Spy Wednesday

To wake up a man from a nightmare is compassion. - Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

I remember drifting off to sleep and then it was an alternative universe. Like a flip between worlds I had once read about in a novel by Peter Straub and Stephen King. I was back in Sinn Fein as the party gathered at the assembly point for the Easter commemoration. In my dream it was at Divis Tower and not the usual venue, Beechmount. I didn’t feel comfortable being back in the fold but like many dreams, breaching the walls of sleep was the only exit. I couldn’t reach the elusive escape hatch and was condemned to march the Falls Road until wakefulness released me. My attempts to run away were accompanied by the slow motion that always holds you in a dream despite your best efforts to pull away from it.

The Easter Parade had been moved from Sunday to the Wednesday before. When I asked the man beside me why this was so, he looked at me with horror as if a question was a contagious illness which might infect him and then he might go around asking questions too. He shuffled off dragging his partner by the hand. I saw someone I took to be an official or marshal. His overbearing demeanour suggested he could be nothing else. I put the question to him. For my troubles I received a look which suggested I was plain stupid. When I let my tongue hang out and turned my palms upward he concluded that I was pretty much that and proceeded to give me a ‘mo chara’ lecture in tones that were insultingly paternalistic; the party had to be flexible, Sunday was not the only day the actual fighting in Dublin had taken place. Did it take place on Sunday at all I inquired only to be ignored. He continued by explaining that other days had to be taken into consideration as well if we were to avoid having a hierarchy of days. I explained as best I could that if we were marching the Wednesday after Easter I could buy into this but the Wednesday before, no fighting happened that day. ‘But they were planning it,’ he assured me. ‘You don’t think it came out of thin air. And you would not want to be looking down your nose at those who laid the ground work and valuing only those who took to the field. Read your history mo chara.’ He mumbled something about old habits dying hard, a thinly veiled reference to my long running differences with the party. It was clear he felt I should be grateful at being back among the true believers even though I did not truly believe. Penance should have been my lot.

My persistence wouldn’t surrender as easily as some other things in life so I pointed out that it wasn’t just any Wednesday, this was Spy Wednesday. ‘That’s a negative way of describing it. We look at it as Patriot Wednesday.’ Not quite ready to buy into that I pressed on. ‘What about marching on Good Friday then?’ Politically and ideologically we might have drawn back a bit from Easter Sunday but only by two days not four. The SDLP, I was informed, march on that day. Besides, ‘they made that agreement on Good Friday not us. Fair’s fair and all that.’ I argued that the SDLP never march. He told me it was April so there was little point in us discussing March.

Fair enough. While there was something not just right about it, I couldn’t think of a way of dealing with it and fell into line, just like everybody else, and felt the most compelling urge to nod my head and walk in a somnambulant state. I was handed a little bannerette with a photo of Caoimhin O Caolain on it and told to wave it at the crowds as I was passing. Mindful that there might be children watching who I did not want to frighten I thrust it into my pocket as soon as the marshal had turned his back.

Having fallen in we slowly shuffled up the road. Try as I might it was hard to keep step, not being good at these things. Besides, the road had changed. Whereas during my waking hours, there was no SDLP office on the Falls Road near the Falls swimming centre, in my dream road the first building we approached after the pool was called Alex Atwood House. As we passed we let out a collective roar of ‘Stoops.’ It just came up from the pit of my stomach. Involuntarily it was racing from my lips before I knew it. Those inside the premise stuck their tongues out at us and laughed derisorily.

Next in line was the Workers’ Party headquarters which seem to have been uprooted from the Springfield Road and placed on its new founds. I was amazed to see what I thought was a photo of Gerry Adams hanging on it but as we got closer I realised it was Des O’Hagan. The beard and glasses had momentarily deceived me. When we reached it we howled ‘Sticks’. They screamed ‘Stormont forever’ back at us. The stewards instructed us to shout ‘up Stormont’, it being more transitional sounding than ‘Stormont forever.’ The logic was what goes up must come down; nothing lasts forever, just a phase in the struggle.

At the Sinn Fein office at the comer of Thiepval Street a crowd had gathered to wave at us. As we approached they seemed to be shouting something about caps. I had none on so I took it to be the berets that the colour party members were wearing. As we pulled up level with them I began to wave and shout ‘friends.’ I didn’t recognise them as any friends that I knew but they were there for us. They were waving at us and I could now make out what they were shouting: ‘up the Scaps.’ That was it; in the S hierarchy we were at the bottom, the Scaps, lower placed than even the Sticks or the Stoops. My face was red. What would my kids think? How could I sing them ballads of ‘brave Scappaticci’? Sticks, Stoops and Scaps. This was as good as it got.

At Northumberland Street, which was now positioned up the road rather than closer to the bottom, there was a wall mural of Iris the Virus Robinson. She was partially concealed in undergrowth and surrounded by gravestones upon which she seemed to sneer. Emblazoned above her image were the words ‘First Squaw - Walking Eagle.’ On the headstones at her feet were inscribed the words ‘God sent me to hell for being gay.’ On her head was Native American head dress.

While we looked on it lovingly a car pulled up with two former blanket men in it. Someone shouted ‘traitors’ and we tried pulling them from the vehicle. I wanted to run away but couldn’t. My legs had a dream powered life of their own.‘Take them up to Casement and drop them from the wall’ a voice howled. The car the men were in was attacked by the crowd wielding car braces and poles. Then from her mural Iris the Virus floated into our midst, wagged a disapproving finger, and said ‘not in this town, you don’t. Second class citizens shall show each other mutual respect. It is our job to humiliate you. ’ My instinct was to rebel against this insult. ‘Hush,’ came a voice. ‘That’s the boss’s wife. Do as she says.’ So used was everyone to behaving deferentially and with blind obedience to authority that emanated from the house on the hill that we immediately ceased our attack on the two former blanket men and fell back into the ranks. The Virus drifted back in amongst the tombstones. With her out of earshot some in the parade grew rebellious. An American tourist walking in the parade asked ‘why is she called Walking Eagle?’ A woman to my rear said in a broad Belfast accent, ‘because she is so full of crap she can’t fly.’

Up the Falls and at the bottom of the Whiterock Road we turned right and into the City Cemetery. But we didn’t end up here on any previous occasion I thought. Still, we pressed on until we stopped at the grave of Denis Donaldson. We had been told a famous actor who had played the role of an Irish hero would be giving the oration. Unusual, but for that reason, novel. Brad Pitt or Liam Neeson, perhaps. Both had played senior roles in films about Irish resistance icons. At the graveside, Jim Sturgess was announced as the guest speaker. ‘But it can’t be’ I protested, ‘he is acting Marty McGartland in Fifty Dead Men Walking.’ As if that wasn’t difficult enough, when he began reading the role of honour I wanted to join Walking Eagle behind one of her headstones.

Patriot Franko Hegarty
Patriot Maurice Gilvary
Patriot Peter Valente
Patriot Joe Fenton …

And on it went. When the colour party lowered its flags I heard one of those flag bearers say ‘too fast Freddie.’ Whoever Freddie happened to be, his reply was ‘alright Sandy.’ A steward noticing my concern said ‘ah, Scappaticci and Lynch; they are only water-carriers.’ But they were carrying the national flag. ‘Everybody can change Anthony. One man’s traitor is another man’s patriot.’

Unsure I could continue with this I nevertheless was sucked back into position and marched out of the cemetery. Someone said we were now for Milltown. At last I thought, the escape from this nightmare. It would all fall into place and this madness would be behind us. As we approached the front of the cemetery I could see the colour party slowing down but instead of turning into Milltown it wheeled to the right to begin the journey back down the Falls Road. By this time those in front of us had begun rhythmically hoisting their left hands and pointing with index fingers towards the republican plot, chanting ‘they’re all traitors over there.’ Like a Mexican wave it spread right down to where I was. My hand jerked up in spite of myself and I too began screaming. The anonymous pressure of the group had done its work.

As we passed the Falls Park on our journey back down a PSNI landrover pulled out in front of us. Two cops alighted, and took position at either side of the road, butts of their automatic rifles resting firmly in the crook of their arms. Spontaneously the parade gave a clench fist salute and as one roared ‘victory to the peelers.’

That was it. I pushed my feet hard against the ground and launched myself as far into the air as I could, coming up through the layers of sleep and making my way to consciousness, my heart racing and breath panting.

A dream. Nothing like that could ever happen in real life. Sinn Fein would never encourage touts and label republicans traitors. A dream, that’s all it was. Now, back to the real word where Ireland will be united by 2014.


  1. Wow, great dream. Freud would have a blast with that one.

    I had a wild dream about Uma Thurman once, but I can't pass along any of the details, I might get arrested.

  2. A really well written and telling piece. The imagery is a stark and honest commentary on unfolding events.
    Thankfully more and more people are waking up all the time but it is far short of the collective satori that is needed. Your work has been contributory to my awakening and I thank you for that.

  3. I heard last night just before reading this that the garden of rememberance on the Falls Road near the baths is to be moved. I was talking to a woman who told me she was at a fund raiser recently to get the money up for the move. She said there is no problem with SF but they were told to more or less leave it, and the dogs would look after it. I'm not surprised after what I heard re St James.

    There also seems to be a sort of 'unofficial boycott' of tomorrow's main parade. The same woman said to me any body who goes round to that Falls road and stands there with them should be ashamed of themselves. Thats an awful lot of people have commented the same way.

    I was going to go to the parade tomorrow, but I find myself in agreement in that I won't go as it does swell the ranks of SF support, so I'll probably go to the earlier one, or simply visit one of the remembrance gardens on our own later.

    It'll be interesting to see what sort of crowds are there. In this estate the flags are out from the usual suspects and I had initially thought that they would increase in numbers but sadly they haven't. There is a distinct absence of any thing republican on that road this Easter. I haven't seen it as bad as that since pre-'69 when people were afraid to put flags out.

    Maybe your dream wasn't all that far from reality.

  4. They've stuck up some scrawny bunting.

  5. Brilliant piece of work well done I laughed for about 10mins after reading same, maybe the Deputy 1st Minister was dreaming about this United Ireland thingy by 2014 also,