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Saturday, 25 January 2020

Daisy Hill, Seamus Mallon and my da'.

Today, I have spent more hours in Newry than most days of my previous life. I have, in the past, shopped, drank, clubbed and cinema'd here, and cycled and drove through, relatively briefly. I say, "most of my previous life," because I've spent quite, a few hours in Newry over the past few weeks, starting with an overnight stay, with my wife, when my father was as admitted to the University Daisy Hill Hospital A&E, on new years eve unconscious and in not too good health. 

He's since had the improvements that sent me back to Glasgow and the setbacks that interrupted my lesson on 3D shape that had me flying back over from Glasgow, the latest setback moving him into the High Dependency Unit. His progress since then has been slow, and none of us expect a return to his former faltering health, but we hope he recovers enough to get home to decent spuds and TV football. The Doctors are very cautious. The Doctors, and all staff in Daisy Hill I've met so far, are wonderful. Hard working. Friendly. Socialism's highest citadel, and  incredible people work in this amazing citadel on a hill in a small city once at the centre of Northern Ireland's darkest times. 
Today was a mixed day of delerium, sleep, hacking coughs and curses, but after six hours of that, he settled and read the sport in the paper. He was surprised to hear of Seamus Mallon's passing, and his being the same age he is.

My dad didn't help draft a peace project that has saved many lives, but like many people, he endured the dark times here. He lost a cousin who was brought up like a little brother in a bombing that is now almost lost in the sea of historical horror of Ulster in the mid-seventies. A bombing so cowardly amongst the cowardly mayhem created in the name of "politics," that the "socialists" carrying it out made up a new name for their group. 


My dad carried out the "in between" work, liaising between his bosses and the paramilitaries as the lowest paid middle manager, a joiner/ foreman on building sites, tasked with handing over "protection money" from the suits in the corporation Farrans to the gangster like paramilitaries, all of whom at one stage or another threatened this country boy for doing his work. 

On one occasion, a Shankill Butcher signalled for him to look inside his jacket, where there was a gun. My dad, wondering out loud what the fuck he'd done, then being handed a bottle of Christmas whisky by the laughing murderer from the other inside pocket and soon afterwards taking a good few deep slugs from the bottle to calm his nerves. And on another occasion, an IRA volunteer being forced to apologise to him after he was threatened (dad went to the local commander who told him not to worry as he was helping build houses for the people, and the young guy was wrong to threaten him). 

There are other stories. Like the time he walked with a scared Catholic neighbour in to the Town when things were very threatening. Or the awful anonymous phone calls, the finding guns in houses he was helping renovate but being told to turn a blind eye...

And the love of football and his family. Working long hours, under threat like manys a worker at that time here, to own the blue Volkswagon Beetle FIJ 8797 with the eight track, Abba, Jim Reeves, Big Tom and the Maineliners, Susan McCann, Philomena Begley, and Charley Pride and the annual holiday to Blackpool we lived for... The best holidays we've ever had, including all of the luxury spa hotels, and foreign countries we've been to since. A worker with his life on the line in order to help bring up his two girls and his son. 

I spent manys a night standing behind curtains waiting, hoping to see the van arrive in. The troubles meant many spoiled dinners as he got caught up in traffic, and me, one eye on the TV news, worrying about ambushes and sectarian killings of workers... 

The pressures on him, and my mother must have been immense... But none of the worry was really passed on to us. Worries we had, but never spoke of as we became aware of the acceptable level of violence threatening and killing our friends and family. 
On a break from sitting beside the bed, I took a walk up the blustery hill, Daisy Hill I suppose, to the poignant places I photographed below. 

Within a few steps of each other, three tales of tragedy across the history of this windswept hill. Socialist volunteers under the Seven Stars. Paupers graves beside victims of Westminster's aristocratically enforced Irish famine. And I was really  saddened by the memorial to Michael Hughes, born in the same hospital I was;  only 16 when he was killed, fighting for freedom that was born in poverty enforced by a system that made him and his family second class citizens in this then very troubled border town. Eight years older than I was at that time. Denied a life, a family, loves, children, a place in the world. The "Troubles" were wicked, wasteful, dreadful times. Thank the seven stars for people like my dad and mum and Seamus Mallon.

{Northern Ireland's politics are stuck, painted and flap beside the roads...} 
{The citadel on the windy hill...} 

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