9 Year Old Soldier at Play in the War

Guest writer Davy Carlin moves towards the conclusion of his story of life growing up in a politically troubled West Belfast.

 ‘Good to talk to you bro’ the black guy said, and with that he gave me a complicated bro hand shake that only some good bros know – before he got out of the taxi.

With that, I held down the window ever so briefly, to allow a breath of fresh air into the taxi.

‘Is this the right time’ {one of the young couple had said within the taxi}.

- 'Yes, yes it is.’
I then looked at the couple, as I had only realised that they were talking in Irish. 

Indeed today we see a revival of the Irish language, and this can be seen in not only the many voices talking Irish as they go about the road in which I was journeying, or with the visitors and tourists who also come to both sample and experience such. 

It is also seeing a new Gaeltacht Quarter in progress, with activists putting their shoulders to the wheel to help provide a boost to our dire local economic situation presently. 

I can still remember my Protestant friends, who did not fear my ‘Irishness’ articulated to them through the language – as it was to them but a language. 

And I can remember the many marches Marie and I had joined upon this road, marching with many others for such rights. 

Today though, through my eyes, one can see the growing cultural and economic benefits of such - as well as progress on such further rights.  

And as I thought of that, I went back in mind, back to my childhood days and to the placing onto my lapel of my jacket, of my Irish speaking Fáinne, as I had smiled in pride at my achievement. 

Then I had thought of my years going to the Irish speaking Gaeltacht in Donegal’s beautiful Falcarragh and Magheroarty and to the wonderful times spent there in the wilds of Ireland. 

This thought then opened the door to many other childhood memories in which I had holidayed away from the daily death, destruction – and more – which was evermore ripping my mind. 

‘That death, daily destruction and more’ I thought – and so briefly I again remembered back to my Falls Road childhood – and being tied to a hospital bed going mental in convulsions - strait jackets at the ready - going mad I was told – but I shook that thought of.

‘Slán go fóill’ I heard one of the couple say to the other, as one of them got out of the taxi. 

With that I let the window back up and again lazed my head against it. 

‘Slán go fóill’ I thought. 

Would I go back to the memory of leaving a house on the Falls Road, a house of Irish speakers who were really good to me in childhood and where I had first began to learn Irish?

Will I go back in thought to my Fáinne, and to that day and the pride of achieving such? 

Or will I go back to the Irish speaking Gaeltacht in Donegal’s beautiful Falcarragh and Magheroarty – and to the wonderful times spent there in the wilds of Ireland? 

I’ll just let my subconscious pick, I thought, as I cleared my mind.

Bang! – 

A car outside, its exhaust had went off, and with that unexpected noise, it had taken me back to other times within this existence. 

It was the lower Falls, again at war, as my eyes had went to the skies, as light after light passed over me. 

Petrol bombs and some blast bombs then rained down onto the forces of the state, as I had hidden, petrified in fear as to what I was witnessing all around. 

One had hit a young teenage solider now in flames, the cheers then went up from others, drowning out his horror of being aflame. Shots rang out, bang, bang, as many masked and tooled up were sheltering behind a large piece of iron sheeting and cars, while other vehicles were already in flames. 

One person was hit; another was getting battered and trailed along the ground with a line of blood behind him into an army jeep, where the beating continued. 

The calls and cries off horror, off fear, off hatred, where all around, more shots rang out, more bombs rained, more horrendous beatings abounded, more blood and guts followed. 

The seeking off death and destruction, the fear and hatred, the smells and flames, if there was Hell, {I had thought within my strict catholic upbringing} – or at least Purgatory – then I was living within it. 

My surroundings were becoming as if they were but a picture in motion, a moving painting – it seemed real, but it did not feel real.

With that, the mist of mind started to arrive, that yap and gurn of a kid, was then slowly again being taken over. And so as I had got up and reached out for my childhood weaponry my eyes again glazed over fully – and therefore death then held little fear for that, that I had been driven to become. 

In my eyes, I was not then a 9 year old child at play - but a 9 year old soldier at war.

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