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.


  1. That was a very lucky escape, www. That was one of the appalling things about all the bombings, how they so often went wrong and blew up the bombers or blew up completely innocent people. And yes, I can't imagine what it's like for the Iraqis, having to live with that sort of risk every minute of every day. What sort of life is that?

  2. Hi Wise,

    This is a very moving story - thank you for sharing it. I was right there with you!!

    I haven't seen as much as you ... just tear gas and such from the '60s here and other stuff ...

    But when I hear and see the Iraquis I too take it very personally.

    Thank you!
    ~ Diane Clancy

  3. I know - I have been in a very bad fire and been too close to a few others ... that is part of what gets triggered for me.

    ~ Diane Clancy

  4. I have heard explosions over the years here in Northern Ireland, but thankfully I was never that close.

    I know several families who lost loved ones or were injured and the scars never go away.

  5. oh my gosh. you were so close. i can imagine that would shock you right out of your girlhood and propel you right into adulthood.

    and your observation about iraq is apt, except they have never been as innocent as you were. they have never been allowed to be.

  6. Yes, after reading your story, I can imagine that being an Iraqi these days is a very traumatic thing. It must be awful to live under that constant threat. Aren't I blessed to live in this 'civilized' little country. Terrorism is still far away.

  7. Nick:
    Yes, the collateral damage thing. I feel very lucky.
    Welcome! Having been close to death makes us more aware of the pain and suffering of other citizens in war torn countries.
    It needs to end.
    Yes I read one post of yours about loss through this kind of tragedy. As you say the scar never go away. I couldn't talk about that night for years and years.
    How much has been stolen from the Iraqis, I see those little children with the haunted eyes. No child EVER should have to live like that.
    Yes we are so blessed living in freedom, falling asleep, making dinner. Silence and birdsong. I am grateful for the small things today.

  8. www, as from today there's at least one more little (nine year old) Iraqi lad named Ali who won't have to live through anything - ever again.

  9. Richard:
    I just visited and was sickened by this murder.

  10. Yes very moving. I like too your description of being at a university dance, which took me back to my university days. Can I ask whether there was something particular which prompted you to write this. I only ask because I was on the Edgeware Rd train on 7/7. It was hearing a song about it two and a half years later that got me to remember.

  11. There were some terrible atrocities done by both sides in the Irish 'troubles'. They should never be diminished, yet must surely pale into insignificance alongside the more concentrated evil invented by men's minds, in Iraq. As you rightly point out, the horror of that incident in Cork was only a minute in time, yet left scars for life. How can we begin to imagine what it is like when those 'minutes in time' go on and on without end?

  12. OF:
    I had buried it pretty deeply until seeing a series of slides of young Iraqis, some as young as toddlers, horribly maimed, brought it all to the surface so that I could re-live it all again and feel that incredible vulnerability. And weep.
    You know what I'm talking about, no doubt.
    You were very blessed too. Were you injured physically?

  13. RJA:
    I think the enormity hinders understanding.
    Rwanda, Darfur,Iraq.
    We understand the "small" (in scope) better.
    9/11, 7/7, Bloody Sunday, Omagh.
    It engages us as Hiroshima can't.

  14. WWW
    WWW - I was OK. I was in the carriage back from the explosion. The walking wounded came through and there were cries from others, but it was dark and very little to see. I didn't realise it had been a bomb till later. The line given out for the first hour or so was that it was a crash caused by a power surge. Confusion and fear is my strongest impression.

  15. “In those days, after eleven at night there were no buses…”

    Wisewebwoman, I’ve news for you: things haven’t changed over here! We’ve still got a crap public transport system. After 11pm its taxis - and being stuck at 3am trying to find a taxi in this place is not fun (drinking and driving has thankfully gone out of fashion). As for violence, I think it’s a lot easier when you’re young to deal with events like this going on around you. I was born in 1980 and when I was growing up didn’t find anything particularly odd about shootings, bombings, the Brits searching the family car, etc. It wasn’t until after the ceasefire that I really came to realise this isn’t the ways things are done. I can’t see Iraq’s troubles lasting as long as ours, if only for the fact that the violence is much more concentrated. Low intensity conflicts like Ireland, the Basque Country, Israel/Palestine, etc tend to be more prolonged. I hope I’m right.

  16. I was working in Paddigton in London during the 80's when the IRA were prolific in their bombing campaigns. Oxford street was where we would walk to to go shopping at lunch times. We had bombs go off on a regular basis. We were terrified at first as many of us had lucky escapes, i.e. I had just got back to the office when a bomb went off in a shop that I had just bought an outfit in. The sound of the almost weekly bombs was sickening but in time we became used to it and almost blase as we all knuckled down and refused to be cowed by the terrorists. Hyde Park was right next to our office and we had the long windows open on a fab summers day when we heard the loudest bomb of all that shook our building too. We all dived under or desks but we were lucky. IT was July 1982 and the IRA bombed the Household Cavalry whilst it was on it's way to Buckingham Palace. Sefton the horse survived and became a household name and somethig of an icon to survival.

    I can empathise with your ordeal but I never saw any bloodhsed close up. For that I am thankful.

  17. MOB - I remember the Household Cavalry bomb. I was working in Government Offices in Victoria at the time. The sound of the explosion was something I had not experienced before. It wasn't the sort of clear, hard bang you get from, say, a firework on 5 November, but a dull, flat heavy thud that seemed to compress the air. Fearful and strange.

  18. MOB & OF:
    By that time I had emigrated to Canada and whilst I knew of the terrorist activity by the IRA I had no details.
    I like the story of Sefton.
    No one should ever have to live under these conditions.

  19. I'm an American and I'm horrified at what has been perpetrated in my country's name. I was a medic in Vietnam. My generation was lied to then and the current generation is lied to now. We lost 58000+ lives in Vietnam, in many cases the best and brightest of us all and I knew many of them; I wrapped them in their ponchos and helped carry them to the helicopter that led to their going home eventually in a nice silver casket. The untold dead Vietnamese still weighs on me. I was horrified then and I'm horrified now at the loss of lives on both sides of this shitty war. I wish I could stand on a large enough dais so the I could apologize to the world for the conduct of my government. I can't but I do what I can.There are many like me in the US but not enough. And we aren't really listened to. And that is the pity of this country of mine nowm

    Beau in Seattle.

  20. Beau:
    I am heartened by the U.S. citizens like your good self who are so sickened by what is going on in your name and on your dime.
    You may have seen the following site:
    which was spun off into a book and the world responded. some of the messages are quite powerful.
    Having experienced the carnage once it must be so difficult for you to see it again.


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