A few weeks ago I took my Dad and his oldest, bestest friend on a tour of South Armagh. Well, actually it was my Dad’s oldest, bestest friend who did the driving.
I was like a human back-seat sat-nav and probably not the bestest directional device they could have found, for there were many u-turns on this foray into the heartland of Republicanism.
For a whole bunch of reasons I know the area quite well and they wanted to go somewhere they hadn’t been before. “South Armagh”, says me, and “OK” says they.
Now, I’m no believer in grammar school education, but my Dad and . . . let’s call him Aidan . . . had both come through the system. Not because they were rich, but because they were clever. Clever enough to go on and do good stuff.
My Dad’s always been a fountain of surprises for me. Indeed, some tales dare never be recounted while he’s thankfully upon this earth (like how I nearly got shot in me own bedroom: thanks Da! It was loaded!).
There’s many a story to be told, but I’m hoping they’ll be a long way off afore the telling. Let’s leave it at that.
Anyway, here’s us on our way through South Armagh, “Prods” written all over us. Except that we weren’t all Prods.
By chance, two working class lads had ended up in the same grammar school playground 60 years ago. One a Taig, one a Prod. My Da should have been comfortable in a “Prod” school, but there was always an edge to the lads who got the “cert”.
He was a bit too “street”, and ever since he’s never really given a “f***”.
He loves that word, does me Da. And fair play to him, for it’s a good word. And I like it too.
But my Da made sure that “Aidan” was alright. He got him through that awkward first year. And they’ve been friends ever since. By Dad, if only you could see them and the craic they had at Red Island . . .
So there’s us in Camlough, with me holding us off for a coffee break in Mullach Bán. Disappointingly, Tí Chulainn cannot offer even a machine coffee and I retreat to Aidan’s car with the gay rejoinder that we shall have our fill in Crossmaglen.
And indeed we did. Me Dad made sure we sucked up the Fenian calories of the Cross long before we set our gradually-tiring eyes upon Úr Chill an Chreagáin.
“So what”, whispers he and Aidan as we drive past the Poets’ Glen. It’s only when I begin to explain the secrets of the long-hidden O’Neill crypt that the myths and the mysteries come to life.
70 skulls? Red hand of Ulster? That has to be the stuff of a new Lambeg shell, or even a lodge banner. Suddenly, they’re entranced.
It was a beautiful moment, when religion didn’t matter. Age didn’t matter. Even where we were didn’t matter. All that mattered was a friendship that has endured. And those 70 skulls. They’re still asking me about the 70 skulls.
There’s so much more I’d love to share: I only wish I could tell my Da how much I love him, but he’s not that sort of guy and he doesn’t do Twitter and he doesn’t do Facebook and he thinks the internet is where Jeremy Paxman used to live before he left Newsnight.
I love him though. Me Dad, that is.