Those were the days

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Published : 08 September 2018

Troubled fragments ploughed up by the years

Names and details seared on young memory.

 

It was 1969. Mary Hopkin’s Those were the days

Chansoned through the August summer.

 

John Gallagher’s claret pool of blood covered in sawdust

Stepped over on the way to Mass.

Strafed by B Specials at a Civil rights march.

In our small town way we were oddly proud it was the first.

 

Peadar and Terence and me – childhood ‘besties’.

Swopping Biggles books and envious of Terence’s Scalectric.

Peadar became Andy McNab’s first kill – after many of his own.

A Volunteer now in the republican pantheon.

I last saw Terence on the BBC News – a body bag dumped

On a Border lane.  A warning to those who dared

To collaborate with the enemy.

 

Mr Watson tape measure at the ready measuring out

Our school jackets and trousers. Quiet and polite.

An unlucky ricochet on the ringroad while driving home.

 

Sergeant Wasson – a Catholic policeman cycling home.

Paul his son was in my class at school.

He was advised to leave his neighbours and friends:

“Move somewhere safer John”.

He shouldn’t have opened the door that night.

 

Inspector Macbride – another Catholic policeman.

Harry had been to school with my mother.

Bizarrely she was witness to his mid day machine gunning

And recognised the attempted assassins.

That day she was told quietly on the street:

“Monica, we’ll be watching  the boys go to school”.

She never spoke about it, ever.

 

Mrs Corrigan behind her till – refusing  to hand over the cash.

Her husband Kieran used to take us out as kids

In an old Volkswagon on  trips to Warrenpoint.

Dead for fifty quid.

 

Billy the night watchman at the factory.

A holiday  job some summers on.

We frisked him that night jokingly

In search of his revolver.

On the green formica sofa were two ragged holes

Chalkmarked circles around them and

A half drunk bottle of Schweppes lemonade

With macaroon crumbs floating from his backwash.

 

P*** and T*** co workers asked me what had happened

As I stored the sofa with the forklift

After Special Branch had finished their tests.

I proudly told them what I had overhead.

They both did life sentences for his murder.

 

The funeral was another August summer day.

Drumsallen  Church of Ireland church, clinging firmly

To the drumlin clay and packed out with mourners.

No room for us Catholics at the back. Many co workers

Were afraid to come. We who did stood outside

And listened to Rock of Ages on the thundery air

And wished we too could sing like that.

 

There were funny moments. A teacher just up from the south.

We dived to the grass at football practice. Those firecracker

Noises were unfamiliar to him. They opened up from the estate

The ringroad traversing armoured car their target.

Well above our heads but we joked that we wished it were lower

And teach our southern friend a lesson!

 

Another time they were successful. Brother R*** danced

With joy as the armoured car blazed and the eighteen year old

Burned as my teacher’s soutane swished in celebration.

 

The night our town was set ablaze. A febrile adolescent

Studying Hamlet for A level revision. No fit state to witness

My parents’ gazing out in tears – their town like Nero’s Rome.

Years later at a reception I met the Army Colonel in command

That night. Now a curator of a West Country regimental museum.

We shared memories – clear, seared with heat.

 

My Dad’s vein throbbing in his forehead.

It was only breakfast time but he was raging

About the Provos and the Troubles.

He rests now beside a republican plot. The full works:

Cuchulainn statue and Gaelic words.

We joke of digging him up and putting him

Somewhere else: Tiocfaidh ar Da

 

Those were the days my friend

We thought they’d never end

We’d sing and dance forever and a day

 

 

 

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