1: The Bare Bones Of Its Provenance
The pages following this introduction, which, unlike similar such literary devices in recent years, will actually precede the work it is meant to introduce, are photographs of the inner workings of a Special Branchman’s mind as shown by the layout and contents of his Notebook.
This Notebook came into the custody of the Hungry Brigade Collective by a circuitous route, by what one old subversive, early last century, might have called a commodious vicus of recirculation. Which is to say, back in the Sixties, those Good Old Days, there was an altercation outside 7 Gardiner Place between Branchmen, Pah Wah and The Slug, and Republican Activists, Frank O’Donnell and Mick Murphy.
After the Branchmen had fled to their souped-up Morris Minor and quitted the scene the Republicans scoured the battlefield for the usual souvenirs such encounters at that time produced; knockedout teeth, pools of anaemic blood, the occasional prosthetic limb or auxiliary sexual contrivance.
As it happened there were teeth aplenty, just lying around; nicotine and caffeine stained, black rotted gnashers, obviously Dublin Castle issue, Harriers for the use of. And claret stained acres of tarmac and pavers. As such nothing much to write home about. Just par for the course.
There was only one very unusual item, a pass remarkable prize of great value, something Blackie Byrne himself had lauded at a Castle Retraining Course for Incorrigibles as “The intelligent intelligence officer’s best friend. No, not his rubber hose! And not that either, yez bunch of perverts. His Notebook, for Jaysus sweet sake, his Book Of Names!”
And not just any old Notebook this, that Mick Murphy scooped up and opened to read by the light of the moon and an old Dublin Lampost. Oh no, not a scrap of that at all, at all, to be sure. This was the cream of the crop. On the first open page Murphy could see the motto: This Book Belongs To Festy Spratt (Detective, Special Branch, Dublin Castle, Ireland, British Isles, Europe, The World, The Solar System, The Milky Way, The Universe). The Slug. This was the infamous Slug’s very own Notebook. His Book Of Names.
A quick butcher’s through the pages showed up the value of this exceptional piece of battle-booty. Everybody the Slug considered to be anybody in the subversive world was there, including members of Sinn Fein, of smaller left wing parties and even some flaxen haired Gaeleens the Slug secretly wished to dance with at any crossroads of De Valera’s choosing. And he had also included all their relevant details; names, addresses, occupations, distinguishing marks. Even Pat Murphy’s limp was there for the intelligence community to mark and wonder at. And Noel Reddican’s trademark misspelt surname, that was there too. Mick Murphy quickly realised he was holding a veritable treasure trove: invaluable source material for innumerable future post graduate studies of our time’s one and only truly glorious revolution. Historical gold dust.
“There’s only one place for this wee beauty,” he said to O’Donnell. “Jimmy Clarke’s secret drawers.” The same drawers which were once rummaged in by the Slug and some of his colleagues claiming that they were looking for the ‘real invoices,’ of the uncompromising Carrickmore Republican.
That was handy enough, given that the Peacock was barely three minutes sprint away. And, anyway, having inflicted serious GBH on Pah Wah and the Slug, the heroes were in fine fettle for murdering a few more quick pints.
So Detective Spratt’s Book Of Names was held for some years in Clarke’s drawers. Then passed on in secrecy to other hands and other drawers until, much further down the line, it came briefly into our possession. Before passing it on in our turn we photographed the pages of it which now we publish here for the amazement, amusement, education and edification of a select few among the Irish Intelligentsia.