8: The Same Year's Pangs In Summerhill

Bates, having first peeped through a hole in a raggy net curtain, gingerly opened the neglected hall door of a two storey ramshackle house near Summerhill to a visitor. Charlie O’Neill, a bit on the portly side, and having, as a sports commentator in these new-fangled days might put it, a low centre of gravity, entered. He flicked back the rough and tumble of his fairish-brown hair and shrugged.

“So this is where the secret army hangs out.”

“Some of us.”

O’Neill had just packed in his senior position as a dyer in a Cork factory on hearing whispers that something suspiciously subversive was being hatched in Dublin. A native of the Drimnagh environs he was a close friend of the Behans and had been interned in the Curragh in the late fifties. Now in his late twenties, he was, like Bates, well read, particularly in all the ins, to say nothing of the outs, of Irish literature.

In the sparsely furnished front room Bates examined a heavy .45 revolver that O’Neill had got from Tom Barry.

“She kicks like Samson’s baby when fired,” O’Neill warned.

The pair sat down to a meal of ribs, cabbage and potatoes which Bates had prepared. “This’ll put hairs on your bollocks.”

O’Neill mumbled through a mouthful of food. “Assuming they’re not what’s in there with the spuds and greens. And I don’t want any gruesome stories like the Dergvale….”

Bates laughed.

It was a meal put up by some eminent Trade Union officials. Two of those were cadres from the English Trade Union movement. Bates was invited, O’Donnell and Ructions were blow-ins on the instructions of Marsh who demanded that they adopt an inflexible Leninist position on all matters of policy. O’Donnell dismissed internationalism within capitalist societies as part of the Goldman Sachs school of economics. The open borders drift he maintained would encourage union busting, the casualization of labour and would weaken worker solidarity and the quality of life for millions of lower paid workers.

“There is a shitless element among the intellectual left,” Bates pointed out, “who are protected from the vicissitudes of life by their influential friends and well paid sheltered jobs and they pontificate from their rarefied pulpits on how progressive and exceptional they are but for all that or because of all that, they don’t know one end of a worker from another. These keepers of high minded principals are so full of intellectual snobbery that they cannot overcome their doctrinaire adherence to out of date left ideas."

The officials gave one another curious looks when Ructions said that the Irish were not suited for city factories or the work ethic. “I have given speeches on this scam by the rich on the poor before. Gaels were made to live in halls, or villages of a couple of families extending into the forests they hunted in. We weren’t made for towns, let alone cities. When we moved into the cities our lives there became unsupportable. Nasty, British and short. Lassitudinous and sluggishness is the key to survival, check the bottom of the ocean.”

“When youse were arsing around the hills youse died of famine.”

“Starvation,” snapped Bates. “There was no shortage of food. Cholera and Typhoid stalked the cities. James Clarence Mangan died in the Meath Hospital of Cholera. Just around the corner here the great poet Gerard Manley Hopkin’s funeral mass was said in St. Francis Xavier’s Church in 1889.”

Bates is a man for detail. They were over their soup and getting ready for the T-bones.

“Rickettsia typhoid, the louse, its mouth adapted for sucking blood,” explained Bates, “having invaded and multiplied within the cytosol endothelial cells of an infected person, the rickettsiae also invades the cells lining of the louse.” That’s Bates for you. Way too much detail. Then he goes on, his accent changing from Tipperary to Belfast to Liverpool and the English union heads are looking at him fucking wide-eyed. “The infected louse would crawl on doomwards for up to eight days while its intestinal cells swelled to enormous proportions with the rickettsiae until about the twelfth day. Like the twelve days of Christmas! Lads. The journey having taking it among hungry weak people who from lack of food had lost the will to even wash themselves. The parasite had lived in ideal conditions; the bar at the Shelbourne kinda thing is how us’ens would have thought of them. It would then burst, freeing the rickettsiae to pass through in the louse’s feces to the unwashed skin of another human. Some destitute clad in rags, gaunt and yellow from malnutrition and disease and huddled together in a foul smelling hovel with many more like him for some little warmth. All of them clad in the unwashed tatters of the coarse frieze material, and it sticking to their raw tortured skin. All unwitting hosts with the infected louse droppings waiting to enter their bloodstream. And when the skin was undamaged and the excrement of the louse had dried to a fine powder the rickettsiae could still remain active for long enough to be carried in the air and inhaled. And before you could say Cathy Barry the noxious miasma was all over the place. In the hospitals, in the workhouses, in the prisons, in the court rooms and in the big houses where it took the upper crust just as easily as it did the common people. A quare classless bunch they were, them rickettsiae louses. Like the membership of the Fourth International!”

And then he told them about the disease itself. How body chills and a rash appeared across the abdomen. Then the infected people were suddenly seized with the most violent retching, followed by muscular twitching and delirium and soon a haemorrhage and diarrhoea from the bowels. Next, bowel spasms were followed by painful straining intestinal evacuations every few minutes. When these evolved into uncontrollable bowel discharges and the stools became blood and mucous largely, the victim knew that the end was nigh. Gangrene of the intestine was setting in.

“The British did this to our people a million and a million times plus,” he shouted as one of the officials was puking up in the toilet. Another said that his appetite had gone and that someone else could have his succulent, juicy T-bone. “They did it over and over down through the centuries he told the company, before the death of poets, as he and Ructions wired into the steaks praising Mr Nolan, the proprietor, on their tenderness.”

Outside the wind had dropped and the failing light added a false cosiness to the room. The traffic was intermittent on the side street below.

Bates filled a blackened kettle with water and placed it on a gas cooker which looked like it belonged to another era. He then switched on a light and pulled a pair of long, pale yellow curtains closed on the darkening sky. He nodded into the curtains.

“Just over there would have been the Monto kips.”

“Ahhh!!! Becky Cooper. Should have been a plaque of pure silicon bronze adorned with the finest Gaelic calligraphy erected for her. She killed more British soldiers with the pox than the IRA.”

Bates laughed. “Are you familiar with Tadhg Mac Dáire Mac Bruaideadha?”

“Oh God, Aye! He was one of the last, I think, anyway certainly the worst, of the Bloody MacBrodys who lived down around Kilkee in the county of Clare as the English called it, that used to be the Kingdom Of Thomond. Ye know the whereabouts of them, of course ye do. By the parish of Dysert, beside that townland that’s named after those fuckers, Ballybrody. Though its wet enough with all that Wild Atlantic rain it’s the most barren stretch of rural wasteland in the whole of Ireland. Intellectually and culturally barren. Bereft of all the colours and forms of Beauty. Only the Bloody MacBrodys could be got to live there willingly, without being tied down and fenced in with barbed wire and electricity. Of course I’m familiar with Tadhg Mac Dáire Mac Bruaideadha! So foul a name for such a filthy bastard as ever besmirched the fair fame of the Province of Munster.”

“That’s grand Charlie,” said Bates, reeling in an understated sort of a way away from the seismic vehemence of O’Neill’s reply. “I suppose you’d know all about his nasty self then and that Contention of the Bards thing. I was reading about it a while back. Can’t say I made much sense of it.”

“Well, no. I suppose not. There’s not many have been able to see the truly devilish significance of that episode. Irish historians these days are all bought in to English Empiricism. Carefully chosen facts and the knowledges that obscure them, all aimed at the disparagement of intuition and well-informed understanding.”

O’Neill paused for a moment and, to Bates’ great alarm, lifted Tom Barry’s .45, proceeding to spit and polish it to a menacing shine.

“But the North Channel Mullet knows,” he continued, laying the iron back on the table. “And what the North Channel Mullet knows the South Channel Salmon will be quick to understand. D’ye catch me drift now Ernie?”

“Of course, Charlie. Of course I do,” Bates replied very carefully, keeping a sharp eye on the iron lying beside O’Neill’s right hand, next to the nearly empty plate of ribs and cabbage. “You’re saying that…Eh, you mean…Ehm, north and south, you’re speaking about…’

“Partition,” O’Neill interjected. “That’s it. That’s it exactly. I’m speaking about the roots of partition that lie in the bad will and hatreds that lying bloody MacBrody stirred up when he started the Contention of the Bards, saying the O'Briens had the better of it over the O'Neill's. Dividing Irishman against Irishman, the South against the North, in the interests of the foreign invader, never mind who was doing the fucking invading at the time. There was always somebody at it.”

Desperate to stem the flow of a tirade in which family feeling and national animosity were combining toward the possibility of a wicked explosion he didn't want to be on the wrong end of, Bates sought to at least deflect, if not change the subject, saying: “He had a brother you know.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Domhnall Mac Dáire Mac Bruaideadha, a terrible man for his hole, I believe,” he said, passing a cigarette to O’Neill.

“Wouldn’t be the first Irish poet who’d get up on the crack of a whip,” said O’Neill as he leaned forward and gave Bates a light. “You know me an Ructions were up last week?”

“So Ructions was down in Cork, now that’s news.”

O’Neill laughed. “Sure Murphys had to take on extra staff.”

“Why was he in Cork?”

“Because Inspector fucking Corristine had been searching every rabbit hole in Ballymun looking for him over the Ballyfermot caper and he knew I had a safe house in Cork over a pub, that’s fucking why.”

“Sure wasn’t there a nolle prosequi entered on that?”

O’Neill examined the cigarette ash and flicked it onto the saucer. He shook his head. “A nolle prosequi!! Sure that only lasted a second.”

“The wheels of justice spinning around like Stirling fucking Moss was behind them.”

“That’s exactly it Ernie. You see the State had told Murnaghan that they were not prepared to proceed. He was psychologically conflicted with rage because he wanted to see us hammered ….and here he was instead telling us that we were free to go.”

“Now you’re talking out of your hair Charlie but why were they refusing to proceed?”

“Because they wanted O’Donnell and Dwyer to be also in the Dock and the summons server fellow Betts, a McDaid’s regular had already got the whisper that the State would not proceed. You see they needed all four to stick the charge of attempted murder as some blind fucker fired the shots that fucking missed from a misfiring revolver….they wanted to have all their ducks in a row, but sure you couldn’t kill anyone with the rubbish we had….a .22 rifle, 1 antique Lugar, 1 Unique pistol and a . 22 revolver and 19 rounds of assorted ammo. Do you know what I’m saying?”

“Yes yis weren’t really the Red Army.”

“No and then some fucking chancer of a journalist wrote in some rag that we had, 4 rifles, 6 automatic pistols, 2 revolvers and 500 rounds of ammo.”

“That’s the presstitute for you Charlie boy,” Bates laughed.

“Didn’t Jimmy Clarke say to Ructions that it was a wonder the chassis of the getaway car held up with the weight of us and the munitions.”

They both laughed.

“The Branchmen were running around like blue arse flies,” O’Neill continued. “Didn’t know what the fuck like. Pah Wah and Nipper tried to stop us but thanks to Sorohan who confused them by shouting in his pompous melodious voice ‘leave my clients alone, youse have no warrants. Desist immediately!’ they hesitated for a second and Ructions shouldered past them with me in his wake and then Marsh, who had been sitting in the body of the court started roaring ‘a penny for the guy, a fucking penny for the guy’ or something.”

“A grenade into the mass confusion.”

“Exactly. Lucky Joe Edwards was outside with the red Volks and got us away.” “That banger!”

“If we had that in Ballyfermot we probably would have made it to the turf cutters on the Featherbeds.”

“You wouldn’t have needed a disguise to blend….”

“Watch it now,” O’Neill warned. “And talking about the Featherbeds you know we came up last week and could find no one but we heard rumours about the Featherbeds!”

Bates gave a knowing laugh. “Ah! Rumours about the Featherbeds where on a mountain road to nowhere an old man and a child on the undulating white path hand in hand an old man and a child, on and on they go, never to pause, never to recede, never to fade…”

An Old Man On The Featherbeds

An Old Man On The Featherbeds

“Uncle Sam, I presume!”

“Sort of,” acknowledged Bates as he poured a fresh drop of tea into the cups.

“Talk about bangers,” O’Neill shook his head. “Wait an I tell you what happened on the way up last week.”

“You an' Ructions?”

“Yeah. We were just outside Cashel when on the side of the road is a uniformed cop, a sergeant it transpires. A fellow in civies standing beside him with a small case in his hand. We weren’t going fast because the car we had taken was a fuck up. It would slowly build up speed and then die again.”

“Sounds like a fuel or air problem in the carburettor,” surmised Bates.

“Something like that. Then the uniform, the sergeant, steps out onto the road and raises his hand bold as brass.”

“Fuck. Give some people a uniform and they think they can be like that traffic cop in the Percy French song!”

O’Neill stretched himself in the chair. “Exactly. And I’m thinking that the tax disc an the reg plates don’t correspond. In fact they’re from two fucking counties in different provinces.”

“Two fucks.”

“Thanks Ernie. Ructions was just after lighting a cigarette an I said do I stop or give her the diddy?”

“For all the good it would do with the dodgy carb…”

“Ructions blows out smoke an looks at me with his big dreamy eyes…” “As if he was in love.” Bates laughed.

“I shouted at him. Will I stop or hit the fucking juice? You’re the driver he says.” O’Neill gave a gesture of despair.

“That’s Ructions the philosopher. Don’t complicate the panic.”

O’Neill lifted up Barry’s .45 as Bates’ eyes narrowed. “If I had that I could have stopped.”

“Bloody sure you could have Charlie,” agreed Bates in a most placatory tone. “If you had that you could have done lots of fucking things.”

"I could," agreed O'Neill.

"Bloody sure you could. You could have plugged the two fuckers who were threatening your constitutional right to traverse, hinder free, along the highways and winding back roads of this hard won republic of ours as your noble ancestors did right back to the great Shane O'Neill himself before he was bushwhacked by those treacherous Mac Donnells from the arsehole of the Antrim Glens after him fucking things up with the O'Donnells after him trying to shove one up the arses of the O'Ds no matter that was all in the past, fado fado and is long forgotten and sure Charlie isn't there always snakes and shoneens and cap doffers and poppy creepers lying in the long grass waiting to catch someone off guard with their trousers down or trespassers hiding out in the mountain bracken to see if someone was digging for something other than a sod of turf other than a sod of someone else's bog, always there always wondering if they could sell out their country for a shilling and as somebody said getting down on their knees and thanking God that they had a country to sell," he winked at O'Neill, "I mean you could…"

Seán 'Ructions' Doyle

Seán 'Ructions' Doyle

“I could have tied the two of them to a fucking tree,” said O’Neill as he placed the .45 back on the table.

“You could have tied them to any kind of tree Charlie. An ash, a skough, a hazel, a blackthorn, a rowan, a birch or a pussy willow using the special knot that Moore taught us in the Dublin Brigade.”

O’Neill got a fit of laughing. “I remember that….every fucker got out of it after about thirty seconds….”

“Did you hear the one about the fellow who was spanning trees in the Phoenix Park?”

“Spanning trees. Fuck me.”

“That’s kinda it Charlie. You see this fellow was spanning trees and then this other dude came from the opposite side and clapped a pair of handcuffs on him and fucked off.”

“Scarpered!”

“That’s it. Then about an hour later this other fellow comes along and says ‘what the fuck are you up to?’ So the handcuffed gent explains what happened. Then the other dude unbuttons his flies and says ‘it looks like this isn’t your lucky day!’”

O’Neill shook his head. “You’re the pits Bates.” “What happened anyway.”

“We fucking stopped. The sergeant didn’t even look at the plates. A big red faced fellow. Probably getting dinners like what you have just given me six days a week. He asked us if we were going to Dublin. When we told him we were he asked us if we could take civies with us and do the whole of Tipperary a favour. Civies had missed the Dublin bus and he was doing an exam in the Garda Depot in the Phoenix Park.”

“Jesus!”

“I was certain that it was a set-up and that Mr Civies had an Uzi in the small case and that a few miles up the road they were waiting for us.”

“Sure what else would you think.”

“And we had no choice but to play along with their game. No better men sergeant, I said, sure didn’t I see Tony Reddin between the posts manies the time.”

“Reddin, the very man and the hay saved an Cork bet,” he laughed, “and Ructions gave me a dirty look and when I introduced him to Civies as Lambert I thought he was going to contradict me.”

“Yeah. You were always quick on the uptake.”

“I tell you Ernie it was tense for awhile and I was looking ahead at this stretch of empty road and the sky falling down on it and I’m thinking what fucking else is coming down…”

“Sure you were like Paul on the road to Damascus.”

“Then I realised that Civies was genuine. There was no way they’d leave him in the car that long before a road block if they knew who we were.”

“And if they were reading that journalist’s fiction they’d have expected youse to have bazookas sitting on yer laps,” Bates laughed.

“Civies was a young bloke. Liam was his name,” O’Neill continued. “Nice bloke. He thought that Ructions was Ciarán Bourke at first. Said he was trying to get into forensics, the streets were becoming too dangerous.”

“He had that correct anyway."

“Very dangerous agreed Ructions and then he starts giving him his version of the Docker’s pub.”

“That must have been something.”

“Yeah. Not bad. He said how he was having a quiet drink on a Sunday morning on the quays and he was reading a very interesting article in the Sunday Observer about the Viet Cong tunnels in the Ho Chi Ming trail when all hell broke loose. Civies was shocked.”

“On a Sunday!?” exclaimed a shocked Civies.

“The Lord’s day said Ructions. And this wasn’t the usual pub stuff you know, yeh short changed me there pal or you’ve served me a fucking dept charger or would yeh take the bishop’s collar off my pint please as I’m a psychotic atheist. Ah no nothing straightforward like that, oh no, this was axes and guns as if Sergio Leone was standing in the corridor with a clip board. I was looking at Civies in the driver’s mirror and he was horror stricken.”

“I could imagine.”

“Ructions told Civies that this fellow came in with a chopper while his buddy guarded the door with a revolver and he shouted ‘the first crucified bastard that moves gets a round up the hole and that’s not because I’m anti gay while….”

“Important to be politically correct at all times,” advised Bates.

“Of course. Then Ructions tells him how the axe man hops a few fellows around the heads with the chopper. Civies asks him if someone called the guards. Jesus no said Ructions, sure it was political.”

Bates let out a guffaw and gave his thigh a slap.

“Civies in the back seat was having a sevenor. He had a face on him like a banker who had just been refused a countercyclical capital buffer.”

“That’d be a dickens of a thing to have to pick out of your arse alright while you were standing in a bank queue,” Bates laughed.

“Assaulting someone with a hatchet is GBH or maybe even attempted murder, protested Civies. Ructions was having none of it. No no, he said, sure didn’t I hear the chopper man on the way out tell the barman that it was political and that if he wanted his kids to recognise him next week he was not to call the cops for ten minutes pointing at his wrist watch which looked like an Eight Samuel ever right watch or something. Of course it could have been fake like so many things nowadays. Then he told Civies that a few minutes later the fellows with the blood running from their heads left and he heard one of them say to the barman that he knew fuck all about running a pub and soon after that a few others who he thought were connected to the Dublin Brigade of the IRA followed. It was either that or they had prior knowledge of the event and that violence brought their concupiscence to the pinnacle. Then he said that a detective arrived, a real business like chap who took out a book which was full of names. He was trying to sneak a peep at the names but the writing was illegible though he thought that one name looked like Tommy Swamp and he wondered if this was code for Marsh.”

“I wish I was in the car.”

“Civies asked him if he had made a statement. I did, he told him. I told the detective that I had been reading an informative article in the Sunday Observer about the Viet Cong tunnels on the Ho Chi Minh trail and that I wasn’t aware of any sudden aberration in the behaviour of the customers. The detective told him that he wasn’t sure how to spell ‘aberration’ and could he write ‘untoward behaviour’ instead.

Ructions said that it was a free country and that paper never refused ink.” Bates gave another hearty laugh.

“Ructions told him that the detective asked him if he was Ciarán Bourke and if he knew The Longford Collector but Ructions explained that his wife looked after the rent, then Civies accused him of reneging on his responsibilities to society at large to which Ructions countered that he had a duty to arrive home to his wife and children, perhaps a bit tipsy at times, but with a face free of chopper damage.”

“Just tipsy!!”

“He asked us what we were doing in Cork and I told him that we were pricing a painting job there. And then Ructions ranted on about resins, shellacs, French polishes, primers, sealers, hardeners, catalysts, oils, emulsions, polymers…. the poor fellow was blitzed.”

“Polyurethaned.”

“Civies said that he could probably get us work painting copper’s houses in the Tipperary region before we dropped him off at the Depot and wished him well in his exam.”

“Such good citizens,” Bates mocked.

O’Neill put his finger to his lips. “Did you hear that?” “Hear what?”

“A sound of tapping!”

Bates laughed. “A tapping is it? Like in O’Casey, a tapping on the wall!!” “A tapping in the hall,” O’Neill corrected.

Both diners stood up and looked at each other. A car passed on the street below, then a Honda motor cycle, then a few seconds of silence followed by a scratching sound coming from outside the hall door.

“It’s the fucking harriers, grab the gun,” ordered O’Neill.

They crossed the landing and headed for the back upstairs bedroom. O’Neill opened the window and prepared to launch himself into the consecrated darkness of the church grounds which bordered the house rear.

“Hold it,” hissed Bates. “What?”

“The Slug and his buddies would just burst in. Maybe it’s a rat or something?”

“Or a two legged pig,” O’Neill muttered, not completely convinced of Bates’ reasoning.

Nevertheless, the pair crept down the single flight of stairs into the darkened hall and listened. Someone or something was fiddling outside the hall door. O’Neill had the . 45 tucked inside his trouser waistband. To their surprise the door opened inwards and a smallish figure stepped into the hall which was now dimly lit by the outside street lighting.

For a fraction of a second only a spider hanging from a single thread near the blotchy ceiling moved, a single thread of what would one day be a World Wide Web. Then the surprised intruder turned on his heel but before he could manage another step, Bates, grabbing him by the shoulders, had him pinned to the hall’s stone floor. After a bit of fumbling, O’Neill found the light switch and slammed the door shut.

“He’s got socks on his hands, he’s a bleeden burglar,” O’Neill pointed out.

“Why are yeh breaking in here?” “Please lads, don’t hit me.”

“No one is going to hit you, well not yet, but who sent you to this house?” “No one.”

“Don’t play the gobshite with us, yeh fuck.”

“I was just lookin for a bit of dosh like or a bit of Tom to sell,” explained the burglar. “Yeh know like I haven’t a make an the mot is expecting baby number three like an the fucking landlord is hammering down the bleeden door like, know what I mean like, this is the first time I did it like, yeh know, I got fucking desperate…”

Bates and O’Neill looked at each other and shrugged. They studied the underfed figure in the shabby clothes.

“Would yeh like a spare rib?” O’Neill inquired.

“Jaysus yeah man. I haven’t had a proper joe skinner in days like, know what…”

“What I can’t understand,” said Bates, shaking his head grimly, “is why you would come down here into a working class area where nobody has fuck all and.”

“Yes,” O’Neill cut in. “Why don’t yeh fuck off over to Belgrave Road or Ailsbury Road and break into the big gaffs where the rich wankers wetly dream?”

“And steal a fur coat for your missus,” suggested Bates.

“Jaysus lads I’m not a burglar like, not a real one,” the intruder apologised, “but I know from the lads around that if any of them are fucking seen, yeh know, in the posh gaff roads, the wrozzers like will stop an search them an tell them to fuck off back to Summerhill, know what I mean like, that’s why they told me to bring socks. If they fucking catch yeh with gloves like they can charge yeh with possession of housebreaking instruments or they might do yeh with loitering or vagrancy or shit like that,” explained the down-at-heels man.

“Geofuckingraphical apartheid,” pronounced O’Neill.

“Listen lads is there any chance of a few bob and a few fags like, to bring back to the missus?”v

“She shouldn’t be smoking with the babies,” advised Bates in a disapproving tone. “Ah jaysus no. The smokes would be for meself.”

After the first-time, failed burglar left with a packet containing 16 cigarettes and a ten shilling note, Bates invited O’Neill to visit the Peacock pub. A slight drizzle was falling when they arrived outside the oul’ gaff. On the street, Clarke and Ructions, with raised voices, were instructing two wretched people, Zonko and Padser Duff that they were barred for the rest of their miserable lives because of a sudden bout of fisticuffs in the bar toilets.

“What was that about?” inquired Bates.

“Fuckers. Accusing one another of stealing their fucking sick cert symptoms,” explained Ructions.

“Yeah,” Clarke elaborated, “Padser claimed Zonko got him struck off the disability after he went into Doctor Lord first. And then he followed in, not fucking knowing like, with the exact same symptoms.”

“What? The oul pain in the arse trick!!” inquired O'Neill.

“Ah no. He started shitting green stools, followed by an unquenchable thirst followed by an overwhelming desire to lilt the String Quartet No 2, Op.49 à la Mémoire de Terence McSwiney by the Swan Hennessy.”

“It must have been the fucking unquenchable thirst that gave the game away,” concluded Bates as they entered the teeming premises.

They joined a group of other Irregulars who were having an animated discussion on ‘Faminites’.

“They’re spreading like poppies in potato drills,” complained O’Donnell, “refusing point blank to accept that the famine, as they insist on calling it, is a failed genocide by the British.”

“They’re a shower of poxy Somme cap doffers,” added Mick Murphy who a few months previously was chased down Grafton Street by a bunch of screaming teenage girls who mistook him for Peter Tork, a member of the then popular American rock group, the Monkees.

“They’d need to have a large potato, eh a Golden Wonder…” said Casey.

“That’s it,” interrupted Murphy, “they’d need to have a large Golden Wonder spud shoved up their holes.”

“That’d leave the fuckers speechless alright,” agreed O’Neill. “Feeding the enemy by other means,” commented O’Donnell.

There was a bout of shoving and pushing and moving and manoeuvring among the revellers as Plopps wobbled to his stool by the counter. O’Neill noticed a group of young people near the door who had survived the shunting and jostling and huffing and puffing as Plopps had muscled his way past.

“Who are they over there?”

“Maoists from Trinity, I think. Wouldn’t the dialectical on the blondyish one make you want to relish the thoughts of Mao all the same,” said O’Donnell, his gaze focusing on the lithe figure of Marie Mac Mahon, the serial left wing agitator.

“I would love to pick up something shocking off the dark one with the callipygian bum,” wished Murphy.

“Yeh. Socialism under one skirt,” conjectured Ructions.

“I was thinking more of Trotsky’s theory of permanent copulation.”

“They probably came in to see what the working class looks like,” Redican remarked, but if you dismiss their schemes for a revolt by the Connaught peasantry, they have written some pertinent stuff on the greasy Irish till.”

While Bates entered into a conversation with the Maoists, Ructions told a shocking story about this friend whose mother has recently passed on. She had been a staunch republican and completely by chance she had been buried in a Dublin graveyard quite close to a prominent Blueshirt who had died some years earlier. Her son had covered his mother’s grave with Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception blue stones.

Some weeks after the funeral the son bumped into Ructions when both were taking part in a protest march about the growing number of homeless people and demanding an increase in the building of social houses. The son told Ructions that he thought that someone was stealing stones from his mother’s grave. Ructions had a great laugh and wondered if the distraught son had taken to the poteen.

When marching with Denis Dennehy on another housing protest soon after Ructions again met the son of the dear departed. He was quite agitated.

“I’m telling yeh Sean, some fucker is stealing the stones. I mean could you not get Tommy Marsh or Edwards to put a watch on the grave? Yeh know, catch the fucker an if its blue stones he wants, get Tommy to make him eat a bagful. That’d fucking cure him.”

“That would do the trick alright,” agreed Ructions, “but Tommy is run off his fucking arse at the moment helping Dennehy to organise squats. Some of those absentee landlords have to get a bit of a kicking, know what I mean, to let in a homeless family….”

“It’s the fucking Blueshirt,” the son continued, ignoring Ructions. “You’ve lost me. Isn’t the Blueshirt brown bread?”

“I don’t mean him. I mean his poxy Nazi family. I have it Sean. “Have what?”

“The solution. Get Tommy to dig the fucker up. That’d fucking teach them.”

“That would fucking electrify them,” said Ructions grimacing. He stroked his beard and stared with his wild staring eyes at the sad, desperate son. “You see you don't ask Tommy to dig people out of holes. That is not Tommy's oeuvre. Tommy is more sophisticated, if you get me, than someone who can fucking metamorphose into a mad body-snatcher at the drop of a hat, even a trilby hat. Tommy would be more susceptible to putting people, Blueshirts and that, into holes rather than, you know...?”

“Ah sure I wouldn't ask Tommy anything that he wouldn't be able to accommodate with an easy mind. I wouldn't...”

“You see Tommy isn’t really into dead people. You know what I’m saying to you, you won’t really hear Tommy talking for instance about Pearse and Connolly, you see Tommy is really into the living like Fidel or Angela Davis. Tommy is in love with Angela Davis, he’d love to do it, you know, with her, she is where the action is…”

“Oh yes the action.”

“But in saying that Tommy loves a good funeral and a good session with someone who can sing, his favourite ballad afterwards, the boys out hunting for the wren in Kerry I forget the name of it and if the corpse was a useless fucker no better man than Tommy to say it and put up with the consequences.”

“Yeah, no better man…”

“For instance recently Tommy and a few of us were at this funeral of some useless fucker who had a peripheral acquaintanceship with the Movement, (someone like yourself, thought Ructions) and who expired from uselessness. Well if you heard the shite that one of his relations came out with as a eulogy about how Useless would go out early in the day and how he wouldn’t get home for hours with all the people stopping him and shaking his hand and clapping him on the fucking back.” Ructions gave a snort.

“Ah yeh get a lot of that stuff. Yeh never get the truth at a funeral…except from Tommy.”

“That’s right and I could see Tommy’s neck getting redder and redder. He turned to me and said ‘that fucker headed out first thing every morning because he was going to an early house. And that was after promising the women of the area that he’d fix this, that and the fucking other because he actually had been a good jack of all trades in a previous life.”

“Sure I know…”

“Well the reason said Tommy to me that he took all fucking day to get home was, if you leave out the guzzling time, he was delayed by the droves of women who were pleading with him, ah Jacksie you promised to fix that pane of glass last Spring and now its Winter and Archie keeps getting creaks in his neck with the draft and or what about the broken tap Jacksie we haven’t had a bath for six months or Jacksie that broken curtain rail is still down and there’s peeping Toms up on the railway line every night watching me going to bed and then him making up different excuses for them all like the plumber’s shop was firebombed, or the glazier had his fingers accidentally shot off in a case of mistaken identity or…..I tell you he was so annoyed that he snatched the tricolour that draped the coffin as it left the church and said to Jacksie’s brother: ‘Its for active service members only pal,’ that’s Tommy.”

“Oh sure I know there’s no better man than Tommy for a row I mean he has a ferocious dig when he’s angry and sure only a few weeks ago didn’t he stretch that fucking Branchman, you know Josh, the fucker who’s face looked like a poultry farm of hens were pecking at it, in his mother’s front garden pretending that he thought he was a burglar…”

“Hold it right there,” ordered Ructions. “That’s sub judice.” “I’m sorry,” the son apologised, “I…”

“No, Tommy thought he was a burglar because only a week earlier a conman tried to pull a fast one on his mother, a fucker with a sheared fucking sheep. He tried to sell it to her telling her it was a greyhound that would make Master McGrath look like a mongrel whippet. Can you believe that! In Drimnagh for fuck sake!”

“What the fuck! In Drimnagh!”

“Isn’t that what I’m after fucking saying. Fucking Drimnagh!” “Imagine trying that on Tommy’s mother.”

“Yep well Tommy put a watch on the house hoping he’d come back. And wasn’t Tommy with the mother when Josh came up the garden and the two of them looking through the net curtains, ‘no that’s not him Tommy’ said his mother. Tommy hadn’t seen him the week before but he knew you know that this dude was up to no good and him coming up someone’s front garden in the middle of the fucking day...”

“What a fucking cheek! In broad daylight.”

“So Tommy tip toed to the front door and when he heard your man’s footfall on the doorstep he whipped open the door and bang, sure the fellow went halfway down the garden with the force of the punch.”

They both gave hearty laughs.

“Jesus!!” said the son.

“Jesus!!” said Josh to Tommy as he staggered around the front garden in a daze, “what did you do that for Tommy?”

“Jaysus Josh I thought you were a bleeden burglar and breaking into working peoples’ houses in the middle of the day, its not fucken on Josh,” said Tommy. “But sorry about that, what did you want anyway?”

“I forget now but I have to go over to the Richmond I think you’ve broken me fucking jaw.”

“You see Sean I know Tommy is fearless that’s why I wanted to ask…”

“Yeah the dead stone- robbing Blueshirt. You see as I’ve said, Tommy never took a whole lot of interest in the dead, you know Connolly, Pearse, Tone. Tommy never said that much about them but don’t get me wrong he liked them but he thought that dying for their country was a bit over the top with the patriotism. You see in Tommy’s war it’s the other fucker who dies, it’s the other fucker who goes down into the mire and even if Tommy has to go down after him….well its only Tommy that’s coming up, that’s the way Tommy sees it so he sort of ignores them except for fucky the ninth… O’Connell, Dirty Dan. Tommy and Dan are kind of opposites of the same coin in so far as Dirty Dan died in his bed and Tommy is planning to do the same, reluctantly in his leaba,” explained Ructions, leaning his head on his right shoulder.

The son stared as Ructions straightened up his head: “Like the Liberator,” he gasped out.

Ructions stared back and shook his head: “Not in Tommy’s book. Jesus! Tommy wouldn’t call him that. Tommy hated the fucker. One of the few speeches Tommy has made before his speech to the oulwans in York Street was about O’Connell.”

“He’s a man of few words alright, Tommy is.”

“He was up for it that night in the Peacock. There was smoke coming out of his ears and fire in his eyes. He’s with the devil tonight and all belonging to him, said Mrs Russell when she saw the look on his face as he stepped onto the counter top. ‘That bastard,’ he said in an animated voice, ‘had the freedom of Ireland at his fingertips but he was more interested in having his fingertips on the bums of the Kerry peasantry.

He had got the factions, the Blackhens, the Magpies and the Rockites to put aside their quarrels and join his Munster Army. But this army was not to fight for the freedom of Ireland as landlord Dan, a pupil in St Omer and Donai had witnessed the French Revolution and he didn’t like what the French Revolutionaries did to the landlord class. His class. He didn’t like it at all. No this army was to scare the British Administration and fucken scare them it did and Dan knew that it did and he knew that all he had to do was click his fingers and British rule would melt before him. But not our traitor Dan who used his army to frighten the British into giving us Rome rule or Catholic Emancipation as its referred to in our history books and the British loved Dan for it for now they had an allay when the Starvation came and the Catholic clergy, now land and property owners, went out and confronted those who sought to attack food stores and told them that the bleeden crucified Christ on the cross would save them and it was their religious duty to uphold the law and fucken starve peacefully while praying to the useless Christ. Anything but upset the status quo. And it regurgitated the fucken idea of genocide in the mind of the English ruling class who had tried it during the Munster Plantation and nearly succeeded and now the British realised how close they were to complete annihilation if Dan had been a different fucken Dan. And they decided that if a different Dan had come along some time in the future it would be a splendid idea if he had no people to lead so they went into genocidal mode again and upped the food exports from the country. That’s what Dan did for the Irish people, he put a fucken double lock on their freedom, and then later when the Fenians rose up the same clergy told the people from the pulpits that Hell wasn’t hot enough or eternity long enough for the Fenians. And later again when the men of 1916 led a Rising that had social responsibilities and humanitarianism at the core of its being and a glance by a blind man on a galloping horse at the Proclamation fucken proves that, the top church brass were iffy if not dam right hostile. But,” he held up his right hand and wagged a finger at a grimy ceiling, “even that was stolen, fucken knocked off from the people, our parents an grandparents, in the counter revolution of the cunten Free Staters. They redesigned freedom as a system for the wealthy to obtain as much wealth as possible at the expense of everyone else and Dan’s Catholic Church sanctioned the separate queues and became a cosy partner in the grand larceny and gave the people, the fucken have-nots, the longest middle finger in Irish history.”

“Jesus! That was a speech and a half.”

“Yeah well then Tommy pulled his master stroke. He held up a package. ‘Here,’ he said, ‘its Christmas and I have a present for our Dan, a little something that he’s going to get tonight.’ The place erupted but I’m not sure whether in the confusion of the dialectical process that this is to happen or whether it has already occurred because Tommy’s revolution is timeless, like his mind it is without a definitive beginning or end,” he laughed as he threw out his arms in despair, “not that it matters a fiddler’s fuck because I know that if it already has been or if it is going on or yet still to come it could be a possible fuck–up!”

“Sure nobody can read Tommy’s mind which is why they can never get him because you wouldn’t know with Tommy whether he were coming or going, whether he was here or there or whatever, which…”

“That’s the most fucking sensible thing that you’ve said today. Anyway Tommy and which whatever with a few others headed off to a standing ovation in the pub and wishes of happy Christmas were replaced with shouts of ‘Yes youse can, yes youse already have, yes youse will’ or some shit like that, and a short time later there was an enormous bang. The pub shook.”

“My God,” said Mrs Murphy, crossing herself, “that would make anybody wearing knickers jump out of them.”

“The plan was to blow the bollocks out of Dan but they couldn’t get up high enough on the monument so they blew the bollocks out of one of the angels instead…if angels have a bollocks that is.”

“I never upskirted an angel so I’m no help there but that’s why Tommy is the man to ask about the….” suggested the sad son.

Ructions put his finger to his lips. “You see that is the misapprehension. You don't ask Tommy for anything. And as I said, except for Dan, Tommy only defers to the living. Yes siree. It is Tommy who does living and the asking,” explained Ructions as he lit a cigarette. “Because Tommy is in love with the revolution, he has a gentle pain in his gyroscopic mind.”

“In his arse,” the son muttered. “Yeah but...”

“Yeah but me bollicks. You see, Tommy asks you. Tommy asks me. He asks us all to dig in the dung. Tommy is relentless in his struggle for justice, against slavery an' all that. He asks without words. Just a nod, like, to follow him out the door into the back of fucking beyonds where no language is needed. Actually Tommy is a man of few words really. Tommy says that the republican movement is full of shit talkers who are talking through their arseholes to other arseholes who are talking back through their arseholes and filling the world full of shit. Tommy hates shit. He is not the kind of man who will carry a pile of shit in his hands into the Peacock and say to Jimmy Clarke, 'Look what I nearly stood on outside the door?' That's not Tommy at all.”

“Oh I know...”

“You don't fucking know. You see when you are kicking a fucking recalcitrant landlord with Tommy, you don't stop when your leg gets tired, definitely not, you stop when Tommy's leg gets tired and he blows the whistle. That's the way it is with Tommy. You see when Tommy asks you to fucking stash a bit of gelignite under the bed you don't say jaysus I can't Tommy because the last time the missus complained of headaches when Tommy knows that the cause of your missus's headaches is because she hasn't been getting a regular rub of the relic. Not your missus now, you know. I'm speaking hypothetically...”

“Oh I know Sean, sure my missus...”

“Not getting enough of how's yer father. Tommy knows all this. Its what can make Tommy very unreasonable but you would never know the way he just smiles at you...”

“He has a nice smile alright.”

“He has a smile that you could shave with. In fact when Tommy smiles you know its time to get out of the fucking room. It's time to hit the fucking road. You see its Tommy who tells you an me an the rest who we can kick the shit out of an' who we can't an' for that matter who we can fucking dig up if the humour, macabre or otherwise, takes us...

“Yeah, digging up..”

“That's what I was coming to because just say, for a laugh, that in the Peacock you were to ask Tommy to dig up this Blueshirt like and then Tommy said to you, I have a better fucking plan pal. You dig him fucking up and he smiles at you? What are you going to fucking do then? What's your missus going to say when you arrive home smelling like a bombed out slaughterhouse?”

“The last I heard,” Ructions told the others, “is that the Blueshirt or his ghost had stolen all the fucking blue stones.”

O’Neill left Ructions and his group and joined Bates who was talking to the Maoists. “I did hear Mao talking once,” said Bates.

The student revolutionaries were surprised and in awe of this revelation. “Where?” asked the dark haired woman.

“On French television, when I was in Paris some time ago.” “Really! What did he sound like?”

“He sounded like a chicken.” “What?”

“He sounded like a Rhode Island Red.”

The students gave one another quizzical looks as Bates threw back his well formed head. He placed one hand to his right ear, Ewan McColl style, and then imitating what he considered to be a humanised fowl he cackled and squawked:

“Number one in the Chinese hit parade, the International, number two in the Chinese hit parade, the International, number three in the Chinese hit parade, the Intern…”

Mrs Roe grabbed Mrs Russell, the wife of Hookie Russell, and Mrs Murphy by the arms, “Is Ernie choking?”

“Maybe a bear is squeezing his balls,” Hookie laughed.

Clarke was on the tips of his toes trying to source an explanation for the strange utterances. Plopps said that somebody should send for an ambulance but nobody understood him. Curious and anxious customers were inching towards the disturbing outbursts when Bates, who had reached number six in the Chinese hit parade, stopped. He took a few more gulps from his pint and then in a strong, low tenor voice, he sang:

“Arise you who refuse to be bound slaves and stand up and fight for liberty and true democracy, all the world is facing…”

“Well d’yah hear thah now Mrs Roe an him singin like a lark after nearly putting the fuckin heart crossways in all of us an me thinkin tha' the grim reaper was clutchin at his short an curlies.”

“He nearly caused me to wet me knickers, not that they’re ever very fucking dry,” laughed Mrs Murphy.

“Is that one of his poems that he’s put to marching music?” inquired Clarke. “It’s the Chinese National Anthem in English,” said Redican.

“Holy jaysus! Where does he get them from!”

“Look”, said O’Neill, “the fellow at the counter drinking what looks like a double Irish.”

“Do you know him?” inquired Casey.

“Sort of, he tried to break into Bates’ place earlier.”

“Ah, he’d be a well known housebreaker alright. Rumour is that he has his missus on the game. In and out of nick like a yoyo.”

“Fuck.”

A featureless man with a dark appearance walked into the Peacock pub. The man called a pint and stood dead still at the counter. Marsh, who was talking to Bates, about an impending protest march for better housing, after he had inquired if Bates knew where the Maoist with the pert arse lived, studied his descriptionless features, his black hat and coat and his stillness. He opened a pack of cigarettes, gave one to Bates and struck a match. “He looks like someone from the back roads.”

“From the old back roads. What calm there is in his agitation.”

Marsh scoffed. “Never saw the fucker in here before d’yah know him?”

Bates peered over his glasses at the figure who as well as melancholia and other vicissitudes gave him a hint of the imminence of night. “I have seen him before but I don’t know where that place was.”

“Grogans?”

“Some faraway place. A place in ruins I suspect. The landmarks won’t come.”

“But you know him?” inquired Marsh as he studied the figure’s indeterminate uncertainty.”

“He is an expert on Redmond. The Redmondites call him a shit stirrer and as far as I know he’s stirring still. I remember him quoting Redmond – ‘No people can be said to have rightly proved their nationhood and their power to maintain it, until they have demonstrated their military prowess, and though Irish blood has reddened the earth of every continent, never until now have we as a people set a national army in the field.’”

“Redmond the extremist,” said Marsh with a wry smile.

“Exactly. He debunked any idea that Redmond was non-violent, in fact he pointed out that Redmond got more Irishmen killed as cannon fodder for the Brits in the Great War than anyone else, and just as important he exposed how they were behind the gun attack on de Valera in Clare and how they instigated bloody war in Waterford, to say nothing about how fucking notorious they were when they were going about their business in Cork.”

Marsh gave a low whistle. “Jaysus! And a lot of people to this day see them as pacifists, almost bleedin' altar boys.”

The undefined man moved. He took his pint from Clarke and paid with a grateful nod of his head and without a word passing his lips he sat down at the only vacant table in the pub. He placed his pint glass on a beer mat adorned with a portrait of Father Matthew, the famous temperance priest, and faced in the direction of the door.

Bates took a bundle of papers out of his heavy overcoat. Marsh watched him leaf through the papers. Eventually he pulled out a sheet and gave a satisfied grunt. “Wait an you hear this,” he said in an officious tone, “this will put hairs on the crease on your bollocks.”

Marsh laughed. “Is this from the enigma?”

“No. It’s a statement to the Bureau of Military History in the 1920’s regarding the East Clare bye election which featured Dev in his first outing against the Irish Parliamentary Party. The holder of the seat, Willie Redmond, had been killed in World War 1. It was himself up there who gave me the statement after he got it as a result of meticulous research. Well so he fucking said.”

Marsh gave an approving nod.

Bates held up the page and read in a deep voice: “Statement of William Mc Namera of Corbally House, Quinn, County Clare. The Parliamentary Party was composed of ex- British Army men and the riff-raff of the towns both men and women. They attacked anywhere they saw a Sinn Fein supporter, especially if he was wearing the Sinn Fein colours and if he happened to be alone.”

“Fuck! They were mad for fight.”

“Is that Ernie standing up over there with the sheet of paper?” inquired Mrs Rowe.

“Its him alright. He seems to be reading out something, maybe it’s a call to the people of Ireland or…” said Mrs Russell.

“Maybe it’s a court martial of my bleeden waster of a husband. Hopefully he’s to be shot at dawn and I’ll pick up some insurance money.” Mrs Murphy laughed.

“Maybe he’s reading his last Will and Testament!!”

“Hope he wont forget me because I’m wearing flitters after Hookie’s tax was increased when some dirty, ferrety faced bastard reported him for doing a bit of overtime,” said Mrs Russell.

“The country is full of fucking informers Mrs Russell,” agreed Mrs Murphy. “In fact my hubby, Bennie, says that there are more bleeden squealers around now than when the British were here. He says that Mountjoy is riddled with them. They’d tell that silvery haired, purply faced geit in Fitzgibbon Street anything he’d want to know for ten Woodbines.”

Bates cleared his throat and continued to read Mc Namera’s statement to the Bureau of Military History: “They were supplied with free drink by many of the publicans the majority of whom were hostile to Sinn Fein. At times they were like lunatics attacking with knives and heavy sticks…On the previous Sunday Mr de Valera and a carload of his supporters were fired at as they were travelling along this road and the car was riddled with bullets. Fortunately there were no casualties.”

“Fucking tearaways,” agreed Marsh.

Mrs Murphy shook her head; “Is Ernie drunk or whah, sure isn’t Dev sitting up in the park like Lord Muck looking at the deer rutting their antlers off and I’d like to know what pubs were they getting the free drinks from.”

“I don’t think he’d see much of the deer,” Mrs Murphy, “they say, you know, those in the know, that he’s as blind as a bat.”

Bates took a drink from his pint and smacked his lips. “Ah sure they had the backing of all the usual fucks, just like today,” he said casually. “The DMP who were Martin Murphy’s bodyguards when they were cracking the skulls of Dublin workers who had the audacity to want to form a union, the RIC, just as fucking pugnacious and almost to a man were Redmond supporters and then in June 1919 Dail Eireann at its fourth session decreed the establishment in every county of National Arbitration Courts. In this County Clare was the first to take action…”

“Up the Banner,” a Dublin voice shouted.

“Yes,” agreed Bates, “and immediately after the session at which the decree was passed the member for West Clare summoned a conference which decided to set up at once a District Arbitration with jurisdiction throughout the whole constituency. West Clare was also the first to take up the initiative for a National Scheme for Civil Courts.”

“Biddy Early had them by the short an curlies,” said the same voice.

Bates laughed, took another drink and continued, “and these courts were necessary because during the winter of 1919-1920 some 500 RIC barracks in villages had been destroyed with the result that the RIC were forced to concentrate themselves in larger towns where they were practically useless in the matter of upholding the law.”

A malicious leer came crawling over Marsh’s face. “Say if I refused to recognise their court Ernie?”

“You’d be a bold boy Tommy, a very bold boy but of course you could always be handed over to the Auxies or the Tans who were almost as vicious as the Collin’s gang in the Civil War, you know no need for walls an bars when there’s always an oul mine to tie an obstreperous fella to,” Bates mused. “The revolutionary oddball on his ownio up there has exposed it all with bold words of revolt and revolution, pertinacious words, informative words that send the revisionist historians running to the jacks with the scutters but will rally the masses to get up off their arses and fight, actually he has a way with words that disturb the chattering classes and leaves them speechless, fucking dumbstruck in screaming silence.”

“Without fucken words!?”

“Without even a fuck to embellish a noun or a micromillisyllable. He also has impenetrable words to probe and interrogate the intellectuals, questioning words, strained words about me and…”

Marsh blinked in surprise. “About you! Fuck!”

“About you too an all of us here an all of us out there up to our bollocks digging in the bog holes of the Featherbeds with piercing perplexity.”

“Jesus!”

“And crawling around in the back of beyonds and hiding in the long grass with armies of pismires advancing up the legs of our trousers…..”

“Don’t tell me. The fucken unforgettable. Hiding in the gloom and staring into the void because some useless fuck has skimped on the dosh and let the getaway car pant, chug, and expire, juice dead before it had reached Leslie Allens. And then furiousroadside cursing, noun free flurries, to be followed by a temper strewn hike across the barreness, lashing out at the bracken before disappearing into the mist…”

Bates laughed. “I think I remember hearing about that Tommy, aaah the futile sacrifices forced upon us by gobshites who should have been in the Legion of Mary instead of….but at any other time could anyone find a better place to run out of juice than a snug mountain pub!!”

“Except that in the peloton was the Slug’s green Morris Minor, crammed with armed harriers, and arsing its way up the hill not half a mile behind,” explained Marsh as he gave his cigarette an industrious drag.

Bates gave a hearty laugh. “But shambo there has noble words for sacrifice Tommy and stern words to counter the spoofers who are talking through their arses about stashing stuff in bedrooms when all they are trying to do is to get into your sister’s knickers for the glory of Ireland and then he has evocative words explaining the dialectical me historical bollocks sort of thing and exposing the famine for what it really was…..a fucking English genocide which sort of failed because it left the likes of you an me an Ructions to give Clarke a pain in the hole not to mention the Slug. We are the proof of its failure Tommy, pusillanimous proof I admit but God save Ireland, its all she’s got.”

“That’s it, they lived, drank and sometimes pissed for Ireland,” agreed Marsh. “That’s right Tommy an then there is the others this fucker of infinite nothingness has exposed, you know the hypocrisy of the Somme cap doffers and Poppy promoters and the shoneens in the Dail protected by the Slug and his latchicos up in the Castle and the presstitute…”

Marsh gave his shoulder a twitch. “Yeah, well the country is full of fucks trying to confuse the people with honey coated palaver about freedom and individuality when we all know they’re only fucken promoting a big Ponzi scheme that keeps itself afloat by dropping napalm on peasants in Vietnam and then there’s the delusional left believing that without bothering yer bollix the revolution is just around the corner that’s around the other corner and the next fucken corner after the last bollixing corner and who are as much in thrall with banal consumerism…”

“But Tommy…”

“But me bollix. Know what I want to know?”

“How the fuck can anyone see around all those corners?"

“I’d say you’d need to sink a few dept chargers to have such piercing sight,” Bates laughed, “that you wouldn’t get served up to you in a premises of this calibre.”

“You’d need to join the navy for those,” Clarke advised.

Marsh nodded in agreement and called “two of the best Jimmy please. Isn’t that trust now?”

“That’s what I expect from my paying customers.”

“You mean he’s the unknown author with special features?” inquired Marsh getting back to the talk about the anonymous writer.”

“I believe so. With featureless features. The writer, the scribe, the ink terrorist.”

“What’s he doing here?”

“Possibly waiting for his muse so that he can finish the story.”

Marsh shook his head. “All those words an you say he’s not fucken finished?”

“It may not be finished.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s a quare sort of a bollocksological winding kind of a tale that is unconstrained in its onslaught on those wordshits who mutilate history so’s to ingratiate themselves with their conniving nobility,” Bates laughed as Marsh studied the woman Maoist with the long black hair. “It’s a story that runs around corners and has no endings, only beginnings in peculiar places,” continued Bates.

“Like where Ernie…?”

“Like up the fat woman’s arse in Moore Street near where the O’Rahilly fell and died beneath the ruins of a grey sky….”

“Where there’s a whiff of gunpowder in the air.”

“Where there’s the smell of Revolution mingling with the stench of gutted fish.” “Yes. I’ve heard it said that you can’t have a revolution without gutting fish.”

A woman, who seemed to Bates to be in her late forties, entered the pub. Her face was pale and Bates thought that there was something fraught about her appearance. She tossed her straight grey/black hair over her shoulder with a flick of her head then she nodded to Marsh and fixed a penetrating look from her dark eyes on Bates.

“Are you here long Tommy?” she asked in a thin voice.

“I’m here awhile Eileen. Just came in to get out of the cold,” he laughed. She gave a faint smile. “Did Ann come in Tommy?”

“No Eileen. Would you like a drink?”

“Thanks Tommy but I best be getting home because she has no key.” “Fair enough Eileen, if she comes in I will tell her you were looking.” “Thanks Tommy.”

Marsh shook his head as if to suggest to Bates that he was relieved that the conversation, inane as it was, was over. Bates watched the figure in the shabby coat disappear out the door.

“Who was that?”

“Miss Strangeways.” “What?”

“That’s what the kids around here call her. She’s away with the fairies. Pitiful really.”

“She still looks well.”

“Yeah. I heard she was a real beaut before some fella stuck her up the pole and fucked off to England years ago.”

“Fuck!”

“That’s the exact word. She ended up in one of those dirt-box laundries run by the nuns. Story is she gave birth to a baby girl. Came out years later with a mind clogged with confused memories.”

“To bring up a baby in the spiritual tranquillity of the dirty tenement buildings around here,” muttered Bates in a sardonic tone.

Marsh took a gulp from his pint and shrugged. “The baby girl never saw the tenements, well not the Dublin ones anyway, the story goes that the baby was sold by the nuns to Americans. Not the only one by all accounts. Smuggled out on false passports…probably never finding out that they were someone else. Imagine going about all your bleeden life believing that you were someone who you were not. Living in the wrong history, fighting the wrong battles, listening to the wrong music, thinking the wrong thoughts, drinking with the scroungers, maybe scroungers with even more scrounging in them then the scroungers I know assuming their penniless presence is who they claim it is and I am who I am and not in the fucken wrong pub and after all that bollocksology ending up in the wrong coffin in the wrong graveyard beneath the wrong tombstone with the wrong name."

The Laundry

The Laundry

Bates was shocked. “Jesus!! Some of them are probably now being used as fucking cannon fodder in Vietnam.”

“Its possible. The whole carry-on left Eileen touched. When she asked me about Ann well that was the daughter who was laundry born who she thinks is still out there and is coming home every fucken night…”

Bates continued to shake his head in disgust as he headed towards the toilets. Mrs Russell nodded after him. “He looks very downcast all of a sudden Mrs Murphy.”

“Maybe he’s heard that he’s not getting his hole tonight,” laughed Mrs Murphy.

“Yeh missed it,” said Marsh to Frank Davis. Davis had Joe Edwards and Tommy Byrne in tow. They had been in Gaj’s restaurant in Baggot Street where they had discussed the difficulties of getting the Trinity women into bed despite the widespread advances of contraception and putting a picket on the American Embassy in protest over the bombing of Vietnam.

“Missed what?” asked Davis.

“Ernie here after giving the fucken melodeon of a speech about the Redmondites trying to kill de Valera in Clare.”

“Pity they didn’t blow the ballocks outav him,” muttered Edwards.

Davis looked from Edwards to Marsh to the pale, pointy, wizened face of Byrne, a puzzled expression growing on the puzzled expression that was a permanent feature of his face.

“He did keep us out of the war,” said Kenny the intellectual who had been taking notes of Bates speech.

Edwards glared at Kenny while Byrne rolled a cigarette. “It was a war against fascism wasn’t it? I mean an uncle of mine was in Spain…?”

“Yeah,” said Kenny. “He was fighting the Francoists but he was also fighting the British who denied the Spanish Government its right under international law to buy arms to defend itself from rebellion and foreign aggression from the German Luftwaffe and the Italian fascists while Franco the rebel, who had no standing in international law was allowed to exercise the right of blockade. In fact it got so fucking hypocritical that the few British sea captains that tried to run the blockade to bring food to the Spanish people were denounced as mercenaries by the Tories.”

“You know your stuff,” conceded Edwards.

“Thanks Joe. This was the Tory’s obsession with preventing Spain going communist and the gas thing is that there were no Communists in the Spanish Republican Government when Franco rebelled.”

“Somebody said that the Tories, and in particular Churchill, were obsessed with seeing the red rat of Bolshevism gnawing its way into the cellars of the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street,” added Bates.

“Everytime I hear that fucker’s name mentioned I feel like reaching for my log splitter,” remarked Marsh.

“You might as well say that Hitler was Churchill’s baby…” added Liam Sutcliffe. He had joined the group having been inactive for a few years and having, in his own words, been ‘bored ballocks’ with the same old politics.

Marsh welcomed his re-entry into militant politics saying that his previous activities spoke volumes and that all he needed to do now was to present himself to Clarke and “order a round of drinks for the lads.”

“Blame the Brits for Hitler, I mean come on!” appealed Edwards.

“He has a point,” said Bates, “remember that as late as 1938 that lovable man, Churchill, was praising Mussolini to the high heavens for his victory over Communism. And about Hitler in the same year he said that if Great Britain were defeated in a war they would have to find a Hitler to regain their rightful place among the nations.”

“Yes,” agreed Ructions, “there was a whole swathe of the British ruling class which saw Fascism as an antidote to Communism.”

“All ruling classes see anything as an antidote to Communism. Their loyalty to democracy is strictly conditioned by democracy’s fidelity to Capitalism,’ argued Casey.

“That’s it in a nutshell,” Marsh enthused, his face reddening. “When those cunts say they support democracy what they mean is that they support capitalism an they’ll kill any fucker who says otherwise…”

“And when they’re supporting imperialism they’re promoting human rights,” sneered Byrne.

“Of course it wasn’t only Tories who suffered from this affliction,” Kenny cut in. “Sure Lloyd George, the king of the Liberals in a speech in Barmouth in late 1933 entreated the Government to proceed cautiously referring to demands by the French and the Poles that Britain join them to prevent Nazi rearmament. He warned that ‘if the powers succeeded in overthrowing Nazism in Germany, what would follow? Not a Conservative, Socialist or Liberal regime, but extreme Communism.’ In fact a year later he said in the House of Commons ‘if Germany is seized by the Communists, Europe will follow; because the Germans could make a better job of it than any other country. Do not let us be in a hurry to condemn Germany. We shall be welcoming Germany as our friend.’”

Davis gave a low whistle. “Never heard that in school!”

“Or this,” continued Kenny, “that when the Soviet Union offered to stand by Czechoslovakia if it resisted Hitler, the Czechs were told by Chamberlain and Georges Bonnet the French Foreign Secretary, that if they fought with the Soviet Union as their ally, France and Britain might not remain neutral and might supply Hitler with arms and munitions.”

“Become the arsenal for Fascism,” quipped Byrne.

“And when the war started sure didn’t a substantial section of the Tories believe that they were fighting the wrong war and were calling for a switch the war policy,” said Bates.

“That’s right,” agreed Kenny. “In fact the period when all was quiet on the Western front as Hitler ripped into Russia was known as the phoney war and letting Hitler rip into the Soviet Union was the guiding motive of Tory foreign policy and sure from 1943 onwards Churchill was waging war against the resistance movements and conspiring against the Soviet Union just as he had been at the end of the first world war when he was trying to fucking strangle the Russian Revolution while it was still in its cradle. So you see its not stretching things too far to say that Hitler and Fascism were Churchill’s adopted bastards.”

“When you’re talking about slaughter house Churchill you’re talking about one of the great creepy crawlies of history,” explained Bates. “In the same year, 4.3 million people died in the Bengal famine or genocide to give it its proper name because Churchill persisted in exporting grain to Europe to add to the buffer stocks for a future invasion of Greece and Yugoslavia. In fact he said about the famine or starvation in 1943; ‘I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion. The famine is their own fault for breeding like rabbits.’ And when British officials wrote to him in London about the needless loss of life he wrote ‘why hasn’t Gandhi died yet?’”

“It’s a fucking miracle,” declared Byrne as Sutcliffe, after rooting in his back pocket for a considerable time, paid Clarke for a round of drink.

“That fella would peel an orange blindfolded in his pocket,” muttered O’Neill. He had been detained in the toilets with a dose of the runs and was wondering how old was the lump of bacon that Bates had fed him.

“Jesus! That’s powerful stuff,” said Edwards thoughtfully, an appalled expression on his face, “and we should remember that a famine is when there’s no food. There was plenty of food in the Bengal as there was here a hundred years earlier.”

“Don’t forget that the so called Great War that Redmond was so in love with was been planned in Britain from about 1903 or 1904. The aim was to prevent the Germans from building a Navy that could compete with the British…” said Kenny.

“Here’s to Ireland and Empire,” a voice called out. And then again louder and with overpowering emotion, “To Ireland and Empiiiiiiire!”

“Holy Jesus! Wouldn’t that put the wind up a corpse,” declared Mrs Russell. “Its Finnegan the poet,” announced Byrne.

The thin wavy haired figure who retained traces of better times, raised his arms Messiah-like above his head. “I saw him in a dream, in a dream in which there was great slaughter and savage hatred and the earth was mangled with gore,” the poet cried out while snorting vigorously, his bright eyes dancing in his musket ball head.

“John Redmond covered in blood from head to toe sitting back on a poppy strewn throne as righteous as God, almost deranged in grief, exalted, he was in his outrage, he swore to trample down and destroy all those who had spurned his call for war for the Empire and he swore vengeance and fury on the dead Pearse who looked at him from the great unchanging whiteness with a blind eye and then I saw the throne, hoisted as it was, on the shoulders of a cadaverous crowd slowly sink with them into a cesspool of the new dead of the Great War and they crushing down on the Starvation dead and down the throne slipped into the human mire and all the terrible time a cursing splurge coming from the frothing Redmond his fury only dissipating into a choking gurgle as he disappeared into the gory morass,” Finnegan uttered in a high trembling voice as he punched the air to wild cheering.

“That’s definitely Finnegan’s Magnum Opus,” declared Marsh, “the best fucken eulogy I ever heard.”

Kenny looked miffed at Finnegan’s uninvited recitation. “The Great War,” he emphasised was about ensuring England’s commercial supremacy in the world by using the Royal Navy to blockade Germany so that it would be impossible for her to feed herself….”

“Starvation!! Now where did we hear that before!” muttered Casey.

Kenny began a quick shuffle of his paper sheets. He stared into one. “Ah yes,” he mumbled, “here we are now and this is important. In 1910 there was a conversation between Arthur Balfour who replaced Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty in the 1915 Coalition Government and Henry White the United States Ambassador in London…”

“Read it out yeh fucking boy yeh,” shouted the Retcher Hannigan.

“Shut the fuck up,” warned Marsh, “This isn’t a school production of Julius Caesar’s fucken Will.”

“Balfour,” began Kenny, in a hesitant voice, “said: ‘We are probably fools not to find a reason for declaring war on Germany before she builds too many ships and takes away our trade.’

“White: You are a very high-minded man in private life. How can you possibly contemplate anything so politically immoral as provoking a war against a harmless nation which has as good a right to a navy as you have? If you wish to compete with German trade, work harder.’

“Balfour: That would mean lowering our standard of living. Perhaps it would be simpler for us to have our war.’

“White: I am shocked that you of all men should enunciate such principles.’

“Balfour: Is it a question of right or wrong? Maybe it is just a question of keeping our supremacy.’”

“Sure didn’t the oul King, Edward V tell Sir Edward Grey that it was ‘absolutely essential’ that Britain go to war in order to prevent Germany from achieving complete domination of the country. That was at Buckingham Palace on August 2nd 1914 two days before Britain went to war,” said O’Donnell. He had been unsuccessfully trying to chat up the long haired woman Maoist. “She gets it off on dialectical and historical materialism,” he told O’Neill who assured him that there was no competing with that.

“All smothered by false propaganda disguised as news but I’m still surprised,” said Edwards.

“You shouldn’t be because James Connolly always saw the Great War as a British trade war on Germany,” explained Kenny, “and he knew that German capitalism was superior to the British variety and that the German working class were part of the most prosperous economy in Europe in 1910. You see the Great War was a war by Britain on the German state and not a war by Germany on England. It was a war that was planned by Edward Grey and the Liberal Imperialists long before 1914 and it was completely fucking unnecessary.”

“Of course it didn’t matter a fuck to them when they were going to use millions of workers as cannon fodder while they continued to wine and dine, instructing their presstitute to fucking spew out the lies and propaganda like the Americans are doing now about Vietnam,” said O’Neill.

“Yes,” agreed Bates. “For most of the war the Germans were a besieged garrison, blockaded by the Royal Navy on one side until 1919 and the Tsar’s Russian steam roller on the other until 1917.”

“Why was the blockade still on in 1919?” inquired Davis.

“I’ll tell you exactly why,” said Kenny, taking out a sheet of paper and holding it up.”

“Be Jesus, this place is getting more like a courtroom than a pub,” Mrs Russell laughed.

“This is by Professor A.C. Bell the eminent navy history researcher who estimated that the naval blockade caused the deaths of over a million men, women and children from 1914 to 1919,” said Kenny.

Marsh gave the table a thump. “Jeesus! They were fucken crazy about famines.”

“Here’s to a beastly starvation,” declared Davis in a mock upper class English accent.

“The starvation blockade was actually tightened in 1919 and continued as a weapon of war to ensure the Germans would submit to the full Allied demands of the Versailles Treaty,” Kenny continued, “and turn their conditional surrender at the Armistice into an unconditional one in July 1919 to ensure the demise of a commercial competitor.”

“And the result was that the bastards turned the so called war for the freedom of small nations into an ever escalating war of Imperialistic expansion and left Germany so crippled that Fascism was the result,” concluded O’Neill.

A barefoot woman in a dark cloak entered the pub. The woman, her thick black hair in disarray, looked towards the unknown author with bottomless eyes.

“Is that spooky Reid?” inquired Marsh. “It might be,” said Bates.

The woman appeared to glide across the pub floor until she stood in front of the indescribable man’s table. She opened the clasp of her cloak with one hand, and holding it lightly with the other she let the cloak slide gently to the floor.

A hush descended on the crowded pub as she stood in faint fade white nakedness. Plopps, sitting at his usual perch by the counter, opened the neck of his shirt. The nude muse leaned forward and removed a comb from the undefinable man’s inside coat pocket. She began to gently comb her pubic hair. Many pairs of eyes, as if hypnotised, followed her hand up and down, up and down.

“I came over here tonight on me Honda,” said Marsh, “if I had known that she was going to be here I’d have got a helicopter. I think I’ll become a writer.”

“That must be the dialectical foreplay,” guessed O’Donnell.

The woman placed the comb in the nameless man’s three quarter full pint glass. She slowly stirred the black liquid around for some seconds then she gave the comb a delicate flick and placed it back in the author’s inside coat pocket.

“What a fucking liberty!” exclaimed Mrs Murphy. “I’ll borrow that comb,” gurgled Plopps.

“You’re billiard bald,” snapped Clarke.

The featureless man stood up and in one long quaff emptied the glass. The pub erupted in wild cheering and shouts of ‘Tiocfaidh ár lá.’ The unknown individual then picked up the woman’s cloak and placed it over her shoulders. They left the pub and entered the darkening street.

“Whoever the fuck he was, he’s definitely one of us,” said O’Neill.

Soon after Galvin the spy arrived in with the news that the Special Branch were outside in their green Morris Minor.

At the merry evening’s end Casey turned to Ructions. “Cause a diversion, a few of us need to disappear tonight.”

As the revellers poured out into the dank Dublin night, the Retcher Hannigan staggered towards a green Morris Minor which contained three watching Branchmen and without further ado, he puked all over the windscreen. The car quickly emptied and three very disgruntled sleuths looked for a bucket of water from Clarke.

“I’m sorry,” he said firmly, “I only serve alcohol and strictly on the premises.”

While the Branchmen were running around Marlborough Street like headless chickens they did not notice Bates and a number of others heading up Parnell Street past the Blue Lion pub towards Summerhill.