Monday, March 17, 2008

My trip to Ireland, 2001


“Wanna hear about my trip to Ireland?”

... (This is not your average tourist’s report.)

2001, the first week of September.

I was employed by a Crane and Rigging Company in Upstate New York, as a Safety Director. I designed and ran the safety program for about 100 employees, and did the field safety inspections. The company received a contract to oversee the shipping, rigging and installation of an eleven million dollar machine, that manufactured computer hard drives. The machine was made here in Rochester, New York and was being shipped to Londonderry, (Derry) Northern Ireland.

They company asked me if I wanted to take this project. “Sure!” I said, “Ireland or Northern Ireland?” “Northern.” “OK, sure, but just my luck I’ll probably get caught in a war.” (Be careful what you ask for…)

So they gave me a week to do the job. I flew to London, then over to Belfast, you can’t fly direct from the U.S. to Northern Ireland. Ireland is VERY GREEN when you break down out of the clouds to land. Then a $100 cab ride to Derry, a nice hotel, lots of pubs.

I arrived at the Seagate factory at the assigned time and met the crew from Scotland that would do the rigging. My one week project took a day and a half, so then guess what? Tourist time!

I went up through Ulster to the Giant’s Causeway, a really cool volcanic pipes stone column phenomena, that the Irish have built a marvelous yarn around a battle between a Scottish Giant and an Irish Giant, that is too long to tell here, but very Irish. Went to visit a couple of castles, went over into Ireland at Donegal to another castle. All great so far!

Derry is an ancient walled city, that has the downtown area built up all within and merging nicely with this ancient history. This is the very spot that the animosity between the Catholics and the Protestants first occurred back in the 17th century. It is also where Amelia Earhart landed when she made her first solo crossing.

They have a walking tour around the walled section and you get to see a mixture of the oldest history and then around to the high ground where the British Army troops fired down into the Catholic neighborhood in the 1970’s killing several so called unarmed civilians. The court case is still going on there every day, or it was when I was there.

After taking the walking tour I told the nice little guide girl that I wanted to see more, what would she suggest? “Oh, you must take the taxi tour! I’ll call you a cab.” Shortly came a small black car with a simple sign on the roof “DERRY TAXI.”

Kenny, bald and gold earring, says “Wherr de ye wanna goo?” I explained that I like history, wherever he suggested would be ok. “Yank are ye? Got family here?” "Nope, no Irish ancestors, not yet.”

He laughed. “First time I ever had a Yank in the cab that wasn’t looking for his kin.” So we went out across the river up into a more modern area and Kenny showed me several spots where the “Bastids attacked me boys!” ?? Huh ??

Turns out Kenny’s brother-in-law was the youngest boy killed on the Bloody Sunday shooting in January of 1972. Kenny turned left and found himself on a dead end street and had a look of panic! There was a mashing of gears, squealing of tires in reverse, and it was a scene out of a James Bond movie. I’m a little freaked and asked what was wrong? “Ahh, it wooden be safe fer me ta be up here aloone!” “The get me the Hell out of here!” I had no idea what so ever what the problem was, but was ready to go back home.

The sidewalks are painted Red, White and Blue in the Protestant neighborhoods, and Green, White and Orange in the Catholic neighborhoods, and they do not cross over into each other’s territory often. So we go back downtown by the wall and going through a Red, White and Blue neighborhood… THUNK! “What the…?”

“Did that guy hit your cab with his fist?” “Noo, it was a rock!” So Kenny goes up to the traffic light, turns right, tucked in down behind a brick building and gets out to see the damage.

Well they drive on the wrong side you know. So I get out the passenger side, with my video camera running to look also. Just then three thugs come barreling around the corner throwing rocks and bricks at us! Kenny panicked because he did not know I was getting out. “Get in the car!” Too late…

As I was aiming the video camera at these idiots, they raised their tee shirts up over their nose but kept coming, and a brick hit the roof of the cab and then split the top of my head wide open!

Kenny screams, “Get in the car !!!” I dove for the passenger seat, blood streaming down, and missed my footing, hit the door cowling with my left eye and slammed the door. For the next few seconds all you could see on the video tape was the back of the seat cushion and hear some very heavy breathing.

He said “They’ll KILL US!” We were a little blocked by traffic, they were still coming, so Kenny drove up on the sidewalk, down a one way street the wrong way, and after a couple of blocks we were in the clear. He apologized all up and down for taking me there.

I still had no idea why all this happened. What did I do wrong? Why were they attacking me? It turned out in the newspaper article the next morning about the Yank getting attacked in broad daylight, that the answer was that the Derry Taxi company was owned by former members of the IRA. Who knew? They were not attacking me, they were after Kenny!

No matter where I went from then on, in every pub, no matter which neighborhood. Almost as soon as I entered someone would say, “There’s the Yank that got attacked” and “Have a pint on me lad.” I never bought a drink.

Two days after I returned home, the worst civilian attack in American history occurred and I forgot about my black eye and my bloody mouse entirely.

Happy St. Patricks Day!

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4 comments:

Old Saratoga Books said...

Now THAT'S a story. Very interesting and vivid account.

unyg said...

Thanks for the nice comment. I have told that story a few dozen times, but when I see it in print, it comes back totally vivid!

George K. said...

I read your blog on Ireland. Did the taxi driver charge you extra for the excitement ? Glad I didn't go there. I spent two weeks in Scotland back in October... I used a rental car and HATE those round-abouts but survived. Big increase in traffic since I was there back in 1978.

unyg said...

George,

He didn't charge any more, but he didn't give me a free ride either! Mostly he was worried that I was going to sue. I was glad to get out of there with the rest of my scalp intact.