“That’s a load of crap.” We swiveled round in our seats. Who had had the temerity to insult Brian Artur? By the accent it must be a local. We peered through the nicotine haze towards the pool table. Grimshaw was the first to speak. “Is it yourself now Stephen, sure the Sergeant was just looking for you not half an hour ago.”
The young man blushed, put down his cue, picked up his coat, made for the door, and exited into the night, followed by a gale of laughter. I turned to the great man and asked, “What was that all about?”
Grimshaw smiled. “I see you’re not up to date with the local scéal. Well, it’s like this ...”
Stevie was a fisherman. He lived in a small village in darkest Donegal and made a reasonable livelihood on the boats which operated out of Burtonport. Twenty-one, single, popular with the local girls and generally with enough shillings in his pocket to accommodate his already prodigious drinking habits, he was one of the few locals in the ‘Teac Ban’ who got on with and liked the Belfast men who came down to the Teac at weekends to escape the stress of their home town. The pub, an ex-RIC barracks, had been bought by a Belfast man and the tension between the owner, his Northern friends and the locals, although it rarely manifested itself until vast quantities of alcohol had been consumed, was always there like an ominous undercurrent.
Stevie was one of the odd men out. He liked the hard men from the North. ‘The boys’ from Andersonstown and the Falls and Ardoyne. The ‘boys’ who, with the stress of Belfast behind them for two or three days sat until all hours drinking and swapping stories about ‘the troubles’. Stevie played darts with them and pool and kept up with their late night drinking sessions and this, alas, was to be his undoing.
It must have been all the tales of derring-do, of heists and hijackings, of kneecappings and even ‘wet jobs’, as the CIA, bless their little hearts, call murders, but whatever it was, Stevie conceived the idea that he too would become a ‘desperado’. In sleepy Donegal the opportunities for a would-be Jesse James or Pretty Boy Floyd are somewhat limited, but, his mind made up, Stevie was undaunted. “You have nothing to fear but fear itself,” he muttered to himself as he wove his way unsteadily back from the Teac one Friday night and found himself outside the town’s only bank. “Nothing to fear, too fuckin’ right,” he mumbled as he fiddled with the catch on the back window. “Five grand, easy. That’ll show those Belfast cowboys that we’re not all asleep up here.”
With an easy insouciance born of alcohol he forced the catch and climbed in, oblivious to the fact that he had triggered off the alarm which was wired directly to the local Garda station across the street. It was the first time that the alarm had ever sounded in the barracks and the sleepy night duty gardaí were at first amazed and then apprehensive.
Surely it must be the IRA, them feckin’ Provos and they’d have guns. Donegal gardaí are used to dealing with the odd drunk, the errant driver and the occasional case of sheep shagging, but armed robbery is regarded as a bit over and beyond the call of duty. A man can get hurt by those trigger-happy boyos, and a free military funeral’s not much of a substitute for the pension and the free clothes in anyone’s book. Nonetheless, let it be said, Tirconnel’s finest did not shirk in their town’s hour of need. Pausing only to buckle on their Webleys, phone Letterkenny for assistance and to grab the station’s one and only Uzi machine gun, they piled out and surrounded the bank. All three of them.
Inside, Stevie was peacefully engaged in rifling the tills when his equanimity was rudely shattered by the raucous voice of Sergeant McDaid, amplified and distorted by a bullhorn, urging him and all his murderous crew to throw their guns out and come quietly because the place was surrounded by a squad of crack marksmen.
It is true that the good Sergeant, in so describing himself and Constables McClatchey and O’Dowd in such terms may have been indulging in the odd bit of hyperbole, but, in the circumstances, such flights of rhetoric are surely permissible. At any rate, his announcement electrified Stevie.
Scooping up the handiest bundle of paper, he charged across the parquet tiled floor and launched himself, head first, through the front window of the bank, thinking only of John Wayne, Grainne Uaile and his own self-preservation, and not necessarily in that order.
With the luck of the daft and the drunk he fractured the plate glass, somersaulted, landed on his feet in the main street, right in front of the startled Sergeant, and took off out of town like a bat out of hell. At this juncture it must be confessed however, that, in the annals of crime, this particular exploit does not rate highly on the modus operandi quotient scale. The town, and I use the word loosely, has only one street. Indeed in the past some have rather unkindly referred to it as a ‘one horse town’. And it died. Accordingly, adrenaline pumping as the would-be Cole Younger tore out of town, his choice of escape routes was strictly limited. As he pounded along, expecting a bullet in his back any minute, he was all too acutely aware that, with the sea on his left and the peat bog on his right and the next turn off three miles on up the road, his chances of evading capture must have rated as high as Margaret Thatcher being elected in West Belfast or Ian Paisley being accorded a civic reception in the Vatican. In short, not good odds. The squad car wheezed up alongside of him and Sergeant McDaid rolled down the window.
“Get in, Stevie, you stupid bollix,” he said, more in sorrow than in anger. “It’s the station for you, son.”
Stevie contemplated the defiant leap onto the stony beach. It wasn’t quite the drop Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had had to undergo in the film, but it didn’t look too promising. Briefly he considered a ‘you’ll never take me alive, copper’, then he shrugged his shoulders and climbed into the back seat. He was knackered. O’Dowd, taking five to do a three point turn, drove them slowly back to the station. As he got his breath back, Stevie tried to regain some of his initial defiance.
“I gave youse a good run anyway, didn’t I Sergeant?” McDaid, a compassionate man in his own rough way, glanced at the fistful of used cheques which Stevie still clutched in his hand, and nodded wearily.
“Aye, Stevie, yon Al Capone could have learnt a lot from you.”
Stevie’s notoriety in the village was shortlived. The Sergeant went bail for him and spoke on his behalf at the District Court. “T’was only the drink talking. He’s not a bad lad, yer Honour.” He got off with a 50 pound fine and 100 pounds for the window. The bank staff put up a plaque commemorating their only bank raid in history. To show there was no ill feeling, Stevie opened an account with them when he got his next paypacket. Alas, however, this blot on his career meant that he would never be admitted into the august ranks of the Cruit Island Liberation Front, that daring band of desperados led by the notorious ‘Big Seamus’.
Still, soon the talk in the bars turned to other matters. I hear Stevie even got himself married. Sic Transit, Gloria Mundies.
Read the foreword by Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey to the German edition of 'Last Orders'! (English text)
• Internment, Anvil Books, Tralee 1973
• The Guineapigs, Penguin, London 1974
• In Praise of Poitín, Appletree Press, Belfast 1978, 1988, 1999
• Tales from the Barricades, McNally&Loftin, Santa Barbara 1990
• Der Hund, Edition Nautilus, Hamburg 1990
• Der Mann, der mit Chuck Berry getanzt hat, Edition Nautilus, Hamburg 1992
• Der Fette Bastard, Edition Nautilus, Hamburg 1996
• Charles ‘Nomad’ McGuinness, Irish Resistance Books, Derry 2002
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