Wednesday, 17 March 2010
Consorting with the Enemy
By Walt Grant
We were visiting my mother a few years before her death when she brought out a dusty old manila envelope and asked me to burn it for her -- without opening it. I realized that there was something special about this envelope and coaxed the following story out of her. She was reluctant to tell it, but finally relented and told it in full.
She was raised in Donegal on the northwest coast of Ireland a few miles outside the town of Glenties. In 1921 she was 20 years old and the Irish Rebellion was going strong. The British army occupied the area and even had a barracks where their troops were quartered in Glenties. The army had a policy that any gathering of Irish larger than five or six people had to be monitored by British soldiers.
Glenties traditionally held a dance in the village every Saturday night and my mother loved to dance. One Saturday night she and one of the British soldiers became friendly. He walked her home at the end of the evening and their friendship deepened. In fact, he soon became a regular visitor at her home.
This was at some risk to himself, of course, as the British army had strict rules against “consorting with the enemy.” But love conquers all, they say. And the Irish Rebellion went on with little help from my mother and John Hughes who at some point presented her with a fine portrait of himself in a folder bearing the imprint or a photographic studio in Belfast. This she had treasured all these decades and she now wanted me to burn.
The story continued. One fateful night, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) blew up the British army barracks in Glenties. Completely destroyed half the building. The British immediately pulled out the surviving troops and razed the remains of the building.
My mother never learned the fate of her soldier; whether he had been killed in the blast or had been moved away to another post somewhere else in the then British Empire where he would have been forbidden to communicate in any way with an enemy girl in the rebellious village of Glenties.
Disgusted with perpetual warfare between the British and the Irish, my mother sailed to Boston the following year.
So, she gave me the envelope and I vowed never to burn it but to do my best to see that the photograph and the story survived until far into the future. My youngest son is now the custodian of both.
[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]