Sunday, July 1, 2012

Stopped by the Garda

Saw an English mystery on TV tonight. It was set in 1964 and some of the characters were IRA agents. The story pulled in both the British and Irish points of view, as well as their perception of what Americans thought. It reminded me of my trip to Ireland in the 1970's. I rented a car and drove all around western Ireland before heading east to Dublin and then a northwest swing.

One day I was driving in Kerry south on the Dingle Peninsula at the very south of the island, and had given a local woman, whose weekly shopping bags filled up the back of my Mini, a ride. Hitchhiking was common at that time, and I occasionally gave rides to women. We had gone a few km when we saw a roadblock manned by the Garda, the national police. Traffic was light and there was only a car or two ahead of me. When it was our turn, I showed the police my passport, drivers license, car rental, etc. They gave me the once-over, asked my passenger some questions to ascertain she was a resident, and waved us through.

My companion told me that there had been a recent spate of gun running by the IRA, and the Garda was setting up roadblocks throughout the west. And she gave me a friendly warning that they were particularly suspicious of Americans, who were thought to generally support the IRA.

Western Ireland's coast is a wondrous series of headlands, coves and bays, with many isolated beaches near sparse settlements. It has been a haven for marauders and contraband for millennia. AsI continued my travels, I began to notice there was a definite police presence on the western and northern roads. On the leg through Country Antrim near the border, I even felt (romantically perhaps) that we travelers were being watched in hotels and pubs. I quickly learned not to bring up the subject of "the troubles" or politics associated with them with casual companions.

The mystery reminded me that the IRA and the troubles were a character in the drama, and a character in the daily lives of Irish people.

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