I wake at 6am and get an unusual knock on my bedroom door at 6.45am. Your driver’s hurr, no resh says the affable hotel manager. No-one ever knocks on your door for a wake up call any more. People don’t even call you on the phone to wake you up in the
morning. It’s normally an electronic computerized phone message. This is your 6.45am wake up call. I’m up ready and down the stairs in no time. I write a note to the owner of No Alibi’s the bookshop a couple of doors down from Madisons. I’ve known the owner for some years now. He’ll often offer me a cigar and a glass of whisky in the back of the shop. These days I take the cigar and hold the whisky. But there’s noone home.
Don’t worry I’ll drop it of for you says the driver. He’s in his early fifties a small strong,
powerful compact looking man, warm of spirit and relaxed. We get in the car. Clunk. Click. “I want to show you some of my friends” he says. We cross the Falls Road and he drives me straight to a housing estate in West Belfast. From then right though the morning I heard more story than you could fit into the news pages of a Sunday paper.
He takes me to The Murals, where many of his close friends and family are, hero’s of the republican movement who had died in the war, men and women all. He tells me the exact number of people that had died from this one small housing estate – it runs into thousands. A line from a poem of mine comes to mind – Everyone knows someone who has died/Cause everyone knows everyone.
Yesterday a delegation from America had come to discuss funding Northern
Ireland in the future – post troubles. Gordon Brown also came. He tells me the American delegation was stopped on their coach journey and thirty ex paramilitaries (not IRA but a splinter group) s marched into the middle of the road with new combat gear, RPG’s and right up to the date automatic weaponry. They wanted to show the Americans that the troubles could start again at any time he said they wanted to show that though they
had the maturity to find peace they were still prepared for war. They had been cheated out of peacebefore – not this time was the message.
The morning is still It’s good were here early, he says, you’d get mobbed by kids wanting their photo taken . He was a fighter himself and shows me his arm that took a bullet from the british army it was hanging off. The scar skates its way from his elbow to his forearm. I’m elated, wondering not why I am here but how much I love what I do. I’m seven years sober, he tells me. We in the IRA have a debrief. Anything I am talking
about I am allowed to talk about. It’s open now. And I know from that moment onwards I could trust him. There’s noone else here. He shows me the mural of the women who fought the British Army for the Repulbilcan. He shows me more and points out his family members, , killed in Action. These Murals are painted on the gable ends of semi detatched homes – they are now the art of the future. The dead are all over West Belfast. We Shall Not Forget, is the resounding message.
As we begin to leave for the airport the stories continue to unfold John Major was the only Prime Minister of England who would announce that he was coming to Northern Ireland he said. It was stupendously naïve and offensively arrogant. All other prime ministers, like Gordon Brown yesterday would never announce they were visiting Northern Ireland. There’s another airport here by Belfast international. The RAF airport. He continued. We planned, to the second, to blow up the plane. We had a builders truck which disguised the RPG. There is only one road to that airport directly in the flight path of planes coming from England. There it is. He shows me the road as we pass. We could watch the planes and identify exactly which p is the business. I was one of the people on this job he said. We knew when he was arriving and therefore we could identify the plane
On the way to the firing position we came across a car crash and tried to save a womans
life. She died. But we saved the lives of four other people in the other car. The police arrived and didn’t know what was in our car and what we were about to do. The plan was aborted. The Prime Minister John Major will never know how close he came to death. I realised the man driving me to the airport was not just any driver – in fact, he wasn’t a driver at all and that it was no accident that in the forty minutes that I had been in the car I had heard so much.
We spoke for a long time about the struggle and he told me that festivals, arts
festivals were used to connect with other people around the world – Cuba, South Africa and the like and that information ideas and strategies were worked out at these meeting points. It made me proud to be the artist I am and reminded me that I recently had an enquiry from Cape Town, in another country I love. Next time you come, he says, I’ll take you to see Lucas. Lucas is the most famous gunman of the republican movement. He killed every man he shot at. The security services could tell a hit by Lucas. He was jailed but freed as part of the peace agreement. He asks me for the note and says he will drop it off at No Alibi’s. We shake hands and I am dropped at the airport for 8.30am.
I’m wearing my Obama for President T Shirt. Northern Ireland is clearly Clinton Country. In Los Angeles recently I was told that the last time America was so excited at the presence of a prospective president was when JFK ran. Kennedy like Clinton is of Irish heritage. A couple of mothers are slowly getting sozzled. They’re visiting Cambridge to see arrr son graduate. I sit back and read the Belfast Telegraph Gordon Brown’s their for the Americans and so’s Bloomberg the previous Mayor of New York with Secereatary of State Shaun Woodward. There’s a headline Mayor of New York sees how peace is bringing new hope.
But on page 2 BLAZE RUINS THE HUMBLE COTTAGE WHERE A PRESIDENTS FAMILY LIVED. Fire Ripped through the homestead of a former US president yesterday, once owned by Woodrow Wilson. The visitor attraction attracted American Toursits like moths to a flame. The visitor attraction has caught fire. Now there’s a coincidence.