The spell was a paid placement, though the Brussels money didn’t come until later. I was twenty-two at the time.
16th February, Monday
I took the one o’clock train. Liam seemed less at ease than me but as the day wore on I felt a bit bewildered. I stayed in Jimmy’s house in Twinbrook. He and his wife told me about the hunger strikes early the next morning. Emotional. They described it as the only time everybody stood together.
17th February, Tuesday
Jimmy’s house settled me. It sorted me out. Liam introduced me to Damien and Billy. I stayed in Damien’s place with the two boys. I watched them argue.
19th February, Thursday
We went to Newry to see P. Then I had to get some money so we crossed over the border to Dundalk. On the way back Liam decided to take a side road to avoid a heavy British army presence on the main one. We ran into a Brit checkpoint. They held us for two hours. We went up to the Felons’ Club in Andersonstown later and I stayed with Billy, off the Lisburn Road. I may be there the whole time.
23rd February, Monday
P. was up from Newry, talking about criminals and headbangers in the Provos. We drank with Jimmy in the Hunting Lodge and then we went to an EEC food meeting. I found Billy’s flat on foot.
24th February, Tuesday
The rain made me notice the hole in my shoe. We met up with G. and later we went up to Unity Flats. The nuns made my tea. The Brits were out in force in West. They stopped us twice in Twinbrook.
I finally got my last essay out of the way. I’ve put it in a large brown envelope. The Brits were crawling over West tonight. Liam and I were stopped twice in Twinbrook. He got us out of it by speaking in an English accent. We had just brought G. home. He’s Jewish. He was sacked from Queen’s for trouble-making.
He encouraged a strike among the cleaners.
I’m living with a Protestant called Billy on Wellesley Avenue, off the Lisburn Road. Damien is sound too. The two boys are always talking about their ‘relationship’. I feel comfortable here. Billy works at night in a place for the homeless so I only see him early in the mornings. Damien lives over on Cliftonpark Avenue. It’s supposed to be dangerous over there; front-line.
This is South Belfast. Queen’s is nearby and all students look the same. A joint RUC-British army patrol stopped us near the border last Thursday after Liam had driven over to Dundalk from Newry so I could get money. He decided to take a slip road on the way back but we ran into them. They searched us and went through the car. The police gave a bit of verbal abuse too [“wankers”, “shitheads” etc]. One of the soldiers found a Sinn Féin election leaflet in my bag and read through my diaries and notes. I got very nervous then [but he must not have been very literate]. They held us for well over an hour by the roadside. Darkness fell but eventually they let us go. Liam’s car had been seen in Bessbrook and somewhere else, according to them. Maybe they were just bored. I’m on the computer anyhow.
This city is amazing. P. objects to the criminal elements which he says exist within the Provos but still his bottom-line support is there. So is G’s, even though he wishes they had an overall socialist theory developed. So many people accept the armed struggle. It’s a different ball game here. The outside objections mean very little.
25th February, Wednesday
Liam called up and brought me down to the Front Page. I met his girlfriend. Damien was there too. We were surrounded by yuppies and social workers. Who’d be a social worker? Damien, Billy and I could not get into a disco on Sandy Row.
28th February, Saturday
Down to the Maze with some of the lads. I had to stay in the car park but later managed to get as far as the visitors’ café. They were visiting B. who was caught with D. A. when they were on their way to kill a policeman on the Ormeau Road. He got twelve years [there was fifty per cent remission of sentences at the time]. Now he’s education officer on his block. All the IRA prisoners are being politicised in there. They are big into Lenin at the moment.
I went out on my own, up the road to the Botanic Inn. If I’d wanted what I had to endure, I could have stayed at home.
1st March, Sunday
Billy brought me out to Finaghy to see an old man called Walter. It was raining. I find myself consciously looking around for external clues to a person’s make-up.
2nd March, Monday
I took the bus to Armagh and I met Tommy C. I had not realised who his brothers were. He showed me a logbook kept by Roddy in the months before his death.
I saw several entries where the Brits told him they were going to kill him.
Remember the sun on the way down. When I got back I drank in the Eglantine.
4th March, Wednesday
The Poly [University of Ulster, Jordanstown] is like a subway. The interview with R. L. freaked me out but we finished with a financial plan. He did help me. I need a letter to show a bank. A sob story and then I met Ray [one of Liam’s friends] and we had a few beers, snooker, burgers and chat. He is an extremely decent guy.
5th March, Thursday
Of course Billy insisted on walking in through Sandy Row. He has changed the flat around. I like Billy. They are all protective. Liam and I went down south to Navan, for a conference.
6th March, Friday
We collected my old pal D. in the night time. I met a girl called Bríd, a Montessori teacher, who turned and said, Tu es sympa, tu es mignon. Adorable. Really? D. got on well with the Travellers, especially the lame and wizened Bernie O’Reilly.
11th March, Wednesday
I’m waiting for the train to get moving. I have been out of Belfast since last Thursday night. Two days were spent at a Traveller conference in Navan and the rest have been spent in Maynooth, sorting out my money problems. I have no excuse for not making it back some time yesterday though. I just wanted to get seriously drunk and unwind after the financial hassle of a number of days. We’re moving now. For a while I did not know if I was coming or going. I’m tired. The rocking of the train puts me off writing. My socks are sticking to my feet. Haughey is the new Taoiseach. Garret Fitzgerald has resigned.
I got f*cking lost again in Belfast. I’m freaked out. An old man I asked for directions brought me to a taxi place near the Markets.
13th March, Friday
By the time we left for Derry four bombs had gone off. There was a council committee meeting in the Guildhall. Guys in suits handed out tea. A white terrier kept barking at the police in the Creggan. Explosions and hoaxes continued in Belfast all day. The IRA also killed a guy in Rostrevor, apparently by mistake. The Rag Ball is on in Queen’s. Flour on the streets. The streets are white.
14th March, Saturday
Billy brought me down to the Quayside bar and I met his brothers. There was music upstairs but it turned out we were financially unprepared. Still, we made it to Lavery’s. I met a girl called Louise, from the Short Strand. She fell in love with my accent.
18th March, Wednesday
Twinbrook [G’s] for lunch and photographs for the booklet I’m writing for the NICTP. Then we went to the Glen Road. The caravan was hot and crowded. I get on well with the girls. It started to f*cking snow. Sister Margaret in Unity Flats had photos too. “You don’t support the shootings, do you?” One of their windows had taken a bullet from the Shankill.
19th March, Thursday
“I need shoes, Manny. I got shoes.” [A quote from Runaway Train.] G. had the man in the shoe shop on Castle Street laughing all the time we were in there. We were more or less on a session. The Crown, the Morning Star, the Crown. Behind the words he has a lot to say. A little bespectacled English Jew reminded me of what socialism is all about. He also understands the importance of the ‘asshole factor’ in political movements. Eastern Europe isn’t really socialist. Well, that’s nothing really new. I had accepted too many Stalinist excuses. Sometimes I had even made them up for myself.
In 1969 G. was on a train somewhere in Czechoslovakia, smoking a Cuban cigar, when a goon appeared to tell him to put it out, as the railways minister was in the next compartment and didn’t like it. After attempting to engage the minister in a fraternal socialist debate about the cigar, G. got thrown off the train at the next station.
20th March, Friday
I’m bollocksed this morning after staying up until brightness with Damien. We were down the avenue at four or five in the morning. I was singing rebel songs. He was throwing snowballs. We had to go to the garage to get cigarettes. He told me about a woman in Berlin. The new shoes are a relief, a liberation. When the snow came the condition of the old pair became intolerable.
21st March, Saturday
I go down to Lavery’s and meet Louise again. There’s a party. Up in the flat there’s Patsy, a social worker (she said). Older than me. I just happened to notice you in the pub as well, before the flat. Black hair and a sailor top.
23rd March, Monday
I did not sweat in the caravan this time. There was a meeting about the Glen Road in St. Paul’s GAA club. There was venom but not as much as I expected. I’m used to this. We were drinking in the Glenowen when a newsflash said that a prison officer and two peelers had been killed in Derry. I look up to Jimmy.
25th March, Wednesday
Liam had to go to Dublin for a funeral. I talked to girls on the Glen Road site but I did not distribute many leaflets. Someone’s black eye put me off. I was a bit freaked out but for once my face stayed white. I’m getting cool again. Remember the sun on the Falls. Young women in this city are very nice to me. They are willing to smile and talk. The last one was in Simpson’s supermarket this evening. I’m surprised.
26th March, Thursday
Our booklet was printed. I was tired but I went to the Felons’ Club. Later in Lavery’s I met Patsy again. She remembered everything. Her sister knew everything.
27th March, Friday
The Conference at the Poly. I could get to like being a bureaucrat. I was on the door. The early morning was f*cking bizarre with the ambulance at the flat. Noreen [a lame guest up from the South for the conference] cut her hand.
28th March, Saturday
There is a bunch of middle-class teenage girls beside me on the train. They are something else. The West Brit accents. They must be a hockey team. I had a couple of drinks in the Quayside before I left.
30th March, Monday
The IRA killed a soldier and wounded three others in a bomb attack at Divis Flats. They dropped the devices down.
31st March, Tuesday
People don’t like sitting together on trains or buses. I got into this compartment first and I was watching them pass by in the corridor and outside but now an old guy has come in. It’s raining outside. The walk to Connolly station freshened me up a bit. Liam gave me a few days off after the conference. But I have to come back to the Free State on Thursday. This is a good time to write, before the train gets moving. The train is moving.
I just got back and there is a group of people in the flat and I wish they weren’t. The one thing was that I discovered the proximity of Botanic Station to Wellesley Avenue. Once I had something to eat on the train my mood greatly improved, even though it wasn’t too bad to begin with.
1st April, Wednesday
We had a meeting in the Andytown leisure centre about Travellers being barred. It went well enough but when we asked for Travellers to come with us did you ever feel like you were banging your head against a brick wall? At least we got the barring order lifted.
2nd April, Thursday
Glen Road meeting, twelve o’clock. All the men were down getting their dole. Liam could not go to Scotland because there were dawn RUC raids on Travellers in Belfast and Newry. Greg [a junkie mate of Billy’s] was still zonked in the flat when I got back in the afternoon. He’ll burn the place down.
3rd April, Friday
A Catholic has been killed in Ardoyne. Shot through the door. He was an IRA Volunteer. A UDR soldier is dead too.
I was trying to clarify for myself the summary reason why the British government remains in Ireland. I think it is a case of the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know. It relates closely to the idea of an acceptable level of violence. Diane Perrons once wrote in an issue of Antipode about the break-up of Britain as a whole. That’s an intriguing idea.
6th April, Monday
The first train. It’s a new morning. Belfast city centre was sealed off. Soldiers and police were crawling all over New Lodge and the Antrim Road. It’s the funeral of Marley in Ardoyne.
7th April, Tuesday
Marley’s funeral has been put off again. The TV showed British rule.
I was down in Armagh. Father Murray gave me a traditional earful. Murder etc. Tommy is dead on. A tough nut. His people are welcoming. Armagh is weird, a strange place. Tense and edgy. A night of trouble in Belfast and Derry.
The Pogues and the Dubliners entered the British top ten at no. 8. The Irish Rover. Ronnie Drew never sang as fast before.
8th April, Wednesday
Liam and I attended Larry Marley’s funeral. We walked up and down the length of the Falls. The military and the police had a massive presence. The population responded in suitable numbers. A cup of tea in Conway Mill warmed me up. Liam did not want to be photographed because he lives in East Belfast.
He kept his hood up.
Lavery’s was jammed and when I met Billy at ten to eleven he wanted to go to the Crescent [Glasgow Rangers Supporters Club] on Sandy Row. It was even more crowded. It was dark and a band was playing early on, before a disco. I sat there, motionless, quite content, but not saying anything. I did not care about the girls.
9th April, Thursday
Liam and I attended Larry Marley’s funeral yesterday. It was cold and spitting and the cortege took hours to come from Ardoyne to Milltown cemetery. The army and the police swamped the Falls. There were at least a hundred Land Rovers, not counting the soldiers and their vehicles. The people turned out, several thousand of them, to pay their respects and show the security forces what they felt, faced by handguns, rifles, sub-machine guns, plastic bullet guns etc. I counted at least fifteen lorries and buses burnt out between Divis and Andersonstown. One, carrying cement, left a wet paste on the ground on the Lower Falls. The fires in the night had bent and broken up the surface of the road.
The key, or one of them, to international justice is national self-determination. It’s a cultural thing as much as anything. I have more sympathy and understanding when it comes to the Poles now. Or Czechoslovakia. Martin McGuinness told the RUC on Monday night last, We will defeat you in the end. The time will come to explain what is to be done with the Protestants. It is their country too but there must be justice and there can be no peace without it.
Billy had asked, “What’s going to happen to the Protestant people in a United Ireland?” Not a matter of if, but when. “I don’t know. I wish I could say.”
10th April, Friday
Derry. The council committee meeting contained sheer idiots. We had pints with Martin S. He whips timber from the forestry on the Letterkenny side to sell in the city. The pub fire was very hot.
11th April, Saturday
It is Saturday afternoon and I have no money today, which is unfortunate. I won’t starve with bread and soup in the kitchen. I’m just after cleaning up and washing myself. We were at a party last night and I was really stoned, after keeping the car windows closed, but I left the place because violent dickheads were getting out of hand. I would like to go down to Lavery’s tonight. I don’t even care for the pub but I want to see Patsy again. I met her for the first time on 21st March. On Thursday night, upstairs in Lavery’s, I saw her and told Ray and Liam about her. They were with me. I met them in there. Then she came over and the boys were impressed with that. She came back to this flat. It looked quite good. She thought about staying but she took a taxi home with the girl from Turf Lodge who was with her. She’s from the Falls. I wish I had money so I could meet her tonight and bring her back here on her own. Just the two of us, with a carry-out and some cigarettes. She knows I fancy her because I told her. The boys say it is obvious she is interested. I’m looking at the orange bulb in this room and Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London has just come on. All that remains now is for us to get the physical opportunity. I have only met her three times. We are made for each other.
Just a fiver. That would be enough. I haven’t much time left here. Siouxsie covered The Passenger and I came to like her version. The brass seemed a bit much at first. The thing is to be so close to real success again while not having enough time or money to clinch her. For some reason she gives me shit about the Travellers and then she apologises. I think maybe it’s just a conversation piece. There are circumstances I cannot change and if these mean I won’t be sleeping with her ever, well…
She’s dark and when she smiles I really want her. God I do. She’s older than me, she looks older, but when I called her a woman she said she was a girl. It was exclusive eye-conversation. She seemed a bit uncertain because she was not alone. She was with people she knew. But they were not really interfering. It was heavy ordinance, said Liam. Everybody noticed us. It’s not a bad state to be in after speaking to each other only three times. There is plenty of time. I could do with a night’s passion again.
12th April, Sunday
I had to break down [open] M’s kitchen door for her, so I spent the afternoon there. Billy was asleep in the dark when I got back. Soup and toast. Two reserve constables were shot dead in Portrush last night. The weather was warm today.
13th April, Monday
Liam and I went to Andersonstown News where we met Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, cultural officer of Sinn Féin.
15th April, Wednesday
Armagh, the trades council AGM. The committee will get off the ground. Liam was happy. I had done my last bit.
I said goodbye to Jimmy. It was half past eleven.
16th April, Thursday
John Gavin’s stories in his trailer got more and more gruesome. They call his place Fort Apache and Woodburn Barracks. Hannah [his wife] is an admirable woman.
We had a farewell party. Patsy left. She had lost interest, if she had any to begin with. I did not mind after a couple more joints and cans. I have theories but I don’t understand. Damien said it’s a different culture.
17th April, Friday
For my last day, Billy brought me over to The Raven [a loyalist club in East Belfast]. I was playing pool against a guy who was in jail for killing three Catholics. I was stoned. Billy gets a fool’s pardon there, for associating with Taigs. There were half a dozen of us, including Skipper [who was going down on drugs charges], and Greg, who is out of hospital. I got the three o’clock train in the sun.
The chap at the pool table had been released on appeal after a supergrass trial. I’d had a quiet word with Billy in the pool room. “We are going to lose this game.”
20th April, Easter Monday
I’m relaxing at home for this week. They could hardly wait for me to be back and safe.
29th April, Wednesday
My class had teamed up for a study visit with our counterparts from the Poly.
I missed the morning train to Belfast. It’s typical. I slept from Dublin to Dundalk on the three o’clock instead. I was bollocksed after running to Connolly. I felt like puking. I went to see Billy first, with cans. Liam called to the People’s College and everybody went to The Rotterdam. He was not impressed with my class.
30th April, Thursday
It rained as we walked across Albert Bridge. We went over to the Short Strand. I walked down to Lavery’s in the rain for a late pint.
1st May, Friday
The Protestants felt ill at ease in Connolly House. I felt the same in UDA headquarters, which was like a chamber of horrors. But then, when John McMichael was giving some of us a lift through the city, I was just chatting to him in the front seat, about Paisley. One for the books.
“Isn’t he like the Grand Old Duke of York?”
“Yeah, he’ll talk about fighting but he won’t do anything to organise it.”
9th May, Saturday
The conflict has been deliberately cut off from people’s consciousness down here while they at the same time have wished it away like a horror story.
22nd December, Tuesday
John McMichael was assassinated in Lisburn. It’s ironic that he was the first person I’ve ‘known’ to be later killed.