosswell Street at a speed of forty miles per hour, thrashing through a horrified crowd.
“This was not a spontaneous response to a violent provocation,” Finn said. He looked aggravated and sped up his pacing.
“This was a well-rehearsed military operation. The soldiers that jumped out of the armored cars were paratroopers not wearing the usual anti-riot gear. Instead, they were wearing full combat gear. They took their strategic positions quickly and precisely and then they started shooting, using their fire-and-movement tactic as if they were fighting another army.”
The only possible explanation for the army’s savage attack is that they believed they had effectively provoked an encounter with IRA forces. That was evidently not the case. Regardless of whether or not the attack was initiated on grounds of an erroneous interpretation of the circumstances or a more sinister plan, they were not able to recall their forces. Once a bloodhound smells blood, he is impossible to stop.
“I ran as fast as I could and took cover with a number of people somewhere behind the so-called Rosswell Flats. Afraid of the shooters, we pressed ourselves flat against the walls to escape their view.
“There was screaming, the sound of gunshots, and people running everywhere trying to save their own lives, but, strangely enough, I did not consciously register what was happening. I was just scared to hell, holding both my arms over my head.
“Then I saw a man killed with a single shot in the back while trying to crawl toward the safer grounds between the flats and Joseph Place on the other side.
“Another man, waving a white handkerchief, tried to attend the first dying man. He was shot in the head, dead before his body hit the ground. The bullet entered close to the left ear, traveled through the skull, and exited through his right eye.”
He took another deep breath, visibly shaken by the memories. “You know, ironically, I am always reminded of those Western movies we watched as kids when John Wayne kills the villain. He shoots, they cry out in pain, and then, slowly, they die. The hero rides off into the sunset with a smile for a job well done. Until that moment, that was my perception of a shooting death.
“What I saw, and still sometime see in my dreams, was an unarmed man whose head suddenly exploded, and whose body slumped down to the ground. No theatrical hand waving, no last words, no sound at all. You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to realize that the man was, in fact, dead.”
“And that’s all I will tell about the killings,” Finn said with a calm voice, squinting his eyes, and then he turned away from me.
The first man shot was Patrick Doherty, and there is photographic evidence that he was unarmed. Nevertheless, the soldier who shot him claimed that Doherty held a pistol in his hand. The second man, rushing to aid Doherty, but shot in the head, was forty-one year old Bernard McGuigen.
At the end of the riots, members of the 1st Battalion of the British Parachute Regiment had shot twenty-six civil rights protesters. Thirteen people, six of whom were just seventeen years old, died at the scene. Five of those wounded were shot in the back. After the shooting ended the army continued with collecting the dead and wounded, lining up demonstrators against walls, searching, and abusing them.
The Army Headquarters in Northern Ireland dealt with the following media inquiries particularly badly and defensively. The British Army Chief, Major General Robert Ford, just as useless as his fellow officers seeking to explain the firings, claimed his soldiers had only fired at IRA snipers and grenade-throwers, which turned out to be a blatant fabrication.
“For many years, even up to the latest inquiry, some military witnesses claimed there was an additional death-toll of thirty-four,” Finn said. “They insisted the unaccounted deaths were those of IRA members who were secretly removed from the scene. It would prove an involvement by the IRA during the events of Bloody Sunday, but the plain truth is that the march took only place after the IRA agreed to withdraw from the area during the march.”
He shook his head in disbelief. “Believe me, neither the official IRA nor the Provisional IRA would cover up the death of one of their own. Any IRA man killed eventually became a hero in their community. What they did do, though, as a logical consequence in their minds, was to announce their immediate policy to shoot to kill as many British soldiers as possible.”
After he had not spoken for an unusually long time, I dared to break the silence.
“How did you get out of there? Did they arrest you as well?” I asked him cautiously.
He shook his head again. “No. That part is nothing short of a miracle, and I thank The Lord for it. A friend of my grandmother had called her and told her about hearing shots fired in the Bogside area. Of course, she was worried and, against her advice, Seamus went out to get me. How he found me, I do not know. It was sheer luck. Still pressed against the wall, I just sat there, unable to fathom what had happened. Suddenly, somebody ran his fist into my shoulder. It took me some time to actually recognize him.
“There he was, a mirthless smile on his face, relieved to have found me, yet he was cold as ice. He looked at the dead, shook his head, and then led me back home. I was surprised how familiar he was with the neighborhood and how efficiently he navigated me away from the soldiers.”
Finn cleared his throat, went back to the couch again to sit down, and, after a few moments, he spoke again in a low voice.
“We drove home that same night. There was no possible reason to look for sleep. Seamus was driving, and I sat in the passenger seat, still in shock, full of immeasurable anger of what I had seen. It was an eerie drive. We hardly spoke a word.”
He crossed his arms behind his neck and stretched. “I didn’t bother going to Killarney, to Kevin’s house, that morning. We drove directly to Cahersiveen. I had to see Shauna, but the reception was not what I expected.”
Seamus had dropped Finn off in front of Durty McCarthy’s inn and pub.
“I’ll pick you up tonight. Get a bath and some sleep,” he told Finn before he took off.
He was barely out of sight when a side door opened, and Shauna appeared, her bathrobe thrown over her nightgown, and tightening the belt. Finn looked at her. He was incredibly relieved to see her, and he opened his arms for a hug, not at all prepared for a hard slap in the face.
“Finnean Michael Whelan!” she screamed at him, anguish clearly written in her face. “How dare you just show up here and not call me? I have been worried all night about you!”
In fact, she had been crying all night, worrying about her love, after hearing the news on television and the radio. There was no more capacity for tears in her, and she looked angrily at a stunned and stifled Finn.
She raised her arm again, but then her whole posture relaxed, and she jumped into his arms, with no intention of ever letting him go, praying he would never leave her again.
After what seemed an eternity to both, they went into the house where Shauna started the teakettle and began fixing him breakfast. They sat down at the large kitchen table, and Finn told her everything he remembered of the events of the previous day.
“I have to get involved, Shauna,” he said after he was finished. He looked at her with his hands wrapped around the steaming cup of tea. “What’s happening over there is wrong in more ways than I can tell. I just cannot sit here watching and not doing anything.”
To his surprise, she nodded. He had expected more resistance.
“Go get those bastards, my love,” she said calmly.
He took his cup, stood up and started pacing. “There is one thing, though. Wherever I will go, wherever they will send me, I want you to come with me.”
She looked at him. Her face was filled with surprise and uncertainty.
“I know your parents will not like it,” he continued, “but I had a whole night to think about this, and I think I found the best solution.”
He stopped and looked straight at her. “I think it is best we get married before we leave.”
It took her a few seconds before what she had heard sunk in. Slowly but steadily, a smile grew on her face. Finn stood motionless waiting for a response.
Despite the emotional state they both were in, he could not help but grin at her. “I was waiting for the day I would see you speechless, my love.”
However, words came back to her, and she was ready to be a challenge again.
“What? No ‘Will you marry me?’ ” she mocked him with a smile from ear to ear.
“Aren’t you going down on your knees?” she yelled at him.
“I don’t even have a ring, my love,” he responded sheepishly, “but I promise you, and the Mighty Lord will be my witness, you will get one soon, and you will have my love until the end of time. I will give you anything, my love. Anything.”
She got up from her chair and slowly walked over to him, not taking her eyes off him. Then she wrapped her arms around him.
“Yes, Finnean Michael Whelan,” she said with a smile. “You did not ask, and you did not go on your knees, but I will marry you anyways because you are cute.”
The sound of the opening kitchen door prematurely interrupted the passionate kiss that followed. Ryan McCarthy entered the room, briefly hesitated at the sight of the two lovers, and decided it was too late for a gracious retreat.
He grinned at them. “Sorry to have interrupted a love scene, but I need to get going.”
He looked around the kitchen, as if something was missing.
“You haven’t started any coffee, have you?” he asked his sister. Shauna, red-faced and embarrassed, rushed over to the stove.
Ryan turned his attention to Finn.
“Good morning, Sir,” he said. “What are you doing here in the early morning?”
Shauna turned around and told him, “Finn and I are getting married.”
Ryan opened his mouth, but found himself unable to utter a word. His open mouth turned into a bright smile.
“All right,” he said. “All right. It was time that I would get a brother, even if it’s only a brother-in-law, but it will do.”
He shook Finn’s hand.
“Welcome to the McCarthy family, Finn,” he said. “Believe me, it’s going to be an interesting trip.”
Then he went over to his sister and hugged her.
“Take good care of my little sister, will you,” he grinned at Finn. “Otherwise I will need to hurt you.”
At this point of the story, Finn fell silent again. He looked thoughtful but content. I had squeezed the last drop out of the bottle, leaving both of us only a tiny, insignificant sip of alcohol.
I was surprised how fast time had gone by, and that we had indeed finished a whole bottle of Port. We decided on another caffeine-fix and went back into the kitchen where he prepared a new batch of Barry’s tea.
He poured the hot water into the tin pot, and while we waited yet again and watched the tea soak, he spoke again.
“Her parents took the early-morning surprise very well and, needless to say, my parents were extremely pleased. We got married in the summer of 1972. We were so young. I was just twenty years old, and Shauna was barely eighteen. She looked so stunningly beautiful in her wedding gown. Of course, I chose Seamus as my best man. The ceremony took place in the large garden behind the McCarthy’s house, and that was, truly, the happiest day of my life.”
At that point, he remained silent. We sat down at the kitchen table, and, after a few minutes, I dared to break the silence.
“What was so different, so significant about Bloody Sunday?” I asked. “As far as I have learned, there had been rioting before, and people were killed.”
“That is true,” he nodded, “but the events of Bloody Sunday manifested a magnitude that was beyond anything that had happened before in Derry. Until Bloody Sunday, there was only a struggle for civil rights. There were riots, but the killing of people was a disturbing exception. After Bloody Sunday, it was outright war.”
My next question was of a more sensitive nature, and I wasn’t quite sure how he would take it, but I was curious to hear his view.
“Do you hate the English people?” I asked.
He took a few seconds to think about the appropriate response, and then he shook his head.
“I never believed in guilt by association. The question is, did anybody in England care about Northern Ireland? Did they even know, what was happening? The answer is that the majority did not know until the IRA started their bombings on the mainland.
“No, I do not hate the English in general, just the few of them who do not seem to get it and who will stop at nothing to continue the war. To this day, more than thirty years after the fact, they still have a difficult time dealing with the blame of Bloody Sunday and my hope is that some day they will finally learn.”
“I guess the dealing started with the Widgery Report,” I said.
“The Widgery report was a whitewash!” He sounded aggravated but calmed himself quickly.
“I am sorry,” he said.
“No apology necessary,” I said. “I believe you are right. In my very personal opinion, the Widgery report was nothing else but a government-approved cover-up.”
He looked at me in surprise.
“Well,” he said. “That is the most forceful statement I have heard from you tonight.”
“Well, maybe, but you know, we Americans have had a similar experience with the Warren Report after the Kennedy assassination. It boggles the mind that a bunch of apparently highly intelligent people closed their ears and eyes to the obvious. The report was flawed in so many ways that any intelligent person must come to the conclusion of a cover-up. I have seen the same pattern with the Widgery report.”
I felt proud of myself, because he seemed genuinely pleased by my comment.
“You are absolutely right,” he said. “You see, the former Prime Minister Tony Blair, the first PM with a brain I may say…”
“Yeah, but he was wrong about the war in Iraq.”
“Well, nobody’s perfect. Anyways, Blair, during his reign, put it very diplomatically when he said that the noble Lord Widgery, and I quote, ‘was not able to consider all the evidence that might have been available.’ If I may translate that into the common man’s language, the honorable John Passmore Widgery, who is currently burning in hell, fucked up.”
He looked around the kitchen to ascertain that nobody else had heard him.
“Excuse my French,” he said sheepishly.
“Well, the kids are not around,” I joked. “My wife might have had a word or two with you.”
“So, what’s your take on the current Bloody Sunday Inquiry?” I asked him. “I mean, it seems that they are more serious about this than ever before. After all, they have spent more than 180 million British pounds for the investigation.”
He snorted. “Yes, and more than three years after the judges adjourned, we still have no result, not even a hint of when they might come up with a statement. I assure you that the English could have saved their 180 million pounds very easily by apologizing to the Irish people. Just a straightforward apology! I am not asking for a guilty plea, just a sincere apology for the shooting of innocent Irish people.”
That last statement made sense and further arguing the topic appeared to be pointless, so I changed the subject.
“Finn, I am aware that we have an agreement not to discuss personal matters, and you don’t need to answer my next question.”
The steadily growing familiarity with my newly found mentor had made me bold enough to address one particular topic that had been on my mind for a long time.
“Being as young as you were when you got married – I mean, young couples are generally expected to reproduce, have children and so on – I guess my question is, how did that fit into your future plans?”
His face grew dark. At first, I thought I might have angered him by touching a topic that was not on the allowed list.
“Well, that is easy to answer,” he finally said to my relief. He poured tea into my cup before proceeding with his own. This time he added only milk.
“The same day when I proposed to Shauna, she told me about the only rule that was to be applied to our marriage. She said she was not willing to raise her children in an atmosphere of uncertainty and that uncertainty was whether their father would return to home alive or dead.
“The one rule was that whenever she said it was time to start a family, I would retire from my involvement in the Irish cause immediately.”
He paused to take a sip from his cup. “She never had a chance to apply that rule, but I retired the day she was shot.”