By Gary Oswald
On the Sea Lion Press Forums, we run a monthly Vignette Challenge. Contributors are invited to write short stories on a specific theme (changed monthly).
The theme for the 17th contest was Different Lives.
1981, Trinity College, Dublin, Irish Republic
Christy rolled his eyes at the flyers the two men were handing out from their stall. They were in both Gaelic and English, of course. Never mind that far more people spoke French than English, god forbid they offended the proddies by asking them to speak the language of the country they lived in. But he took one anyway and thrust it into a pocket as he hurried off to class.
Later that night he found it while undressing and stared at it. An invitation to a politics group meeting the next day in a local pub. Well, Christy thought, he did need to get out more and one of the men did have very nice eyes. What harm could it do?
The beer turned out to be pretty dire, the seats dirty, and he’d found himself unhappy with some of the other attendees personal hygiene but Padraig’s eye were even nicer close up and the people seemed largely sound on the big issues. Everyone agreed that Norris needed to be released and ideally replaced in prison by Hanafin and on the need for more secular education. There was some things said about foreign relations and what reforms the health service needed that Christy had had to bite his tongue over but he’d had a nice conversation about the closed shop with a rather pleasant young woman named Noreen. So, of course, just when he was beginning to let his guard down someone had to mention Edward Fucking Carson.
“Well yes,” Christy found himself saying before he could stop himself, “Carson might well be turning over in his grave but given Carson was a bigoted old fossil who’s only canonised by people who ignore 90% of what he did because he was in the right place at the right time in 1917, I can’t say I care much.”
There was that moment, where it felt like the conversation had slowed down and Christy found himself blushing at the attention and bracing himself for the angry confrontation he’d apparently committed himself to.
“Oh come on,“ Hugh replied, too embarrassed by the outburst to not reply, “Even if you ignore Carson’s importance in the revolution itself, you surely can’t ignore that he compromised and worked with Pearse and Griffith when the Republic needed to be established.”
“And look at the price he demanded for that! I’m not saying Griffith should have shunned Carson and his British Volunteers but why do we give him so much praise just for saving his own skin? It wasn’t like the Empire hadn’t made it clear that his lot were on the firing lines as much as everyone else was. Hell, more so.”
Hugh tried to interrupt, but Christy had had one to many drinks and he was on a role.
“If we desperately need some protestant leader to worship, for the cause of unity, we should have picked Wolfe Tone, at least he actually believed in an Irish Republic.”
And that was the bomb drop, he might have well have told them he wanted to recommend Satan as the new Archbishop of Dublin. There was spluttered outrage and then angry rebuttals and when Christy finally left the pub about twenty minutes later, his good mood had well and truly disappeared.
And then Noreen caught him up.
“So that got kind of intense in there, huh,” she started, giving him a sideways glance that carried far too much insight for his liking.
“Yeah,” he stumbled, suddenly embarrassed of it all.
“I get it, though. What with Norris. And Carson and Wilde,” and he felt that sudden bit of fear when she said it. Christ, was he that obvious? That could be dangerous if so, “though you went a bit too far when you bought up Wolfe Tone.”
“Tone gets a bad press,” he said to cover up his nervousness and he couldn’t help notice that they’d both stopped dead on the path home. “He freed us from hundreds of years of brutal English rule.”
“Yes,” she said slowly in that voice people used to say the screamingly obvious, “and bought about another hundred years of even more brutal French rule.”
Which he’d resisted, he felt himself start to say. The man gave everything he had to free Ireland from Foreign invaders who were far more brutal then modern history gives them credit for and established a free Republic and so he'd taken the only help that was available, made a fair deal and then when his allies stabbed him in the back and betrayed that dream, that was his fault too? Even when he ended up in prison, trying to stop them. And then we blame the famine and the deportations, decisions made decades after his death, on him and assume that the English would never have been so bad as if Elizabeth and Cromwell never existed.
But he didn’t want a second argument in so short a time so he didn’t say that.
“When Hoche first landed in Bantry Bay, the French were greeted as Heroes. Thousands of Irishmen rose up to join them in the march on Dublin,” he said softly instead. “If Napoleon hadn’t declared himself Emperor, I think there’s a universe where Wolfe Tone is a hero. It feels unfair to judge a man for things beyond his control.”
“I guess it is,” she responded softly and held out her hand for him to hold.
This story is one of many written about Ireland. If it's inspired you to write one like this, details on an upcoming 'Alternate Irelands' anthology can be found here.