ALTAR EGO

On the morning of April 11th 1968, Marsh, Frank Davis, Ructions and Edwards drove into Dundrum Village in a grey Ford Zyphyr V4.

"We're too fucken early," said Marsh who was sitting in the front passenger seat.

"Go down to the Milltown bridge and come back again," suggested Davis. He was about five feet nine inches and of athletic build with a swarthy complexion. He always seemed to have a puzzled expression on his face. This gave the impression that he was permanently on the point of solving some intractable philosophical problem as he fingered his dark wavy hair. At demonstrations he often wore a large badge on his coat which proclaimed ‘I am an enemy of the state,' while, at the same time declaring, that he did not believe in swallowing aspros for other peoples' headaches.

The men were well aware that it was important to keep the car moving: four men in a moving car could arouse suspicions, but not as much as four men in a stationary vehicle.

The car turned at the bridge and moved slowly back up the village.

"The bus-stop," shouted Marsh, "it's the fucken Slug."

"Are you sure?" asked Edwards.

"Sure! There's nobody this side of the moon with a mush as baleful as that." The Slug was a member of the Special Branch who lived on the North side of Dublin. Why was he standing at a bus-stop in Dundrum at that time of the morning reading a newspaper?

"Maybe he has a mot," suggested Edwards.

"Him," Marsh scoffed, "only a pig in a slaughter house would have sex with him."

"It's a set-up. Get out of here," hissed Davis.

The bank had not yet opened. It was indeed a set-up. Inside the bank, armed Special Branchmen had taken up positions. At the back entrance to the bank, some soldiers were waiting to enter, if necessary. Across the road, in what was then a field, more soldiers lay behind a ditch. They had been positioned there in the darkness of early morning as they had been every day for a week, for it was just over a week since Davis was seen by an off duty Branchman standing near the bank reading a newspaper. As Davis was from Drumcondra, it was assumed that it was the bank and not the newspaper which was the object of his perusal.

Alias Davis

The news of Davis's vigil had excited those in Dublin Castle and especially, the Slug, who was a religious fanatic, and who was aware that Davis had long since opted out of Sunday Mass going. Also, he suspected Davis of pushing a poster reading ‘The Pope is a jockey's ponce,' under his hall door one night.

"We'll let them in the door an' blow the bollocks out of them before they have a chance to get into a state of grace," he promised and warned, "if that shower get to Heaven by some miracle they'll fucking steal the Pearly Gates."

While the raiders were unaware of the Slug's plans, they left Dundrum heading for Ballinteer with puzzled expressions on their faces. How could there have been a leak? they wondered. They had been extremely careful: was it possible that an informer had managed to infiltrate the small group?

"If someone gave them a tip-off, he's going to look fucken stupid before the day is out," said Marsh.

"Stupid in what way?" inquired Ructions.

"Stupid when the alarm in the bank in Tallaght goes off."

"Yeh have me head in mental pandemonium," announced Edwards.

"We can do the bank in Tallaght and give the Slug a woeful pain in the hole," explained Marsh.

"Are you off your trolley, there could be twenty Branchmen in Dundrum."

"Exactly, if there's a moxy load of harriers in Dundrum, well, they're not in Tallaght, are they?"

As the car entered Tallaght, Marsh put the double barrel shotgun on the floor. It contained two cartridges filled with candle wax to hold the shot together. This was an invention by Marsh; the result of experimenting with microcrystalline wax, renaissance wax, green casting wax, scopa modelling wax, white beeswax and various forms of paraffin wax, but the wax he found most suitable came from the candles he stole from the shrine to Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in the side altar of the Church of Saint Francis Xavier in Gardiner Street.

"He's always had a soft spot for the Jesuits. Only the best," Ructions reasoned.

"One of these boyos into the radiator of a cop car and she'll steam up quicker than Christine Keeler," Marsh assured the others.

Now he pulled on a rubber mask he had bought in a trick shop in London. This had a small wisp of white hair sticking out of the top while the ragged, wrinkled face belonged to a man of about three hundred years of age. Ructions had his long hair tied back and hidden inside his collar. He had cellotaped his beard under his chin and wore a pair of thick horn rimmed spectacles without lenses, so that he looked like an intellectual werewolf.

"Pull up here," ordered Marsh.

"Here!" complained Ructions, "the fucking bank is thirty yards down the road. Do you think we should get a little exercise to clear our heads before taking the stage."

"Mens sana in corpore sano," Edwards sympathized.

"Tactics," snapped Marsh. "You see, if the cops arrive they always pull up right outside the bank, the lazy bastards, and undiscerning, ‘cause the first thing they'll do is haul out some poor oul farmer who's just pulled in to lodge the creamery check an' before he can say agricola, agricolorom, he has a baton shoved up his fucken arse."

There was nobody on the street as the men left the car.

"Jesus Tommy, for a man of your advanced obsolescence you are very spry, very spry indeed," laughed Davis.

The three raiders entered the Munster and Leinster Bank soon after opening time. Marsh jumped up on top of the counter but jumped down again when he realized that he could be seen by passers-by in the street.

A manager and his assistant were the only staff in the small bank and there were no customers. The raiders knew that nobody had seen them entering the bank and they also knew that there was no possibility of an alarm going off since they had immobilized the two officials before they had time to say "Cathy Barry." As a result they were not in any great hurry.

The men left the bank after taking all the cash they could find. They drove off at a normal speed out of Tallaght.

"If I had known youse were going to be that long, I would have got the Irish Times and gone for a cup of coffee," joked Edwards before putting the boot down once the car reached the Kilakee Road.

This was the group's second bank robbery since the raid on the Royal Bank of Ireland in Drumcondra on a wet and windy Monday on February the 27th 1967. That particular robbery had received a lot of publicity as it was the first bank robbery in the Republic since the forties.

Minutes later, news of the raid reached the Royal Bank in Dundrum. It was crowded with armed Special Branchmen posing as staff and customers. For a moment they stared at each other in amazement and then there was pandemonium. The cursing figures jostled each other in a frantic rush for the door and almost trampled on two elderly women customers who were about to enter the bank on legitimate business. Soon the street was filled with grim figures, some armed with Uzi sub-machine guns.

The soldiers behind the ditch had not heard the surprising news and they were now standing up and shouting at the fleeing Branchmen, one of whom turned and, waving his hands wildly, shouted: "Wrong fucking bank."

"That beats the fucking barney, that does," mused a philosophical soldier.

The Slug was jumping up and down on the main street. "I'll stigmata the fuckers with bullets when I get them," he promised as he forced himself inside a green Morris Minor which was a private car owned by one of the ambushing Branchmen. Now a procession of garda patrol and privately owned cars, some dangerously overloaded with armed Branchmen, headed towards Rockbrook as a delicate sun glanced through the parting clouds.

Minutes later the 999 line became jammed with calls from Dundrum residents. These, upright citizens, having witnessed the fearful sight of yelling men brandishing firearms and galloping all around the village main street, believed that they had witnessed a bank robbery. Some shouted at the soldiers who were now standing on top of the ditch: "They went that way, about twenty of them."

"Fucking do-gooders everywhere," muttered a fat army sergeant.

Meanwhile, the raider's car had reached the Featherbeds without incident and was racing towards Glencree. Halfway across the Featherbeds the car turned left on to one of the bog roads; it lurched and bounced along for about a mile and then swung to the left and seemed to disappear into the bog face.

Davis jumped out of the car and picked up a length of rope which was lying on the ground. He handed it to the others and then got back into the car.

The car was in a dugout section of the bog face. Over it was a timber roof which was covered by earth and heather. It was no higher than five feet and its main support was a perpendicular plank which had a rope attached to it. The three men in the car pulled desperately at the rope but nothing happened.

"Reverse the car back," shouted Davis.

"That's a double negative," said Ructions.

"What?"

"Reverse the car back."

"Yeah, that's what I said."

"Sure yah can't reverse a car forward."

"I said reverse the car back, not fucking forward."

"A car can only be reversed back."

"Could we cut out the fucken bladder on linguistics and cover the car," demanded Marsh.

The car was backed half way out of the dugout; the windows on the left side lowered and the rope tied around the door-frame. The car lurched forward and there was a crash as the roof of earth and wood buried everything beneath it.

While the raiders were burying themselves the first news of the 999 calls from the distraught Dundrum residents reached the garda patrol car radios. The motorcade was now on Mutton Lane. There was a screech of brakes: the green Morris Minor jammed on and there was a crunch as a following car smashed the tail lights of the Morris. Its Branchman owner jumped out and began to inspect the damage.

"Who's going to pay for this?" he asked the other garda driver. "Who fucken cares?" said the Slug

"I fucking care," said the Branchman.

"If we're going to riddle these fucking turds we've got to get to Tallaght now," the Slug pleaded.

"Its Dundrum," other guards were shouting.

"Its fucking Tallaght," some contradicted, "we've just come from Dundrum."

"Maybe Tallaght was a false alarm to get us out of Dundrum," more speculated.

"Maybe we should all go back to Dundrum and lock ourselves up in the fucking asylum," hissed another.

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Three nights later when Marsh and the others were ensconced in the Peacock pub, the newspapers were still reporting police sightings of a man in a blue anorak driving up and down the Naas Road.

"Isn't your mother on the pension?" Marsh asked Davis.

"Yeah. Why?"

"Does she get by alright on it?"

"Sure that wouldn't keep feathers on a seagull," Davis scoffed.

"It says in the papers here that half the Tallaght money was pension money, old age dosh, waiting to be taken to the Post Office."

"Half of that would have paid for loads of pensions. There couldn't be that many old people in Tallaght."

"Sure isn't it the wonders of modern medicine that so many oul codgers are still poking around and most of them fucking chain-smoking woodbines," said Edwards.

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The Tallaght bank robbery sent alarm bells ringing in Dublin Castle and seriously disturbed the Slug's sleep.

"You know I read in an FBI manual once that John Dillinger said that robbing banks was better than fucking. We have to riddle these cunts before they become addicted."

"Jesus Christ!" exclaimed Pah Wah, the very tall, pale faced driver.

The two Branchmen were sitting in a green Morris Minor. The car was parked near the home of Frank Davis in Drumcondra. It was a fine Saturday morning with a hint of summer in the air. At around 11 a.m. Davis emerged from his house and stood in the small front garden. After rummaging in his brown cord jacket he produced a packet of cigarettes. He took one out; tapped it on the packet, lit it and blew a thin column of pale blue smoke into the sky as if he was testing the direction of the faint wind. He waved and exchanged pleasantries of some sort with a young woman walking on the opposite side of the road. The Slug and the driver watched every move.

"Would you just look at the jizz of the sweet-talking fucker," said the Slug euphorically, enjoying the element of intrigue. "Would yeh ever think that it was him and that nacker Edwards who beat the shit out of those two poor poppy sellers outside the G.P.O. last November?"

"A holy terror to be sure and they just trying to honour their brave dead, and it was those two?"

"No fucking doubt about it. Of course they denied it and the poppy sellers couldn't identify anyone because they had double and triple vision out of their black eyes."

"Judas priest."

The Slug and Pah Wah lit up cigarettes and blew smoke in unison with Davis.

"And then he proceeded to give me a lecture on the history of the poppy, if yeh don't mind."

"Christ!"

"Oh yeh! The poppy, Pops, said he, is provided by the Royal British Legion which is sworn to support all British soldiers who served in all conflicts around the world."

"Fuck. What about the Irish soldiers?"

"That's exactly what I said to the fucker. Pops, he sneered, there was no Irish soldier in any of the wars."

Pah Wah, shook his head. "Sure every eejet knows that thousands of Irishmen died in the Great War....fucking thousands."

"Exactly. Don't think, yeh cunt, I said, that you are the only fucker who has studied history. Wasn't a relation of mine killed at the Somme. He was a British soldier Pops, said he, as cheeky as fuck. He was from Kerry, yeh gobshite, I said."

"That was telling the thick cunt."

"Nah, he said. He was Irish alright, but as he was in a British uniform and took an oath of loyalty to the British cunt of a King, his primary allegiance was to Britain, not Ireland. He was a British Tommy who was born in Ireland Pops, like thousands of other cunts."

"Jesus! Talk about twisted logic. T'is a pity Dinny Blackwell wasn't around to give him a taste of the rubber hose. That would straighten..."

"Oh, the fucker went further than that."

"Did he?"

"Did he fuck. The wearing of the poppy, Pops, he said, honours all the British soldiers who committed atrocities all over the world, everywhere. Those fuckers who got beaten up outside the G.P.O. were honouring British Imperialism, the Black and fucking Tans, the Auxies and all the murders and executions of 1916 and the War of Independence. And those who deserted from the Irish Army during the Emergency and joined the British Army for more money were traitors and pervs and should have had their balls squeezed in a vice when they snuck back here after the second world war."

"Oh be the jaysus, that was some law and order speech."

"T'was. But I brought it to a quick halt."

"Good man."

"Imperialism, I said. Now that's a very big word for a whipper-snapper of a galoot like you to be using."

"I'd say that stumped the thick cunt."

"Stumped him. Don't be talking. He looked at me as if a sow's arse was after peeping out of the top of me hat. Sure there'd be no point in giving that gom a proper history of the poppy, t'would only fucking congest his thickness."

"A proper history of the poppy!!!"

"Of course. Sure the history of the poppy goes back to the Tain Bo Cuailghne and beyond, to the Tuatha de Danann."

"Bejaysus!!"

"Ah yep. Wasn't Queen Medb not far on the road from Tord's castle when she came across the beautiful Fedelma, the bean Sidhe, who could turn herself into a cackling hag and see the future," explained the Slug.

"Well I never…."

"'What of my army, Fedelma bean Sidhe?'" Medb inquired three times and three times Fedelma replied: ‘I see it red: it is crimson, your army,' and then she threw off her gown an what d'yuh think covered the nipples of her diddies?"

"Eh…"

"Two crimson poppies. Of course, read any of the histories by the Republican literati and you'll find that bit missing. Historical revisionism it's called," the Slug scoffed.

"Could you be up to the fuckers?" Pah Wah examined his finger nails.

"And when the battle godess Morrigu and her sisters came in the form of scald-crows and sat on the shoulders of the dead Cuchulainn what d'yuh think they carried in their beaks?"

"Poppies."

"Exactly. Course that has fucking disappeared from the texts too not to mention Brian Boru."

"What about him?"

"Wasn't poppies found in his sporran when some cunt did for him."

"Was anyone ever got for that?"

"Nope. Cold case review, still checking forensics!!" They both laugh heartedly. The Slug flicked cigarette ash off his trousers.

"But sure in more modern times wasn't the Irish in the British Army dying in the Khyber Pass for the poppy," the Slug continued.

"Up me arse," muttered Pah Wah. "Fighting for the poppy!?"

"The big Afghan poppy," confirmed the Slug.

"Be the hokey." Pah Wah was incredulous. "If they had that bigun in their button holes they'd be all out of their fucking heads at the Cenotaph. They'd be singing the Bold Fenian Men instead of God Save the Queen. Someone might even pinch her majesty's bum."

"Oh that wouldn't do at all but you're close to the mark." agreed the Slug. "It wasn't to put them in their button holes, it was to put them in the button holes of the Chinese commies."

"But sure the Khyber Pass up me arse was in the 1840's, the Chinese commies ….."

"Ah hah, I thought you'd say that, but these men at the top think for the far distant future, not like you or me for today or yesterday, know what I mean?"

"No."

"Well why d'yuh think at the moment these Red Guards in China are running around the country out of their fucking heads putting dunces' caps on the heads of their professors and bringing chaos all over the kip. See the picture…."

"My granny couldn't stand them," Pah Wah announced suddenly.

"Your granny!!?"

"She fucking hated them."

"Chinkie commies?"

"No! Poppies! When I was a kid on me summer holidays in Tullabeg, she'd race into the kitchen, sometimes, and grab the brush and make a dive at the grandfather," Pah Wah laughed. "' Get out of the ashes you waster,''' continued Pah Wah imitating the voice of an old woman. ‘''Get out there an get them blasted poppies out of me potato drills, an if I find one later on I'll measure you with this.'''

They both laughed. " Bejaysus she was a violent woman to be sure," said the Slug.

"A holy terror when she caught sight of a poppy, man dear she'd watch him from the back window and she'd say to me, ‘old Nick was busy last night planting his red hoors all over me potato drills, in the black dark with his effin red hoors an me paying good money to the jigger Blackall to have those drills set because himself is too busy burying his arse in the ashes and bladdering about the terrors of the world and oul Nick cavorting around me garden with his red hoors in the dead of night. His red hoors peeping out from me Lumpers like brazen sluts at a brothel window, red hoors, begor.''' They both laughed.

"Be the hokey Pah Wah you sure can do a good woman's voice."

They both laughed again.

"Course your granny wouldn't have been well up on history, like, yuh know the Fomorians or those other fuckers, the eh…..Milesians and so on."

"No. She wouldn't have been ofay with such knowledge."

And then the Slug, in a deep melodious tone, sang to the air of the Tumbril Driver's song from Marat/Sade by Peter Weiss:

Adorn your buttonhole as you make your way,
With a poppy while you sing about Gallipoli Bay,
Sign up, sign up, and march along with me,
There's no Easter Lily today
.

"Bejaysus, I never took you for another Joe Locke," Pah Wah applauded.

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Davis shouted to someone inside the house. Then he closed the garden gate behind him and after flicking the remains of the cigarette onto the roadway, he got into a black Hillman Imp car. The car, which was owned by his father, moved off in the direction of the Whitworth Road.

"Will we follow him?" asked Pah Wah.

"Follow him! Bejaysus we'll follow him to the gates of hell if necessary," the Slug swore through gritted teeth.

They tailed the Hillman to Phibsborough, up the North Circular Road and into the Phoenix Park. The Slug slapped Pah Wah on the knee.

"It's here," he shouted.

"What?"

"The fucking Tallaght money. I bet he has a shovel in the boot."

Davis drove past the Wellington Monument, down the hill near the Magazine and out the gate onto Chapelizod Road. The Slug groaned. Davis continued on to Chapelizod village and to the surprise of the tailing sleuths he pulled the car up outside Chapelizod Garda Station.

"What the fuck!" said Pah Wah as he watched Davis walk smartly up to the front door of the homely garda station and enter. A well built sergeant was sitting adjacent to the front counter behind a typewriter. His graying hair was rumpled as if he had been playacting with his child, or, perhaps, his grandchild, before leaving for work. He sat back in the chair and gave Davis the slightest hint of a smile.

"Can I help yuh?"

"I have a bit of a problem, I was driving…"

"Petrol. There's a garage…"

"Eh no it's not that. It's a bit delicate if..."

"Petrol an' no money, now that is delicate. Actually it's downright fucking irresponsible."

"No. It's just that I'm after driving out from town. I'm on my way to the west and I think I'm been followed.

"By who?"

"Two fellas in a green Morris Minor. Ever since I left Drumcondra. I think..." he paused.

"Think what," demanded the sergeant impatiently.

"Eh, I think they might be, you know, nancy boys, sergeant."

The sergeant got up out of the chair briskly. He stared at Davis as if a penis had suddenly grown out of his forehead. With the index finger of his right hand he made circles of eight on his lips. Davis stared back into the quizzical grimace and thought that he detected a malevolence creeping over the sergeant's face like a shadow crossing a sunlit room. For a moment he thought of running out of the building.

"PJ, c'mere," the sergeant suddenly rasped out.

A tall athletic looking guard entered the front office slamming the door behind him.

"Did yuh hear that?"

"Hear what?"

"This young lad here has been followed out from the city by two bumboys."

The guard took a deep drag on his cigarette.

"Jesus," he exhaled along with a small cloud of smoke.

"They're right outside," the sergeant laughed.

"Outside," agreed the incredulous guard. He whipped off his tunic and threw it onto the counter.

As Davis drove out of Chapelizod he could see, in the car mirror, the burly sergeant and the Slug pushing each other about the footpath.