Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Chapter 9

One December night, Casey went to a pub with Neil for drinks. It was wet and cold but still warmer than Cincinnati for the time of year. Casey had not thought much about his life there during his first few weeks on the Emerald Isle, but the dampness of the air reminded him just how much he hated those winters, and he was grateful it was no colder than it was. Still, his friends were there, if he could count Sidney and A.J. as friends.

Neil sensed a bit of homesickness in Casey, even though it was not until later in the night when Casey realized it and admitted it. He kind of missed the parties with the ballplayers. He missed Marin. He definitely missed baseball. And he missed Anne.

“Do they play baseball in Ireland?” Casey asked Neil.

“Baseball in Ireland? No. We don’t play anything that requires throwing anything other than a punch.”

“Ah, yes, we do have baseball in Ireland,” the bartender interrupted.

“What are you talking about, mate? I’ve never seen anyone play baseball.”

“It’s been here since the nineties. We even took a bronze in the European Pool B Championships a few years ago.”

“There’s a European baseball championship?” Casey asked rather incredulously.

“Aye, and some of the teams made it to the World Baseball Classic last year.”

Netherlands and Italy.”


“Did you watch it?”

“Of course. I love baseball. I lived in New York for a few years and watched the Mets play.”

“At least it was the Mets and not the Yankees. I’m a Reds fan.”

“You still must be basking in the glory.”

They chatted a bit more about the game before the bartender had to attend to other customers. Small world, or were small things simply getting bigger? As the Guinness flowed, the conversation between Casey and Neil grew more serious. Casey found himself telling Neil about his time in Iraq. Neil took the Iraqi side, which Casey could not really argue with, and then, Neil made a startling confession. At least to Casey.

“I’m a Republican.”

“Well, I tend to vote Democrat, but that’s ok.”

“No, not American politics. Irish. I’m a Republican. I was a member of the Irish Republican Army in the seventies and eighties. I vote Sinn Fein.”

“IRA?” Casey’s eyes grew wide. “You’re a terrorist?”

“One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Can you think of any country who only go independence for three-fourths of it while the colonial occupiers kept the other fourth?”

“Well, no, but the IRA kills innocent civilians!”

“And the British government does not? Do you honestly believe that just because one side wears uniforms, their form of terrorism is legitimate?”

“I really don’t know a lot about the conflict. I would tend to blame the British more, though, because of all the other atrocities they’ve committed across the globe.”

“Well said,” the bartender called out from the other side of the bar.

“He’s listening,” Casey whispered to Neil.

“Relax. This is a Republican pub you’re in.”

“What? All of these men are in the IRA?”

“Or were, until the peace came, until our leaders sold us out, made all of the decades of fighting a waste.”

“You don’t think it’s better that people aren’t getting blown up or shot down every day?”

“When you put it that way…you ought to go up to Belfast sometime, see the price of ‘peace.’ It’s only a matter of time before the place explodes again. All they’ve done is put more barbed wire up and fenced in the hatred. But we all know that fences are easily torn down.”

What was it about Casey that attracted him to mobsters and shady characters? Must have been in his blood, for it was certainly in his cousin’s.

“Casey, let me tell you something. Our family has been Republican since the United Irishmen were formed not long after the yanks gained their independence. Our great great great grandfather was a friend of Robert Emmet’s. Your family was involved in the 1848 rebellion and fled to America to protect themselves from the British, not because they were starving. My own grandfather spent ten years rotting in a British prison cell. You’re one of us, mate. You’re one of us.”

A Guinness fog had crept into Casey’s brain, and in the morning, he had only vague recollections of the conversation. Still, the little rebellious streak in him took some pleasure in knowing that his family had fought against injustice and for independence and had been rebels themselves. He decided to go to Belfast, so he packed a bag and went to Connolly Station, boarding the next train to the city of such conflict.

When Casey was growing up in the eighties, places like Belfast and Beirut were synonymous with war. Casey was not sure he knew the difference between the two, only knew an explosion a day kept the peace away. He never understood how of why America was involved in either of the two conflicts, but he was definitely aware of the involvement. Young Casey had wondered why the US seemed to be mired in perpetual warfare throughout his childhood and most of his adult life. Why did Americans feel the need to always have an enemy?

He expected to find a city that looked like Baghdad, with bombed out buildings, walls full of bullet holds, and a fear so pervasive that people did not want to leave their houses. What he found was quite the opposite, a bustling urban center with towering cranes symbolic of economic development, well-tailored skirts and suits going to meetings and coming from deals, money changing hands and turning a war torn town into a fashionable city, a hip place where things happen and people go to see and be seen. So this is what peace is like, Casey thought, no matter how fragile the peace. Seems like the Arabs and Israelis could take page from the book of Belfast, and the Sunnis and Shiites, too. And Sudan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Myanmar…so many conflicts, purposeless bitterness, tragedies. Strange how this is not considered an Irish town, he thought. Certainly looks Irish. The people do look a bit more tense, more suspicious, maybe it’s my imagination. Architecture’s the same, though. Guinness served everywhere.

Casey made his way to The Falls, the part of town that housed the Irish, the Republicans, the rebels, those who won’t let go, thugs. Murals still adorned the walls, murals of famous rebels, of militia logos, of symbols of the four provinces. Green and orange flags flew from every house, hung in windows and cars like they were preparing for a sporting event. Prosperity had not visited this part of Belfast. He walked through the neighborhood unaware of the danger the area presented. The few people he passed on the streets frowned at him, tried to turn his soul black. He looked at them through his lens. Their souls were black, crumbling like rocks from a cliff, too far gone to be saved from their own hatred. As he was snapping a photo of a flag lined street, he felt a hand on his shoulder, a tense hand, ready to rip his arm off at any moment.

“What the fuck are you photographing?”

“Um, just the flags.”

“Oh, another fucking yank who thinks this place is some zoo for your amusement, we’re just animals for your fucking photobooks. Give me your fucking camera.”

“Are you robbing me?”

“What does it look life, you bloody moron?”

“You can’t rob me, you don’t know who I am.”

“Do I look like I give a fuck who you are? Just give me the fucking camera.”



“I said no.” The man was speechless. “Take me to O’Hagan.” It was worth a shot to name drop just to save the camera and maybe himself.

“O’Hagan? What would O’Hagan have to do with you?”

“Name’s Casey O’Hagan. I want to see my cousin.”

“Jaysus, another fucking yank looking for his long lost relatives. We don’t want you here. Now Give me the fucking camera!” The man’s face was turning red, but Casey guessed that if he were serious about the camera, he would have already attacked him by now.

“Take me to O’Hagan now, you fucking Paddy! How dare you interfere with matters of business!”

Another man approached him.

“Seamus, what’s going on here?”

“Fucking yank’s causing problems.”

“He’s trying to rob me.”

“What do you expect wandering in these parts with a bloody camera?” the newcomer said.

“Yank says he wants to see O’Hagan,” the man called Seamus said.

“What? Are you Casey?”

“Um, yeah. How’d you know?”

“Talked to Neil this morning. Said you two went out for a pint last night and you told him you were coming to Belfast today. Told me to keep an eye out for you, you’d be likely to wander into trouble.”

“He said that?”

“Well, you have, now, haven’t ya?”

“I guess so.”

“So you’re gonna meet your cousin Padraig?”

“Am I?”

“You were looking for ‘im.”

“I wasn’t really. I didn’t know I had a cousin here. Or maybe Neil told me and I forgot, I don’t know. I just dropped the name to get this jackass off my back.” A throbbing vein stuck out of Seamus’ forehead.

“Ahh, so you aren’t as dumb as you look wandering around these parts. Come on, I’ll introduce you to Padraig. He’s Neil’s brother. You can meet the parents later.”

“His parents are here, too?”


“So why does Neil live in Dublin?”

“Had to leave because he fell for a Protestant girl. In the old days, they’d have killed him for it. Now though, they just shame you into leaving.”

“Wow, he didn’t tell me that. Or maybe he did and I just don’t remember.”

“One would think a story like that’d be memorable enough for ya.”

“Oh, well, I think I drank a keg of Guinness last night, maybe the whole brewery.”

“Yanks,” he replied shaking his head with a smile. “Seamus, go find better ways to spend your time than robbing people. I have my eye on you.” Seamus grumbled and walked off. The two of them started to walk in the other direction.

“So are you a cop?” Casey asked.

“Cop? Jaysus, no. We police ourselves around here. Can’t trust the pissers. They pretty much leave us alone, at least the smart ones. We have our own system of justice around here.”

“Interesting. You’d think there’d be cops all over around here.”

“Oh no. We’ve had enough occupation.” They came to the end of the street. A ten foot white and green wall ran the length of the neighborhood like Berlin. A building on the other side flew the Union Jack.

“I didn’t realize the neighborhoods were this close.”

“Ah yeah, the ‘peace’ wall. Over there’s Shankill. We’re all living in fortresses around here. At least the wall keeps those British scum from coming into our neighborhood.”

“Why not just learn to get along?” Casey asked, half serious.

“Are you crazy? Those lowlife maggots are a waste of the inferior British flesh that covers their delightfully breakable bones.”

“You sound just like a Shia man I had a conversation with in Iraq.”

“You were in Iraq?”

“Three times.”

“Your country is the new empire, you know.”

“Don’t think I support that war.”

“Never claimed you did.”

“What’s your name, anyway?”

“Sorry, should have properly introduced myself. Name’s Charles, after Parnell.”


“Mate, you’re going to have to learn your Irish history. It’s your history, too.”

“I’ll have to pick up a book.”

They came to a house without an Irish flag and went up to the front door.

“This is Padraig’s house. You’re wondering where’s the flag?”


“Me too.” He knocked and a poster child for the Irish race answered the door.

“Padraig, meet your yank cousin, Casey.”

“Ah, Casey, nice to meet you. Neil told me you’d be visiting our lovely town of Belfast. Come in. Can I get you a cuppa?”

“A cuppa?”

“Coffee, tea…”

“Oh, cup of. Sure, I’ll have some coffee with a bit of milk.” Charles and Casey moved into a room that resembled a museum of Irish history while Padraig went to get the coffee. There were flags and banners hanging from the walls, guns and medals under glass cases, a framed copy of the Irish Proclamation, some antique tables, and even the orange and green pillows on the couch seemed to have some historical significance. This was another movie Casey found himself in, a different sort of mobster movie, one with such thick accents that Casey felt he needed subtitles. Padraig returned with a tray and three cups.

“Where’s the tricolors?” Charles asked him.

“Being cleaned. So, Casey, what brings you to Belfast. Simple curiosity?”

“Yeah. I want to see as much of Ireland as I can.”

“Why’d you leave the States?”

“Just to get away for awhile.”

“Ah, a girl, is it?”

“How do you paddies know these things?”

He laughed and then said, “So how’s your family?” The intuitive Padraig realized immediately from the look on Casey’s face that he should not have asked the questions. “Jaysus, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…”

“It’s ok, you couldn’t know. Both my parents passed away years ago, my father from prostate cancer, my mother from breast cancer soon after him.”

“Two cancers, eh? You better take care of yourself. It’s hereditary, you know? Drink makes it worse.”

“I’m aware.”

“So, where in the States are ya from?”

Cincinnati, Ohio.”

“Is that where they make the soap?”


“You know, soap, like Ivory.”

“Oh. You mean Proctor and Gamble?”

“Aye, that’s the one.”

“They don’t make things in Cincy anymore – jobs moved elsewhere. It’s just the headquarters now. But I’m impressed you recognized it.”

He leaned in. “Ah, well, I have a bit of a habit in reading the labels on products. Gotta know what you’re putting on yourself, you know?”

Casey laughed, then said, “You know, I expected you IRA types to have dead eyes and no souls. That’s what they teach us in the States, anyway.”

“You do realize the IRA is no longer involved in violent activity? It’s those bloody splinter groups that cause the trouble. They’re just a bunch of thugs who have gotten into drug trafficking and the like, nothing but common criminals. Their existence is rubbish, and most of us won’t have anything to do with them.”

“We think that Seamus is involved with them,” Charles interjected.

“You know Seamus?” Padraig asked Casey.

“He tried to rob me.”

Padraig turned to Charles. “We’re gonna have to do something about him. He’s getting into too much trouble.”

“I gave him a warning today.”

“Ok, but next time…”

Casey shuddered to think about what would happen to Seamus, even if he had tried to rob him and take away his lens, his window to the soul of the world.

“Hey, listen, would you mind if I take some photos of you in this room. For my personal collection is all. No one else would see them.” The two of them pondered the request for a minute before agreeing. What Casey saw in them surprised him. He had expected to find hatred and blackness, but instead he saw pain and loss in their weathered faces. He also saw traces of healing. There was also anger, both stale and fresh anger, but these were not evil men. They were simply men.

After the photos and a bit more chatter, Casey said his goodbyes and began to leave.

“Wait,” Padraig said as he was heading out the door. “How long you in Belfast?”

“I figure I’ll spend all day tomorrow and leave in the afternoon on the next day.”

“Would you be interested in a tour tomorrow morning? I can drive you all over, except for the unionist places, of course. I know the history pretty well. Might be worth your while.”

“Yeah, sure, that’d be great.” The plans were made, and Casey headed back to the city centre for a bite to eat, but not before snapping a few more photos of the Republican neighborhood, a symbol of what division can do for a people. Casey had a lot to learn.

The hotel in which he was staying was just outside the city center where there was not a plethora of restaurants. His mood and his weariness kept him from venturing too far from the hotel for dinner, leaving a limited choice in restaurants to eat in. There was a sports bar down the street – he’d grab some dinner, take a nap, and then see if he felt like going out later. The bar was an American style sports bar with walls adorned by various pieces of American sports memorabilia, including baseball items. He smiled at this little piece of home. The menu was a bit ridiculous, as the dishes were named after sports teams that were mostly unrelated to the food. He scoured the list in amusement and knew what he would order as soon as he saw it – Cincinnati Reds.

It was a pasta dish with a meat sauce, probably intending to resemble Cincinnati chili. Problem was, they forgot the flavor. The dish was almost too bland to eat, and Casey even tried pouring a little Guinness over it for some taste, but that failed. There was no helping this dish. It was the novelty of the name that saved the experience from receiving the “terrible” label, an experience only the circumstances of his life could appreciate. He wrote it down in a notebook back in his hotel room so he would not forget. He wrote about the whole day’s adventures and then went to bed, foregoing any night out to combat his loneliness. He did not need to, for he had family he would be seeing in the morning. Just a few short weeks ago he had had no family, and it was nice to know he did have some out there, even if they were associated with a group on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. They did not seem like monsters.

Padraig was prompt, Casey was not, as the telephone announcing his cousin’s arrival woke Casey. At least he had learned how to get ready quickly during his time spent in the Army, so Padraig did not have to wait too long. They saw Belfast Castle, City Hall, Queen’s University, Stormont Parliament in addition to various churches (the Catholic ones), war memorials (the Irish ones), and architectural gems across the city. After several hours of sightseeing, Padraig suggested they grab some lunch.

“Yeah, I’m famished,” Casey said.

“We’ll go for a bite at O’Neill’s. They’re friends there.” Friends meaning Republicans. Neil stuffed his car into a parking space in front of an Irish pub, a space that should have been too small for the car. He grinned at Casey’s wide eyes as they hit not so lightly the cars in front and behind. “That’s what a bumper’s for, you see.”

“Don’t you have parking lots?”


“Parking lots.” A blank stare. “You know, big lots to park your cars.”

“Oh, you mean carparks?”

“Carparks, is that what you call them here?”

“Makes sense, fewer letters. Besides, this space is grand.”

“I guess,” Casey replied as he stepped out of the car and checked for damage to the others.

“Relax, people don’t worship these machines like you Americans do. They’re just piles of metal with a bit of paint, not golden calves.”

Entering O’Neill’s, Casey could see this pub was no different than any pub in Dublin except for the excessive display of flags, hanging as if they were what made the place Irish, as if the portraits of Joyce and Wilde, the hurling sticks, and the harps that lined the walls did not give it away.

“You don’t mind eating in a Republican pub, do you?”

“No. I’ve been to them in Dublin with Neil.”

“You sure the CIA won’t arrest you for consorting with terrorists?” Padraig asked with a toothy grin.

“These days, one never knows,” Casey replied in all seriousness.

Padraig knew everyone in the pub and introduced his yank cousin with a hint of unwarranted pride. They ordered their lunches and a couple of pints, and Padraig immediately began to talk about subjects that seemed too serious to discuss with strangers.

“So, have you ever killed anyone?” he asked. Casey was taken aback. “In the war, I mean.”

“Um, well, that’s what happens in war.”

“Yeah, me too.”

“What war did you fight in?”

“The one against the Brits, of course.”

“A war against the British? You mean the conflict here in Northern Ireland?”

“It’s a war, mate. Guns and bombs, people dying.”

“But…” Casey wanted to explain why this conflict could not be a war, but he could think of no good reason it was not. These people had been fighting for their independence, after all. Just because the British government defined it as criminal activity and murder did not make it less than a war. Besides, why was government sanctioned killing not considered murder? “I guess I haven’t thought of it that way.”

“Government propaganda can do that for you.” He looked around the room for no real reason. “I hated it, you know, this war. The Brits have painted us Paddies as cold-blooded murderers, but there was a reason, an end. Most of us hated it. We cringe when we have to pull triggers. I should say cringed. It’s all in the past now, at least for the time being. They were supposed to give us a voice in the government, but Stormont has been wracked with problems. Why should we have to disarm if they won’t? Still, things are so different now. To tell you the truth, I grew so tired of it all. I’m fifty years old, I’ve been fighting my entire life. I don’t want to do it anymore.”

“But you don’t have to, right?” He released a chilling silence into the air, an indicator of something Casey desperately wanted to ignore. That silence sat with him for the rest of his time with Padraig, even through conversations about less serious topics, and he carried worry with him back to Dublin the next day and the days after that.

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