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In an old village that lies just outside the parameters of Suffolk County, there is an oak tree which sits on the edge of a fenced path. For near on a century, the tree has presided over all that which is other-worldly. The small church around the corner represents a pre-Anglican Christianity that certainly pledges its allegiance to another place, the worlds to come. The dual worlds: anguish and beauty. But there is more to the story than mere religion. The village is Borley, Essex. The tree guards the Rectory from onlookers. But the Rectory cannot guard itself, and only its structure, made of brick, can survive the flames. Borley Rectory was home to many who came and went, but it remains ‘the most haunted house in England’, and this place ought to be heard about.

There was something that really captured my attention about the story of Borley Rectory as a child. I was forever innocent and confused about the nature of hauntings, ghosts, ghouls and poltergeists. Goings-on which fitted outside of my daily life occurred principally in my imagination, aided by library books and the occasional encouragement of TV. I sat on the floor for hours and poured over my books on ghosts and mysteries, each with a certain smell and pace to go with it. Various different ghosts held my interest; now, I have a picture in my head for each one. There were the pale sketches of the spectres of the American Civil War, dying to this day, falling on swords and torn up by guns. There was the ghost in the chapel with the metal-monster face, a thrill which far pre-dated the horror movies of our modern age, death shrouded within a celebration of death. As with the emotional and intellectual investment within a film, drama, action or horror, there was a perceived truism about this image which left me unsettled, even as I read at the same time about its photographic fakery. Then there was the story of the phantom ship, probably The Flying Dutchman, the picture I still remember vividly in this age of image. But, back to Borley.

In 1862, religion was a great respect. The Rectory was built in this year for the rector of the Parish of Borley, and was in a multitude of senses, truly Gothic. Previous to this, there had been another Rectory on the site, destroyed by fire, which we may now note as a sign of foreboding [if such signs are allowed to exist at all]. Photographs of the building from on-high show it to be colossal, at least that’s what it looked to me upon first impression, with a stick-like fence surrounding the structure, somehow making the photograph seem older than it probably was. What safer haven for ghouls than a series of networking rooms, underground basements (perhaps tunnels), the echoes of lost souls inhabiting spaces where sixteen tried to settle? There are stories from this place, and many of them permeated these walls.

The stories were predominantly those of particular hauntings that occurred in and around the Rectory in what we might now term “collective hysteria”. People in the village heard footsteps in and around this giant house. A horse-drawn carriage driven by a headless horseman would do the rounds on Rectory grounds, and a nun was spotted at twilight on some errand or perhaps indulgence, a reverberation from years long gone. Stories get out. One that got out was about the nun and involved her being ‘bricked up’ as a punishment for having a secret affair with a monk, supposedly beneath the Rectory floors, a story probably made up by one-time owner Harry Bull, told to his children on chilly nights sat by the fire. Collective hysteria even reached me; I tried to imagine what the nun might’ve felt, air and life escaping for the sin of love.

But the juiciest stories from the Rectory concerned the poltergeists, the disruptive forces which seemed designed principally to creep them all the hell out, rather than make a simple nuisance. The footsteps were back. Windows shattered and lights flickered. Winter in ’29 was tough. The rumours reached Sudbury town round the corner; then it was all over the Daily Mirror. Then, the Society for Psychical Research [SPR], which attracted Arthur Conan Doyle and William James to its cause at varying points, became interested, who sent a paranormal investigator to, well, investigate. Harry Price was the one and noted mysterious stones that were thrown around the house and objects inexplicably moving about. Another family left the Rectory.

Shortly after this happened, spirits communicated the new occupiers, leaving strange messages on the walls. There are photographs of some of these messages. Being dead must greatly impair one’s ability to write because the scrawls are essentially childlike, though not altogether ineffective in their disturbed-ness. “Marianne, please help me get out” read one. Was it the nun? Was it a con? Another spirit which somehow acquired the name of Sunex Amures claimed that he would duly reveal the hiding place of a murdered person within the Rectory, and that he would set fire to the Rectory on March the 27th of 1938. Bricks seemed to float in mid-air, and someone got mysteriously locked in a room. Menace had truly arrived.

Sunex happened to be off by eleven months. On 27th February 1939, Borley Rectory was burnt down, and an insurance company concluded post-investigation that the fire had been started deliberately. That was the end of it all. The publicity Borley Rectory gained was, in a way, its downfall and I suspect many confined the ‘hauntings’ of the place to another age, to a Victorian mind-set. A few more sightings occurred in the years after before it was finally demolished in 1944. Many afterwards believed the Harry Price investigation, and the sightings and hauntings, to be bull, probably including the original patron of the Rectory Harry Bull, had he still been around to witness the events. Possibly the older, simpler tales of nuns and ghosts from lost centuries appealed more to the collective imagination of the time. For me, it was all good.

In the days before I was critical, before I widely used the internet, the place held a marvellous fascination. I didn’t get tired of my books, or of the stories. Living in Suffolk, I was able to visit the village of Borley and I recall going once to find the grounds and former site of the Rectory, but finding only modern farmhouses and a grey memorial to the fallen dead of the World Wars, the host of real ghosts, of which there are many up and down the country. I looked in vain for the seemingly ancient Oak that had dominated that photo, which was the definitive image of the Rectory, for me. Now, the demonic gothic house lies in my past and in my mind, along with all the imagined musty smells, images of broken China and of cricket on English lawns in summer. This, then, is a memory of a boyhood interest which still holds a certain magic or at least something other-worldly. It is less of a lament; more of an ode to what was once my favourite half-truth.

March 2015

Whatever you come away thinking after seeing a Squeeze show, there is one thing that cannot be doubted – at this point in their career, fun is the aim of the game.

A packed UEA Waterfront greeted messrs Difford and Tilbrook in Norwich on Sunday evening shortly after a warm-up set by Paul Heaton & his band. A son of Hull (adopted) and perhaps the city’s best known export, Heaton seemed not fazed to be ranked as an opening act playing for a growing crowd in some smelly student union, just 8 years (more or less to the day) after I saw him perform with The Beautiful South to a full house in London. Heaton’s set was satisfying one, if slightly erratic and featured some Beautiful South classics interspersed with some more recent solo efforts. Ending with the joyous Caravan of Love, which featured a premature Squeeze appearance – albeit with tongue firmly in cheek – the stage was set for the second assault.

Entering on stage right, Chris Difford looked particularly dapper dressed in a suit, and with the removal of Glenn Tilbrook’s summer goate the impression is given that the band have made an effort for the evening. Kicking off at a middling pace with tracks like Annie Get Your Gun and the underrated Without You Here from their last studio album, Domino (1998), Squeeze quickly got into the feel of things, despite the rather lacklustre response from a mostly middle-aged audience. The band was tighter than when I last saw them two years ago and the set-list considerably improved.

The change of having an acoustic section broke the show up nicely and gave the crowd a chance to sing, shout and cry along with classics such as Labelled With Love and Take Me I’m Yours. New songs were met with a polite response, but the foot-stomping hits that define Squeeze went down the best.

Most interesting for an avid fan like myself was the inclusion of several Difford and Tilbrook solo tracks with a unique new ‘full band’ reworking, with a ukulele here and a vaudeville interpretation there. These underrated tracks like Difford’s On My Own I’m Never Bored and Tilbrook’s Still gain much played as a group effort, and it is pleasing to see these songs reaching a wider audience. Though it was the last night of the tour, Tilbrook’s voice was in fine form throughout.

The enthusiasm of Squeeze shone through the most on classics like Up The Junction and Another Nail In My Heart; during the latter song, Paul Heaton repayed the earlier Caravan of Love shenanigan by appearing on stage and pretending to sweep the feet of Chris Difford with a broomstick. Here it was – two of all-time favourite lyricists standing next to each other in jest – I knew that whatever else might happen, the night was a firm success for me.

After Tilbrook lead the band into a typical carnival-esque singalong with set-closer Goodbye Girl, they wandered over to a desk to sign records and chat to fans. As part of their ‘pop-up shop’ concept, Squeeze have recorded each night of the tour and sold it after the show as a limited edition CD purchase. The band has now reached an age where they are in the music business for the pure enjoyment of it, and this something that remains in the mind after leaving their show.  Each concert is like a celebration. Next year there is hopefully something new to celebrate: an album of new material and more live shows to go with it. Bring it on!

The basis of early European art and therefore culture is surely the dramatization of the Jesus story. Walking around the ancient St. John’s Hospital in Bruges, Belgium and viewing the array of paintings in this half-church brightened by the stained-glass floodlights, which penetrate the hollow space in the way only these large Catholic spaces seem to, my thoughts turned to Nietzsche. His extensive work covering the topic of Christianity is perhaps most gracefully illustrated (for him) in Beyond Good and Evil (1886) when accounting for the life-depraving and ‘sickly’ image of Jesus bleeding on the cross.

Such a story, for Nietzsche, could only be created by a herd morality in wonderment and shame at its own existence. The shepherd and flock aspect of this religion, which is invoked from any usage of ‘herd’, was perceived and reinforced by Christians and artistic interpreter’s long before it could be seen as a criticism. This symbolic weakness typified by the cross, from which we are obliged as humans to inherit sin and redemption and in a sense, the life’s grovelling to entities which would have nothing to do with us, is obviously identifiable with its millions of followers. This is something I don’t and could not share (consciously echoing Pascal’s ‘I am so made that I cannot believe’, the fact that there are many of us who share this mind-set); the fundamental desire and acceptance for weakness to prevail over strength. In the hospital paintings, nuns and assorted others flock and droop to the body of Jesus, one sucking the blood off of his feet. Sickly, indeed.

In terms of humility as being a great Christian virtue, we would again do well to consult the symbolism. The transitory shift in Jesus’ short life as depicted in art, from the recurring virgin and child, through Da Vinci’s Last Supper to the crucifixion, is a not so humble jump of about 30 years. Conceiving without sex, although actually overtly cynical when examined, may seem innocent enough, and is certainly a feat no other can match (but does it permit divine authority?), though I have always seen humility as coming hand in hand with dignity. Jesus almost definitely would not have gone quietly and the sobered remorse of the man condemned to death might be expected of any person. But the crowd are part of the story too and the masochistic edge remains clear through Jesus’ wretched body writhing in agony. Rather like the light through church windows.

However this sad and pathetic story would be just that without the extraordinary claims of its followers, which deplete any ‘humility’ the story might have contained in the first place. To me, the story of the resurrection, a supposed material being (which he would have to be to maintain any kind of likeness or allegory to the human being, and thus giving the story its driving emotional power) being returned from the dead, renders any kind of meaning in his sacrifice obsolete. If Christ was not really lost to the darkness of forever, then what had he sacrificed? I believe this is a point which is too often overlooked in favour of the miraculous and the wrath of God featured in the Bible, but put simply, I do not believe this story is coherent or legitimate in terms of containing ‘meaning’ for Humans.  Of course one cannot say with full conviction and intent that ‘I’d have whipped Jesus’ but let us remember if the story were true, Christ was trying to establish an authoritarian leadership on Earth. As C.S. Lewis points out, if the story were not true (and he didn’t really exist), then Jesus was a crackpot imposter whose intentions were to deceive the most needy. Assuming god’s power of omnipotence, the pain was certainly pointless and so surely, this is another manifestation of the sickliness revolving what would have been at the time of the paintings, a near death cult?

If this Christian presentation of the world was correct, that we inherit sin in search of a cure, Marx’s quote that ‘religion is the opium of the people’ (which is always presented as an amputee; its full version is rather more majestic) surely applies. According to him, Nietzsche should have been a victim of his own philosophy (and in a way he was). Ill for a decade and dying at the age of 55, he was a total personification of weakness, this perhaps being a significant motive in his thinking – as B. Russell adequately explains in his book on Western Philosophy: ‘he soothed his wounded vanity with unkind remarks’.  I rarely rejoice in his work, but ‘Christianity was from the beginning, essentially and fundamentally, life’s nausea and disgust with life, merely concealed behind, masked by, dressed up as, faith in “another” or “better” life’[1] contains at least some verity. After all, we cannot help what such paintings remind us of.


[1] Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy, p.23

Picture the scene: it is the middle of 1969 and famous Beatle John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono are staging one of their many ‘bed-in’s’ for peace from a hotel room somewhere in Montreal, or Holland. Lennon, becoming ever more outlandish in his peace protests since the release of Revolution the year before, is apparently leading a generation of angry, young, idealistic voices against the culmination of wars in the first half of the twentieth century, currently Vietnam.

Emotive, drastic, forceful words are flying in the face of the media from a man who has at this point been one of the most famous people in the world for the last 7 years (featuring many quotes which will survive the natural weathering of time far longer than one might’ve thought), but one shall stick out: ‘if everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace’. Less than ten years later, Lennon and Ono are of course living in their million dollar luxury flats in uptown New York where he easily managed to ignore the issue of his personal wealth and laugh off Orwellian socialism whilst continuing to oscillate his mantra of peace and love  – the same scene where the Beatle met his pointless, untimely demise. But these acts confirmed Lennon as a member of the 60’s peace movements along with his rock star colleagues.

The mentality of free love culminated in Woodstock some months after John and Yoko’s protest, highlighted by the cynical spectacle of Jimi Hendrix performing ‘Star Spangled Banner’ to an audience of mostly young draft-dodgers rather than any serious candidates for political protest (this can more or less be confirmed by reading audience accounts online at the dedicated Woodstock website). This was a spectacle which actually ended in a dirty field full of plastic bags, polluted water and all other imaginable by-products of hippies going without adequate cleaning facilities, toilets, food and free space for a week. As they all retreated home, it somehow signified the end of the 60’s counterculture movement.

It is an interesting question to pose, whether there is any long-standing significant impact of the sexual revolution and free love propaganda of the 1960’s.  Politically, it was certainly a revolutionary period – from JFK to Malcolm X, communism in Cuba and Prague, the war in Vietnam, the Parisian student revolts (the latter group subsequently becoming famous as the Soixante-Huitard’s, the sixty-eighter’s who encapsulated the defying spirit of their political ambition).  The free love zeitgeist may have helped move a generation of baby-boomers closer to their libertarian ideal in a few ways, but perhaps shouldn’t have been the primary catalyst.

The sexual revolution of the time basically coincided with new forms of birth control, empowerment of women through feminism, the gay movement and in Britain, at least, the introduction of the abortion act in 1967. It is tactful to suggest that sexual and hormonal energy which would have otherwise been discharged in a furore of violence or more destructive impulses at the issues of the 1950’s and 60’s – unequal society, the Cold War an development of nuclear technology, superficial politics etc. – was instead spent on flower power, pretty music and lots of lovemaking. Introducing drugs to the scene helps one see further the unhelpful distractions and the blaringly obvious dichotomy between preach and practice which permeated the lives of pseudo-revolutionaries. What was the real revolution?

Happily to us, it seems that the so-called ‘protest’ music of the 1960’s (Dylan, Joan Baez, The Beatles) also coincided with the defining issues of the day, but noticeably all American fodder; the civil rights movement and Dr. King, Vietnam, Haight- Ashbury, etc. There are for example, no Jimi Hendrix tunes about the Chinese Cultural Revolution. The plight of Guevara only became world-widely celebrated decades after his work, somewhat ironically through the form of his imprinted face on t-shirts, posters and all other items of cheap consumerism. The 2003 film The Dreamers documenting the May 1968 student riots in Paris makes use of such rock and roll music for precisely what it was: a pleasing soundtrack. Allusions to The Stones and all bands portraying the hippy ideal were characteristically unpopular a decade later, best shown in The Clash’s 1977:

No Elvis, Beatles or The Rolling Stones,

in 1977.

Punk in America and Britain was the perfect antithesis of flower power in the late 70’s which only showed how much the music current despised the failed utopian dream. One wonders how the veterans of the era and the more politically minded took to their futile occupations of lying on lawns with tea and hash ten years previously… with stale nostalgia at best?

The culmination of events in the world that decade, mainly political, gave birth to the largest united shift of consciousness since the War and this means something. One therefore wonders what became of the free love legacy. The deaths of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy only signified that extremism still existed. The Nixon years in the White House in the 1970’s and the neglect of the Labour Party in Britain showed that politics was game as ever, with the Vietnam ending on its own accord – such events becoming illuminated through those rose-tinted spectacles of hindsight and past reflection. This is not to diminish the excitement of the time for say, a young journalist learning the trade of politics in real time in Israel writing on the Holy Land dispute, or the authoritarian regime in Portugal, or the rallying powers of Castro in Cuba; things which culminated long after the fads of the counterculture had worn off.  A brilliant account of this time and these activities is available in the rousing memoir of Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22. Taking in such events and pushing for a sense of moral duty on the streets must be the defining spirit of the late 1960’s.

So this is the legacy those of the time rightfully will remember. Having started with Mr. Lennon, we can certainly finish up with him. In 1970 Lennon released John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band amidst a haze of prog-rock nonsense and the premature deaths of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. The final line of the most poignant song on the record summed up the feeling of the time, at least only for the hundreds of thousands of crying hippies at the disbanding of the Beatles: the dream is over. I wonder if there could have been a better timing.

Underpinning Thomas Nagel’s philosophy on death is the belief that it is the loss of life which is evil about the state of being dead because being alive and having conscious experience simply is a positive state to be in, regardless of life’s fortunes and misfortunes (and even if the negatives outweigh the positives – e.g., enduring a life of extreme, painful torture). He maintains this position without really justifying it and if one disagrees, this ought to be the first point of contention.

In Nagel’s paper on death[1]  he starts out by trying to establish whether death is ‘an evil’, and how great this evil may be, and of what kind. In turn then, we are obliged to ask for a clear definition of what we mean by evil – contained therein is the implicit assumption that evil is an existing concept and this is something which might need to be challenged on a separate basis.  The fact that Nagel believes death is a ‘thing’ ( an entity perhaps), rather than the lack of a thing or the cessation of existence (which is a crucial aspect to my argument surrounding the concept of death), is evidenced by the fact that he thinks we can attribute this said characteristic to it (evil). According to this then, in a similar manner we could for the sake of argument say that evil is ‘good’, ‘indifferent’, or even ‘extremely good’. This postulates a certain (corrupted) type of thinking about what ‘death’ actually is – an assertion that it is in fact a state of being, but when we say it is ‘good’ or ‘evil’, we are making a moral claim about a material matter which is of course, soon to be non-material (once the body disappears, etc.) – which is then non-existence. For this argument, both Nagel and I are not engaging in a discussion of the afterlife.

Expanding and continuing on this theme, Sam Harris makes the plausible claim (which Nagel doesn’t primarily disagree with) that for changes in the Universe to matter, they have to matter at least potentially to some conscious system/being. Concepts of good and evil and indeed experience itself depend on minds. Agreeing with this motion, it seems we can say that independent bodies (friends, family, etc.) can experience evil, by virtue of their being conscious, when people die (through the form of say, grief, anguish, pain), and so death will be a bad thing for them in this regard, but Nagel makes his position easier to refute by claiming he ‘will not discuss the value that one person’s life or death may have for others, only the value it has for the person who is its subject’. This has to contradict the idea that for changes in the Universe to matter they have to be a conscious being, for the value of death to the individual subject themselves is firstly, knowledge which is unattainable by us (and therefore it seems hard to make a claim about it for each person as Nagel does) and secondly non-existent – by virtue of the very nature of being dead, the lack of being as I have so emphasised – so how could it ever be of ‘value’ to them? To me, it makes sense to say that in the indifference of the natural universe, we cannot put any moral value or claim to the state of being dead. I acknowledge that this is a fundamental difference of understanding of what death is between my school of thought and Nagel’s.

Nagel makes an analogy between the popular saying ‘what you don’t know can’t hurt you’ and thought that whether anything can be bad simply as a depravation of goods (i.e., dying). It makes sense to think of death this way – of course it is truly a shame if a man’s reputation is slandered once he is 6ft under, but this has no bearing on the goodness or badness of events on behalf of the individual who is dead. The person who fails to execute a person’s will once they have died is doing a moral disservice to the deceased (and arguably, themselves) but we wouldn’t say the dead cares or is somehow morally affected. To me it is true that the person’s doesn’t seem to be harmed (in a recognisable way that we would define harmed – e.g., feeling a pain or anguish or is personally damaged) when he is unaware of being betrayed behind his back – unless it affects him later, i.e., he finds out (but this is not the question). It therefore seems to me that Nagel’s attempt to argue against the notion that ignorance is bliss rather fails – I think most people, intuitively, would believe it to be true, as long as that ignorance prevails (for their lifetime). It is hard to say that one has been truly harmed, damaged or hurt, if they are not aware of the fact.

It is a plausible thought of Nagel’s that it is the discovery of betrayal makes us unhappy because we feel it is bad to be betrayed (and not the other way around), but the moral burden is therefore on the person who did the betraying (regardless of whether the individual discovered it or nor). If the person discovered they had been betrayed, they would express displease at the ethics of the person who did it – there was a wicked, moral intention behind it. This feeling would not exist without the other person doing the betraying and it is a reflection of that person. The victim wouldn’t care as much if the consequences of the betrayal were non-existent or tiny. This is in a nutshell the justification of a victimless crime. But when talking about death, the indifference of the natural universe cannot be used as a convincing analogy with the betrayer in the same way, simply because of the neutrality of the physical order of the World. In summary, this is the main empirical fact which leads me to believe it is wrong to ascribe moral notions or claims onto non-existence (what used to be the subject, the person), i.e. aiming to justify that death is always a bad thing, as Nagel does. Epicurus sums up my position and what I believe to be the most rational way of thinking about it; ‘Death is nothing to us, since when we are, death has not come, and when death has come, we are not’.


[1] * From Nagel, T (1979), Mortal Questions, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.1-10

“Mr. French is a peeping Tom”, I stood accused.

For too many summers I had enjoyed, face

Pressed against the glass – the warm hum that comes

Watching a scene from afar, a chapter in somebody elses novel.

The flickering of pages came to a halt as I

Became judge and jury at my own trial.

I see myself as they see me,

‘I only really wanted to climb the tree,

But I slipped and fell, right by the glass,

And I see how it looks to someone walking past’.

“You’re going to have to do better than a rhyme if

Ya don’t wanna do the time” they tell me, the voice

Reverberates, loud, like some old headmasters, throttling my

Youth into sin & landing my dignity, in the bin.

 

I said, we’ve  all been outside looking in and you don’t

Threaten me anymore with your corduroy and trousers and

Disgusting beard. My story will continue long after your gone!

 

But then I knew. A peeping Tom never quite loses a reputation.

I had been caught with my trousers down – almost too literally,

Just to get some glimpse of the gown. And the pompous, & ceremony.

I was just one of the unlucky ones

But I got to write about it…

+ they filmed my trial.

I can dream I am free,

It’s only called denial,

That I – Mr. French – am a peeping Tom.

I landed after a short and fairly sweet flight at Belfast International Airport too early in the morning, as me and my Dad made way into Belfast City.  The landscape is as similar to Yorkshire as I expected, although the green fields are made slightly more illuminating through the systematic weather sequence of rain, then shine, then rain again. We firstly went by the Queen’s University (so titled as an old Commonwealth institution) which is a nice enough City campus, and soon realised the fact that both Philip Larkin and my own Grandfather would have been at the University around the same time (in the late 1940’s – Larkin as a young librarian, my Grandfather presumably, as an Army-man, being deployed to patrol the Ulster Streets just having got back from Burma in the War!). Interesting territory, which I didn’t feel related to at all.

We drove around the surrounding Town’s and greenery – the fields along the coast almost have the mythical charm of the sort which I felt at the Wicklow Mountains from my Dublin trip a few years ago – but the cosy Eire glow is soon distinguished when traipsing across the rugged, rather worn out settlements, like Larne or Carrickfergus or Lisburn (not that one).  I visited the newly built (costing £97,000,000) Titanic experience museum, which was okay… a lot of information. Good for fans, but they don’t half publicise the story; I had to remind myself a couple of times that they are actually capitalising on a tragedy and quite a bad technical engineering feat as the conclusion and indeed, memory, of the mammoth saga. At night, we stayed at the Jury Inn hotel without many complaints (other than not being able to get into the room a couple of times), which was near the relatively famous Europa Hotel, which has been bombed a record of 28 times throughout the Troubles, and was also a residence where my (same) Grandfather occasionally happened to attend conferences in the 70’s.  Great boozer opposite – called I think, The Castle – with amazing interior décor and a keen eye for taste with low lying booths  and a good selection of bevvies; it is good to taste a real Irish Guinness once more. Here is another one I enjoyed in the Killyhevlin Hotel in Enniskillen the next day, with a rather wonderful backdrop!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Killyhevlin Hotel was also another old target for the IRA as it was bombed during a wedding party in 96’ and yet to stay here you would not know it for the peace and for children running around. The same can be said for the town of Omagh, very near the border, which of course suffered the worst atrocity of The Troubles in 1998 when a bomb killed 30+ people, and the Town of Enniskillen, when a bomb caused 12 casualties on Remembrance Day a decade earlier. The places are quiet, the people are friendly, with no hint other than a few obscure plaques than such atrocities had occurred – but the undercurrent of extreme Republicanism always feels present as a Brit walking these streets.

One of the most interesting places we went was the old country on the coast, right over to the Giant’s Causeway, where they’re currently building a visitors centre (modern, trendy) next to an aged hotel (old, retro, cosy). A pathway leads down the cliff face to the Giant’s Causeway (so called as a walkway to Scotland for the Irish warrior Finn McCool) which is a series of interlocking basalt columns from an old volcanic eruption which lead into the sea. It’s really nice to stand at the edge by the sea as shown below (straight ahead – the next land to hit would be Iceland) and have the spray blow into your face. Only slightly tacky is the fact that a paved drive leads all the way up to the site with buses coming back and forth!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we left the area to go back home, we drove through the loyalist part of Town (in Belfast); the paraphernalia is mildly threatening and hostile over a grey sky backdrop but with what looks like any other council estate. Striking graffiti brings back the real situation of partition in Ireland – driving along the long stretch you can’t help but notice ‘Prepared for Peace – Ready for War’ in big lettering alongside pictures of men in balaclavas with guns – fairly typical imagery of the type you imagine. It still leaves that remaining impression in your mind that there is an undercurrent of what we might consider extremism. But with advancing years let’s drink a Guinness to the relative peace in the region!