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December 29, 2008 by  

My first novel, ‘West Belfast’, first published in November 1989, has been out of print for several years and I am planning to make it available for free as a PDF document some time in the future [when I learn how to do it!]. Meantime, I have copied Chapter 11 – ‘Ambush’ – which was singled out for attention in an ‘Irish Times’ review by Fintan O’Toole who, unfairly in my opinion,  complained about ‘the sexuality of violence’ in the writing. I asked for a right of reply but was refused by the then editor, Conor Brady. See for yourself if you think the criticism was justified.                 



Stevie arrived at the house first; he was always prompt. The others followed singly, through the back door, down the steps, through the small kitchen and tiny living room and up the stairs where they stunk out the back bedroomwith the constant smoking of cigarettes which steadied their nerves.

This call-house was new: a young husband and wife with republican sympathies had become active supporters about nine months before, converted by the violent excesses of the British after the introduction of internment. There had been many such converts, and even more following the shooting dead of thirteen civil rights’ marchers in Derry the previous January on a day soon known as Bloody Sunday. With quite a number of houses at their disposal, the unit changed call-houses every day, picking up the address from a trustworthy local shopkeeper. Those Volunteers on-the-run usually moved into the call-house during the early morning rush to school. Other good times for moving were at lunch-time and between half-three and half-five in the afternoons when the streets were busy again. Now, with the onset of school holidays, street routine had changed and moving about between operations could be as nerve-racking as actual active service.

            Some Companies – those which were surviving the high rate of attrition through a mixture of shrewdness, recruitment and luck – were actually using two or three call-houses together.

            In one a float could be in planning. On a float Volunteers in a car with one or two weapons would drive around – or ‘float about’ – until they found a British army target. Youths acting as scouts could be posted at street corners but often accidentally alerted the soldiers that something was afoot. It could be more dangerous than a set snipe in which an occupied house was usually commandeered and the Volunteers patiently waited for a patrol to turn up. But at least on a float they were always active and the operation – their day’s work – could be over and done with inside an hour.

            Stevie, the Volunteers knew from loose talk, had actually gone out on floats by himself, without transport, and had once opened fire on two foot patrols using an AR 15 – an Armalite with a folding butt – which he had hidden inside a Marks and Spencer’s carrier bag.

            In another house a bombing might be planned. In another the officer commanding the Company and his staff might be based. Co-ordination with other battalion units was vital as often three, four or five bombing units were going in and out of the city centre and criss-crossing each other. Where bombs were not planted in physical take-overs of premises but were left in car bombs or smuggled into shops, warnings had to be arranged.

            Houses and local support – a base – were absolutely crucial to the continuation of the armed struggle. Some sympathisers were prepared to billet Volunteers, others would allow their homes to be used for meetings but not as a jump-off or run-back point for operations. Other supporters – the ones who commanded the greatest respect of the Volunteers – were prepared to hold weapons and explosives.

            Contacts in the areas passed on the names of potential supporters who were then delicately approached and sounded out to see what use they could be put to – the demand for dumps always being the most pressing. As layer upon layer of support was built up, an extensive network came into existence; sympathetic houses, car owners, people in employment who passed on intelligence. The people became the eyes and ears of this people’s army and the word ‘sound’ when used to describe a supporter or another Volunteer took on a meaning more significant than the usual definition of reliable. Sound people could be absolutely depended on if the IRA was stuck; could be depended upon to give an objective opinion, to be truthful; could be depended upon if a Volunteer was in a tight corner.

            ‘Joe, open that bloody window, the smoke in here would kill you,’ said Stevie as he fanned his face.

            There was a knock at the door. It was opened to the woman of the house who left in a tray of buttered baps and mugs of tea. The baby’s room had recently been decorated and carpeted. It had a Magic Roundabout lamp shade hanging from the ceiling and curtains patterned with scenes from a zoo. The clinical, Spartan smell of fresh paint was being coated in cloying, stale nicotine fumes.

            ‘Do you want an ash tray?’ she asked, a little bit anxious.

            ‘My apologies for these men,” Stevie replied. ‘They should be put out in the yard.’

            She smiled back, acknowledging the concern. Her husband and she had a fastidious and proud attitude to their small home but she self-consciously mellowed when she thought about these lads and what they were facing. She returned shortly afterwards with ash trays.

            ‘By the way, I’m making a fry for Eddie later if any of you would like one. He’s to go to work at two, he’s on a shift.’

            ‘I’d love a fry,’ Stevie said. ‘I’m starvin’.’ He munched at his second bap.

            When she left, Patsy let his envy be known.

            ‘How the hell could you eat a fry? I’m having trouble keeping down this tea.’ He had also been to the toilet twice and would me making more visits before the operation, though once they moved out and were actually on the go his equanimity would return. He knew this from his first three operations: throwing two nail bombs at soldiers on patrols and then driving on his first float.

            ‘Not only could I eat a fry, ma boy, but I could eat yours as well,’ answered Stevie, hungrily. ‘Anyway, down to biz. I’ve cleared a float with the double-O,’ he said, using IRA argot for Operations Officer. ‘If we don’t “touch” we have to wrap up before half-three.’

            He made no reference to the explanation for the time limit but Joe knew that a car-load of explosives was due in the Falls around tea-time. Other Volunteers had been detailed to empty the door panels of the nitro-benzine mix and to dump it in sealed plastic bins under man-hole covers in a particular entry. The electric detonators gave off no tell-tale smell and were easily kept hidden in a house.

            ‘Joe, I’ll be on foot and youse float behind me. I’ll stay around the front of the road; we’ll “touch” quicker there. Tell Geraldine to take the thirty-eight and for her and Liam to take a car at the zebra crossing. They’re over in McDonough’s but they need to get another house to hold the driver. Hold his licence just in case he’s an Orangeman and bolts. Tell Geraldine not to be hijacking any women – they’ll only scream and things’ll be fucked up.’

            Stevie pulled out various articles from the parcel he had asked Joe to bring.

            ‘Whadda you think of this?’

            They all burst out laughing. He had pulled on an old cardigan and put on glasses with round metal frames which gave him a silly appearance. From beneath the bed he produced a borrowed pair of hedge-clippers. Finally, he dipped his comb in the tea and within seconds stood his hair on end.

            They admired the lengths to which he went. Some of the Volunteers experienced a thrill, unmasked, undisguised, running through the streets, armed. The Brits don’t wear masks, so why should fucking we, pride would foolishly dictate, as they left it to fate that ‘dead’ soldiers would never be able to ID them.


I see the patrol and I smile to myself. They haven’t been shot at in two weeks and they have relaxed. They have probably believed the bloody know-all intelligence officer in the barracks who put Gerry, Peter and Sean away in Long Kesh and thinks he has cleared out the unit. The second foot-patrol – their minds split between their profession and their home – is about five hundred yards behind, too far to be of tactical use in our maze of streets.

            ‘Joe, get the gear. Tell Patsy to put the car beside Murray’s house, facing up the street. We’ll get them from the corner against the hoardings.’

            They stop outside the post office, the Englishmen, Scotsmen, Welshmen, the uniforms, I don’t give a fuck. One detains a woman shopper and rummages through her bag. I can make out her protesting, giving off, and, like a cat baring its fangs, some gland flushes a vengeance through me that tautens every muscle and sinew.

            The radio-man stops a young lad. I can almost hear that jarring British accent ordering him to put his arms up higher and get them legs out. He’s feeling his jeans, frisking the body of the frightened kid.

            Oh, I’m in control okay. I run my finger along cold steel. I stroke the smooth wood. Here they come, their sight of me bordering between curiosity and fear until I raise both hands and, with a clip, level the last section of the hedge. Like coagulating blood the juices rush to the white wounds. And the soldiers relax. I whistle The Rifles of the IRA, so cheekily, so contemptuous of their ignorance, with so much daring, almost challenging them, that it excites me and I am pleased with the aura of deception I have carefully fostered.

            Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

            Here they come. They don’t see me even though they are looking directly at me. I look so happy and serene and domestic, standing with my hedge-clippers now tucked under the arm of my woolly cardigan. Greenfingers is hardly going to cut our heads off! No self-respecting English youth would be seen dead wearing that polka dot shirt, fastened by that kite-sized tie! And because I am a twenty-year-old gawk, and bespectacled (with clear glass), and because this is a strange land, because this is Ireland, I know they shrug me off. Innocence oozes out of me. The leader of the patrol does not mentally mark me down to be p-checked. He comes up to me, me with the clownish grin, specky four-eyes, and I use our exchange of glances to impart a duplicitous trust and friendship. I have that brotherly respect for both of us that opposing combatants share in war, but I cannot confide in him in the way that his battle fatigues mark him out for me. Fraternisation, communication, pity, restraint, humour, is always their gift, depending on their mood, depending on what side of the bed they crawled out. Favourable responses, replies, repartee, and their eyes sparkle as if they’ve just seen light at the end of the tunnel. But these are never sentimental exchanges across no man’s land. There’s no football at the Christmas front. The Brits remain implacable and we cling to our cunning.

            As he now passes me, me whom he’ll never see again, I turn into the side-street of my youth and run across a few feet of cobblestones before the tarmac takes over. From here I can almost touch the house I was born in and the entry where standing in darkness we fumbled at first making love.

            I stop my mind and note that in these few seconds of running, a thousand reflections, experiences, mixed feelings and considerations, and a few specks of golden wisdom panned over twenty years of my life, have gushed through my muddy consciousness.

            I move as natural as this sunny afternoon’s light breeze across the Falls Road, an imperceptible shift of air that would hardly tickle a fly. I am honed for the delivery of this stroke like the finely pointed lead of a sharpened charcoal pencil between the fingers of an artist. I am immortal: I shall see tomorrow. This will be that corporal’s last day.

            I think of this man. He is somebody’s son, perhaps a good man, maybe even a loving husband. We both speak the same language, could have stolen the same bars of chocolate from the corner shop, told the same juvenile jokes to our mates, and sheltered from the same storms as they fell a few hours apart on our lands. I came up on the same music and television as he did, the Beatles and Coronation Street. But the British public – his ma and da, their governments – didn’t even know we existed and cared nothing. When I pieced things together for myself, when I listened and watched, I understood it all – the police batons, the house-burnings, and then my decision to fight back. Sitting with the patience of a prophecy was my Irishness, waiting to be tapped and to explode.

            He probably doesn’t even want to be here.

            Already I can hear the familiar sermon echoing all the comparisons and lecturing me, the killer. I can see those comparisons myself right down to our mutual likes and dislikes in food, Granny Smith’s apples, flowing butter on warm white bread, plenty of salt and vinegar on the fish and chips.

            We may even have supported the same team for the FA Cup.

            He probably doesn’t even want to be here.

            Everything can conspire to scream at you, to weaken your resolve. Everything I’ve been taught, from the words of my mother, to my schooling, my religious teachings, my own beliefs, were all part of a moral system whose effects are to cripple this action and deter me. Then there is the smug power of the status quo and the awesomeness of existing authority.

            My own body’s bowels could burst as a signal of cowardice, a warning of the danger, a call to self-preservation. A twinge of conscience, yesterday’s bloodshed, can become a black nightmare. (I have seen that in comrades who fell away ‘because of the wife’, because they found an ideological difference or used personality clashes as a pretext. In others it was the ghosts who broke their health or minds, or they had a flawed commitment to begin with.)

            He probably doesn’t even want to be here, but he is!

            And that’s my edge over him, over all their arguments. That’s why I have blood like oil lubricating my calves and thighs, my buoyant steps, which take me through these close streets and into Murray’s street, ahead of the Brits.

            He has no right to be here and if doesn’t want to be here then he shouldn’t be here. He can kid himself, and may well have done so, but when all is said and done here he comes, sauntering up my road with his gun in his hand, doling out his mood to pedestrians, ever nosey and curious, ever the law, on top, dashing for his survival across open spaces because he knows we don’t want him. He would just as quickly rob me of breath if ordered or if the fancy took him. But I am just too smart for the poor bugger. Governments may have us, the foot soldiers, at each other’s throats but I am a soldier and a general, a politician and a civilian. I am my own government, but without him there is no government, no British rule.

            I am not claiming the certainty of God’s blessing for my actions. I am not that conceited. I believe in a God. I see the beauty of God’s creation all around me, especially in this man with the clean face and short hair who’ll never shave again, in the red roses over there bathing in the floating warm air, in this demonstration of power and fate unfolding and the tragedy of trapped people. My conscience reminded – not beset – by the occasional doubt is also a remarkable process which keeps me right. I entertain doubts precisely because they strengthen my single-mindedness, my convictions. The fact that I am doing this in spite of myself, against the grain, against my nature, and not because they ever killed anyone belonging to me but because I have rationalised this confrontation and carry it out on behalf of others, proves that it isn’t personal revenge. I take up a gun for every arthritic Irish man who fucks the English up and down (and not really the English but these Brits and their system). I am here on behalf of all those too weak to retaliate or who lack the stomach for violence or lack the courage to risk their own lives.

            I am the history maker. This is my power, this is my cause, and behind me lie centuries and centuries and a thousand lands where similar foreign fuckers with rifles or bayonets, not ever wanting to be here or there, were around just the same, doing their missionary work, civilising us natives, maintaining their peace.

            Oh, they have their doings well sewn-up, well wrapped in a law and a morality whose smartness only the likes of me can really smile at and appreciate, because I am an arsonist with their property and institutions and I know the thief below the bow and wrapping paper.

            Yes, the God thing and thou shalt not kill. It’s even harder for us. The Brits were suckled on superciliousness, on empire building, that others were Coons and Paddies and bloody Kaffirs.

            The pulpits say I’m for hell! We were reared to conform, not to kick, so it doesn’t come easy to copy the killers and kill and even-up history a bit. I’ll even stretch my imagination and allow that a Brit can be a relatively innocent being. So I snuff out an innocent life and – bingo! –he goes straight to heaven. I’ve done him a favour, before he committed any serious transgressions and sentenced himself to eternal damnation. On the other hand, if he’s a bastard and was heading for hell anyway the most I’ve done is put him there prematurely. So where’s the sin?

            I’m being silly.

            I’m not as callous as this and there’s always, always, always, a psychological unease, a sense of violation and wrong, about killing this man, or the other three soldiers I shot and blew up. Experiences and intellect, the slide into violence, eliminate the compunctions and Time absorbs the inhumanity. If I go to hell for this, I’ll go to hell. My soul will burn eternally not for something I did only for myself but for what I did for others. And God’s not up to much, if he’d burn anyone forever and ever. Imagine having those screams on your conscience!

            I pass the garden shears back to one of our supporters, an old man who sits on a chair at his front door reading the Irish News.

            ‘Good luck and be careful,’ he says solemnly.

            ‘The Gardens are clear,’ Joe shouts to me. ‘So is the Drive and the Road.’ Wearing gloves he opens the boot of the Cortina.

            ‘Wait a minute,’ I order. He snaps it shut. I walk out to the corner for a last look. I am on stage. The cobalt blue sky, the blazing sun focus on me, the main character, me with the magic fore-finger, fate-maker, sorter-out of British soldiers come to do you harm.

            ‘Quickly, they’ve stopped some fellahs again.’ But as I turn I see two armoured cars come down the Falls Road.


            They whine. They trundle past, bleeping their hooters to their friends who wave back. The air is pungent with the foreign smell of their exhaust fumes. It all becomes so real, so critical, so deliberate.

            My comrade opens the boot again. I put on my gloves, place the silly spectacles in a side pocket of my corduroy trousers, pull on a cap, and lift the Garand rifle which I prepared myself earlier. Patsy, our driver, turns over the engine and I note his nervousness. Joe takes up a position with an Armalite to cover my back. The area is not too busy. Traffic is light. Two big lusty mongrels bare their teeth and slabber at each other as they canter after a blonde little poodle whose self-importance rises with each sniff and growl from the competitors.

            I peep around the corner. We used to sit here when school was over and play cards and whistle after the girls from St Louise’s – the ‘brown bombers’ we called them. Little did we know the use of corners.

            Mr Corporal is just about one hundred yards from me, down on his hunkers, finishing the frisking of a young lad. A colleague holds his weapon. Another soldier leaning over a wall and pointing his SLR directly at me, concerns me, but I am gone from sight and I have made him doubtful I think by the time, a few seconds later, when I re-appear with my raised rifle, the butt resting comfortably into my shoulder, into my spine, down to my firm feet, like it’s a part of me.

            And it is now that I make my thunderous finale. The corporal’s back collapses inwards under the severe punch from a bolt of lightning lead but I too feel an unusual recoil as the top furniture of my rifle is splintered by the shots returned from the alert marksman.

            We turn and run, Joe firing a burst into the air which keeps the Brits pinned down under fake fire. It’s a good excuse for some of the yellow bastards to stay put. A woman has fainted but some kids start cheering and clapping our performance. The weapons are thrown into the boot and my two comrades, as arranged, drive off; Joe to hand over the weapons to the quartermaster; Patsy to dump the hijacked car in the Kashmir district where Volunteers from another unit are waiting to use it as a lure in an ambush. I run into side streets, air streaming across my brow, blowing through my hair, curving my body. I run up an entry where a stout woman, her grey curls loosely pinned around a falling bun, is brushing some rubbish from her back door. ‘Jesus Christ, what was that son?’

            ‘I don’t know missus, but I think somebody opened up on the Brits.’

            She blesses herself and rolls her eyes. I cross into another entry and push open a back door. My clothes I put into the washing-machine. I switch on the thermostat, though the water is still warm, and turn on the motor of the twin-tub. I like this house because it also has a shower.

            As I climb into its spray I can hear the engines of armoured personnel carriers, of landrovers.

            They don’t even know where to begin.

            Pellets of water pummel my face.

            I hear on the news that the corporal is dead, that he was married with two children, aged four and one. I clench my teeth and swallow hard and I will often think of this man.

            I curse the life that has brought me to this; then I focus in on the British government. I think of the corporal who might have hated his job, who might have been buying himself out of the army.

            I’ll live for him and in some sort of communion with him.

            One thing is for sure.

            I’ll think about him more often than his commanding officer.

            I’ll maybe even be still thinking about him when his widow has stopped.

            Who knows.



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Falls Library Reading etc

December 12, 2008 by  

December 1st

Interviewed by Joe Austin on Feile FM – the festival radio station which continues to survive against all odds and funding cutbacks. You can hear the station on:

Joe asked me to pick three pieces of music and to tell stories about them. Can’t remember in which order I picked and commented on them. One was John Barry’s theme to ‘Midnight Cowboy’ [one of my favourite books and films], though everyone’s favourite, and mine, is ‘Everybody’s Talkin’ by Harry Nilsson. In jail I was reading the ‘Guardian’ only to discover that the author of ‘Midnight Cowboy’, James Leo Herlihy, had, at the age of 66, checked into a hotel and committed suicide by overdose. Now what was going through his mind?

Another piece of music was ‘The Gadfly Suite’ by Shostakovich [who wrote the score for the 1955 Russian film adaptation. I wrote a feature on ‘The Gadfly which is available here: ]. My third song, for personal reasons, and with great memories of dancing with a loved one after midnight, was ‘Tweeter and the Monkey Man’ by the Traveling Wilburys. There is a line in that song which goes: “And the walls came down/All the way to hell/Never saw them when they’re standing/Never saw them when they fell.”

When I was writing a book I wanted to use the title ‘And The Walls Came Down’ and met in London a Dub, Frank Murray, the former manager of the Pogues and owner of the pub Filthy McNasty’s, who gave me great advice on copyright. Of the Traveling Wilburys Roy Orbison was dead, though George Harrison, who was to die of cancer and whom of all the Beatles, I would love to have met, was still alive. I wrote to their managements and it was a convoluted nightmare. To get around the legalities I changed the name of the book to ‘Then The Walls Came Down’. It has been reprinted twice but I think it is I who has the last 100 copies!

Twenty people – okay, eighteen! – showed up in the Falls Library, organised by Anne Maxwell, for my reading from work-in-progress novel, ‘Rudi’. Feedback is more important than numbers. I once did a reading in front of three people in Germany and Conal Creedon who did Scribes at the Rock last August tells a story where only one old boy shows up at one of his readings, then falls asleep during it! If you are in Ireland or Britain you can see him telling this story [on the internet for one week only!] on

Two friends objected to one of the main female characters, who is from a County Down Protestant family in the 1940s, being called Francesca. They said Francesca was a Catholic name. I realised that I was trying to remain a little bit too faithful to Hesse’s ‘Knulp’ upon which ‘Rudi’ is based. My wife Leslie has suggested the name Isabel. So, I have substituted Isabel for the name Francesca even though I believe it sounds less euphonious.

December 2nd: Feile an Phobail management meeting.

Interviewed by Marissa McGlinchey, who is into her third year of hr PhD titled, “The Changing dynamics of Northern Nationalism – Post Agreement.”

December 3rd:  Meet in Culturlann with Stephen Todd to discuss [and to promote] the website he is organising, Shared Troubles, which should be available from 17th December. See story at: One of the stories he later sent me is about a British army sniper in Derry and is very interesting. Hope he doesn’t mind me putting it up but here it is:


It was on a late hot afternoon in August 1973. I had been tasked the previous evening from my unit at Ballykinler to report to the Royal Fusiliers in the area of the city wall above the Bogside in Derry.

I arrived about 4pm and reported to the Royal Fusiliers and started to set up a sniper hide on the ramparts of the wall. Sniper hides are difficult in an urban situation, so concealment from fire was the best we could achieve, and sooner or later we would be seen. To solve this problem we moved our position from time to time along the wall.

The City wall area had a brick building behind it called the ‘Masonic’ This building housed the platoon of  Fusiliers, a jolly lot who were quite fed up of bricks being hit out of the wall by rifle fire and showering down on them within and outside the building. The soldiers were particularly annoyed because their dining hall was inside on the upper floor where most bullets struck and they constantly got brick chunks in their food. They had been receiving the aimed rifle fire for some days previously. My task was to: ‘Observe the situation, locate the sniper and return fire for effect’.

I positioned myself and my fellow sniper, Pte Swannick on the city wall. The wall was a high stone structure with a drop of about forty feet down onto a sloping grass bank. The bank sloped right down to the Bogside Inn, which was situated 200 metres below us on the part of the main residential area of the Bogside facing our position.

We chose a sniper hide on the wall near to the Walker Memorial. The memorial had been destroyed by explosion some time recently. The top of the wall was castellated along its whole length. Behind the top of the wall were ramparts that allowed walking along its safe side. The height from the rampart floor to the top of the wall on our side was about four feet, which allowed ample movement. Camouflage nets were draped over the wall. Observation was achieved through the gaps in the castellation, using the camouflage nets for cover and relying on ‘trapped shadow’ behind, to prevent silhouette. In all it was a comfortable task with complete freedom of movement. The Fusiliers behind us meant we had no local security problem; a cushy number, we could even brew tea.

We set up and prepared our ‘optics’ loaded and sat and observed and waited. We positioned ourselves about 10 metres apart. Swannick was an excellent rifle shot. He was renowned for his shooting skill in the Regiment. He was a quiet Monmouthshire man and as steady as they come. I loved to watch him fire on the range, especially at longer ranges. It was as if the rifle grew out of his shoulder, there was no visible bodily movement as the shot was discharged.

A large element of urban sniping is to get to know the pattern of life in front of you. Who lives where; who comes and goes at certain times; who works where, and at what time they leave for work and return home again. The milkman; the postman, people coming and going. It all makes a big picture. An important facture was to watch the reaction of certain people, male and female to the approach of army foot patrols. Some ignored them. Some hid behind walls and corners, some turned and ran. Others would throw a rock over a house at the patrol, believing that they were unseen in the act.

I was not convinced that the sniping, as was firmly believed, was from the Bogside Inn. It couldn’t be. There was no cover, no covered escape route and certainly no unobserved firing positions there. Also it was too public and wide open. I liked the wiry Irish and they were too clever to use that place. For planning yes, but not for the action!

About six pm that second evening two shots came at us from a great distance away and went some feet overhead. The shots came from the area of the edge of The Creggan, about 600 metres away or perhaps from Cable Street. The ‘crack and thump’ give us that indication of distance.  It was the IRA testing a rifle perhaps?   ‘Why waste rounds when there are Brits about!’

Later at about 7pm I was using my rifle telescope and moving my observation from window to window, searching the lower and upper windows of the houses and flats in front of us.  The Bogside had gone quite, which was unusual for a summer evening. I saw some faces looking from different windows and looking in our direction. I saw in two houses that the occupants were using binoculars. I moved to another castellation on the wall and continued my scan of the area. Something sinister was being planned in front of us.

Some minutes later I saw a young girl, walking hurriedly towards a block of flats to my front. It was a hot night and she was wearing a heavy thick check long coat. She walked awkwardly and in my opinion she was carrying a rifle. Her right arm was locked in carry position in her coat, after some steps she would adjust her carriage of the rifle. She was of small physique and whatever she carried, it was heavy for her.  She ran the last few steps to the flats, opened the swing doors and went inside. In all this time I was discussing with Swannick and that I would do the shooting while he observed in case this was a ‘set-up’ for someone bigger about.

The girl and two youths appeared in an open window of a living room on the second floor, distance was about 200 metres. The two skinny youths were quite young and would have had little experience of what they were up to otherwise.  I would not be on to them.

The three disappeared from view. I went with my telescopic sight from window to window on the same level. All eight or so windows were open, most with curtains which were closed or partially open. Once I saw the girl come forward in a window. She was standing alone and looking directly up at our position, she was without her coat. She turned her head as if speaking to someone.  I thought that they were probably waiting for a target.

Suddenly a high velocity shot rang out and hit our position. A near miss! I did not see which window it came from.  I kept my rifle on the flats and waited, my sights moving from window to window. I thought there would certainly be a second shot.

Then I saw the girl appear at the entrance door on the lower floor. She had her coat on again and obviously carrying the rifle. She stood for some seconds and looked directly up at our location. I placed the pointer of my rifle telescope scope right on her breast, just below her throat. I saw a young face with dark hair, a slight girl, a pretty face. I took the first pressure on the trigger and stalled as she looked up towards me. She was like a hunted animal, her head moving sharply in several directions! 

Suddenly she started to run to her right towards the Bogside Inn and then away from me in a straight line.  I placed the rifle telescope on her back and took the first pressure again, an easy target; …I couldn’t do it!

 As she ran I fired two shots, the first a deliberate shot aimed one metre to her left and the second shot a deliberate one metre to her right. The noise of incoming rounds of high velocity so near must have been horrific to her.

I saw her run behind a wall about three hundred metres away. She must have been in a state of shock. A young lieutenant of the Fusiliers talked a foot patrol onto her position by radio. She was found and taken into the base, where I believe she was charged with the offence of carrying arms.

For my part, I felt that I had failed as a soldier in my duty.  At first I was sorry that I had let her go to carry arms again. I cared little about my reputation as a sniper. I cared more that I felt it was not an entirely military target; a young teenage girl perhaps not yet seventeen.

For missing the target, I was called to account by my commanding officer, as a father of two young girls I took it on the chin and made no reply as his ravings went on for some minutes. There followed a long silence, both of us standing face to face in his office. His six foot figure towered over me. He kept repeating, ‘you missed!’ you missed!’ I made no reply, as he glared at me.  I felt he was trying to decipher what I was thinking. Then after another pause he quietly said.  ‘Go back to your company and polish up your bloody sniper skills.’

 As time went on I became glad I’d let her go. Some months later when Pte Swannick was killed at Ballykinler and later more of my friends killed in the county of Armagh, I thought deeply about the incident and regretted my actions.  Now over thirty years later and in different times and with a welcome peace in Ireland, I am truly quite happy with my choice of action. It was a moral issue not a military one. Only the man on the spot has the right to make such choices.

The young girl came from Ivy Terrace in the Bogside. If she reads this narrative or another of her contemporaries reads it, then I am sure she will know exactly who she is!   I hope now that the girl is a happy mother of children. I often wonder if she thinks of that August afternoon in 1973 and does she ever realise that my bad shooting was completely intentional; having seen her face and small feminine figure magnified to three times magnification…I just could not do it!


Speaking at, and awarding certificates to, the creative writers organised by Patricia Gormley, at Tearmann Fold, Andersonstown. Amazing turn-out: I would say 120 people on a frosty night. Patricia was in a creative writing class I organised about eight or nine years ago in Conway Mill and she took part in Feile’s first Scribes At The Rock. I always remember the smile of revisionist historian Professor John A Murphy at her reading when you felt that he knew that much of the stuff that he had been writing about us was a nonsense. Patricia and those associated with the Fold had written a play which was performed in August as part of Feile an Phobail. I only got to see it a month ago and wrote a letter in support of the play to the ‘Andersonstown News’. This is the letter:

A chara,

As chair of Feile an Phobail it is impossible for me and most of the Feile team to see all of the events that feature throughout the year, particularly in the August festival.

However, last Saturday night I had the opportunity of seeing Patricia Gormley’s hilarious two-act play, ‘The Bus Run’, in Conway Mill, which had its premiere at the same venue during the hectic week that is feile.

The play was written by Patricia, a creative writer, who has an acute ear for the idioms of this community forged over decades, and which distinguish the life of our people from that depicted on RTE soaps or ‘East Enders’ or ‘Coronation Street’. To her credit, Patricia’s inspiration is home-grown and came from the pensioners at Tearmann Fold on the Andersonstown Road.

And what a raucous, disreputable bunch of retired West Belfastians they must represent! Not only did their observations and philosophies on life help write the play but some of them take to the stage like natural [albeit thwarted!] Joan Crawfords, Betty Grables, Barbara Stanwycks!

We have a lot to learn about love, friendship, comradeship, sons and daughters, snobbery, pretension, constipation, aspiration and the exchange rate between the Euro and Sterling from this original, genuine and humane work of art!

Let’s hope it goes on another bus run at a venue near you!

Danny Morrison,

Chair, Feile an Phobail


Interviewed by a Croydon newspaper re the outing of Maria Maguire as Maria Gartland, Tory councillor, who wrote an allegedly kiss-and-tell book about the IRA, Dáithí Ó Conaill, and an arms smuggling attempt which I read in Long Kesh in 1973 at the age of twenty without a clue and which did not diminish my comrades and I one iota. I was asked was she in danger of being assassinated and I laughed and said I didn’t think so. Okay, she probably did a deal and was debriefed by MI5 when she retreated to England, but there was no way could she compromise the souls of the activists, or stop the momentum of struggle. I said to the journalist, who was a kid, that you could hardly put Maguire on the same plane as Sean O’Callaghan.

“Sean, who?” he said. And I thought, yes, that indeed sums up the life and times of Mister O’C.

December 8th: Interviewed by a Sri Lankan student, Dinesh D. Dodamgoda, a PhD candidate at the Centre for Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. Dinesh was a Member of Parliament in Sri Lanka and a journalist. His research topic is: “Legitimation and Legitimation: Insurgents: the use of media and the media coverage of insurgencies.”

Always on this date I think of Liam Mellows, Rory O’Connor, Joe McKelvey and Dick Barrett who were executed by firing squad on 8 December 1922. Gerry Adams introduced me to the writings of Liam Mellows many, many years ago. In one of the biographies I discovered that Mellows was born in a barracks in Ashton-Under-Lyne, Manchester, a derelict place which I walked by several times in August 1972 when I was courting Sandra, who became my first wife.

December 9th: Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness launches Fr Joe McVeigh’s book. I asked him about the story on Shared Troubles, the one about the British soldier in Derry who spares the life of a young IRA activist moving a rifle after an attack, and he says that he doesn’t think that anyone from Ivy Terrace was arrested and charged in 1973 with possession of a weapon but that he would ask.



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December 9, 2008 by  

Fr Joe McVeigh’s excellent new book was launched in Culturlann, West Belfast, by Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness on Tuesday, 9th December. Joe, from Ederney in County Fermanagh, has always taken a stand on behalf of the dispossessed and those who have suffered oppression and discrimination.

In the book Joe writes: “The way forward for the Christian churches, it seems to me, is to adopt a liberation theology – to oppose the use of military intervention [in the manner of the USA – DM] and to promote the gospel of non-violence. There should be continuous tension between the reign of God and empire.”

Also at the launch was the great Fr Des Wilson who also spoke. I once did a fascinating interview with Des back in 1981 or 1982 which was published in ‘An Phoblacht/Republican News’, which I must try and trace and reproduce. Fr Joe McVeigh’s book can be ordered through Amazon:


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November 2008 Pt 2

December 4, 2008 by  

Tuesday, 18th November, took part in RTE panel discussion [recorded in the Linenhall Library], ‘Legacy of the Great War’ with Philip Orr, Chris McGimpsey and Edna Longley, chaired by Myles Dungan. The programme was broadcast on RTE Radio 1 on Thursday, 20th November and is available on podcast at

     Outside the building the city centre was packed as Mayor Tom Hartley officiated at the official switching on of the Christmas tree lights at the City Hall and the noise of the concert could be heard in the Linenhall Library though I think the engineers managed to minimise it in the recording.

     Chris McGimpsey argued that a way should be found to allow people from whatever point of view – unionist or nationalist – to jointly commemorate the dead of [particularly] World War I. I said that I agreed with the sentiment but that ‘we’ couldn’t even find away of jointly commemorating the dead of our most recent conflict.


Did interview with Matthew Nyero, a PHD student at Queen’s, researching the ‘British administration of Northern Ireland under Margaret Thatcher’.

     Did interview via Skype with American student Sarah Smith, doing her senior thesis on ‘the success and failures of the Good Friday Agreement’.

     Interviewed by UTV for a television documentary to be broadcast in January 2009 about the history of poteen in Ireland [and how we made it in jail!].


Attended Basque night in Roddy McCorley’s club and read ‘I Would Like’ by Yevgeny Yevtushenko: 




I would like

            to be born

                      in every country,

have a passport

               for them all

to throw

        all foreign offices

                           into panic,

be every fish

             in every ocean

and every dog

             in the streets of the world.

I don’t want to bow down

                        before any idols

or play at being

                a Russian Orthodox church hippie,

but I would like to plunge

                          deep into Lake Baikal

and surface snorting


                              why not in the Mississippi?

In my damned beloved universe

                             I would like

to be a lonely weed,

                    but not a delicate Narcissus

kissing his own mug

                   in the mirror.

I would like to be

                  any of God’s creatures

right down to the last mangy hyena–

but never a tyrant

                  or even the cat of a tyrant.

I would like to be

                  reincarnated as a man

                                       in any image:

a victim of prison tortures,

a homeless child in the slums of Hong Kong,

a living skeleton in Bangladesh,

a holy beggar in Tibet,

a black in Cape Town,

but never

         in the image of Rambo.

The only people whom I hate

                           are the hypocrites–

pickled hyenas

              in heavy syrup.

I would like to lie

                   under the knives of all the surgeons in the world,

be hunchbacked, blind,

                      suffer all kinds of diseases,

                                                   wounds and scars,

be a victim of war,

                   or a sweeper of cigarette butts,

just so a filthy microbe of superiority

                                       doesn’t creep inside.

I would not like to be in the elite,

nor, of course,

               in the cowardly herd,

nor be a guard dog of that herd,

nor a shepherd,

               sheltered by that herd.

And I would like happiness,

                           but not at the expense of the unhappy,

and I would like freedom,

                         but not at the expense of the unfree.

I would like to love

                    all the women in the world,

and I would like to be a woman, too–

                                     just once…

Men have been diminished

                        by Mother Nature.

Why couldn’t we give motherhood

                               to men?

If an innocent child


                           below his heart,

man would probably

                  not be so cruel.

I would like to be man’s daily bread–


    a cup of rice

                 for a Vietnamese woman in mourning,

cheap wine

          in a Neapolitan workers’ trattoria,

or a tiny tube of cheese

                        in orbit round the moon.

Let them eat me,

                let them drink me,

only let my death

                 be of some use.

I would like to belong to all times,

                                    shock all history so much

that it would be amazed

                       what a smart aleck I was.

I would like to bring Nefertiti

                               to Pushkin in a troika.

I would like to increase

                        the space of a moment

                                             a hundredfold,

so that in the same moment

                          I could drink vodka with fishermen in Siberia

and sit together with Homer,



                                              and Tolstoy,

drinking anything,

                  except, of course,


–dance to the tom-toms in the Congo,

–strike at Renault,

–chase a ball with Brazilian boys

                                  at Copacabana Beach.

I would like to know every language,

                                like the secret waters under the earth,

and do all kinds of work at once.

                                 I would make sure

that one Yevtushenko was merely a poet,

                                 the second–an underground fighter


I couldn’t say where

                    for security reasons,

the third–a student at Berkeley,

                                 the fourth–a jolly Georgian drinker,

and the fifth–

               maybe a teacher of Eskimo children in Alaska,

the sixth–

       a young president,

                    somewhere, say, modestly speaking, in Sierra Leone,

the seventh–

             would still be shaking a rattle in his stroller,

and the tenth…

                the hundredth…

                                the millionth…

For me it’s not enough to be myself,

                                    let me be everyone!

Every creature

              usually has a double,

but God was stingy

                  with the carbon paper,

and in his Paradise Publishing Corporation

                                          made a unique copy of me.

But I shall muddle up

                     all God’s cards–

                                      I shall confound God!

I shall be in a thousand copies to the end of my days,

so that the earth buzzes with me,

                                 and computers go berserk

in the world census of me.

I would like to fight on all your barricades,


dying each night

                like an exhausted moon,

and resurrecting each morning

                             like a newborn sun,

with an immortal soft spot–fontanel–

                                      on my head.

And when I die,

               a smart-aleck Siberian Francois Villon,

do not lay me in the earth

                          of France

                                   or Italy,

but in our Russian, Siberian earth,

                                   on a still-green hill,

where I first felt

                  that I was