I wonder how many people under the age of, say 21 would have a clue what you were on about if you asked them about ‘The Troubles’. For the past 21 years Northern Ireland has enjoyed (not really enjoyed but it’s better than what came before it) a supremely delicate peace, a peace in the very loosest sense, and it’s quite sad to admit that over that time a lot of new people have never really bothered to learn about how awful ‘The Troubles’ really were. Or perhaps we’ve been so distracted by other things we’ve forgotten to teach them. I am no expert on this vast chapter of Ireland’s complicated past and I never will be, but what I do know is that I find ‘The Troubles’ as fascinating as any other part of 20th Century history and that definitely includes two world wars.
I say this because we’ve just come back from a very quick visit to Norn Iron, from Belfast airport to Enniskillen and back, and when you’re driving as fast as you can through pitch black night it does make you wonder how many bodies those roads have carried, bundled into the back of vans and hastily buried with no ceremony and doubtless very little remorse. I suppose it’s best not to ask. I’m generally very fond of Northern Ireland and particularly the people. They are frank and gently blunt and very helpful and given what they’ve had to put up with remarkably chipper most of the time. They have more soul than the Welsh and don’t rate themselves as highly as the Scots. With the exception of our antipodean friends I doubt anyone could rate themselves as highly as the Scots do. ‘The wife’ may disagree.
Here’s a quick summary of events. Many months ago ‘the wife’ suggests we go to Enniskillen for a 50th birthday party of a friend of hers that she hasn’t seen in 10 years and whom I have never met. I make a series of logical, practical and reasonable arguments for not going. Many months later we prepare for our visit to Enniskillen. To say I was not looking forward to it would be the mother of the high priest of all understatements but then I reasoned that it would be nigh on impossible for any trip to be as bad as I had imagined this one could be (unless of course I ended up in the back of that van on that deserted road and on that deep, dark night. As event horizon crept inevitably forward my faintly disguised stress levels built up and then….well then it all just happened.
Leave work and bomb round M25 just in time to greet our friends and travel company. They are proper working class, salt of the earth types but despite the clash of backgrounds we all get on famously. We’ll call them Neptune and Leipzig.
Quick cigarette as Leipzig indulges in a last something similar else; to which I turn a blind eye, because he’d do it anyway. Jump into taxi for Luton Airport and manage to avoid most Friday traffic. Everyone laughs at my needless worry and miserable temperament. Well done everyone. Pile into airport after another quick smoke (N and L are enthusiastic smokers and I am never one to be in Rome and not be Roman) then sit on top of each other for a quick meal. I chose steak which was a stupid idea because the knives they give you at airports have all the cutting power of a soft boiled egg. N is already moaning about needing another fag, but this will not happen for quite some time. I have a solitary pint as I am designated driver when we land. The things I do.
EasyJet flight delayed, of course, by half an hour. Joyless queueing ensues and N has to subdue her rattle at perceived ill handling at check in desk. Christ she needs a cigarette. Take off, turbulence of a level that seems unfair for a 50 minute flight and then land at Belfast International. Sort car hire, long awaited ciggie and, just after L has a rather public wee, jump into a Toyota Yaris for a 90 minute Enniskillen bound joy ride, courtesy of yours truly. We collectively decide that we should pass on stopping for supplies on route (tea, milk, booze etc) and so plough through on empty Irish roads until we hit a big Tesco just before midnight. Irish laws forbid retail sale of alcohol after 23.00 hours but I talked a friendly hotel chap into sell us a few take outs. Result. Arrive at apartment and, all tensions evaporating, get to bed at 2 in the morning. Hurrah.
Wake and rouse 5ish hours later and between us fail to establish any kind of decent plan. Trudge around Enniskillen for an hour or so looking for suitable brunch locations and a tobacco vendor, both of which tasks were harder than you’d imagine because Enniskillen is a bit up-on-bricks and also because tobacco is apparently very hard to find. Brunch abandoned in favour of lunch, we sit down in a pub for a fry up and a couple of pints (proper Irish Guinness for me, again the Rome thing) and meet another couple who I’ve never met but are bound for the birthday party. L watches football and I watch through the mirror as the rest catch up and we all poke fun at each other. Much better than I could have hoped for. Go for a walk, led by ‘the wife’, to a castle which in fact is barely the ghost of a memory of a castle. N moans almost constantly but that is pleasing in a strange way as she moans in a colourful way and also means I am relegated to the second most moany person in the group. A rare thing indeed.
Back into town and another pub and then return to accommodation in a round about way (N and L sneak in a cheeky KFC behind our backs, which leaves us stuck outside and a mite miffed for a little while). Power nap and then shower and dress, eventually, and jump into taxi to a golf club for the party. This place almost hosted The Open this year but in the end somewhere else got the gig. Diddumms. The sun has got his hat on and the green is a deep and happy green across all the land and so we sit outside and wait with, as you may have guessed, a drink and yet more cigarettes. Birthday girl arrives and then, just like that, it is midnight and we return to apartment with alarms set for 5 of the AM. Wake bleary but probably not hungover (I didn’t want to be the only person ‘on it’ and so was remarkably disciplined). Clear up and return to insipid, underfunded Yaris for L’s version of a joy ride, which is if anything even more cavalier than my own.
Arrive in very good time at airport, which to the glee of both N and L has a designated smoking area. I have smoked enough and without a ‘beverage’ rarely feel the need to indulge. This time EasyJet had sorted themselves out and we land on time and in good enough spirits, though the taxi driver takes a stupid route back home and that vexed me more that just a little. Two washes and clothes drying in late afternoon spring sunshine and writing this having realised that a well judged post on ‘The Troubles’ is well past my intellectual capabilities at the moment (perhaps for all time). Our rushed little excursion was many times better than I had thought was possible but one thing remains true: I knew I’d be knackered and so I am. Much earlier night planned, story told. Take from it anything you bloody well please. Long live Norn Iron!
G B Hewitt. 12.05.2019