Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Opening...

Taking a break from the storyboarding to offer a second post, since I may not get to it tomorrow. And I decided to put the opening 10 pages of "Place Of Safetly."


Those who knew Eamonn Kinsella -- and were being honest with themselves -- had to admit that had he been born but ten miles to the west or north, his murder would have been seen as the fitting end to a hard and brutal man. That he drank too much was not the problem; so did most of the men in his pinpoint of the world for it was often the only comfort offered by their existence. Nor was it that he was quick to temper when one too many pints had wandered into his brain. Sometimes anger was the only emotion men like him were allowed to hold dear. And if his wife was seen at market with an extra layer of makeup over one eye or across one cheek, well...she, herself, was not one to be known for gentleness. Besides, occasionally the only way a man can claim he still is lord and master of something is by proving it to his missus. But when your sons come to school with plaster on their skin or a cast on their limbs, and your daughters wear long blouses to hide the markings on their arms, and when the nearest priest is called to quiet the house twice a week, on average -- well there was something that was simply and plainly wrong.

He was a big man, Eamonn Kinsella. He once had worked as a navvy in Liverpool, and despite it being years since his last position, his hands remained callused and beefy with his shoulders still broad and restless on a frame that stood above six feet. His dark hair, bleak eyes and long face brought to mind tortured poets and sad accountants until made lively by drink and at those times, he took on the soul of the devil's fire and fury in all its righteous evil, and it was best to keep away from him. On more than one occasion, his fist sent a man across a table or to the floor for nothing more but that he sipped a pint too loudly while at the counter next to him.

That's not to say all was evil about him. He could sing to make the angels weep, mournful tunes of Ireland's ruined past and dead future. And he could spin tales wondrous to behold. You had to catch him between his second and third pint to get the best rhythm going...but if you hit it right, he'd weave tales of GrianĂ¡n Aileach, the ancient ring fort but six miles and worlds away from town, or talk about the fairies that live in oak groves old enough to have seen the birth of Christ, all to such perfection you'd have thought he lived through each and every one.

He may well have, for all the anger in him. It's hard to see how so much could be poured into one man in a space of less than thirty-five years unless he had carried it over from a previous existence. But filled with anger he was, and injustices both real and imagined danced forever through his head, all roaring to life at about his fourth pint. Oh, he could rage for hours about the horrors of being a working man without work and a wife and six wains to feed. Barely living off the dole, they were, with naught but toast burned over the gas flame and tea made from twice used leaves for their breakfast. Rags on their backs. A two-up, two-down hovel of a home on Nailors Row. No hot running water or steady heat or indoor plumbing. No prospects for a decent job as once he’d had, even though that one had been a curse on his back. Now all of life was a curse for such as him, and please won't you put another pint of porter on the tab, barkeep?

So it would go for hours at a time. And when the drinking establishments were closed and he tottered home to his seven responsibilities, which some old hens said would soon be eight if they knew a thing or two about women, and if he hadn't found just cause to floor a man in the pub, he'd find some reason to do so to his wife or one of his sons. All just to prove he was still who he laid claim to be, even against the reality of all his hopes and dreams and prayers.

Four boys he had to his credit, the first being Eamonn, his namesake and growing to be his twin save for the sad, wary eyes laid upon him by his mother. Large and brown, they held a careful vision of the world that could bring all but the hardest heart to want to comfort him -- that heart, of course, being the one of his da. He was yet to be as big but by his fourteenth year, he had the solid feel of the man and showed cruel flashes of his temper and was able to lie his way into occasional jobs shifting coal at the Londonderry docks.

Then there was myself, Brendan, third born and named for the saint rumored to have landed on Greenland for some reason or another, and many were they who told me I must have been blessed with the same wandering soul, though I never understood why they felt it. My looks I took more from my mother, for I was small, darkly-fair and slim even for a lad past ten, and my way with fixing things I took from God only knows who, though I once heard Mrs. Rafferty, a neighbor from two doors down, say I must have been born to it since my hands were so neat and precise. I had thick hair massed with curls, and when Mrs. Cahan, a friend of Mam’s on Lecky Road by Westland came for tea, once, she told Mam, “He has the look of a surprised angel and a watcher’s way about him, your Brendan, so you know he misses little and would say nothing about it.” Mam was asking her what to do about me when my focus got so extreme, were I fiddling with a clock in need of its springs being reworked or a vacuum whose motor was burned up, I could be so lost in their bits and parts I’d not hear a word she’d say to me till she was screaming it in my ear.

Following me was Rhuari, a year less than myself and my shadow in every way he could be, the little weasel. His face and feel were simple and direct, a child with no time for fibs or even lies and who could spend hours watching me work my magic on a broken wind-up toy. He had yet to take the form or look of either parent, and Mrs. Keogh, of Doolin Street by Ann Court, was certain he was more from a friendship his mother’d had with a certain butcher than from her own husband...though none could prove it.

Last would be Kieran, born but three months after the death of our father and the better for it, growing up never to know the wondering of whether or not he’d meet the end of Da’s fist or the back of Da’s hand. While his hair was destined to be like mine, his face took the perfect combination of both parents as did his form. He came early, as if impatient to get started, and the whole of his life would be tainted by that need.

Second born was Mairead, what many would refer to as a handsome lass, practical, with no time for foolishness. Her hair and mine were also near matches while her face took the length of her father’s. Her eyes never held anything but hope and love for us all and respect for Mam, nor was she afeared of Da. She could take his slaps and curses without a movement to reveal her true thoughts about him, and was better at deflecting his anger from her mam than was Eamonn the younger, and by the age of thirteen was already blessed -- or cursed, if you prefer -- with a figure well-noticed by boys half again her age. She knew and laughed at them over it, seeing them for the child-like men they were and facing the world like a full-fledged adult with an adult’s burdens.
After Rhuari came Caera, but six years old and so obviously the sister to him, Mrs. Keogh’s gossip extended to her, but that situation would have been impossible and was quickly disposed of. For by the time Caera would have been set into motion, the gentleman in question had long encamped for London and the prospect of a better life. And the truth was, both she and Rhuari had the look of their mother’s sister, Maria McLaugh and who referred to herself as Mari, if you could judge from the photos she’d sent from America. So Caera was spared the nastiness that had been whispered his way, and she grew to be quite happy and content.

There were two miscarriages after that, whereupon the one doctor Mam finally saw severely warned her against having others. But the church being the church, that advice was ignored. A woman is there for her husband and God will decide who lives and who dies and to interfere with that in any way was hubris of the most blasphemous sort. And that is why Kieran wound up the last of Kinsella’s brood.

That so many were crammed into a terrace-home of two-bedrooms, only half-wired for electric and a toilet outside was not considered unusual for those on Nailors Row; there were dozens of households exactly like it, and that was just the side facing the Derry walls. Drifting down into the Bogside and up the hill to St. Eugene’s were hundreds more, maybe thousands -- one could never truly count them all. Each billowing curls of white smoke from their coal heating into the air, laying a haze of ill-tempered air over the city. And each packed tight with sometimes as many as three families, since housing was short in the Catholic areas, so short some were housed in caravans that were even smaller and more cramped, and where even a paraffin heater was capable of suffocating the inhabitants.

But that was how things were, that March in 1966. Cold and blustery and wet. And the fact that Eamonn’s body had laid in that for a full day and night before being discovered was considered good, since it helped preserve him. Of course, it also made it difficult to set an exact time of death -- though sometime between midnight and five in the morning was decided upon, and probably closer to the latter number. For his passing had been neither a quick one, nor easy.

He was discovered off the Limavady Road, miles from where he’d normally be. His coat pulled down his arms with his hands bound behind him and every finger broken. His face had been pummeled into the merest hint of a human visage. Blood stained his shirt down to his trousers, the knees of which were torn and scraped, as if he’d been forced to walk on them or be dragged. Some said his teeth were all broken off, but the Londonderry Coroner refused to discuss it. His only comment was that “Mr. Kinsella perished due to a gunshot fired into the crown of his head after enduring what may best be described as torture at the hands of his murderers.”

So his wake was held ‘round a closed casket. And his burial was quick and paid for only through the kindness of Father Patrick, that same priest who’d so often visited the man’s home in times of distress. And he comforted the new widow as best he could, but she would have none of it. “What’s to become of us?” she wailed. “How shall we live?”

And how should we live? That part was simple. After his death, the first cash from the dole went all for food, instead of half for drink. The horrible toast and weak tea Kinsella’d wept on about like so many self-serving bastards were replaced by porridge and milk. Now fish and chips could be bought off the shop on Waterloo Street as an occurrence and not the occasional treat, when the man’s wife hid some back from her lord and master. Clothes could be bought, and even if they were second hand they were better than the rags the children wore till then. Debts could be paid and the one good thing about having to deal with poverty on so consistent a basis was, Kinsella’s widow knew how to stretch a penny the length of a mile. Well, there was a second good thing; because the widow had five with another soon due, the Derry Corporation was shamed into promising better lodgings for them all -- in the Rossville Flats once they were done...if there were room still available on the queue.

So the pure fact is, with Eamonn Kinsella’s death, his family was left better off than they’d ever been while he lived. And some old hens clucked viciously that the wailing offered up by his widow -- no, let’s call her by her right name, now; Bernadette, born a McLaugh of Quarry Street -- her cries were loud more from her sense of guilt that she’d often wished him dead than at the fact that he was. And true, I agreed with them, but it was wrong of them to decide it. Wrong of them to cast judgment on those who’ve lost someone, even if that person held little value to all and the rest of the world. Only a man’s blood may determine the meaning of his passing...and me being his second son, I was allowed to think what the old cows had no right to whisper.

So yes -- I felt no sorrow at his passing. I sensed even then it was for the better of us all, though to be honest with myself the feeling was colored by the recent occasion where he’d nearly crushed my right hand because I dared wish to keep the shilling I’d earned fixing Mrs. Cahan’s toaster instead of hand it across so he could have one more pint of porter. And never once since has my mind changed its belief.

But Eammon Kinsella was born, lived and died in Derry...Londonderry for those who cannot be bothered to learn the city’s proper name...and upon his death a typical thing happened; he was memorialized for who he was -- that being a Catholic man -- as what he truly was passed from memory. And when it was discovered he was killed by two drunk Protestant men who swore they’d only meant to have some fun with the Paddy but things had gotten out of hand, which was as high a pile of shite as could be imagined but was accepted as a reasonable explanation by the RUC. So he became a martyr to one and all the Catholics of Derry. Yet another shining example of the hatred sent our way by the Orange bastards who never missed a chance to flip us off. A poor family man trying only to keep kith and kin together as he slaved for the pennies tossed his way by the Loyalist scum. So bloody arse-ended...and too bloody typical.

1 comment:

Brad Rushing said...

This is really terrific. I enjoyed reading it a lot. When you do the book it would be great if you included a pronounciation key for all these Irish names.