April 1, 2017

Ireland was much on my mind these past weeks. As we watched the first stage of Britain’s divorce from the European Union, the ever-rebellious Scots and Northern Irish were getting ready for a new struggle for independence.

St Patrick’s Day arrived last week, commemorating the patron saint of Ireland, a grand and glorious day when Irish and adopted Irish whoop it up, drink too much, sing traditional songs and get into fist fights over nothing.

Then, a prominent leader of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) Martin McGuinness died, aged only 67. McGuinness had long battled for British-ruled Northern Ireland to join the Irish Republic.

The British, who suffered greatly from IRA bombings and killings, damned McGuinness a ‘terrorist’ until he renounced violence and joined the political wing of the IRA. Many of his fellow Irish hailed him as a freedom fighter and patriot in the centuries-old resistance to British rule.

But I was also reminded of my dear, long-departed Auntie Mairead McCartney. She was a silver-haired, aristocratic Irish lady living in New York City who was very close friends with my mother. Auntie Mairead (as I called her) lived in a vast apartment on New York’s West End Avenue adorned by Tiffany lamps, Irish antiques, figurines of naughty Irish elves known as leprechauns, Victorian paintings and rich Persian carpets.

Auntie Mairead shared the apartment with her elderly cousin, Matt Finnegan. They ran a clerical garb business catering to the New York Catholic Arch Diocese. There were boxes and boxes of nun’s and priest’s wear, rosaries, assorted crucifixes and piles of religious paraphernalia.

The apartment had a thick steel door secured by what is known in New York as a ‘police lock,’ a stout steel brace that fits into a special socket in the floor and then behind the main door lock. Once in place, it was near impossible to force the door open.

And well so. The steel door bore innumerable signs of efforts to force it. I recall lying in bed there at night, listening to would-be intruders trying to jimmy the lock or force the door frame. I was often parked at Mairead’s by my mother, an intrepid journalist who was one of the first female writers to cover the 1950’s Mideast. She interviewed Egypt’s Nasser and Sadat and Jordan’s King Hussein.

My mother discovered and reported that nearly a million Palestinians had been driven from the new state of Israel and were living in tents. This was when the official line was that Palestine, what became Israel, was ‘a land without people for a people without land.’

I recall many festive nights when Auntie Mairead, who was the queen bee of Irish society in New York City, gave parties for visiting Irish writers, poets, artists and musicians. She would sit at her grand piano and thunder out lusty songs about Ireland’s quest for freedom and the lovely Scottish ‘Skye Boat Song.’

At the end of such evenings, our glasses would be refilled with Irish whiskey and we would cry out in unison, ‘Death to the British, Long live Ireland.’ I never admitted that I rather liked, even admired, the wicked Brits.

Years later, I discovered why we lived behind a fortified door. It transpired that my beloved Auntie Mairead was a senior IRA leader in the New York City region and a scourge of the British. She was a chief IRA fundraiser who fuelled the Irish independence struggle. While American officials fulminated against so-called Mideast ‘terrorism,’ the then rampaging IRA was being chiefly funded from New York City and Boston.

Not only that. My mother told me years later that dear Auntie was New York’s leading fence for hot rocks. In retrospect, I do recall Mairead once showing me one of the many cigar boxes she kept under her bed that was filled with lots of shiny little clear, blue and red stones. My child’s brain did not understand that this was a king’s ransom in jewels.

This was how my auntie financed the IRA. I would not be surprised, looking back, that behind the cartons of nun’s wear were boxes of Thompson .45 submachine guns and ammo. Even the holy saints sometimes used swords.

The Feds never caught on to Auntie, and we were never assaulted by British SAS commandos. Crooks and robbers never broke in our fortress. Auntie Mairead waged her little holy war against the British until some sort of peace finally came to Northern Ireland.

To this day – over half a century later – I still don’t know how living with my Auntie Mairead shaped me. I’ve always been a rebel by nature and resistant of authority. I feel sympathy for underdogs and the oppressed. I admire all those who fight for their freedom. Like traditional Japanese, I admire those who decide to fight even when they know the odds against them are overwhelming.

I guess I’ve become partly Irish by osmosis.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2017

This post is in: Ireland

5 Responses to “UP THE IRISH!”

  1. For the Irish of the Republic it seemed to be based on religious differences, which really played a big role in times past, where it was based on true convictions, as opposed to religious problems today, that are based on accumulation of power through political brainwashing and hate mongering. There are still many people, who allow themselves to be filled with hatred towards people of a different religion, even though they do not understand what that religion is based on, but the politicians use religion to further their own cause. Politics and religion have some kind of symbiotic relationship and I believe in fact, that a long time ago, the religious leaders were also the politicians of the day.
    How many religions do you know, whose robes so to speak are not stained by innocent blood and under whose banner mass murder was committed and still is today, even though we already have arrived in the 21st. century? How successful would the modern warmongering be, if there were no religions anymore? Religions all preach wholesome and great ideas, but how many of even their leaders live up to what they preach at every opportunity? To take a life is bad and barbaric, but to torture one to death is many times worse and nothing beats the cruelty of abusing children, who carry the pain of abuse until they die of old age or disease, or take their own life, because of what sexual abuse has done to them. And how many religions can you name, in which some of its leaders have not indulged in one or more of the many forms of debauchery? For those who like to be seen as religious people it must be known, that Christ said: “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me”. And the same goes for the other Abrahamic religions, who teach similar rules.

  2. Faith and begorrah… St. Patrick’s Day, and I forgot ‘me bambs’ at home…
    The Irish struggle was a brutal one on both sides. The ‘Black and Tans’ were as brutal as they come. These goons were the creation of Winston Churchill and brutalised the citizenry of Ireland. The scars left are slowly healing as those involved ‘die off’.
    It was a bit of a toss up… the ‘hard nosed’ British capitalists in Northern Ireland and their brutal treatment of labour and the starving republicans of the South with little employment to offer.
    The thuggery was supported by the government at the time. For a real ‘eye opener’ try to get a copy of the movie, “In the Name of the Father”. This movie represents a reasonably correct depiction of the collaboration between Churchill’s goons and the government. The guilty not only go unpunished but also are rewarded…
    The Irish had a really tough go of it and times were harsh. My grandfather (on my mother’s side) and his brother came over to Canada in the early 1900’s. They were Barnardo Boys and managed to tough it out and survived. Things were difficult when they left Ireland. They left Ireland well before ‘the Troubles’, but were in contact with many people that were involved. They told me many stories, that were so brutal I disbelieved them. As a kid, no one could be that brutal. I wish I had have paid more attention.

  3. Steve_M. says:

    If you knew all of the facts about the IRA, you might be less sympathetic to that mob. It was and is a Marxist group, and that’s made quite obvious by the murals in the Falls Rd. (Catholic) section of Belfast. They are just a bunch of thugs. Northern Ireland would definitely be worse off if it were to become part of the Irish Republic – which is still trying to emerge from bankruptcy, has a much higher unemployment rate than Northern Ireland has, and endures higher taxes. As for the IRA, I trust them less than I trust the Mafia.

    • I guess it depends on whose facts… One of the main causes of the second world war had to do with a concern of countries looking after their citizens… had nothing to do with Germany walking into Poland. The ‘good guys’ gave Poland to the Soviets at the end of the war…


  4. OK Eric, sounds as though your next project will be a screenplay about your dear auntie. I see Cate Blanchett as the lead.

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