Camino de Santiago - Brian's Update No 8

In which Brian considers the Troubles and tells more Uncle Tommy stories

Days 40 to 44

3 May to 7 May - Berneuil to Etauliers

At last got this whole keyboard to work. Actually doing over time now!

Today is the 7th of May, I am in a small hotel in a small town called Etauliers, I have again left the Camino, but of necessity, I should have gone to a township called St.Yzan de Soudiac, according to the small booklet which I have. This booklet is published by 'Confraternity of Saint James', the English Society of St. James of Santiago de Compostela.

It was published in 1998, and I now realise that whenever I got it came together with amendment notes, which of course I have left in Rostrevor. So much for my meticulous preparations! I had given Christine the names, taken from the booklet, of possible accommodation, whenever she rang they had closed, were no longer in business. A phone call to the local council for the district failed to come up with any accommodation!

I am in very rural France, hence my deviation. It actually is quite a bit shorter, perhaps as much as 10-12k. I am now on the long side of a triangle, so my journey tomorrow will be even shorter.

Two days ago I set out from a small town called Pons. I had enjoyed my stay there, and met some very nice people. I was going to follow the recommended route given in the guide and I did as far as a village called Marignac, a journey of perhaps 14k, through, for the greater part, dense woodland. Whenever I reached Marignac, I abandoned the route and took the road to Jonzac, a journey of at least 10k, it looked as if it were going to rain and following the guide route would have been almost twice as long.

I enjoyed the woodlands; the forest was dense, impassable except by following the paths, which I did. For once the guide and the map were at one. The scale of the map which I use, although fairly detailed, does not have the detail necessary to find the GR or GRP routes without this guide or the Way Markers. Walkers generally would have GR maps which are very detailed; I would need another rucksack to carry the number of those I would need.

The forest was dark and mysterious, I kept thinking, 'I wonder if there are any fairies? - ' and I do not mean the sort which the wags will undoubtedly remind me of, no, I mean the fairies who still inhabit our land.

'If there are any fairies still in France, this is the place they surely will be'.

I met mankind of no sort on my travels, either human or fairy, although at one time I heard buzz saws going and glimpsed some machinery through a small clearing.

Speaking of fairies, I did see one one day, a fairy princess. I was 5 or perhaps 6 at the time and I have never forgotten her. I was either coming from Ballinaclosha School or Lavelle's Shop.

As you come up the Old Road from the school, there's a slight bend just where the hedge dividing Murphy's and Boyles from the Master and Mistresses house, would be. As I came up I could see this beautiful creature, dressed, and the only way I could describe her dress is to say that she was like something that had walked out of one of Jim Fitzpatrick's paintings of Eimear, Cuchullain's wife or the fairy princesses of the Tuatha de Dannan.

She did look familiar, very like Gertie, the beauty of the Hill.

I passed and I remember I was a bit afraid, she didn't speak although I passed the time of day and hurried on to find Grandad. She had smiled but did not look at me directly, I wasn't sure if she was aware of my presence.

I found Grandad, told him-

'Aw' he said, 'that's surely one of the Princesses out of the fort. Was she sad or did she smile? '

'Smile', says I.

'Good' he says, 'you're the lucky boy, that's a great sign, and do you know, you surely have the gift now and you'll have it for the rest of your days'.

And thank God I still do and please God will continue to have it, for it's a wonderful thing to have magic in your life.

I looked for that beautiful Princess often and I still haven't found her, but one day I might.

The following day I again follow the guide and the map and reach my first objective along a winding river and across open countryside, much of it under vines, some stretches of forest that didn't seem as dense as on the previous day, but still a mysterious place to be.

In one of the forest stretches I had come across a monument, erected to the memory of some French Resistance Fighters of the 1939-45 war. Had the forest been in existence then and it probably was, although it looks like young trees, all native as far as I can see, allowed to grow as it were wild it would have provided great cover and many, many ambush positions.

In the forest I put all my "Indian" tracking skills, (learned up in Hughie Crilly's Rocks and all the wild briar, whin, blackthorn and rock between Carrickbracken and what we knew as "The Felties", over in Quarry Row), to work. There had been someone there before me, a white mans foot print, he wore boots, how long before me I couldn't tell, but there were signs of the occasional bicycle, and sometimes on the wider paths tractor wheel marks.

We had a wonderland at our door step in Carrickbracken, we had bows and arrows and catapults, and we would have fired at anything that moved. We stalked rabbits; I can't remember ever hitting one, never mind getting one for the pot! But we tried.

Then we graduated to a pellet pistol, and a little later a pellet gun, neither of them very powerful. I daren't let it be known at home that we had such tools of war, we kept them hid at the end of the lane and on the dark evenings, before or after October devotions, if we weren't away to hake an orchard, we drilled as if we were in the IRA. I'm talking now about 1949-52 or 3. I think we moved into Newry in '53.

Perhaps I was lucky, I was never approached.

But Paul Smith was, and his two cousins Tom and Jim. Paul, the Lord have mercy on him, was blown up by a bomb they were making at a man called Water's house at Edentubber, just above where the Free State Customs post used be. Four people died in that bomb, Paul, another lad from Newry called Craven, the man Waters and another, whose name I can't recall. The year, I think, was 1956.

Paul would only have been 19, such a waste; they were going to blow up the Northern Customs Post. I was working in England when I heard the news, no names, I heard from home later.

I wasn't at the funeral, but my first dart whenever I got home was out to Molly and Barney. I had been in and out of Smith's for many, many years but I became particularly close to them after that. Whenever I started courting Alice I took her out as well and she became as fond of Molly and Barney as I was myself.

Barney was not Republican, he was a Labour man, and a very Christian and charitable man. To him the working man, unfortunately so many weren't working, either Catholic or Protestant, were the oppressed, and through his work with the union, he did what he could to improve his own and their lot. He would have been a James Larkin man.

As I walk through the forest I think of the many lives so useless lost and for what?

I know that even had I been approached I could not have taken up arms against another man. We are what we are not from reasoned thought, but purely as an accident of birth. Even at that young age I realised that.

Mick McConnell has written three great songs, a trilogy about the troubles, 'Only our Rivers Run Free', 'Peter Pan and I' and 'Follow the Flag'.

Most people have heard 'Only our Rivers Run Free' so it does not require anything from me. 'Peter Pan and I', I think is a classic; it sums up the situation which we found ourselves in. There were abuses, gerrymandering, holding on to the jobs, the allocation of houses, not for need but to ensure, whoever was perceived to be the right candidate would be elected. One man one vote, all these needed to be put right. Whenever the Civil rights movement could not achieve these legitimate aims peaceably, violence erupted on the streets of Derry.

'We knew we faced the power that comes from money,
when we marched against the Empires mighty scheme,
they were armed with special powers and legislation
while we were armed with youth and foolish dreams
but we took them on and built our barricades',

- so it goes on, I have never learned it, perhaps I will. But Mick goes on to talk of an army dressed in plimsolls and faded jeans, who realised that they would have to quit throwing stones and resort to arms.

Of course, having gone down that road, the first victim was the Truth and Justice for which they had started, it went out the window. They were now in a guerrilla war situation.

The third song, and the one I like even more than "Peter Pan and I" is "Follow the Flag", and this one I did learn. I'll continue later. Charge battery and have me tea.

Follow the Flag

"Follow the Flag", is my favourite of Mickey's trilogy, like Colm's "March Ditch" it sees no boundaries, can conceive of no difference, we are what we are by an accident of birth; we could have been born either side of the ditch.

'The lad was 13 when his Daddy came home,
eyes blackened, his fists cut and bleeding,
if you follow the flag son, his Daddy said
then it's no small loss of blood you'll be heeding.
There were guns in the night soon and bombs in the dawn,
his small terrace world was aflame,
alone in his bed blanket over his head,
he learned that follow the flag was the game'

'And so he proceeds until at 16 the knock
comes to the door and he joins,
as his Father and Grandad before.
At age 21 he sleeps with a gun
and had sent many men to their doom.
And then at age 26 on a dark Belfast Street
his wrong timing and place intersected,
he knew he would die as the Taxi passed by
for one moment of caution neglected.

And here the most telling verse,
'Oh they buried him proudly,
the flag o'er his grave,
from his leader, a stirring oration.
they weren't going to be at any shoot out,
He died for his country the people all said'

and perhaps the most telling line of all

'rearranging 6 feet of his nation'

Wasn't that something worth killing and dying for - 6 feet of his nation.

'When will we ever learn, when will we ever learn' and so to the chorus of Mick's song.

'That flag neatly folded to his mother it went,
in a story that's always the same,
old mothers a weeping, young warriors a sleeping
when follow the flag is the game'

Chorus - "But which flag did she weep o'er,
was it green, white and gold
or was it the red, white and blue,
the harp or the lily, King James or King Billy,
that's the riddle I'm leaving with you'

That's me for the night, I am saddened by the news I hear of the elections, we would appear to be even more polarised than we were before. I think our hope lies in the likes of David Ervine, and Hutchinson, these guys have seen both sides, they can look across that March Ditch and they see people on the other side with exactly the same aspirations, wanting what's best for their children, wanting a society without fear and distrust, ready to reach out the hand of friendship.

The Rev. Ian is not a Christian man, despite his posturings and loud words; Christ was not a man to say - "I will have no dealings with fear and hate" and at the same time march to the top of the hill and down again waving his legally held gun licence. Not a man to be at Burntollet with his armlet on his arm to meet a peaceful march for justice. Not a man to march into Portadown, hand in hand with David Trimble, on a triumphalist march against the wishes of the residents, who were hemmed in by the British Army.

He is not on his own, we have them on our own side … isn't that strange I should talk about sides, I have no desire to be on any side, but neither can I walk away. I see injustice and we have to speak out. Who said, 'For evil to flourish, good men have to be silent'.

Sinn Fein have to make the leap, I believe, Gerry Adams and McGuinness and others in the party are sincere, the IRA did them a great disservice with the Ulster Bank affair, but I don't think their influence can dictate what the Army Council of the IRA will do, now or in the future. It's similar to the 1921 situation, they have to bite the bullet and make a lasting and definite break from men who are prepared to use violence to achieve political ends.

Look over that March Ditch and you too will see -
'People on the other side who look a lot like me.
To share this world between us, how much time do we need,
and peace is calling from the soil, it's time to plant that seed.'

Tommy's Birthday

Today is the 10th of May, my Uncle Tommy's 85th Birthday! I had intended to talk about my days events, my meeting with other pilgrims, but that can keep.

This man is special, he is special to me, he was born in 1920, 17 years my senior, and would have been 21 or 22 whenever I arrived on the Hill from the Liverpool Boat in 1942. From then until now he has loved me and I him and his beautiful wife Maggie, with a passion.

Alice, God be good to her, shared in that love, whenever I introduced her to both of them, I probably was still courting at the time. Herself and Maggie hit it off right away, went off together to Knock and I think Lough Derg together, and relished in each others company. I have seen all their family grow up and I love every one of them, as if they were my own children. I shared in the tragedy of Brian's, Sasha's, and Briege's deaths, and I know the pain that that has caused, I see Shane and his lovely wife Nuala, and their beautiful child Sasha, and of course Marie, and my heart has gone out to them. Beautiful, beautiful, people.

I should tell you, many years ago, well maybe not that many, Marie is not that old; Alice and I were in 'The Duke' in Warrenpoint, we often went there, good food, pleasant staff, nice atmosphere.

Anyway a very good looking girl was serving us, pleasant, amenable, ready for the craic, eventually she says, 'Do you not know me', well anybody that knows me, knows that whenever I was out with Alice I only had eyes for her.

My god but, she was a beauty, I looked, but still didn't know. She would have been very young at the last Boyle wedding. "No", I had to admit, 'I'm Briege and Brian's girl, Marie'.

Well I gave her a hug, nearly squeezed the life out of her, she is as beautiful within for her beauty shines out. And I know her grandparents love her dearly and are very proud of her, as I am myself.

So, me Uncles 85, I sent him a text via Anita his evening. I referred to him as a mhic, obviously with a sheabhada on the m, and as I did so I thought of the terrible loss to our vernacular.

Whenever I first went to Tullydonnell, I was always a mhic, our Anne would have been abhillish, babies would have Caillaghberras, the old witch on Slieve Gullion, who having turned herself into a deer, which Finn had chased up Slieve Gullion disappeared into the lake on the top, and of course Finn the amadan that he was went in after her and emerged as white as snow. There were eejits, amadans, bouseys, baughies, what else, who now will walk into a field and say 'God bless the work, and the workers' - a direct translation from the Irish - "Go maniagh dia an obair, agus an obrai" - not written correctly of course but, God forgive me, me Irish is even worse than me French! And that's saying something!

Our language was stolen from us, by a very cute ruse. There were schools, and all parents realise that education is essential if their children are to progress, so they sent them to these schools. These schools taught only through the medium of English. After the famine of the 1840's, people were anxious that their children should learn English, and be able to converse in that language, after all, most were being reared for emigration, and so our Irish language declined. The Schools taught through English, English would be the language of the New World of America, or England, why wouldn't people embrace it in an effort to improve the lot of their children?

So our language was lost.

My cousin, Barbara, obtained census forms of the 1901 and the 1911 census for Tullydonnell, in them I noted that my Grandfather father is listed as being able to speak and write both in English and Irish. In the 1911 census my mother appears, and is listed as a scholar, all people going to school were scholars, but the word even then had another meaning. The meaning which most of us would attribute to it. That of a person of learning, many times I have heard that the Scholars used go to see Grandma Quinn, my mothers grandmother, to enquire the Irish for certain words.

Probably local colloquialisms in the Irish language, her first language was Irish, as far as I can tell she had no schooling, she died some say at the age of 104 others 107, who knows, but undoubtedly she was alive at the time of the Famine, that's just how far we are away from it. For years we feared to speak of it, for the guilt of having survived it. At what cost perhaps to others.

This is supposed to be my Uncle's Tommy story, but it is the same, it is from the same source that we come, our lives are intertwined, and we are inexorably twinned. We are drawn from the same well, where we learned how to meet and treat our fellow travellers on this road. Johnny and Mary's blood and genes flow through both of us, we are one and I love him.

I think perhaps I should lighten up this narrative with a little anecdote of one of Tommy's escapades. Another wake story - 'I was talking in my sleep about a wake'. Isn't that a great opening line. How the hell can you be talking in your sleep about awake? Only Colm Sands could up with a line like that!

Larry's Roy's place lay between the New Line and the Old Road (Ballinaclosha Road). Maybe about 400+ yards from Lavelle's Shop. The New Line was the road from Armagh to Dundalk. The road that every Cardinal, elevated to that office in Rome came, whenever he returned to his Diocese of Armagh after the Pope had consecrated him a Cardinal.

As soon as the new Cardinal crossed the Boyne at Drogheda he was in his own Diocese and he never left it until he was in the Cathedral City of Armagh.

Through Monasterboice, Julianstown, Kilsarn, Dunleer, Castlebellingham, into Dundalk, out by Kilcurry, through the Drumbilla border, past Ballinaclosha, where the people would be waiting to greet and welcome him home, on to Ford's Cross, maybe a diversion to Crossmaglen, a big parish, into Cullyhanna, Dorsey, on to Newtownhamilton, over the mountain into Keady, and on to Armagh. There was a great welcome for Cardinal Dalton. I wasn't at Balinaclosha but afterwards I saw the bunting and had a full recount from Nellie, Lord have mercy on her.

I was with the Camlough Band. Meself, Seamie, our John, Tom McCabe, Frank McCabe, John Francis Hughes, Dermot Hughes, Big Eddie, and his two sons, Eamon and Pete, 'No work, two milk tokens' Bra Bradley - Jim Bradley. Alice was in the local bru office, Bra would come in, huge smile, 'No work etc.'

Although I would not have even known Alice existed at this time, but it's how I remember Bra. Could I name the rest of the band, I'm sure I could if I took the time, Paul, God be good to him, on clarinet, Ownie also clarinet and his son on drums, Emmett Lynch on cymbals, Horace Morgan on horn, faces and names keep coming back to me. The band went to welcome the Cardinal, we went to Armagh, we had fitted battery lights to the lyres which held our music, we had new uniforms, (the first ever), and we played to entertain the crowds waiting the Cardinals arrival. I know we were quite a sight in the darkness, and the music would have been fairly good. Our numbers would have been augmented by members of St. Kate's, (St. Catherine's), we played with both, when invited to do so.

I always enjoyed playing with St. Kates, that's an understatement, I looked forward to playing with St. Kate's, and I relished the thrill of playing alongside Pat Hughes. I played euphonium, Pat Hughes lived euphonium! Such a master, what a musician, such tone; sweetness itself.

I think the euphonium would be considered as the cello of the Brass or Military Band, Military not in the sense of army, but rather a band of both brass and reed. It has such depth of tone, such a fullness, it softens the often harsh tones of the cornets, to which it plays a counter melody. Particularly in some of the Kenneth Alford Marches or Sousa's Marches, wonderful euphonium parts.

I wonder if Kenneth Alford was a euphonium player. Whenever I played alongside Pat, he knew I was a belt and braces player, I could play whatever was put up in front of me, this gave him free rein. We could be marching along, or sitting giving a concert, I would play as written, suddenly I would hear this note or series of notes going off into the stratosphere, my God where is this man going, the music had taken control of Pat, he'd be off, playing counter melody on counter melody, absolutely magic. My life has been filled with magic, and these would have been amongst the most magical.

Back to Larry Roy, I never knew the man; he must have been dead and gone before my time in Tullydonnell. The house I saw fall into ruins, very little evidence of it now. It's about 4 years since we passed it as a group going to visit the fairies in the fort, perhaps I'll tell you about that again.

I'll relate it as I heard it.

Larry was the last of his family, a man aging, crippled with pains, bent over, on a stick, sort of dragging one leg. But a decent man, well got by all the neighbours, who would help out whenever the need arose. He'd have callers in the evening; he was a man for the craic.

One evening Johnny Joe called down, and there was Larry stone dead in the chair, the fire was still lit, so he wasn't that long dead. Johnny gathered the neighbours, the house was cleared, made ready for the wake, word got around, Johnny was washed and laid out, I believe it was the best washing he'd had in years, but there was a problem…

Whether it was the fact that he'd died in the chair, or that his body had taken a curve with his constant bending over, no one could figure out, but they couldn't get the body to lie in the bed on his back. He could lie on his side of course almost in the embryonic position, but that would never do for a wake. The answer, lay him on his back and tie him with ropes round his chest and legs. And so it was.

The corpse is shaved, washed, put into bed, ropes positioned and tied, bed cover covers the ropes, the people are invited in to say the rosary and the wake commences.

As usual, whenever they weren't on tea making duties, the women were down in the room, the men in the kitchen discussing the weather, the crop, what did he die of, how old was he, who'll get the place, that sort of thing. There's the light from the fire, candle at the foot of the bed beside the holy water, someone leaving offerings, they can't be at the mass, the comings and goings of neighbours, meeting people you haven't seen since the last wake, fellows you were at school with, renewing and enjoying some incidents from childhood, there's a murmur in the room.

Now the women are never quiet, but this is different, the men…?

Silence, listening.

'Mother of God Kitty, I believe he moved" 'Its them bloody candles flickering, playing tricks on your eyes.'

All eyes on Larry.

'Sweet Mother of God, did you see that? Did he move?'

"Holy sweet Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Kitty, I think he moved!'

By this time all the women were on their feet, imagination runs riot, fear is contagious, and they make a bolt for the door, up to the kitchen.

'That man's rising in the bed, youse may go down'.

A few of the men in the kitchen, knew what was going on, they had heard the scheme, and had created the necessary diversion to allow it to proceed but they held their whisht.

They proceeded down to the room and here was Larry - almost sitting upright, cocked over to one side, falling out of the bed - and Tommy Boyle, beside himself with laughter.

He had sneaked down to the room, untied the ropes around Larry's upper body, and waited for nature to do its work. It was slow, a barley imperceptible movement, it could be the flickering candle, but panic gathers momentum until the mad dash to exit the room. Larry is secured again, the men enjoy the moment but eventually the truth outs.

'That bloody Tommy Boyle fella!' - he has to run the gauntlet out through the kitchen, women flaking at him with whatever they can get, but eventually they also see the humour. 'What about that skitter at Paddy McCann's wake? Sure we should have knew'

The wake lasted for two days and nights, the story of Larry's rising from the dead, and how various people had seen him move at times was told and retold, the exploits at Paddy McCann's wake were recalled, it made for a great craic altogether. As for Tommy his mother was going to kill him, with a paper handkerchief, 'You ole Bousey, making a show of us before the whole country, get out of that before I give you a good clout', but like everyone else she enjoyed it and couldn't hide the twinkle in her eye or the pucker at her lip.

Sure she could never see his fault, a spoiled boy, and Maggie has him still spoiled.

Days 45 to 53   

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