I had been working for some months in a large geological services company based in North Wales, and we were both growing rather tired of each other, even after such a short period of time. It therefore came as some relief to all concerned that I was offered the chance to do research in Western Ireland.
I had always been intrigued by Ireland, and although I was told by my parents that I had visited the place, I had no real memory that I could definitively assign as Irish. At school in Liverpool the word Irish was used as an adjective to describe anything that was topsy-turvy or back to front, or did not function properly. No doubt many of my pals took their lead from parents who read certain tabloid newspapers in which such sentiments were commonplace at one time. Nevertheless, it was odd to hear somebody who’s name was Murphy describe a pen, or some other mechanical device, as Irish simply because it did not work.
I’m pleased to say that nowadays such adjectives have fallen out of common usage, at least amongst the circles in which I move. No doubt the same tabloids who promulgated the use of the term will claim credit for ridding it from our language.
My arrival must have been treated with some suspicion by many of the locals, who observed me walking over the mountains carrying a rucksack and maps. Some may even taken me for a British spy; the troubles in Northern Ireland were on-going at the time, with no hint of the resolution to come.
It was therefore lucky that I was befriended by my landlord, Dougal, who also ran a pub in the local village. I have no doubt that Dougal had more than a passing acquaintance with the men of the IRA. He was a member of Sin Fein and his own father, who I toasted with the local poteen on the event of his death, was reputed to have been an active member of the IRA in the twenties.
Many of the local fishermen would gather in Dougal’s bar, and I got to know some of them well, at least by face; I could rarely understand what they actually said, but every other word was “feck”.
On one night a man came rushing into the bar and declared in a lyrical patois, beyond my immediate linguistic grasp, that the bailiffs had arrived and confiscated a man’s Curragh and nets. The other men in the bar jumped up, agitated. One of them turned to me and asked if “I wanted to join them down the quay for the fun.” Shaking my head I told him that I had a lot of work to do and was heading for an early night. Then I watched them leave in a squeal of tyres and a cloud of dust.
I later learned that they had locked the bailiffs in their car and were in the process of bouncing it off the end of the pier when the local Garda arrived bristling with guns and blue lights.