The priest entered the cell. He raised his hand in a blessing and murmured a greeting as the young man got to his feet.

Thank you for coming Father. I know it is a bit irregular, but I really need to talk to someone.’

They said you asked to see a counselor. How may I help you, my son?’

‘Where shall I begin, Father. You’ll have seen the headlines: “Hero to Villain. Terrorist consoles Victim.” “I.R.A. Bomber views his Deadly Work-” “Caught. At the scene of the crime”. It all depends on the paper you read. Perhaps I had better give you my background.

‘My name is Patrick (Paddy) O’Finucane. I was brought up a rebel. My great-grandfather was hanged during the troubles in I9I6. My grandfather was beaten to death by the Black and Tans in the twenties. My father died with my brother in Derry. And I, God save me, was raised in the family tradition – Free Ireland from the Saxon foe.

‘My mother, God bless her, did her best to keep me out of danger but she had lost a husband and a son, did I tell you of my brother? and wanted to keep me as a child as long as she could.

‘I’ll get to the beginning of the matter. It was my first mission and The Major, I’ll name no names, his minder and I were lying in wait. It was dawn, and we had been there the best part of the night. We were lying in wait for the morning border patrol. The packet of Semtex— surprisingly small—was hidden in the culvert under the road. A radio controlled detonator awaiting our signal, the deceptively innocuous remote control, looking like VCR gadget hung casually in the hands of the Major,

‘”Paddy”, said he, “Seeing as this is your first active service, I think I will allow you to do the honours. This is your opportunity to strike a blow for Ireland. When the armoured car reaches the culvert, in line with that tree, you press the button. Understand?”

‘And I, God save me, said yes.

‘The dawn light snuck up on us. Have you noticed that about the dawn? It is not like a sunset, flamboyant and dramatic. It creeps up, on you, chill and silent. Then, in the tiny copse that concealed us, the birds burst into their morning song as though orchestrated; the horse whickered, and chain-smoking Danny ground another butt into the ground. “They are coming,’ said the Major.

‘The Tinkertoy armoured car crept along the neat little lane in the valley below us, a tiny figure waist high in the turret He’ll be enjoying the breeze in his face. I thought. The Major handed me the shiny plastic box with its deadly button. “It’s time, he said.

‘And then?’ The priest asked as Paddy paused and gulped.

‘The men from the helicopter found me down there, tears flowing down my face as I sat on the ground beside the dying man, holding his hand. His grip was so tight that they had to pry his hand loose before they could put him on the stretcher.

‘They were kind to me at that stage, calling me a hero; thanking me for my attempts at first aid. I had bound the stump of his leg with my shirt. I was no stranger to them, they said, they had seen me riding my horse each morning for the past couple of weeks- ‘The Dawn Rider’ they had called me- “It’s a good thing you were nearby!” They said.

“A Good Thing!‘’ Christ in Heaven! They patted me on the shoulder and the young officer, scarcely older than myself, gave me a swig from his leather-covered hip flask with its silver cup. They left me sitting alone as they busied themselves, checking the wreckage, gagging at the stench of death from the smouldering remains of the armoured car. The wounded man was long gone when the others came: The S.A.S. captain, the R.U.C. Inspector, half a dozen red capped Military Police, and a saturnine civilian in a trench coat. I was to get to know him very well in the near future.

‘I told them the prepared story, Father, but to you, I’ll stick to the truth. From the time I pressed the button my life has changed. It’s as though reality itself has taken off a mask, or put one on!

‘Am I the same lad who set out that morning with his head stuffed full of patriotism, swearing to strike a blow for Ireland, to avenge a grandfather, a father, and a brother? I really don’t know Father. But I’ll carry on with the story-

‘I pressed the button! It was like something in the movies. The little car rose into the air; earth from the culvert, bitumen from the road, seemed to liquefy and splash outwards like water from a puddle. And all in utter silence. The boom, when it came, was late. Already the wreckage was falling to earth. “Good Work lads’.” said the Major. “We’ll be going now. Good luck, Paddy, Remember your story. We depend on you.” And they were off, moving fast along the hedgerows, heading for the border and the car. I mounted the horse.

‘I’m a city boy, Father, and I don’t know much about horses but that was something I wasn’t prepared to admit while we were making the plans. It’s an article of faith for Irishmen to consider themselves born horsemen. So it was decided that I was to take my holidays on a farm near the border. I was to ride every morning and note the time of the patrols. Admittedly they appeared to be random, but a pattern soon emerged. After that, it was a simple matter to place the explosive during the night before the next dawn patrol. The flat packet of plastic explosive was light and easily manageable and it was just a matter of arranging it so that its force would be concentrated beneath the single bitumen strip that made this country lane a road.

‘I mounted the horse. I swear to you Father, that was an Orange horse! A narrow-minded, self-opinionated, Protestant Cromwell of a horse! It was a farm horse, more used to pulling a plough or a cart, but like all the horses of the neighbourhood it had to double as a riding beast when the situation called for it. I think it preferred the plough. It was a creature of habit.

‘I had intended to make a broad sweep round the scene of the action, coming back to the farm from the North, but the horse would have none of it. For the past two weeks, it had always, returned home via the valley road and today was to be no different. I sawed at the bit but its leather mouth was too tough for my amateur efforts. I had never driven anything that had refused to obey the steering wheel and the horse just continued on its way at a half trot, eager for home and its breakfast. It lumbered down the hill to the road and turned, heading inevitably

towards the carnage. It was moving fast now and as we rounded the slight bend we were upon tire wreckage. The horse stopped suddenly and shied, throwing me to the ground. Its nostrils flaring, it sidled away making sounds of distress.

‘They were not the only sounds of distress. “Help me! For God’s sake help me!” There, in front of the smoking shattered scout-car, lay a man – lay part of a man. From the waist down he was a horror. One leg was completely missing below the knee, the other shattered and askew. He seemed to have abdominal injuries too but the filthy bloodstained rags that remained hid the worst of them. By contrast, his upper body was immaculate, the tie neatly tied the lapels pressed, the bright new second lieutenant’s star gleaming on his epaulet. The young face was streaked with tears and his eyes pools of terror.

‘A sudden spasm cramped my stomach and I was drenched in cold sweat. I was frozen to the spot for what seemed an eternity as I tried to deny the evidence of my eyes. Ten seconds? Two minutes. And then a weird calm descended on me-I became a machine logical, practical, efficient. I tore up my shirt and bandaged the worst of his wounds. I placed my jacket beneath his head. I spoke soothingly to him, sitting beside him on the ground, holding his hand. I was sitting there with him still when the helicopter landed in the field beside us, and armed soldiers, poured out, shouting and swearing.

‘As I said Father, they were nice to me at first. Later, back here in Belfast, they questioned me for hours. Things still seemed to be going well, but then their tone changed.

‘I heard later that search parties had found fresh horse manure in the copse. Nearby were fifteen cigarette butts ground into the leaf mould. Broken twigs revealed our hiding place. I denied everything for, the sake of the others, Father, but I think perhaps they have got me. Tell me Father- Am I a murderer? Or am I a soldier who killed the enemy as I had sworn to do? I am deeply troubled.’

The black-clad figure spoke reassuringly to the young man for some minutes. Then he left the cell. He was conducted to an office where the dark browed man was waiting.

The Intelligence officer looked across at the saturnine man “We’ve GOT him’.” he triumphed, taking off his clerical collar, exposing the Wire. Now we will edit the tape.”

The End

 

H. St. Vincent Beechey 1991