"Gravity knows the justice of my revenge, and comes to my aid," Jim Carroll
May to August are the cruellest months for seeing loved ones die.
The stifling heat, clear blue skies and gleaming skyscrapers just exude life, vitality and euphoria. Combine this with seeing someone you've known all your life in a hospital ward suffer, struggling to speak and with a wide eyed expression of acceptance, the contradiction can reduce most to tears at the injustice of the world.
Hearing that Willie Frazer had passed away on such a day of immense heat, I immediately thought of his relatives. On a purely humanitarian level, it is difficult to not feel for a family that have lost a relative.
Frazer's own passing marks a string of recent deaths by people who all made their mark on this country (for better or worse). Frazer was a bit different, as he was a post 'Troubles' figure, one who had many facets: the young boy grieving for his father, a victim left behind by the peace process, a loyalist caricature, a openly sectarian bigot and the 'country boyo' so relentlessly memed on social media.
Unmistakable in his public image, the uncultivated country bumpkin with no media training made statements that were both superficially bizarre and darkly sectarian in their nature (infamously, his belief that the il Tricolore was an Irish tricolour so it meant that the primary school was an IRA training camp). As a result of such remarks, he became a pariah for nationalists, a figure of merriment for the media (both mainstream and social) and a character seen by unionists as (to quote Balaclava Street) an "eccentric one-man-band" with noble intentions.
Regardless of the simplicity of his public persona, it's easy to look at the facts and come to the conclusion that he was a complex figure. A man who had family members killed by forces sworn to overthrow the constitution of his country, seeing the same forces take to the constitutional stage must have been a massively bitter pill to swallow. Even if the worldview that developed from these circumstances was a bitter, reactionary one with little in the way of perception.
Reactions to his death have been fairly predictable, all sides firmly entrenched in their own perceptions and daring the others to make a move. While it has been amusing to see people who had celebrated Billy McKee's death lecture others for doing the same regarding Frazer, there is something monumentally depressing about the posturing. Little in the way of give and take.
And in many ways, it's an atmosphere that Frazer helped foster. Remember his claim that he was appalled when the then deputy UUP leader, John McCallister, bravely reached out to nationalists by admitting that unionists had "to confront and recognise..." their role in the conflict in order "...to build reconciliation in Northern Ireland and throughout the island...?" By refusing to even contemplate such a possibility, Frazer offered a glimpse of how the mentality of 'no surrender' will eventually lead to a cul de sac, socially and politically speaking.
His metamorphosis from humble victims campaigner to clown prince of loyalism is a cautionary tale of how emotions can get the better of people, allowing themselves to take part in activities that undermine their cause and self perpetuates misery.
Someone similar who springs to mind is Roger Craig, a Dallas policeman.
On the 22nd November 1963, Craig was in Dealey Plaza when President Kennedy was killed. He claimed that, after the shooting, he heard a shrill whistle, saw Lee Harvey Oswald run from direction of Texas School Book Depository and get into a Rambler station wagon on Elm Street with another man.
Although others support Craig's story, it has long been established that this person was not Lee Harvey Oswald. But he maintained that story for the rest of his life. JFK researcher Dave Reitzes says that:
While at the time...there was scant reason to question his reliability, he later developed into one of the most notorious confabulators connected to the case...Craig committed suicide in 1975, a broken man.
Craig's daughter once wrote that articles promoting Craig's conspiracy theories:
...only serve to continue the myth. My father was a disturbed man. I'm not disputing that what he thought he saw was something ... it is Exactly this kind of dramatic license that killed my father. It fed his disease. It fed his paranoia. And in the end, it contributed to his self-destruction.
Reading those lines, it's hard not to think of Frazer. The endless paranoia in unionist/loyalist circles about a potential "back door deal" with republicans undoubtedly fed this sense of isolation and obsession within him, and the so called "culture war" on unionists/loyalists would have been further confirmation to him that all he had feared was coming true.
Hence the various ludicrous public appearances (who can forget his interview with Henry Rollins), the bogus attacks on his property, the horsemeat, vilifying teachers and schools, openly aligning himself with far right scum.
Thinking along those lines, a sinister undercurrent emerges. One where an individual who has been traumatised and is clearly in need of therapy is openly manipulated by 'his own' side and vilified by 'his enemies'. Of course, Frazer was his own man and could make his own decisions on the matter, but one wonders what could have been if he'd moved country after the death of his father.
It's a sad tale. One summed up best by Dr John Ó Néill:
"To be honest, I hope Willie Frazer found some peace, however fleeting, before he passed on."
⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland.