A recent post in the both the Newry Democrat and the Irish News states that the Crossmaglen Police Station/Army Barracks is to close permanently. If these reports prove to be true it will come as a great joy to many people in the area who viewed the structure much the same way that the Gulags in Siberia were viewed by the local population. The thought of being 'lifted' and taken in for interrogation was enough to send shivers down many a persons spine. It was seen as the first stop on the journey to Bessbrook by helicopter with many ending up in the most notorious place of all, Long Kesh Prison Camp, the last stop on the journey for many.
Ever since I was a young boy growing up in Crossmaglen the belief around the area was that the 'barracks' was a place to be feared. The following article recounts one of many incidents that occurred in and round the structure over a period of approximately 30 years.
The first inkling you have if you happen to be outdoors is the rippling effect of the shock wave along the ground or along the floor if you are indoors. Less than a second later the bright flashes, dull thuds and thunderous noise and vibrations follow.
The massive blasts of the four homemade, two-hundred-pound mortars, launched from the bed of a commandeered, hi-sided truck, reverberated and shook the buildings throughout the town as they hit their target with deadly precision. The night sky was set aglow with eerily brilliant domes as each mortar shell exploded; windowpanes in the houses closest to the target disintegrated into glinting shards, propelled hundreds of feet into the air by the huge shockwaves, deadly fingers of death for anyone unfortunate enough to be caught in their path. Roof slates cracked, loosened, and slid to the ground, laying shattered in broken piles in the street. Large planks of wood, sheets of galvanize, and concrete building blocks were blown a hundred feet in the air. Jagged, grotesquely twisted chunks of metal whizzed through the night sky, landing in dozens of locations, some as far away as the cemetery, five hundred yards distant.
Heavy, rattling M60 machine-gun fire opened up from several vantage points, the armor-piercing tracer bullets glowing, as they coursed through the night air toward the British army barracks, striking, then ripping through the barrier walls. Automatic rifles sprayed the large observation post on the Square, ensuring those inside stayed there. In less than five minutes, it was over. A hushed silence enveloped the town; all was quiet and still. The troops inside the joint Army/Police base did not venture outside right away, and when they did, discovered that the volunteers had merged back into the Irish night and were long gone. Accompanied by police officers the first thing they did was to have the electrical power to the town turned off. Then the vengeance would begin.
This was life in my hometown of Crossmaglen, County Armagh, for almost thirty years.
Brendan Behan, a fellow Irishman, rebel, and Seannachie (storyteller), while living in the Chelsea Hotel in New York during the spring of 1963, wrote:
To my new found homeland: “The man that hates you, hates the world!”
I agree with Brendan. I was forced to leave Ireland for economic, religious and political reasons and where else would or could I go? There was only one place that would accept me and welcome me as one of their own. Like Brendan Behan and his namesake predecessor, Saint Brendan the navigator, I too followed the long line of roving Irishmen and came to America. My journey was made much more comfortable, courtesy of Aer Lingus, our national airline.
As I waited for a taxi outside the international terminal at JFK airport and with the warm summer sun caressing my face, I was in a dreamlike state. Northern Ireland and the savage war which had raged there for thirty years were consigned to that other world I had now left behind. Almost immediately I sensed something profound had taken place. In that instant I was different. I felt lighter somehow and totally free. I was astonished when I realized that the deep-rooted monster, fear, was gone. I stood there unafraid for the first time in thirty years.
Now, in America, my sanctuary, there would be no more running scared. No more armed soldiers stopping and searching me. No more house raids in the wee hours of the morning. No more beatings with rifle butts and arrests. No more gun clicks. No more being dangled from helicopters. No more coercion to become an informer. No more hunger strikes. No more attending funerals of young men and women, pacifists turned into reluctant soldiers. No more fear.
That is what America gave to me … freedom from fear.
So, to the armies of naysayers, the legions of doubters and the countless ingrates I say ...
Take the ferry ride to Liberty Island, walk to the feet of the lady with the torch, get down on your knees and read those treasured words inscribed on the plaque — digest them thoroughly and when you have done that, go out into the world and live them.
"Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
From "The Journey: A Nomad Reflects."
For Sale at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0692500944/ref=rdr_ext_tmb
Also for Sale:
Don’t Die with Regrets: Ireland and the Lessons my Father Taught Me.