Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Touched by an Explosion
The Republican Plot at St. Finbarr's Cemetery, Cork
It was 1961 in Cork City. Life was very peaceful. There was an enormous pride in one of our own, John F. Kennedy, being President of the U.S.
I had been to a dance at the university with a boyfriend. We were both very young but very much into the bands of the era who would play all the favourites, the rock ‘n roll, the slow dances, the fox trots, the jiving. Dancing was really big then. You could go to a dance every night in Cork. There was an innocence to us all.
I hadn’t even heard of drugs and I wasn’t what you would call sheltered either as I was involved in theatre and folk-singing so if there were some drugs around I would have been offered them.
Alternative life-styles were so far removed from me that it came as an awful shock when a very famous female singer propositioned me. I had read of lesbians but had never known any.
I'm mentioning all of this to show how very uncomplicated and naive I was.
In those days, after eleven at night there were no buses and as we were always broke, no money for cabs either so we would walk home. Often a boyfriend lived at the other side of the city but he would walk a girlfriend home and then walk all the way back to his place. Kisses were the most on offer then. French kisses if you were going steady.
So B and I walked along after the dance, holding hands, talking. As we turned a corner of the road, nearing the cemetery, always a very lonely, eerie place at that hour of the night, the world seemed to explode and the ground trembled. B pulled me against a wall and we were both paralysed for what seemed like hours. Everything went still and we didn’t move until we heard the sounds of sirens in the distance. Then we cautiously moved away from the wall, not exchanging a word, and slowly walked along the Glasheen road towards the graveyard.
The explosion had come from the cemetery, that was immediately clear. Just inside the huge gates. There was smoke and blood and body limbs everywhere, it seemed. And a dreadful, unforgettable smell. The Gardai - the Irish police - arrived and quickly took control of the situation, cordoning off the graveyard and shunting B & I and what was now a sizeable gathering off to the side and briefly taking notes from each of us on what had happened.
We didn’t want to hang around. I was in shock, shaking badly and nauseated. We woke my parents up when we got home though it was by that time two o’clock in the morning.
My mother gave both of us a shot of brandy, the cure-all for shock in those days and then B went home.
The following morning the Cork Examiner had the headline. It was an IRA engineered “shock and awe” effort that had gone horribly wrong. An offensive monument was the target for the IRA operatives but instead they had blown themselves up, leaving the monument virtually intact.
The incident still haunts some of my dreams, another minute and we would have been injured, or dead that night.
But more than that, when I think of Iraqis and the constant barrage of explosions and gunfire, every hour, every day as they move about their lives, my heart sympathizes. I was there. If only for a minute in time.