When Mickie Smyth left Dunhill’s pub he had three ‘Belfast Telegraphs’ left.
He’d done well today, considering that they were last night’s copies. He turned right down
The canal bridge had been swung back and two big flat barges were inching their way into the Albert Pool. When they had passed, the crew heaved at the huge winding-wheel and the bridge slowly closed to its normal position. One of the tow horses had dropped several balls of manure a few feet from Mickie. An
When Mickie entered the shop, the owner was serving a woman with ‘Reveille’ and ‘Weekend’ and ‘
While the kettle was heating up, Mickie shook tea-leaves into the empty teapot sitting beside the gas-ring and moved the two mugs onto the edge of the big table. He lit a cigarette and studied the books on the shelves along the wall to the right of the door. He didn’t know why Olly stocked most of them. No-one ever bought the kind of stuff that ended up gathering dust in here. Mickie wasn’t even sure how to pronounce some of the names. ‘The Oresteian Trilogy’. ‘The Good Soldier Schweik’, ‘Orpheus Descending’, by
The kettle’s whistle began as a half-hearted fluting which quickly rose in a shrill crescendo. Mickie turned off the gas and, holding the kettle in his right hand, pressed back the little knob on the bell-shaped cover with his thumb and inclined the stubby spout over the teapot. The steam scalded his wrist as it always did, but he let the cover snap back and put the kettle down on the gas-ring. He pushed the two mugs against the papers and picked up a half-empty bottle of milk sitting on the floor under the table. He poured some milk into each of the mugs.
‘D’ye wanna cuppa tay, Olly?’
‘Aye, ah’ll be there inna minute’.
Mickie picked up the teapot and swirled it around. He waited for a minute and carefully poured the tea into the two mugs. A few tea-leaves floated to the top in each mug.
‘Where’ve ye put the shuggar?’
‘The packet’s on the windy sill’.
As he spoke, Olly Morgan came into the room. He was thick-set with a full head of curly black hair. He was fat, maybe sixteen stone. He had a flabby double chin but he had a good-natured face. He wasn’t a bad boss to have. Mickie liked him. Two pound a week wasn’t a great wage, but Mickie managed quite a few extras. When he was behind the counter, he sold newspapers to kids who had comics or magazines tucked inside them. They knew it and he knew it, and he collected his cut next time he saw them. It was always a fifty-fifty split. Mickie reckoned that Olly knew he was doing it but found it more acceptable than constant wrangling over wages. Olly was doing all right and all Mickie had to do was to avoid becoming too greedy.
‘I’m done out, Mickie. The feet’s like baps. How’d ye do?‘
‘Brought three back. Can’t unnerstan why they buy’em’.
‘They get home too pissed at night to read the paper. They’re back in the pub in the mornin and get bored stiff. If any ofem had jobs they wouldn’t be there. It’s people like you an me are buyin the friggin things for them. Most of them haven’t worked in their lives. They keep bangin on about the English but they still hold their hands out for the money. If they had ta live in the
You remember that the nix time yer talkin about gettin redd a the border.‘
Olly picked up his mug and sipped his tea.
‘It’s all very well talkin’ about 1916 and all that, but down in Dublin there’s still kids runnin’ about in their bare feet. An ye can’t move in
An at least I can go inty
He sat down heavily.
‘By the way, Mrs Short was moanin the day about gettin the ‘Irish News’ yisterday instead of the ‘Newsletter’. Jaysus, her man’s leadin a parade somewhere this mornin, so for Chrissake Mickie don’t drop her a paper again that wants redda the border’.
He leaned forward and loudly broke wind.
‘That’s them beans an toast. Here now, have ye seen they’ve already spiked the
Now I can’t drive down there tomorra ta fill the tank up in the car an bring back the butter ah get for my ma cos the bloody road is blocked by f***gin big steel posts. These sons of freedom just cost ivrybody except themselves a lotta bloody money.‘
He looked at Mickie with a peculiar expression on his face. It was like a mixture of knowingness and puzzlement.
‘A wee bird tells me you hang around quite a bit with a certain fella from The Armoury. Ye know the grippers are nivver outta there with court orders. It’s a wonder any ofem has a sticka forniture left’.
The Armoury was an area on the south side of Portnamon which had been the British army barracks before the Partition of Ireland in 1920, which left the town just north of the border with the
‘Ye wanna be careful who ye mix with, Mickie’.
Olly took another swig of tea, stood up and went back into the shop as the bell on the door signalled the arrival of another customer. Mickie had remained silent while Olly was dropping his hint. Now he grinned and swung his feet up onto the table. He leaned back and took a drink of tea and thought back to his last training session.
They had driven from Drumcastle into the mountains in an old Bedford van, four of them from Portnamon and the quartermaster from Dunmare, the big town about ten miles further south which provided a safe haven for anyone wanted for terrorism in the North. In a quiet little valley carpeted with yellow whin bushes they had practised rifle-fire and then watched as the bomb for the Newtownedwards sub-station was pieced together. Finally, the quartermaster had announced that Mickie and his mate Sean McArdle from The Armoury had been chosen to plant the explosives. They were shown how to set the timing mechanism, a Westclox alarm clock, and the bomb was buckled into a rucksack. They were told that on the eighth of July they would be shown exactly where to place the bag on the eleventh. The last words of the Quartermaster had thrilled Mickie.
‘The two of yous remember that yous represent the last legal government of
He spat noisily on the ground.
‘Our cause is legitimit. We are the heirs of Wolfe Tone, Henry Joy McCracken and Pearse. Robert Emmet, Roger Casement, Kevin Barry – the f***in list is endless. Them as give the blood sacrifice for
Mickie smiled happily.
‘So, good luck boys. Ivry blow agin the
He stared hard at both of them.
‘One lass thing. Keep off the f***in drink. We’ve had fellas as fulla holes as a strainer inna jartub. If ye get yerself blootered yer gonna shout yer mouth off. Ye’ve bin toul – nobody shudd know what yer at. Not yer ma nor yer da nor yer Aunt Fanny. Ye do the job, we know it. Ye don’t needta blow aboutit. All them who aren’t with us are the enemy just as much as them black bastard RUC and the Saxon occupiers in Ballykinlar’.
‘Always mind one thing. Sinn Fein means ‘Ourselves Alone’. That’s what it’s all about. Ye’ve been chosen to be Fianna for God’s own country. An if the English s***es won’t p**s off of their own accord, we’ll sennem back in wooden boxes . An them Prods kin go withem . They don’t belong here neither. An mind as well, the worse thing livin is an informer. If yer lifted, ye keep yer trap shut. Open it once and it’ll get closed for good.‘
Mickie finished his tea and stood up. One thing had bothered him in that speech. He had Protestant friends. They’d been born here, and they were all as ordinary as he was. None of them had any money. They didn’t own shops like Olly, and some of their fathers were on the dole. It wasn’t that long since he’d stopped a Catholic kid shoving young Jack McCulla around in the park. Jack’s family were as poor as his own and had no truck with the Orangemen. He certainly wasn’t what Mickey had been told was a ‘colonialist exploiter’. The notion of sending Jack and his family to
He walked through the shop.
‘Mickie, ah needye back here at five for the Saturday Night. Ye’ll be here?‘
‘Aye. Seeya later‘.
He walked back the way he had come and after crossing the bridge he turned into Gino’s ice-cream parlour three doors down from Dunhill’s. He sat down at one of the three formica-topped tables and ordered four scoops of ice-cream, one each of vanilla, coffee, strawberry and mint. Gino’s Italian father owned a fish-and-chip shop in
A few minutes later, he looked up on hearing somebody come in, but it wasn’t Sean. It was a half-caste kid. Mickie looked at him with interest. He had seen the boy in
‘Aye, not bad. Hangon aminnit an ah’ll geta poke‘.
Sean bought an ice-cream cone with a dollop of strawberry syrup which ran down from the ice-cream onto the wafer and his hand. As he sat down he licked his fingers. His ginger hair was tightly curled and his face was heavily freckled.
‘You still readin comics at your age? Time ye grew up.’
He leaned over and pulled a book from the inside pocket of the jacket. He glanced over his shoulder and handed the book to Mickie. ‘Gaelic Prose Literature’ by Padraig Pearse. Sean whispered, ‘It’s time ye stopped readin all that childish English stuff an learnt about yer own culture.’
He took the book and put it back in his jacket pocket.
‘Nah. They said they’d get in touch durin the week. Don’t talk about it here‘.
‘OK. Ah’ve only gotta minnit anyhow. Ah’m gettin the CIE bus ta Drumcastle. Ye wanna come?’
‘Can’t. Gotta deliver the Saturday Night later. Some of us hasta work for a livin‘.
‘OK. See ye the morra. An if anybody asks ye anythin, remember ye know nothin. An we didn’t see each other yisterday.’
‘All right, ah’m not stupid.’
As they left the shop, Sean said,
‘The peelers raided McCann’s early this morning. Kicked the front door in at five. Found nothin. They must think he was involved.‘
‘He knows nothin about us, does he?‘
‘Course not. Don’t worry. He’s only a blow. They only wentta him cos he sits in pubs shootin his mouth off. Sure he’s not in the movement, niver has bin. He just wants ivrybody ta think he’s a hard man. Sure he’d run a mile afore he got involved in the struggle. Just don’t forget we’re mates. Doesn’t matter what them bastards do ta me, they’ll niver get your name outta me. You make sure you’re the same, eh?’
‘Aye. Ye needn’t worry.‘
They separated at the bridge, Sean turning right to walk along the canal towards the bus stands. Mickie went back to Olly’s shop and made another cup of tea.
Two hours later, Mickie was pushing a Belfast Saturday Night into a letter-box in
‘Whatta yez doin? Whatta bout the papers?’
‘F**k the papers, ye wee Fenian sh**e.’
One of the cops pulled the strap of the bag over Mickie’s head and threw the bag onto the pavement. The papers scattered across the concrete.
‘It’ll be a while afore ye have ta worry about them again. You’re coming ta the barracks.’
The cop drew back his arm and slapped Mickie hard right in the mouth. As his lower lip split, he could taste blood.
‘We’ve just been talkin to yer pal McArdle. You’ll be for Crumlin road, boyo. An afore that, we get names or you’re gonna wish ye’d never been born.’
Mickie’s head reeled back from a punch on the ear and he was pushed into the van. The door was slammed and bolted behind him and the van took off down the hill, blowing ashes from the dead bonfire into the still air.