There are moments when one thinks one must have misheard a comment, or heard clearly, but misunderstood, or understood correctly, but failed to be aware of the circumstances. Then there are moments when one hears, understands, and appreciates the context, and is left with, at best, bafflement, or, at worst, bewilderment.
“Did you ever get a chance to talk to him?” he asked.
“I did. I asked him one time if the garage had ever had trouble with the boys. He said they would come just when they were closing up and fill the car with petrol and drive off – and they had been afraid to call the Guards”.
“Oh that, that happened because they had called the Guards one time before. He had found a machine gun hidden down at the river and had gone to the barracks about it. He should just have ignored it; it was an old gun”.
“He should just have ignored it?”
“He should. I would have. If there was a tank down at the river, I would have ignored it”.
Perhaps the man would have been wiser to have phoned the barracks, or to have phoned a barracks outside of the area, or, if he wanted to be anonymous, to have posted a note to the Guards; it took a good deal of bravery to go in person. Someone must have overheard the man telling his story to the officer on duty and passed the word around for everyone to have known what had happened; either that or someone had leaked the story.
The suggestion that the man should have turned a blind eye seemed extraordinary. This was not smuggled cigarettes or whiskey, this was not stolen property, this was a weapon that had clearly been hidden with intention. A machine gun has only one purpose, and it’s not defending oneself against burglars.
It had been pointless pursuing the argument; it’s all a long time ago now in a different Ireland.
One of Colum Sands’ songs has a refrain that goes:
“Whatever you say, say nothing, when you talk about you know what
For if you know who should hear you, you know what you’ll get
They’ll take you off to you know where for you wouldn’t know how long
So for you know who’s sake don’t let anyone hearing singing this song.”
The song has a humorous tone, but within its humour there is more than a little truth. Had there been more people like the man who went to the barracks, history might have been different.