The Burning Soldier (Part 3) Molotov Cocktails
Posted on July 5, 2011
The Burning Soldier (3)
There was no point in trying to escape.
I was trapped, and I knew it. If I tried to do a U-turn, I would be burning in seconds. Or shot. There was no way around the barricade. The only chance was to bluff it out. At least I knew the side I was facing. In such a heavily Republican area, I was up against the I.R.A. in one of its many disguises. I had faced that music before, many times in fact, but the British number plate on my motorcycle would count heavily against me.
Trying to ignore the impending volley of explosive missiles, I slowed down, and resolutely steered straight at the barricade. I knew I would be met…
In the distance, people were running, running. Flames were shooting up from the transport bus. Again, that horrible crackling pop in the distance. Somebody was shooting at somebody. Where was the British Army? Who knew. Probably wisely keeping a low profile in the area. They were well aware of the hatred now exploding across Northern Ireland. Too risky to mount even armored patrols. That was why the local garrison was depended for logistic supply mostly on helicopter air support.
Truly a no-man’s land…
And here I was, driving slowly and purposefully up to a barricade of twisted metal, burned out cars, metal pipes, and concrete slabs. Under the intense scrutiny of a waiting, poised, legion of Universal Soldiers. Young. Universal Soldiers. Serving their apprenticeships in Sectarian Hatred. In training. To graduate, one day, in fully fledged Bigotry. I wondered, as I often did, how easy it was to destroy a stranger you didn’t know. A remote concept. An enemy you had never met, with whom you held – seemingly – nothing in common.
He’s a Protestant…
He’s a Catholic…
He’s a Muslim…
He’s a rag head…
He’s one of THEM…
Bastard. Good-for-nothing Bastard.
BURN. BURN. BURN THEM ALL…
I stopped at the barricade, carefully avoiding any glances to either side, at the same time as the forty-something year old man stood up from behind where he had been hiding. I was struck by his expression. Even though he had doubtless repeated the same ambush scenario over and over again, he still seemed to relish the moment of appearance. His grand entry. The Master of Ceremonies. That he was in charge of proceedings, of that fact I had no doubt. That he was able to conjure up a barrage of flying missiles at a pre-arranged signal, I knew instinctively. He said nothing. Just the look.
The piercing, hard look.
I knew there was no point in pleading for them not to burn my motorcycle. They would do that as a matter of course. It would be my punishment for traveling those roads in defiance of the IRA’s travel ban. What was more important than my precious motorcycle, that had taken me all around Europe, and behind the Iron Curtain, was, quite simply, my life. I thought of the burning British soldier I had seen on television, and in my mind I still heard his screams.
Francis, this is not good… Oh, well, here goes…
His hard, staring face studied mine. He remained silent, and I knew he was waiting for me to speak. I pulled to a stop, and switched the engine off. There was no point in running. Killing the engine was a sign of submission. In effect, what I was wordlessly telling them, was this:
“I’m not going anywhere, boys…”
I looked him straight in the face. It wasn’t bravado. I wanted to know my fate. This man would be making the decision what to do with me. I needed to see his eyes. I spoke first.
“Ta athas orm buaileadh leat…”
(“Pleased to meet you…”)
I spoke the words softly, from my very limited repertoire of the Old Gaelic language. Thankfully, I thought of the little girl from Dingle, who had been my mentor for a while.
He said nothing.
“Conas ata tu…? “
(“How are you…?”)
Still nothing. Just the hard stare. There was a pause, and I resisted the urge to look on either side. To look at the raised arms holding the gasoline filled bottles.
Were the wicks burning…?
He said nothing, and I continued to meet his stare fully.
A pause. A long, long pause.
In my mind, I left my body. This moment in time would become fixed in my subconscious. As free as a bird, I rose up into the sky, and looked down, sadly, with a strange acceptance, on the burning scene.
A motorcyclist facing a barricade. On both sides, low stone walls. And a dozen youths, ranging in age from late teens to barely twelve years old. And rows of neatly arranged bricks and bottles. Bottles, stuffed with rags, and half filled with gasoline.
High in the skies of Ireland, I sensed once again that ancient hatred, that ancient curse of the Shamrock Isle. The unwillingness of mortal men to let go of the past. The unwillingness of mortal men to recognize injustice on both sides. Cruelty, pride, betrayal and blindness, on both sides.
Dove of Peace
Ireland, Ireland, land of dreams
Land of mountains, land of streams,
will you ever rest the gun?
And Retire the Armalite
In favor of a verbal fight?
Has your journey just begun?
Tarry not so slow and late
Husband not the dragging weight
Of ancient unremitting hate;
Come Listen to the spell of waves,
Come soar amongst the light soaked skies
Come dream the murmurs of the Wise.
Or will you yet be mindless slaves
To all consuming white starched lies?
If only you could sense and hear
The passing of sectarian fear
The gentle plucking of harp strings
Lifting up my broken wings…
He stared at me, and when he spoke, there was no regret in his words.
“I don’t speak the language…”
He was right, I thought grimly, but the problem was not merely one of linguistics.
Beside me, from the ranks of the massed artillery, I sensed movement.
I willed myself to stay calm, and not to look…
Last edited by Francis Meyrick on July 5, 2011, 3:33 pm