Faces Of The Same Coin

In the way that folk accepted the steady bombing of the cities during WW2, as something that if hated, had to be inured, the majority of the Northern Ireland population felt the same way during the 30 odd years until very recently.

I have referred before to the ‘liberation’ of articles by the terrorists. There are hundreds of apocryphal tales but one which happened on a contract I was engaged upon, took place a day or two before we stopped for Christmas. The contractor had a gang laying pipes down one of the main roads in the East of the City. On the morning, some men arrived in a car and one approached the men on the site with a gun, casually held in his hand, not pointed at them, just there, an implicit threat. “I want to borrow your lorry,” he said with no preamble. The ganger nodded, what else could he do, anyway the lorry belonged to the firm not him – there was no contest. The man smiled, thanked them as if he had been granted a favour and he and another drove off.

The theft was reported and we heard later in the day the lorry had been seen between Belfast and Ballymena going hell-for-leather down a motorway, filled with booze. Still later we heard a vintner’s wholesale store had been raided. The men were never caught. Next morning the lorry was found parked beside the pipe-track. When the driver opened the door of the cab he found a dozen tins of beer on the seat with a note thanking him and wishing him and his mates a merry Christmas. Is a question asked in Ireland an Irish question? In this case the question had been asked of the workmen and the questioner had answered himself – What a question!!

The Young Molotovs In ’98 one grandson was getting married in Scotland and another had been diagnosed with meningitis in Ireland. While we were all worried for the patient, we had been assured that he was recovering, so we went to the wedding, staying overnight. The following day, on our return, we were in a hurry to see the invalid, and as I was still well above the limit, the Scots are very generous and persuasive; Sophie drove to Bangor straight from the airport, about thirty miles. Late in the afternoon she started to drive us home when we found that UDA Militants were blocking the dual carriageway and we were forced to drive through a housing estate. We rounded a bend and were flanked by and held up by young boys, anything from 10 years old and upwards. One of them was brandishing a lemonade bottle with a rag hanging out of it in one hand, and flicking a cigarette lighter in the other. The rest were telling us to get out of the car, one hammering on the side door. They proposed to steel it. I looked as Sophie, she looked at me – we had been held up a couple of time before by Republicans and each time I had driven through them, hoping to hit none, but if I had, my policy was I would immediately report to the Army or Police. In this case, without hesitation Sophie stamped on the accelerator and, thank god, they were so surprised they didn’t throw the bottle, but one did try to climb into the back seat – without success – none was hit – Sophie was revving with no regard to the engine. She was 78 years old, and old habits die hard – ‘No Surrender’ is written on many walls in Northern Ireland – the paramilitaries should read their own slogans.

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