Derry, Northern Ireland

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

Monday, May 30, 2016

Last bit of the prologue to Place of Safety...

He was found 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 pummeled into the mere hint of a human visage. Blood staining 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 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 with a closed casket. And his burial was quick and paid for only through the intersession of Father Demian, the priest who’d so often visited the man’s home in times of distress in the years prior. And he comforted the new widow as best he could, but she would have none of it, wailing, “What’s to become of us? How shall we live?”

And how did 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 burned toast and weak tea he’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 a dreamed-about treat. Clothes could be bought, and even if they were second hand, under Ma's tight needle and thread they wound up better than the rags most other children wore. Debts could be maintained instead of ignored 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 almost a second good thing; because the widow had five with another soon due, the Derry Corporation was shamed into promising better lodgings for us, once the Rossville Flats were completed. If there were room still available on the queue, of course. Can’t make promises one might have to keep.

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; Ma...Bernadette, to her friends -- it was loud more from her sense of guilt for often having wished him dead than at the fact that he was. And while I may have agreed with them, it was 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 death. 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 the problem was, 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 was quickly passed from memory. And when it was discovered he was killed by two drunk Protestants who swore they’d only meant to have some fun with the Paddy and things had gotten out of hand (which was as high a pile of shite as could be imagined but, of course, was accepted as the most reasonable explanation by the Constables) he became a martyr to one and all who were Catholic. He was raised up as yet another 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 Loyalist scum.

It would sicken the most forgiving of men.

Still, that would have died off as well but for several Catholic schools being attacked, that year. And the discovery of a band of Loyalist mental defectives who, sensing the growing restlessness of the oppressed in Ulster and the push already building for civil rights, stupidly thought killing a few of us would remind the Papists who was still in charge. They formed a new group called the Ulster Protestant Volunteers and were planning to become bigger and better than the Ulster Volunteer Force. Instead, they wound up murderers, banned and in Long Kesh. And thanks to them, during the summer’s marching season, when the Orange Proddie lads would toss pennies off the Derry walls to show contempt, as often as not they were met with rotten eggs, vegetables and fruit being tossed right back.

I’m proud to say I helped toss them, though it was more from the sport of it than the politics or symbolism. I even saw a overly-ripe tomato I slung up smack this one ginger-haired snipe full in the eye and send him wailing. Of course, I got only quiet satisfaction from it, for my mate, Colm, laid claim to the hit and crowed about it for days...which he could, since it was more his style of fighting than mine.

Not that I cared; I was also busy scampering after as many of the pennies being tossed at us as I could gather, not yet believing the change in my family’s fortunes would stick. I pulled together near a pound.

But someone saw me and knew me, and suddenly Bernadette and her wain’s were at the bottom of the queue for fresh housing, guilt or no. Now we wouldn’t be relocated till it was time to “redevelop” her street -- meaning clear it of all housing and put in dirt till it was determined what to do with the foul-smelling place. Meaning we kept living in that hovel for nearly two years more -- Ma and the girls in the front bed, me and the lads in the back -- as life settled into a fresh direction around us.

So that was my new beginning at the ripe old age of ten, feeling joyful and finally free even as the subtle reality of my bright new world surrounded me, waiting for the best moment to bring forth the fullest impact, growing closer and closer to an explosion of hatred and brutality made only the more awful by its happening in a supposedly civilized part of the quickly dwindling British Empire.

But I couldn’t see the build of history, then. So few can. Events occur that you’re a part of, but at the time carry no meaning beyond themselves. They just happen, and you either rejoice when all ends well or weep when it doesn’t. So my father's death only held resonance for me in the most selfish of ways – that I could now live my life happy and in the way that I chose, that of a child filled with hopes and dreams and prayers and promise, believing himself to be in a place of safety.

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