Starting up...

A lot of avoidance but still managed to get more written on Brendan's story, mainly expanding his world at the age of 12...and explaining some of it. Too much to think about so I'm playing safe...here's the opening...and this is another shot of Nailors Row, atop the hill...

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Those who knew Eamonn Kinsella -- and were being at least a little bit honest with themselves -- had to admit that were he born but ten miles to the west or north, his murder would have been seen as the fitting end to a hard and brutal man, and my poorly-disguised pleasure at his passing would have been accepted as understandable, if still inappropriate.

His body was found off the Limavady Road, in a ditch of flowing water, on a cold, blustery morning late in February. His coat had been pulled down his arms and his hands bound behind him. Every bone on every finger had been broken, several ribs shattered, an elbow dislocated and his face pummeled into the mere hint of a human visage. Blood soaked his shirt down to his trousers, the knees of which were torn and scraped as if he’d been forced to walk on them or been dragged. Some said his every tooth was broken out, as well, but the Coroner’s only comment on his death was the very embodiment of simplicity.

“Mr. Kinsella perished due to a bullet fired into the crown of his head.”

It was determined that he had lain in that icy ditch, on his back, for a full day and night, which made it difficult to set an exact time of death -- though somewhere between midnight and four in the previous morning was quickly decided upon...and quickly disputed by one and all. For he was last seen being jostled out of McCleary’s Pub in his usual condition just after last orders, that night, and it was obvious to one and all that his death would have been anything but easy or quick. The reason for this? He came from Belfast and had once worked as a navvy on their docks, and despite it being years since his last position, his hands still held the calluses that job built, his back still carried the strength gained from it, and he had only just begun drifting into sloth. Such a man would not have released his grip on life without a full-on fight, and it would have gone on for more than a few pathetic hours.

Word of his murder spread quickly, as bad news always does. Within the hour, many a man at many a pub had sad remembrances of his bleak, dark eyes and long face, all bringing to mind tortured poets and sad balladeers. They spoke of how he could sing so well as to make the angels weep, elegant tunes of Ireland's ruined past and her dead future. Others recalled melodious stories spun by him of fairies living in Oak glens that once spread forever across Ireland, or of gods roaming her once glorious green fields, or exciting tales wrapped around Grianán Aileach, the ancient ring fort but six miles and a hundred worlds away from town, all brought forth in such beauty and perfection you'd have thought he lived through each one.

There were also tales set in times more modern, violent and furious and savage and dealing with the unnatural order of life in our fair isle. Even his enemies, of whom there were more than a few, acknowledged he had a true Irish heart, and in another time under better circumstances would have given the likes of James Joyce and Sean O’Casey a challenge as the nation’s bard.

A few wary souls even wondered aloud if he might well have lived through some of his tall tales, including those ancient, for it was hard to see how so much anger and grace could have been poured into one man in fewer than thirty-six years unless he had carried it over from a previous existence. Oh, the rages he could build about the horrors of being a working man without work in a land cursed by God, with a wife and five wains to feed. Barely living off the dole, they were, with naught but spuds burned over the open hearth and tea made from thrice-used leaves for their breakfast. Rags on their backs. A hovel of a dwelling on Nailors Row, close to collapsing around them and lucky to have that. No steady heat or indoor plumbing. Spuds for supper and dinner, as well. No prospects for a decent job as once he’d had, even though that one had been the worst kind of cruelty to his back...and wouldn't you please front me another pint, m’boy? Despite the reality that you’d never see a farthing of repayment from him.

Naturally, that last memory was minimized in honor of the dead. Hypocrisy is most acceptable at a funeral or wake.

I may now be the only one to acknowledge that he drank too much, but that was not viewed to be a true problem; as many a neighbor said, most of the men in this pinpoint of the world were of the same bent. In fact, it was one of the few comforts offered in their existence. Nor was him being quick to temper now discussed. After all, whispered more than one, sometimes anger was the only emotion men like him were allowed to hold forth. And if his wife was seen at market with a fresh bruise over one eye or across one cheek, or out walking her wains around till her lord and master had sworn himself into weary, drunken sleep...well, she was hardly known for her gentleness. Comments often accompanied by a click-click-click of the tongue.

So now that he was dead, his sainthood had begun, and it was abetted by the closed casket at his wake. Circumstances dictated his burial be quick. It was paid for only through the intersession of Father Demian, a priest who’d so often visited the man’s home in times of violence or distress in the years prior, and who comforted the new widow as best he could when she wailed, “What’s to become of us? How shall we live?” Over and over, to the point where even those sympathetic to her wondered if her laments were over his passing or more from her sense of guilt for having wished him dead, many a time.

And while I may have agreed with them, it was wrong of them to cast judgment. Only a man’s blood may determine the meaning of his passing.

So how did we live, now he was gone?

The burned spuds and weak tea for breakfast were replaced by porridge and milk, and fish and chips could be bought, on occasion, for the one benefit of having to deal with poverty on less than half the dole's payment was that Kinsella's widow knew how to stretch a ha’penny the length of a mile. Even better -- because the widow had five with another soon due, those who ran the town were forced to promise better lodgings for us once the last of the Rossville Flats was completed.

If there were room still available on the queue, of course. Can’t make promises one might have to keep.

So for me there was no sorrow at his death. And as mentioned, while it was deemed inappropriate, me being his second son, I sensed even then it was for the better of us all. Though to be honest with myself, my feeling was colored by the recent occasion where he’d nearly crushed my right hand because I dared wish to keep the sixpence I’d earned helping Mrs. Cahan clean her hutch instead of hand it across so he could have one more pint of porter. And never once since has my mind changed its belief.

However, Eammon Kinsella lived and died in Derry, Northern Ireland (Londonderry for those who cannot be bothered to learn the city’s proper name). And upon his death, he was lionized for who he was, that being a Catholic man, as memories of that brute he was were quickly forgotten. And when it was discovered he was killed by two drunk Protestants who swore they’d only meant to have some fun with the Taig (which was as high a pile of shite as could be imagined but, of course, was accepted as the most reasonable explanation by the Constables) his martyrdom to Mother Ireland was carved in stone. A poor family man trying only to keep kith and kin together as he slaved for the pennies tossed his way by Loyalist scum.

It would bring full-throated laughter from even the most forgiving of men, if they were being honest with themselves.

Still...that would have died off, as well, but for several Catholic schools being attacked, that year. And the discovery of a band of Loyalist mental defectives who, sensing the growing restlessness of the oppressed in Ulster and the push already starting for civil rights, stupidly thought killing a few of us would remind the Papists who was still in charge. They formed a new group called the Ulster Protestant Volunteers, and in their deluded minds would become bigger and better than the Ulster Volunteer Force -- and were certain love, respect, and honor would come their way from similar-minded Protestants -- as they showed that bloody IRA who was the true master of this world. Instead, they wound up simple murderers, banned, and imprisoned at Long Kesh.

But in honor of their foolishness, the Derry Corporation, who still ran the city, then, decided no Catholic would be relocated till it was time to redevelop their street. Meaning we kept living in that hovel for three years more -- Ma and the girls in the front bed, me and the lads in the back -- even as life settled into a fresh direction around us.

So that was my new beginning at the ripe old age of ten, feeling joyful and free even as the subtle reality of my bright new world surrounded me, waiting for the best moment to bring forth the fullest impact, growing closer and closer to an explosion of hatred and brutality made only the worse by it happening in a supposedly civilized part of the fast-dwindling British Empire.

But what child can see the build of history around him? Even few adults can, in truth. Events occur that you’re a part of but at the time carry no meaning beyond themselves. You either rejoice when all ends well or weep when it doesn’t. So my father's death only held resonance for me in the most selfish of ways -- that I could now live my life in the manner I chose, that of a child filled with hopes and dreams and prayers and promises, believing himself now to be in a place of safety.

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More to come...

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