"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Monday, April 09, 2007

Four Years Ago Today

I had just returned to our Merrion Square hotel in Dublin, where the Chap and I were both working--we'd just escaped an April snowstorm (sound familiar?) He was there as consultant/researcher for his client radio station. I'd spent my morning at the National Library round the corner, reading the dusty, ancient tomes published by my 17th century kinsman Sir James Ware, an ecclesiastical historian and Dublin resident. (Except during Cromwell's time, when he found it prudent to leave his family behind and seek refuge in France.) Sometimes, when taking a break from researching a novel, I indulge myself with "for pleasure" scholarly activities. I'm weird that way.

I entered our hotel suite, tossed my notebook and pencil case on the bed. I switched on the telly for an update on the Iraq War, only a few weeks old.

I was instantly confronted by, as described in my diary, "footage of the fall of Baghdad. Statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down from its pedestal, head hacked off, dragged throught the street. Much shouting and jubilation in front of the cameras."

It wasn't the first time we'd travelled abroad during "wartime," and given the length of this interminable war, certainly wouldn't be the last.

If anyone had told me on Wednesday, April 9, 2003, that four years later, several thousand American troops would be dead, along with tens of thousands of Iraqis, that the situation would have disentegrated into what can only be called civil war--yes, I would've believed it. Because that was my own premonition way back then. (I've got a written record to confirm my pessimism.)

On completing our Dublin business, we headed to Heuston Station and boarded a train to Cork for a gourmet holiday in Kinsale, before carrying on to our beloved County Clare.

I described that train ride in article I filed with my newspaper the following day:

How I loved Ireland during our journey from Dublin to Cork. To me, haunted by televised bombings of Baghdad, frustrated by New Hampshire's endless snows, this country seemed so peaceful and alive. The greenest grass imaginable. Trees leafing out. Every flower a cheery yellow: clumps of naturalised daffodils, gorse scrambling up the hillsides, primroses sprouting along embankments. And the flocks of animals--sheep, cows, horses. Some grazing but most lying down, even the horses, basking in the spring sunshine, no care in the world. More foals, lambs and calves than I could count, reinforcing my sense of renewal and rebirth.

Yes, here in Ireland the Bush-Blair war--any war--seems a distant unpleasantness. Yet as our train rumbles past the great ruined mansions of the dispossessed, and the many gutted stone castles, a ripple of awareness intrudes upon my contemplation. These green fields have known their share of bloodshed and strife. As I reach for my packet of Taytos (Ireland's original crisp!) and munch away, I can't help but recall the Famine, and its effect upon this nation and my own.

But here and now, there's absolutely no sense of danger, fear or anxiety. I suddenly realise I have no idea whether there's a threat level, or what "colour" it might be.

In that moment I felt liberated myself, in a way I didn't expect, but desperately needed.

In this April of 2007, there's no escaping the late snow. Or the mud. Or the war news. I've got too many responsibilities: making laws, nurturing canines, writing a very different sort of book.

But I confess, a part of me longs to be on that Irish train again, rumbling through the green, yellow-splashed countryside on my way to the wild and rugged Cork coast.

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