Daniel Kearney is a former headmaster of an independent Catholic College and teacher of Theology & Philosophy. He has had several articles published ranging from academic theology to travel writing on France. He has two Labradors, Daisy & Rosie. He grew up and was educated in Bray.
Bobby Sands’ Orange
“What you reading that thing for?” said his father, dismissively. “Shouldn’t you be revising for your exams?”
“It’s interesting,” replied his son.
“I wouldn’t wipe my backside on it,” snapped his father.
“Well, why do you buy it then?”
“Because everyone buys it,” his father answered.
“I wouldn’t buy it if I didn’t want to read it,”
“You would if you didn’t want to be digging your own grave up in Powerscourt woods.”
“That’s what happens if you don’t buy it.”
“Just because you don’t buy a paper,” asked the son, incredulously.
“It’s not just a paper,” his father explained, “It’s their paper.”
The boy stared blankly back at his father.
“Look,” his father explained, “you’re not just buying a paper when you buy it you’re showing them that you’re on their side and so if you don’t buy it then you’re not supporting them and they don’t like that.”
“Whose side?” his son asked, still puzzled.
“Their side,” his father reiterated, pointing to the paper his son was reading.
“Oh,” said his son, “I see. So it’s about loyalty and not about the paper.”
“Sort of,” replied his father.
“So,” his son responded, “you don’t have any choice then do you? You have to buy it even if you don’t support them? So, I guess then, everyone supports them.”
“Unless,” his father replied,” you’re as stupid as Scoldy Sinnott.”
“What’d he do that was so stupid?” asked his son eagerly.
His father paused for a moment remembering the incident.
“He bought it from the young fella going round the pub selling it and then he ripped it up in front of everyone.”
“And what happened to him?” asked his son.
“They lifted him on his way home and took him up to the woods and made him dig his own grave. Then they stripped him naked as the day he was born and told him to lie in it. It was a warning this time and he didn’t need another one. He buys two copies now every Sunday night.”
“But this is Bray, not Belfast,” responded his son.
“They’re everywhere,” his father replied, moving his head from side to side.
“What,” said his son, “are they here on the estate too?”
“I’d say so. There’re enough of them from up there.”
“Do you know any of them?” asked his son, enthusiastically.
“No and I don’t particularly want to know any of them either.”
“But I thought the border was guarded by the army,” continued the boy, “how can they get through it without getting caught?”
His father laughed.
“A border,” he scoffed, “there’s crossings that the army don’t even know about, sure people having been coming and going across it for years and always will do no matter how well patrolled it is.”
“So why guard it at all then if people can cross whenever they want to cross it?” asked his son.
“Because,” his father explained, “It’s all about making people feel secure and safe.”
“But that’s just an illusion isn’t it because people aren’t safe and secure if anyone can cross it at any time. It’s not really a border then it just a line drawn on a map.”
“I guess not.”
“Do you know what the very last thing Bobby Sands had to eat before his hunger strike?”
“No,” his father answered, wearily. “And I don’t really care.”
“It was an orange,” said his son, “and it was bitter.”
“Well,” replied his father “it’s more fool him.”
“Do you he really think he did eat an orange?” enquired his son.
“Why say it if he didn’t eat it?” his father replied.
“I don’t think he did eat an orange.”
His father shrugged his shoulders.
“He must have had something” his father speculated, “and so why can’t it have been an orange.”
“I think,” replied his son, thoughtfully, “the orange was just a metaphor.”
“Never heard of a metaphor orange,” his father laughed. “I’ve heard of a Seville orange. Now there’re bitter. You know they make marmalade out of them. Perhaps that’s what Sands eat.”
His son thought for a moment or two.
“No. I don’t think so,” his son continued, seriously, “The orange is not just an orange. I think it’s to represent something else just like the border is meant to represent safety and security for some people? The orange is a metaphor for the bitter oppression of the people and when Sands eats it he is saying to his people that one day they will overcome this oppression. That’s why he put it as the last thing, not because he did eat an orange – which he might have done – but because he was sending a message to his people that one day the bitter orange oppression will end. It’s a message of hope and of defiance to encourage his people.”
His father stared at his son.
“You read too many books son,” he said, with a smile on his face.
“I bet Sands didn’t even write it.”
“It’s in his diary isn’t it,” replied his father.
“That doesn’t mean he wrote it though. The gospels are full of things which Jesus said but he didn’t write them. He didn’t write anything and yet people still believe he said what was written done by the writers.”
“Well,” his father responded, “if Sands didn’t write it, who did write it – not that it matters to me.”
His son thought for a moment.
“Whoever edited it,” his son replied.
“So you’re saying Sands didn’t write it then?”
“Some of it,” replied his son, “but probably not all of it.”
“Does it matter” his father asked, “who wrote it?
“I suppose not,” conceded his son. “Lennon and McCartney didn’t write all the songs together even if it has their names on them but most people still think that they did.”
His father shrugged his shoulders again.
“You really need to get a life son,” his father replied. “Why aren’t you still seeing Roisin?”
“We had a disagreement” his son replied, ruefully.
Well it must have been something serious for you to stop seeing her.”
“She said I wasn’t Irish. That I’m a Brit.”
“And who’s she to say whose Irish and who’s not. Sure her parents are from the North so she’s no room to talk.”
“But she was born here, so she’s Irish even though her parents are from the North. And that’s her point you’re Irish because you were born here but I’m not because I was born in Manchester.”
“Does it matter where you’re born if you want to say you’re Irish then you can say you’re Irish?”
“But it’s not just about saying you’re Irish is it, you have to be Irish and that means you have to be born in Ireland. Otherwise people could say they are all sorts of things. “
“Well,” asked his father, “what do you feel? Do you feel English or do you feel Irish?”
“I don’t know,” replied his son. “I don’t think I feel anything. I see myself as Irish because I’ve lived here almost as long as I lived in England but when people ask me to fill in a form I always have to put place of birth – Manchester – which makes me British and not Irish. And if I went to get a passport I could only get an Irish passport because you’re Irish. So the government don’t class me as Irish either which is what Roisin was saying too. I’m a Brit whether I like it or not. That’s a fact – just like Bobby Sands is a Brit whether he likes it or not.”
“Are you in?” his father shouted at the bottom of the stairs. His voice sounded odd, as if he was upset.
“You’re back early,” said his son as he descended the stairs and followed his father in to the kitchen.
His father took a small package from the inside of his coat and placed it carefully on the kitchen table. It was wrapped in a copy of the paper.
“That doesn’t look like chips,” his son said.
His father’s hands were shaking.
“It’s not chips, son,” he replied.
“Well, what is it?” enquired his son.
His father slowly opened the package.
“It’s a gun.”
“What!” exclaimed his son, “Don’t tell me they’re giving away guns now with every copy of the paper?”
“It’s not funny” his father snapped.
“Where did you get?” his son asked.
“In the pub,” his father explained, “I was at the bar when some fella tapped me on the shoulder and told me to follow him into the toilets”
“Did you know him?” asked his son
“I know he’s one of them,” his father answered, pointing at the paper on the table.
“How do you know?” his son asked.
“You just know. I told you they’re all over. Anyway I followed him in and Scoldy Sinnott was in their too and your man took one look at him and Scoldy flew out like he’d seen a ghost or something. He handed me that and said the guards were about to raid the place and lift him. Told me to wait for an hour or so and then go straight home and someone would come and collect it later. About fifteen minutes later he was lifted.”
“Why did he give it you?” asked his son
“I don’t know,” replied his father, with a puzzled look on his face. “Maybe it’s because I’ve always bought the paper.”
There was a knock on the front door. Both father and son jumped at the sudden intrusion to their conversation.
“You go,” said his father, “and then go in to the other room. Don’t say a word to them.”
The boy nodded in agreement and went to answer the door.
“Is your Da in?” said the man.
The boy nodded his head toward the kitchen. The man smiled and walked down the hallway. In an instant the man was heading back up the hallway. He smiled again at the boy and then stepped out of the house and was gone.
“Sands is dead,” said his father as the boy walked in to the kitchen.
“I thought so,” replied the boy. “There are black flags hanging from everywhere out there.”
“There’s talk on the local radio of a big protest at the town hall later today,”
“Are you going?” asked the boy with a mischievous smile on his face. “What with you being a gunner runner.”
“There’ll be trouble,” he replied, “I’d stay away if I were you.”
“Why?” retorted his son, somewhat annoyed by his father’s advice. “And what have I got to fear?”
His father hesitated.
“Nothing,” he assured his son. “You’ve absolutely nothing to fear but … “
“But what?” his son snapped back at him.
“There’ll be the usual crowd of hot heads and firebrands there,” he continued, “just looking for trouble or for someone to have a go at.”
“And they’ll pick on me, is that what you’re saying?” responded his son angrily. “They’ll pick on me because I’m a Brit. Is that what you’re saying?”
“Look son,” his father replied, “that’s what they’re like. You’ve seen it yourself at school, having a go at you because she say “three” and not “tree”. All I’m saying is don’t give them the opportunity to have a go at you. That’s all.”
He knew what his father was saying. He’d had a few run-ins lately with some of the boys in school, particularly those boys whose parents came from the north or who had relatives in the H-Blocks. A few of them had pushed him about and punched him when he went to the toilets. Most of the boys didn’t care and had no allegiance whatsoever to the north. “They’re not even Irish,” said one boy. “They can all go and starve themselves to death for all I care” said another. But he did feel uneasy and self-conscious for the first time since he had come to live with his father and he felt increasingly out of place, long before Roisin had brought up the subject of his nationality, so much so that he had decided after his results came out to apply to universities back in the UK.
Later in the afternoon he was on his way back from the bookshop with his new copy of Orwell’s Animal Farm, when he heard the shouts, “Brits out, Brits out”. He felt a shiver run down his spine. Instinctively he lowered his head and increased his pace. But the shouts grew louder and angrier, “Brits out Brits out”. For some reason, suddenly, inexplicably, he felt a sense of outrage and anger, as if the shouts were directed at him personally. He stopped abruptly and turned defiantly to face them. As he walked toward the crowd he heard a voice, a familiar female voice, scream out, “There’s a fuckin’ Brit!” Within an instant he was surrounded by an aggressive and ugly mob. He felt his stomach turn to water. Next thing he was on the floor curled up like a hedgehog trying to protect himself from the boots flying in at him. He heard himself shouting over and over again whether out loud or within his own head he couldn’t be sure but he understood what he was saying and for the first time in his life he knew where he belonged.
© 2019 Daniel Kearney