“A pause that refreshes
could serve to re-stir some
moldering green stew.”
“Cos no foul deeds go bleedin’ unpunished, ’tis why…”
“O’ Jaysus, here’s t’ poor Dan’l McCooey—waz inn’cent as the dayz long, alrigh…”
“T’was like kin—butta mere chil’, an’ the limey eegits beat ’im to a pulp in ’iz own hometown. Itz bin goin’ on abou’ a year now, don’tcha know—cheeses me off like the way the’ treatin’ who the’ call our Irish prisoners o’ war.”
Shaken and stirred, needed a break in the action/reaction, a moment’s breathing room to calm my neural commotion; albeit a measure of intrapersonal conflict resolution amongst some deliberative body. Time to regroup, to pause and reflect—to reconnect, and retrace tribal roots—couldn’t hurt to get more core religion, if only for a spell.
So I had quietly eased Moon into Denise’s place, handing over her old friend’s keys, then ostensibly ferreted out for piroshki and lemon-lime Calistogas. Instead, I diverted and reverted, caught up with a little St. Patrick’s cheer.
If the inner Richmond was essentially what remained of a Mission-style Irish ghetto, the Abbey Tavern represented its sacrarium, the best blessed altar of Celtic spirits this side of Clement Street, and I couldn’t get past its hellish titian facade. For better or worse, convened along this padded railing was a low mass of devoted worshippers from the single digits of San Francisco’s numbered avenues, though the fold on hand most resembled a regular friary—playing the lottery, scribbling Racing Forms, paging through the Irish Herald, rolling the bones.
Parked along Geary Boulevard, I had basically genuflected and shoehorned onto a black backed stool around the mahogany bar’s rearward bend, aside these two ruddy, shaggy, rugby-shirted hardnecks. Niall and Declan sounded as if being recently off an Aer Lingus red-eye, acclimating and commiserating over the jet lag, pint by cream heady pint. Bygone rucksack Vasques on the Ol’ Sod told me from their northern brogue that they were Ulsterites fleeing to the States, bitter Republicans backpacking their Troubles along with them. Could have been Provos, splintered OIRAs or IRSPs, over to plumb the U.S. shamrock pipeline for the Old Country cause. Although that was beginning to sound best case, at best.
“Ay, speet on ’em, Niall—an’ suure, lik’n th’ say, revenge tis a dish served sweet an’ cold,” said Declan, as they partook of their virgin mother’s milk, coming via Harp Lager and Guinness Stout. “But howayeh ’spectin’ t’ evin’ ’em back, mate—wha’ yer plan?”
“Shi’e, tis too late t’ manky the Queen’s jubilee, alrigh’,” Niall replied, with a tip of the mug. “Mebbe can’t do annythin’ ’bout makin’ tha’ feckin’ gowl Paisley disappear from way ove’ here, either…”
“So how’d yeh figure t’…
“Not t’ fear, gobdaw. I’ve heard that oul’ baldy Callaghan himself migh be comin’ across on official blame holliers some time this year. Saw o’ the telly the stupih spanner’s aimin’ for some commem’rtive fald’ral on Battl’ o’ th’ Boyne Day this summer, o’ somewhe’ b’tween tha’ an’ Poppy Day later in November. Boyne Day, boil o’ me bleedin’ arse—we’ll gi’ im somethin’ t’ r’member.”
Nunnamybizness—not me, couldn’t be—eyes dead ahead: I swallowed hard on the down draft, soaking in Abbey’s raging ambience. The tavern remained awash in St. Patrick’s Day revelry, Guinness pennants and Bushmill’s bunting all about the place, harboring a snifter of overcooked CB&C. Its backbar was a high, hatched wall of Irish whiskey, rye and Heather Wine: Wild Geese to Glendalough Malt to Midleton Rare and Jameson Gold, Bailey’s, Irish Mist and a wee dram of Drambuie sweetening the arch-faced, beveled shelves.
Gracing the broader barroom were large, huge Tricolor flags, a coast-to-coast team of squadron of rally towels, from USF to Notre Dame and Boston’s Celtics framing centered tabernacle—from which flowed chalices of hopped-up holy water like Smithwick’s Ale and Beamish Stout with a Feinian touch, and patens of mini pretzels and crisps.
My eyes skirted about mounted photos of a Cork-Kerry football showdown, hurling in Dublin’s Croke Park. Lining the walls like Stations of the Cross were landscapes of Hags Head at sunset, the Rock of Cashel, rainy Lough Leane, sun-spotty skies over MacGillycuddy’s Reeks and the Gap of Dunloe. War lording over us stood framed sepiatone portraits of Colbert, Connolly, O’Hanrahan and even Michael Collins, freedom fighting guerillas ‘Punisher’ Dan Breen and Tom Barry, with a wretched, ink-stained wink to Joyce and Padraig Pearce.
“The Prime Min’ster? Comin’ t’ where?” They sucked down their sacraments in unison.
“Ay, the very same lib-lab queerhawk wha’ just ordered more Britz troops into the North, t’ help gang up the RUC and UDR agin’ us,” Niall said, aiming to wash down a pretzel with another deep draw of lager. “Comin’ t’ San Francisco here, yet. So coul’ be we can whack his crook’d Cardiff arse whe’ the bollock’s bloody live.”
“Ou’ an’ em revoltin’ UFFer fuckers,” Declan lifted for a chug of the black stuff. “Y’ mean like a’ the University of Ulster hit?”
“Only bigga’ an’ bett’, mate—spot on target. Wha’ say we plant in ’nothe’ garden, this time the Britz’ pat’et’c Counsel General’s place. Itza posh gaff i’ the P’cific H’ites, no less…”
“Jaysus, up there? How i’ blazes yeh fancyin’ t’ pull tha’ twister off?” Declan whipped out and tapping firm a crumpled back of filterless smokes.
“No’ me exactly, Dek, more like me an’ Ronan Corrigan, who jus’ happen’ t’ know Finnerty, their landscaper from the pubs. Tis a hungry, undergrown’ chum by way o’ Armaugh, h’ is—who lost a cousin t’ the cause. Britz foot patrol plugged ’im in Derry. Yah, Ronan knows Finnerty personal…so ther’ y’are.”
“God bless ’is seethin’ soul,” Declan finger scraped Stout head from his upper lip. “So I s’pose you be plannin’ t’ storm the spread or…”
“No, stupih, oney a one off, nice an’ deadly clean—make the’ Poppy Day go bloody pop, crash the’ garden party, tha’s wha’.”
“O’ yis smashin’ ’im when i’ counts, eh? Wha’ a masta’ plan…”
Oh, Christ, not Armaugh—don’t go dragging Armaugh into this, nothing wrong with Armaugh, ’cause dad’s kin’s from County Armaugh, bloody Scots-Irish, Jac—got that right…wait, that wasn’t to say I actually cottoned to the Prods. So where the hell did that leave me? High corner loudspeakers blared Thin Lizzy over the Abbey’s smoky pool and foosball tables behind us, Boomtown’s ‘Rat Trap’, some upstart numbers from no-names calling themselves U2, and new Treaty Stone by Luka Bloom.
It all had me reliving that Crosshaven folk festival full of Mickey McConnell and Christy Moore, scoops of local poteen, waking up in a dairy barn loft outside Skibereen—hitching and hoofing it over the Gap to pastelorful Killarney, meeting up with gladsome Kerry folk, mom’s people, sure and begorrah. Yet this brogual blarney here was presently steering me back more toward the drab bombed-out, boarded-up storefronts of Newry, RUC gunpointers chasing me out of the Europa Hotel lobby 20 minutes before Bloody Friday rocked Belfast’s City Centre. Nasty business, that; nastier still right here: these guys had me re-waking to those furtive young IRA gun runners in downtown Bray all over again.
“Def’ny fair play an’ square, presheh ’em t’ smithereens,” Niall grinned, toasting his Harp, side-eyeing me with a suspicious warning glance. “Who knows, mebbe oul’ Jimmy Carter’ll be ther’—tha’ banjaxed wanker preachin’ ’bout don’ givin’ no money t’ us Northern Irish. Well, God bless Dan’l McCooey, here’s to NORAID!”
“Wha’ever, ’cept tha’ sound like jus’ y’ be spoutin’ off, Niall,” Declan gestured to the barkeep for two more jars, as they fired up a couple of Sweet Afton fags. “Yis talken ou yer bloody hat, alrigh…”
“Oh, ya? Try me—done already scoped ’er ou’, learnt the ropes, mate. Tis a statl’y oul’ Tudor Revival job on a big gardened lot—prime for snookerin’ an’ sabotage. Meantime, Ronan an’ his rollin’ pin manage some movin’ lorries, we ca’ hook on w’ em. So shut y’ cake-hole an’ pull yer socks up, mate, let’s git o’ th’ yokes. Suure as Bloody Sunday, as God’s me witness, God save Ireland, God save all o’ it!”
Whoa, sabotage—they couldn’t have been serious could they? Pray tell, I didn’t actually hear that, did I? Wasn’t really a party to all this? Aww, it must have been just the brew talking, or the brew taking it in. Anyhow, I wasn’t one of those blokes myself, right? Maybe I did bleed Tricolor on occasion, but rifles and bushwacking and things that go boom—no bloody way.
I for sure wasn’t running any rifles, wasn’t loading gelignite into baby buggies and blowing up bank branches or postal stations. Didn’t have that in me, did I, or did I? Could have been their way of talking about Gaelic football scrums at McLaren Park and the like, with something getting lost in the transliteration. Or maybe I was just hearing things, hearing voices, disembodied voices—yeasty voices, Yeats gone terribly mad. Had to have been the pints talking, if not just the bloody North. In any case, nothing brewing, nothing tapped: I couldn’t do anything about any of it anyway; had my own wrongs to right in the sour here and now, as in wondering what else Moon and Sydney had sorted and/or shouted out loud.
Still, the grudgy guff and gee-eyed pipedreams left me sipping my Courage in silence for the moment, down for the cause in theory, but scared increasingly shitless, bious and jaundiced—proud and petrified, tugged and torn, inherently borderline—feeling so halved and quartered, game skin mottled somewhere between green and orange.
Couldn’t quite tune them out, wasn’t about to turn them in— particularly for mere beeranting about some sketchy munitions planting. Guess I could grasp their passion, just couldn’t handle their playbook. Really didn’t need this pissing match now anyhow; but I sure as hell did need to hit the throne—then reconfigure an earlier lunar landing, not to mention any personal cratering that ensued…
Care for more?
Chapter 34. This reframing and nod
toward reconciliation prompts an
awkward place setting, then a
heartburning turn of the tables…