Blessed Are The Dead

“Time it was
And what a time it was,
It was a time of innocence
A time of confidences.
Long ago it must be,
I have a photograph
Preserves your memories
They’re all that’s left me.”

I love that song ‘Bookends’ by Simon and Garfunkel which was used in the anti-Vietnam War film, ‘Coming Home’. I love its lyrics. Yesterday, I was searching through an old case for a press cutting I thought I had. Among the material I unearthed were embarrassing O-Level results from August 1969, a laminated, fading card bearing the Prayer to St Joseph (which was supposed to protect you from internment), my internment order from 1972, and photographs I had long forgotten about – proofs of former existences as baby, child, teenager, young man.

I felt a mixture of delight, fright and sadness looking through these old photographs and memory cards of dead relatives, friends and comrades. Here is one of me leaning over and kissing Mrs Murphy on the cheek as we sat on her doorstep at 5 Sevastopol Street on a sunny summer’s afternoon about five weeks before her death. Going through her door was like entering your own mother’s. A wonderful, strong woman of unlimited kindness.

I met her bachelor brother Sonny McDermot long before I knew her. He was a very humble, middle-aged man but got up and spoke at a hectic public meeting in Iveagh elementary school, a few weeks after I got my O-Level results. A British army officer and a Catholic priest came to talk our barricades down and have Broadway reopened. Sonny said he didn’t trust the British and that the people should organise their own defence.

Some years later his house in Thames Street was raided and an IRA arms dump was discovered. Sonny skipped bail and went to live in Dundalk, which he hated. He died there but he always pined for Belfast and it was in Milltown that he was laid to rest. I can still see his stooped dander, head cocked to one side minding his own business, hands joined together behind his back.

Here is a memory card of Teesie McCullough from the next street to Sonny’s. Teesie died of cancer at the age of 36 in October 1980. I got to her wake but not her funeral because it coincided with a Sinn Fein ard fheis and in those days politics took precedence over everything. Guns had been caught in Teesie’s Braemar Street home in 1972 and John, her husband, did time in Long Kesh.

Their home was one of the houses we used as a base to edit ‘Republican News’ when the British government tried to close the paper down in 1977 and 1978. After Teesie’s death John looked after their four children but died suddenly of a heart attack in 1982, aged just 35. Without so much as a blink of an eye, Teesie’s sister Bridget and her husband Toby, who had a big family of their own, adopted the four kids. John had started his own window-cleaning business and among those he employed were two men whose normal days were spent lying at Springfield corner with a bottle of Mundies in the hand that wasn’t in plaster from a fall. I couldn’t believe it. He had them up ladders, cleaning the top windows in those big houses over by Malone. He said it would get them off the drink. And it did. But after he died I saw one of the fellahs back at Springfield corner, lying in blood and urine, maundering at some ghost dancing before his eyes.

Here’s a scary picture. Worth a few bob, I would say. Tom Hartley’s sixty-second birthday. Okay, his forty-second. Straight out of ‘Deliverance’, with his three-foot-long, three-foot-wide, bushy beard. Here’s another one of him. And another! Camera-shy, or what! Here’s one of me and my dog in the back garden, or jungle, of our home, 2 Corby Way, Andersonstown, 1959. We mustn’t have been able to afford a lawnmower. I just appear out of the grass with an arse and a floating dog’s head. For school I wrote my first poem about this dog. I came last in the class. “My two-year-old dog is called Prince,” it opened promisingly. “He loves me with all his confidence.” At least it rhymed, even though it went downhill from there. “Last year he fought with a Kerry Blue,/And was almost killed with bruises too./ Almost crying I called him with a fearful cry,/ Poor Prince’s life depends on I.” I’ll spare you the rest.

Here is a photograph of my Granda Morrison who was born in 14 Massarene Street. He lied about his age to join the Royal Flying Corps (which later became the RAF) during the First World War. In July 1922 his eleven-year-old brother William was knocked down and killed by a British army truck in Castle Street. I don’t know what effect this had on him but a few weeks later the newly-formed RUC and the British army raided Currie Street hall on 13 August, 1922, and arrested him and a dozen others. They were charged with promoting the IRA and fund-raising. In court he said that he had only come out of the Royal Air Force and therefore could not have been in the Irish Republican Army! The case was discharged.

I never did find the press cutting I was looking for but I came across a poem by a South African, B.M. Themba, which is dedicated to the dead.
Blessed are the dead
For they will:
Never be suspected,
Never be chased,
Never be unmanageable
Never be transformed into firewood
Never be killed
For they are now:
Protected from adversaries
Saved from opponents
Secured from the persecution of this world.
Blessed are those who are dead.