The news over the past days of the final end to ‘the war’ in Ireland brought back many memories, some of them strange.
I remember in the summer of 1988 driving on a road out of Galway city heading westwards. Having been an impoverished student not so long before, I was in the habit of feeling sorry for hitch hikers and picked one up on the outskirts of the city.
It turned out that he was an artist, making a few pounds by selling pictures of Galway scenery. He lived in a cottage halfway up a mountain.
We talked about this and that and, given the fact I was wearing a clerical collar, we talked about religion. He said it was something he couldn’t accept.
When we reached the turning off the main road for his cottage. I said I would drive him up. I had a little Austin Metro and I had to coax it up the winding mountain road.
When we reached the cottage, J offered me coffee and because I was curious about him, I accepted.
The cottage was as I expected. There was a stone floor; embers still glowed in the open fireplace; it was not very clean; the dishes were dirty and a woman’s clothes were strewn around the place; I didn’t ask.
Apart from a fridge, a kettle and a cassette player, the house could have been something out of a museum.
We drank black coffee from china teacups that had no saucers and talked about what had brought him to a cottage on a mountainside in Galway.
He had grown up in a Republican area of Co Tyrone. His father had gone to jail for membership of the IRA. From an early age, he had been under pressure to support the cause. He couldn’t agree with the rest of his family, so he left home and school and drifted.
I asked him if he went home at all.
Every couple of years, he said, but it was painful. Going home meant threats, because of the people he mixed with and because he refused to support his family’s beliefs.
Two of his brothers were in the Maze prison, serving long sentences for terrorist offences. ‘I can’t understand it’, he said, one of them came to visit me when I was down in Cork. He was just an ordinary fella. Two days later he was caught planting a bomb’.
J had no time for religion, or the church, or anything that went with the; he saw them as destroying the life he felt was important.
J’s life was lived outside of the law and outside of society.
He was not a selfish man. He spoke warmly of the kindness and acre he had received from people he had never met before. He talked about how he was trying to help a friend with drink problems.
As I rose to go, he cuddled a puppy and thanked me for the lift. He walked to the car with me and said he hoped I would call again.
I never did call. I had forgotten all about him until this week.
I hope the war is over; I hope J can go home at last; and I hope he will find that the church has changed, that we believe in life and not in destruction.