Extract Two: Jimmy Quigley
In the second extract from his new book, ‘All The Dead Voices’, Danny Morrison introduces us to IRA Volunteer Jimmy Quigley who became his best friend
On sunny afternoons after school my friends and I sat against the gable of the barber’s shop at the corner of Beechmount Avenue, eyeing the girls making their way home. A few times I noticed a tall youth dander through the entry opposite us and I instantly recognised him as the fella who had put the guns in my house back in July. One day I winked at him conspiratorially and he smiled back.
Shortly afterwards I switched to St Peter’s Secondary School and it was there that I again met sixteen-year-old Jimmy Quigley and learnt his name. He was in the class a year below me and was beginning his ‘A’ Levels but because he was in the IRA and I was holding an arms dump we had to be careful about our friendship. It wasn’t until the guitar case with its arms and ammunition was removed in early 1971 that we could begin to openly go around together.
However, almost immediately he disappeared from the scene, having been sentenced to six months in St Patrick’s Boy’s Home for possession of petrol bombs during a riot in Ballymurphy.
Jimmy smoked but had little pocket money and since I was working in a bar I could afford to buy him cigarettes which I brought or sent up to him.
By the time he was released internment had been introduced and though I had moved on from his school to college we began socialising together and he often stayed in our house, especially after we had been to dances. I would throw a single mattress on the floor, parallel to my bed, for him to sleep on, though we spent most of the night talking away into the early hours.
Most of my memories of him are associated with his beautiful smile and his infectious laugh. We had great adventures together and talked mainly of two subjects: love and politics. On one occasion after a dance we persuaded two girls, Pauline and Eileen, to come and stay in my granny’s.
“Of course there are beds in every room,” I lied.
They each told their parents they were staying in the other’s house. They arrived with two teabags and no nightdresses. It was late October, below freezing, and we had no coal or electric fire. When they discovered there was only one double bed they accused me of being “a dirty bastard” and took Jimmy under the sheets between them whilst I lay covered in a coat, shivering on the living room floor. “If only he had told the truth,” I heard Jimmy pronounce smugly to the two schoolgirls with no nightdresses.
The girls left at eight in the morning and Jimmy and I left for school and college. “If only you had told the truth,” he laughed as we departed. A few days later, my mother, who occasionally checked my granny’s, baffled me by asking what had happened to the Sacred Heart picture on the wall. I checked the house and it was true, it had gone, been stolen. When confronted, Eileen confessed that Pauline had put it up her coat on her way out.
“She said its eyes had followed her and that she had never seen one of those pictures before where God watches you as you go past.”
Jimmy and I investigated. We went to Pauline’s house and confronted her but she denied having taken it. In the end, I had to go to the OC of the IRA in the Clonard area. He called to her house and demanded that she hand it back. She again denied having it. But her brother - who had been trying to get into the IRA - confirmed that he had seen a new Sacred Heart up on her bedroom wall. When she was out he stole the picture back - it was his first operation - and was accepted into the IRA.
Though I had held guns for the IRA and would, in a juvenile way, defend their actions against critics whom I thought offered no alternative, I had qualms about many aspects of IRA activity. I plagued Jimmy with various scenarios and asked him to convince me of the morality of this or that act. I think I use to exasperate him. One night in his house, when I was demanding answers (and, simultaneously, worrying that I might be undermining his convictions), he said, “Danny. I volunteered to be led, not to lead.”
As 1971 came to a close Jimmy and I went to a New Year’s Eve ceili in Clonard Hall. It was a great dance but at the stroke of midnight many girls started crying because their boyfriends were in jail and this put us in a sombre mood. Jimmy and I walked up the Falls Road to George’s Shop, which stayed open all night, to get his cigarettes, then on the way back to my house we were stopped and searched by Scottish soldiers. At 3.30 am I wrote in my diary, “sit talking, listening, communicating with Jimmy.”
He asked to write something in my diary and I handed it to him. He wrote:
“I hereby declare that I, Jimmy Quigley, shall from this day forward, the first of January, read as many books, articles and writing as I possibly can. Dated, 1st January 1972.
“I don’t know how 1972 shall take me but I shall make this my year of years, and I hope I shall be able to say at the end of this year that I am satisfied with everything I have done, said, read and thought. I also hope that I will make the same resolution at the beginning of every year…
“I shall make my mark on this earth and I hope I am worthy of this mark.
“Your health! To my improvements and my ambitions. Up the Republic!”
To which I added, “YES”.
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© 2007 Irish Author and Journalist - Danny Morrison