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Posted Monday, March 31, 2008

A minor altercation at Heathrow with a young security man on the departures gate -- he speaks little English, and turns out to be a recent arrival from Poland.

click for origin[Previous Radical's Diary]

March 28, 2008 (Friday)
Windsor (England) -- Cork (Irish Republic) -- Inchigeela

AT eight 8 a.m. to Heathrow in the Pigmobile (as Jessica calls the little Renault van). A minor altercation at Heathrow with a young security man on the departures gate -- he speaks little English, and turns out to be a recent arrival from Poland. Ah yes, this is still Mr Sanctimonious Blair's England in a way. I was forgetting.

The next surprise is to be charged by the airline for one piece of baggage. We used to be allowed two pieces free; now it is none. The Aer Lingus girl looks cunning -- "It was introduced two years ago," she says in a matter-of-fact way. That must have been during 2006, my Year that Never Was: I was locked in Cell 19, oblivious to the march of time or events outside my prison, like the arrival of those 900,000 Polish "migrants" in London.

At midday, a very bumpy landing at Cork airport, in southern Ireland. The brothers O'Brien meet me -- that detail won't give too much away to their authorities, I guess. We have lunch in Cork, then drive out along country highways during the afternoon to Creedons Hotel in the main street at Inchigeela.

Creedons hotelIn the main square of Macroom on the way, just by the fort -- it reminds me of the wooden toy fort I had as a child -- stands a monument to I.R.A. men executed by us, the British. Most of them seem to have been called Leary.

We drive on deeper into the historic heart of the original I.R.A country, near the crossroads where the Republicans ambushed a British army patrol in 1920 and killed twenty soldiers. A photo on the wall inside Creedons portrays the Republican desperadoes after the action: now they would be called "terrorists," or "freedom fighters", or "insurgents" depending on where one stands. They are grinning like schoolboys in a school photo. Civil war, the cruellest kind of conflict known to man.

We visit the ruins of the local church in Inchigeela as the daylight fades and a fine drizzle begins. It has been a burial ground for these last six hundred years; the building itself has its roof off, and its walls are crumbling away, the nave overgrown with plants and weeds.

My host says that the local council levied taxes on all abandoned buildings unless their roofs were removed, a bit like our mediaeval window-tax in England. Seems crazy to me -- in England all religious buildings are tax-exempt.

The graveyard has one tomb separated from the rest, near the gate erected in honour of a World War One Irish soldier, Michael Leary VC. It contains the remains of one British soldier, Cecil Guthrie, and the slab bears the tell-tale date of death, November 1920. They say he was one of the hated Black & Tans. His body was found buried in a bog four years later, identified by his widow, and laid to rest in this ancient churchyard, apparently the only British soldier buried on Republican soil (the others were brought back to the UK). His widow did not want him any more.

The Creedons bartender Joe is full of local folklore. Our conversation turns to dialects. Cork becomes "Cark", and I see no cause to complain about that. Joe says that only two or three days ago he had a group from northern Ireland, who spilled some drinks, and came over to him: "D'you have a mop?" -- they pronounced it mahp. He searched and came back empty-handed. It took him some time to realise that they were not asking for a map.

He laughs out loud and shakes for some time, then tells of two Ulster (northern Irish) ducks who were flying over Derry, as these seditious Catholics call Londonderry. He broadens his voice into pure Ian Paisley. One duck says to its partner, "Quack!" The other does not reply. The first repeats, "Quack! Quack!" "I can't go any quacker!" pleads the second duck.


AS for our little function, it proceeds in fits and starts. My host has selected this pub as a safe location some thirty miles deep into the countryside, beyond Macroom, and toward Limerick. It turns out that he has chosen this village because his daughter lives here. Handy for her, less so for the rest of my list, none of whom has come, and few of his, which is not surprising either.

I just cannot get used to speaking in a lounge to a small audience of which one half or the other is for ever getting up and wandering off to have a cigarette outside. The cigarette epidemic here is the worst I have ever seen -- except in that Vienna prison yard.

A group of Irish people in the bar-room next door begins to sing; apparently there are American tourists with them and they get the whole display. It is an enjoyable evening, and I learn of lot of Irish history at first hand -- the kind of history that we are taught as little in our English schools, as is the Battle of Waterloo in the French. We spent the night at his daughter's home, as the local hostelry seemed to have lost his reservations.

exhibition on Irish emigration in the old Queenstown (Cóbh)

The exhibition on Irish emigration in the old Queenstown (Cóbh) is singlarly well organised

March 28, 2008 (Friday)
Cork (Irish Republic) -- Cóbh (Cove, Queenstown) -- Cork -- London -- Windsor

WE DRIVE over to the old Queenstown during the morning, a naval base which Neville Chamberlain gave back to the Irish Republic in 1938 -- most unhelpfully, as Winston Churchill pointed out when the Second World War thereafter began; the port was so named after Queen Victoria visited it on her first tour of the troubled province in 1849; now it is named Cove (Cóbh).

It was certainly a very splendid Imperial naval base in its time. It was in a local church at Queenstown that my father, then a young Royal Navy lieutenant, was married in 1921, a pistol concealed in his back pocket in case the Sinn Féiners disrupted the ceremony; his best man was kidnapped by them a few days later and fearfully tortured.

The town's architecture is strongly reminiscent of Brighton, but without the Blacks, drug dealers, and street-people who give England its new culture, and the old Victorian railroad station is just like any other red-brick station in southern England. It is like stepping back fifty years or more. It has been largely converted to house a very well presented permanent exhibition on Irish emigration -- 2.5 million Irish emigrated under appalling conditions from this port to "British North America" (the later Canada) during the Potato Famine which began in 1845. From this last port of call sailed the Titanic on her last voyage in 1912, and the ill-fated Lusitania three years later.

Adolf Hitler's staff told me of how Grand-Admiral Erich Raeder tried to persuade him to invade southern Ireland (but the German force's supply lines would have been constantly exposed to attack); in German army records I found the decoded messages of the British War Office, preparing to invade southern Ireland with British army units from the north in November 1940.

From The streets of Cork were still plastered with the Reds' postersthis same harbour, beginning in 1791, sailed the thousands of wretched criminals deported from Britain and Ireland to colonize Australia. When Prime Minister John Howard's odious predecessor justified the prohibition of my third visit to Australia by saying that his country did not want a visit by "a criminal who had already been deported from another country," I told the press that my understanding was that his country had been founded on little else.

Australia's prime ministers seem to have no sense of history; or humour, anyway.

The streets of Cork were still plastered with the Reds' posters calling for me to be banned from speaking at the city's University College. Who paid for them, I wondered? [click for more]

AT TWO p.m. Bill drives me back to the airport in Cork. I am sorry to leave Ireland -- there is hardly an African or Asian face to be seen. It is how England used to be.

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