Dan : my brother Denis’ pal, veteran & NY Mets’ fan
On Sunday evening, January 8, 1990, I departed my native city, flying Aer Lingus from JFK in New York to Dublin, Ireland. I aspired to be the first McGeehan to locate the “auld sod” of our Irish forbearers, John Daniel and Mary Anne O’cannon who had embarked for America in 1860.
Dublin’s modernized suburban airport was ably served by speedy and efficient customs officers. I presented them with my backpack, loaded with gear for County Donegal’s coastal moist weather, warmed by the Atlantic’s Gulf Stream.
Outside the Terminal I caught an express elevated train into downtown. I wandered clean streets with tidy shops and tourist-filled pubs, making my way along River Liffey, across from Trinity College, founded in 1592. Wishing I had more time to explore, I focused on transferring by bus to Donegal, 150 miles northwest of the capital.
Dublin’s intercity bus terminal was conveniently located across from the domed 18th century Customs House. Being the “greenhorn,” I unwarily boarded and headed out of the city into “The Troubles” of Northern Ireland.
This violent era began in the mid-1960’s with no peace settlement in sight. Animosities over jobs, elections, British presence, and religious discrimination fueled those who chose to take up arms. Forty-seven civilian non-combatants were killed in 1990.
The coach full of travelers negotiated narrow lanes of Dublin, gaily decorated for the Christmas season. From my rear seat, I photographed picturesque scenes of citizens going about their routines on a Monday morning.
During my flight to Dublin, I had met a young Irish lass traveling home from Dallas, Texas, on vacation to visit family. She sat with me on our westward journey. She worked on the famed set of the nighttime soap opera “Dallas,” as a sales clerk in the gift shop of conniving JR Ewing’s mansion. She confided to me how a non-sectarian peace group had placed her in the job to escape the unpleasantness of her war-torn community.
A few hours’ travel brought us to an isolated intersection, the site of a British Army vehicle checkpoint at the border with County Fermanagh, one of six counties of Northern Ireland. Three weeks earlier on December 13, 1989, Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) combatants had killed two British soldiers, one an Englishman and the other a Scot. The bus stood twenty miles south of their checkpoint at Derryard.
Three blackface British soldiers exited the sandbag-outpost to board the quiet bus. “What the…?” I say to no one in particular, caught totally unawares by this intrusion. Two enlisted men, in their early twenties, stood guard with automatic rifles while the officer wearing a side arm came down the aisle, looking from his right to his left. “Probably searching for enemy-suspects and weapons,” I thought. He stopped only once, to question me.
I later learned how IRA and supporters favored the wearing of beards. Not many Irish had them, I observed. I sported a full brown, tinged with red beauty, hence his polite attention. I passed him my passport and plane ticket and responded evenly to his questions. “I’m on vacation to look for relatives in County Donegal. I just arrived from New York City,” I responded.
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