Martin McGuinness (23 May 1950-21 Mar 2017)



Born 23 May, 1950 in Derry, Ireland, James Martin Pacelli McGuinness was one of the most influential and instrumental figures in Irish politics. From IRA leader to peace process innovator, he gained national and global respect as a man able to convince seemingly uncompromising foes into becoming allies for the common good.

McGuinness, at age 21, was second in command of the Derry Brigade of the Provisional IRA.  In 1972, Derry suffered through the infamous “Bloody Sunday” massacre, during which the British 1st. Battalion, Parachute Regiment, gunned down 13 innocent civilians during a civil rights march. (Seven of those shot were teenagers; a fourteenth victim died months later as a result of his injuries during the event).  The 1998 Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday found that although McGuinness was indeed an active IRA member, and in possession of a Thompson submachine gun, he “did not engage in any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire.”

McGuinness was convicted in 1973 by the Republic of Ireland Special Criminal Court, after being arrested near a vehicle containing a large amount of ammunition and explosives. He refused to recognize the court, but stated, ”We have fought against the killing of our people…I am a member of Óglaigh na hÉireann and very, very proud of it.” He was sentenced to six months in prison.

In 1974, McGuinness left the IRA and chose to concentrate his efforts on a diplomatic solution to The Troubles, working with prominent Sinn Féin member Gerry Adams, among many others. Following many clandestine meetings with the British government and Unionist leaders, some marginally productive, others futile, McGuinness managed to help form what Brian Rowan of the Belfast Telegraph called “The most unexpected partnership in politics”. The partnership was with that of Rev. Ian Paisley, infamous for his anti-Catholic, anti-nationalist stance—not to mention his alleged collusion (via his DUP position) with sectarian violence and a nearly successful attempt on the life of Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams.

By this time, McGuinness had been elected Sinn Féin MP in 1997. (In concordance with Sinn Féin policy, he abstained from participation in Westminster Parliament.) He kept this position until his resignation in 2013. In the meantime, he helped accomplished what many considered impossible.

Working closely with Gerry Adams and other members of Sinn Féin, as well as David Trimble, Tony Blair, Ian Paisley, and other members of the Unionist community, McGuinness was able to help bring about the historic Good Friday Agreement of 1998. This admittedly incomplete recompense to the nationalist community nevertheless brought about a cease to the majority of organized warfare in the northern six counties and paved the way for a (still) precarious peace between loyalist and nationalist, Catholic and Protestant.

McGuinness served as the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, having served with Ian Paisley as First Minister until 2008. (He ran an unsuccessful campaign for president of the Republic in 2011). Considering  the life struggles of McGuinness, largely due to British colonialism and Unionist bigotry, and Paisley’s  nearly life-long bigotry towards Catholics, it is amazing that McGuinness came to call Paisley not just a partner in the peace process, but a friend. He was visibly distraught upon Paisley’s death, and extended condolences to not only his family but the loyalist community at large, paying respect to the stature of his former foe amongst a population that persecuted and opposed him his entire life.

McGuinness was instrumental in the beginnings of the the peace process in Ireland. However, he was far more than that. He travelled from Sri Lanka to Iraq and all points between to share his expertise in the sacrifice and diplomacy necessary for peace in the most contentious of circumstances. In one of his statements regarding the Irish peace process he stated, “Let everyone leave all their guns—British guns and Irish guns—outside the door.”

He also famously said, speaking of his political opponents, “In fact, I would defend to the death their right to express a different point of view.”

McGuinness resigned his post as Deputy First Minister in January 2017 after First Minister Arlene Foster refused to step aside to allow independent inquiries relating to the Renewable Heat Incentive, the so-called “Cash for Ash” scandal. (Foster’s predecessor Peter Robinson had twice stepped aside to allow independent inquiries on other matters; apparently Foster did not share his views on transparency or commitment to the power sharing government at Stormont.) This also marked McGuinness’s retirement from politics due to health concerns. Michelle O’ Neill was named as his replacement as the leader of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland. His resignation vacated both his seat and Foster’s, forcing an election which took place 2 March 2017, resulting in Sinn Féin drawing to within one seat of the DUP’s majority, an unprecedented achievement.

With Ireland closer than ever to an end to partition and the challenge of Brexit looming ahead, McGuinness’s leadership will be sorely missed, but his legacy and example have armed the next generation of Irish Republicans to lead their country to the future that has been dreamed of for generations.

“The most important thing to say is that Sinn Féin isn’t going back to anything. We are a party on the move.” —Martin McGuinness


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As they say in Limerick: “Cmereiwantcha”

“Silent Stories”, an upcoming 2 person show at the Belltable in Limerick, will feature art by Miriam McConnon and Eoin Mac Lochlainn.

Scéalta Ealaíne

oil painting by Eoin Mac Lochlainn of empty fireplace “Tinteán Tréigthe no. 31”,  50 x 50cm, oil on canvas, 2017

We didn’t have a dresser in our kitchen.  We only had shelves with hooks for the cups. The gas cooker was in a room on its own, called the scullery.

Kitchen units? – we’d never heard of them. But we had a fireplace, with a fire that never went out. Maybe that’s why I started my series of paintings of old fireplaces. They hold so many memories in their dusty hearths.

And in the upcoming 2 person show “Silent Stories” at the Belltable in Limerick, I’ll be showing some new pieces (see one above). I think that they’ll work well alongside Miriam McConnon’s paintings of domestic objects.

Because, whether we sit at a fireplace and poke at the flames or whether we peel the potatoes or dry the dishes or just drink tea from a chipped teacup, we get…

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Aldous Huxley – Today’s Brave New World

We can’t say we weren’t warned…courtesy of benmadigan.


Saturday Night – Film Night

Here’s an extraordinary find!

A 1958 interview with Brave New World author Aldous Huxley

It’s well worth listening to because of the themes he explores

And because he’s bang on with what he said would happen!

Risultati immagini per mystic meg

might as well have put away her crystal ball

Risultati immagini per mystic meg

as this visionary writer looked into our future.

You’ll be shocked and surprised at what you hear.

NB – disregard the first few seconds. I’m told they were usually messy like that at the dawn of TV broadcasting

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)

Much of his work deals with the conflict between the interests of the individual and society, often focusing on the problem of self-realization within the context of social responsibility.

Brave New World, published in 1932,  imagined a fictional future in which free will and individuality were sacrificed  to achieve complete social stability.

Brave New World  depicted a dystopian…

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Because I Say So Stories; How Óglach Met His Wife


Glasgow 1994

Nowadays when you see Óglach on the precious few occasions he’s allowed out on his own, he’s an oddly acting fellow indeed. Always walking with his head down and muttering, occasionally stumbling over his own two feet as he turns to look at a beautiful woman who is quite annoyed by his attention. Poor Óglach. He is a miserable bastard, having been married these many years and suffering all of the torments that that sacred union has to offer. But it wasn’t always so. He was once a carefree bachelor until one day…well, you’ll see.

Óglach left home at an early age to seek his fame and fortune in London, where a friend had promised him a job. But it turned out the job was full of work. He returned home to face his friends who greeted him with—-

“Told you you’d never amount to anything!”

Then another friend suggested that Óglach accompany him to Glasgow. The two had little money and no prospects for employment. It sounded like a horrible idea, so Óglach naturally agreed.

Their first night in the city, the pair went to see Edwyn Collins play, which was gas. The second night, Morlocks came up out of the sewers and ate Óglach’s friend right in front of him. Everyone back home had told the boys that things like that happen in Glasgow, but they didn’t listen.  Óglach promised himself he would listen from that day forward until the next time he went back home. As he was running from the Morlocks, he spied a light on in a toy shop. He dashed inside and locked the door behind him.

As he turned around, he saw the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen (in real life, anyway).  She was tall with fair skin and had long red hair that hung in luxurious curls about her shoulders. They stared at one another for a moment until the girl said—-

“So whaddaya want?”

Well, she may have looked like Drew Barrymore but she sounded like Frankie Boyle. It’s very difficult to stay enchanted, hearing an accent like that, but it was either the girl or the walking dead outside.

“I need a place to stay for the night!”

“I hear wherever you came from is nice this time of year.”

Óglach wept and wailed and pleaded and begged. Finally the girl (whose name I forget) took pity upon him.

“You can sleep at my house tonight, since you’re so deadly handsome,” she said. “But be warned! I have two brothers and they’re ferociously protective.”

“Good enough,” said Óglach. “I’ll behave myself.”

“And my father is too. I’m his only daughter and he guards me day and night. Also, he dislikes Irishmen.”

“Completely understandable. I’ll behave myself.”

“And my mother is ferocious and hates the Irish and can nag the hair off a dog.”

“I have no idea what that means, but I’ll behave myself.”

“There’s just one more thing,” the girl said, twirling her hair between forefinger and thumb and biting her lower lip.


“You’re not allowed to behave yourself.”


“If you don’t sneak upstairs and into my bed by the stroke of midnight, I will start screaming bloody murder and God only knows what my family will do to you!”

Óglach figured this test must have been for the comedic purposes of this story and reluctantly agreed.  The two made their way out the front door and past the Morlocks, who had nodded off for the night. They soon arrived at the girl’s home.

Her brothers and father were big intimidating men, the sort who smile when there’s nothing to smile about. The mother was small but had flinty eyes that saw everything, even things that weren’t there. She smoked a magical cigarette that never ran down as she cooked a late supper. Óglach had never before seen such an abundance of eye of newt in a stew.

“Would you like to say grace, Paddy?” the father asked. Óglach wondered how the man knew his brother’s name, but he was used to being mistaken for him.

“Grace!” he said. They looked at him strangely. The girl held her hands as if in prayer.

“Oh! Yeah. ” Óglach closed his eyes and tried to remember that prayer his father had done that one time.

“Good bread, good meat, good God, let’s eat!” he shouted and began eating before anyone could say anything.

Soon afterwards everyone was off to bed, with Óglach sleeping in the sitting room and everyone else upstairs. The girl gave him a knowing look and mouthed the word “midnight” as she climbed the stairs. Then she slipped and bit her tongue. She tried to act all cool about it but it just made her seem even clumsier.

Óglach lay awake in the dark, remembering his promise to do something he wanted to do anyway. When he was certain everyone was asleep, he began to creep up the stairs. Halfway up, the stair below his foot yelled—-

“‘Ere, wot’s all this, then?! ‘Oos that creepin’ upstairs tryin’ to get in the young missus’ knickers?!’

It was an enchanted stair! But little did the stair know that Óglach had a magic boot, which he brought down with tremendous force, smashing the magic stair and shutting it’s stair-hole once and for all.

And he walked on down the hall…

He came to the room where the girl’s parents were. Her mother was sound asleep smoking a cigarette. Her father was snoring so loudly that no one had heard Oglach’s battle with the stair. He kept a-creeping.

The brothers were in their room playing Duke Nuke ‘Em.


Finally he came to the girl’s room. There she was, radiant in the pale moonlight and the glow of her old Donnie Wahlberg nite-light. Óglach dove into her bed and they were just getting up to some devilment when they heard a mighty crash. One of the brothers had been walking down to the kitchen for some of the healthy refreshments Scots like to eat when he stepped into the hole made by Óglach’s magic boot. He started screaming. The girl started screaming. Then Óglach screamed too, when the door flew open and here came the girl’s mother threatening him in a very graphic and anatomically precise manner. Óglach threw on his clothes and crawled barefoot out the window, as you can see in the photo above.

He escaped safely, but as he wandered the streets with only Morlocks as his company, Óglach became sad. He had grown rather fond of the obviously mental girl in their brief time together. As the sun came up he found himself standing in front of the toy store where they had first met.

“So whaddayer want?” came a voice from behind him.

It was the girl! Óglach wanted to throw his arms around her but decided to play it cool.

“That was quite a night we had last night,” he said, smiling. The girl got a confused look on her face and he had to recount the entire episode to her before she finally said—-

“Oh, that. Whatever.”

And they lived happily ever after until they didn’t.


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The Night I Beat Up Conor



To look at him today, to hear him run his mouth and then make good on every boast, you would think Conor was born that way—a nearly unbeatable braggart. But it’s me here to tell you he wasn’t, for wasn’t I myself the first man to best him? Not in the warm and cozy confines of the ring with a referee to protect him, neither, no! I beat Conor in a street fight.

I can see by the look on your face that you don’t believe me, but you’ll soon see the light. I remember it like it was yesterday. Yesterday evening, anyway, ’cause I was out on my evening run. Twice a day I ran back in them days. Nine miles in the morning on an empty stomach, nine miles in the evening before Corrie come on. Anyways, I was runnin’ past the gym there just like always, when some young lads come out, laughin’ and yellin’ and carryin’ on. You know the type. So full of life it just makes you want to puke. You just can’t wait until life comes along and teaches ’em a painful lesson. But that night it turned out I was the lesson.

Those sorts of boys always have a ringleader, and Conor was it. Sure they were all just fresh out of a kickboxing workout, just amped with adrenaline and Conor more so than the others. Even back then I have to admit he was a sight to see. He didn’t have the tattoos yet, nor the undershave hair cut—say, do you know where he came by that haircut that half the men in the country have now? He got the idea from me, that’s how! Back in my days that haircut didn’t have a name. There was only one kind of haircut and that was it. I think I impressed him so much by kicking his arse that he wanted to be like me, you see, with the beard and all. Sort of like how the young Indiana Jones grows up to look like the fella that steals the Cross of Coronado from him at the beginning of the third movie.

Where was I? Oh yes, about to give Conor a boot up the hole. So anyways there he is with his mates outside the gym, play sparring and messin’ about. MMA wasn’t exactly a new thing in them days, but it was new enough. In my day, it didn’t have a name. You learned to box from your daddy and you learned some dirty tricks in the schoolyard. Maybe you had an uncle that taught you some judo. You’d watch some Bruce Lee movies and try out some of his moves on your mates, usually when they were too drunk to fight back. In the morning they’d be sore and you’d tell ’em they fell downstairs and they’d be none the wiser. You’d mix all that together and that’s how mixed martial arts was invented.

So here’s Conor throwin’ Muay Thai roundhouse kicks into his mate’s thigh, trying to give him the dead leg. And I seen Bloodsport enough times to know he ain’t doin’ it right. So—and here’s the thing—I stopped and tried to help him. I wasn’t lookin’ for trouble, just tryin’ to be of service to the youth. And so when I says—

“Here now lad,  you wanna see how it’s done right?!”—

he spins around and catches me with a right hook. Now granted, it was dark, and I was sweating and breathing heavy. Also, I was dressed in black. But that’s no excuse for hitting your elders! I have to admit his shot rocked me back on my heels, but I was into fighting stance before the spots faded from before my eyes.

“So that’s the way it’s gonna be!” I shouted.

“Hit him, Conor, hit him!” the other ones yelled. I knew I had to act fast, for though  I knew that I could beat them all one at a time, if they rushed me, my chances were slim.  I’m taller and heavier than Conor, so I scooped him up like a sack of potatoes and slung him over my shoulders. He was kicking and spitting and swearing and his friends were wide-eyed and screaming bloody murder. Never in my life have I seen such a miserable example of our nation’s manhood. I spun him around a few times and then tossed him headfirst into a pile of rubbish.

“I will obliterate you!” he screams at me as he starts to get up. But before I can finish him off, his daddy and his trainer come of the gym shouting “What’s all this?” and “We’ll call the guards” and making excuses like ” he’s only twelve years old.”

Twelve years old or not, it was still a mean right hook.

And I can still say I beat up Conor.


Conor’s face after the fight



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Across the Room and Into the Fire, Pt. 6

Na trioblóidí


This is a story about a book burning.

When I was fifteen or so, the majority of my free time was spent in the pursuit of knowledge. Knowledge of girls. It was hard and (mostly) thankless work, but it had to be done. In my town, most of the girls my own age wanted nothing to do with me as a boyfriend. Not to be deterred, I pursued a girl two years my senior. She was a model. And she had a car. To the astonishment of everyone, including myself, she accepted my advances and proceeded to give me an invaluable education. Unfortunately it was not to last, and she broke my heart in the time honored fashion. After that she left town and I never saw her again.

Although mightily depressed, I found solace in the fact that my stock had risen during the course of our relationship. But…

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Across the Room and Into the Fire, Pt. 6


This is a story about a book burning.

When I was fifteen or so, the majority of my free time was spent in the pursuit of knowledge. Knowledge of girls. It was hard and (mostly) thankless work, but it had to be done. In my town, most of the girls my own age wanted nothing to do with me as a boyfriend. Not to be deterred, I pursued a girl two years my senior. She was a model. And she had a car. To the astonishment of everyone, including myself, she accepted my advances and proceeded to give me an invaluable education. Unfortunately it was not to last, and she broke my heart in the time honored fashion. After that she left town and I never saw her again.

Although mightily depressed, I found solace in the fact that my stock had risen during the course of our relationship. But I didn’t feel inclined to date the girls that had previously rejected me. There was, however, one girl who intrigued me a bit. Her name was Sarah. She was pretty, quiet, and very good at school. I was none of these things. Her father was a fire and brimstone preacher in the sort of church where I was not welcome. She listened to no popular music, attended no dances. Despite our differences, for some reason she liked me. One day, she even had flowers delivered to me at school. I was flattered, embarassed, and bewildered. One of my platonic girlfriends said—

“Sarah likes you.”

“Well, I can see that. But why?”

“Dunno. Maybe she likes bad boys.”

I liked that idea.

But that wasn’t it.

She wanted to save my soul.

I found this out early on, (thank God) and by accident, when I managed to draw her into a conversation about sex during a disruption in Mr. Waterson’s biology class. I thought I was being a smooth operator until she interrupted me, no eye contact, and said—

“I don’t believe in sex before marriage.”

I nodded and shrugged. I’d heard that before. It was only proper to say.

“And since the job I want to do, which is to be a missionary—

Oh no—

“would be difficult unless I were married to another missonary—”

Not me! I already have a mission in life!

“—I’ll probably never get married. Which means,” and here she did meet my eyes, “that I will never have sex.”

I was shocked and embarrassed for the both of us. She must have seen my feelings on my face, for she looked away blushing. I was trying to decide on whether to apologise or try and change her mind when Mr. Waterson reentered the classroom, and we spent the rest of the hour listening to him talk about bees pollinating flowers.


Mr. Waterson was the most reviled teacher amongst the pupils in our school. Well before any of us had had him, we’d been warned about him. He lectured in a monotone that would put you to sleep. If you did indeed fall asleep, you would be invited into his “office” (the hallway) for a tutorial (a quick beating with a paddle that resembled a cricket bat. Even though corporal punishment was illegal by that time, it was widely practised. Nobody bothered to tell the kids it was illegal, and it was reserved only for boys.)

He was my favourite teacher. I could see that he was an outsider amongst the other adults. He and his wife were not from our town and thus were never fully accepted, as was largely the case with my family. He was incredibly well read, and openly scornful of anyone who was not, as there was simply no excuse other than wanton ignorance. It was clear to me that he felt as if his many years of teaching had been in vain.

He largely tolerated me. I couldn’t quite figure out why.

From time to time, he would enter the classroom in a mood that even the thickest of us would recognise; he would be thinking  thoughts of France, where he had spent some time after the second world war. Without introduction or segue of any sort, he would begin talking of France, the food and music, the art and literature. France was the crown jewel of Europe, he said, the friend of Ireland, the friend of America.  The other students would pretend to listen. The longer he went on, the less he could actually lecture. I was keenly interested, but I had a reputation to uphold. And so, when at the end of one such reminiscence he asked if we had any questions about France, I raised my hand.

“Did you ever visit a brothel when you were in France?”

There was barely even time to register the shocked giggles from some of the girls in class before he spoke.

“Of course I did, you idiot. I was nineteen. What would you have done?”

I did not have an answer, and the day’s lecture began. When he had finished, he let the other students leave but told me to stay.

“O’Mara, do you want to live in this God forsaken hell-hole for the rest of your life?”

“No sir.”

“And do you want to go to France someday?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Please pay attention in class.”

“Yes sir.”

That was one of many such exchanges between us, and we both began to enjoy them in a reserved way. As long as I kept my marks and showed genuine interest, I was allowed to get away with almost anything.



Sarah and I had a mutual friend. I decided to tell her about the awkward conversation we’d had. I did not expect her response.

“Her mum and dad told her that she was conceived out of wedlock, and that having her  ruined their lives, and that they didn’t want the same thing to happen to her,” she said. She was looking at me in a guarded fashion as she spoke. Rightly so. I was shocked and disgusted that parents would say such a thing to a child. And I said as much.

“That’s just the way she feels,” our friend said. “Maybe you should apologise to her.”

“That’s the way she was told to feel,” I replied. “That all life is precious, but her life is a  mistake. Hypocrites!” I composed myself. ” I’ll apologise to her. I will. There’s nothing I can do about this.”

Sarah saw me first. She tapped me on the shoulder. I spun around to see her smiling. I have to admit I felt a little something.

“Would you come to church with me this weekend?”, she asked.

After ” I am having your baby after the miracle of Immaculate Conception “, this was the last thing I expected to hear. I started stuttering and stammering, and managed to blurt out ” What will everyone think?!”

She knew I was talking about her father and his church community.

“Oh, daddy and I talked about it last night, and he says you’re welcome to come. You’ll have to wear nicer clothes, of course.” She blushed a little, and waited for me to speak.

Since I had only a faint idea of what went on in her church, and was trying to salvage a potential friendship (all other thoughts had left my mind by this time, and I felt it was only right to accept the invitation), I asked—

“Well, what will be going on? Is it just a sermon, or—?”

“I think you’ll like it! We’re having a book burning!”

The look on her face was one I’ve seen since then. I used to call it “true believer face” but that doesn’t quite do it justice. It is the face of a person who is only half brainwashed, a person who knows they are doing something terribly wrong but for whatever reason cannot stop, and who is hoping against all odds that everyone else will join in so the horrible act will become normal and everyone can get on again.

I could see that she wasn’t joking. I lost my temper and began shouting.

“Who burns books?! A Nazi does that! That’s like something a Nazi would do!”

She kept smiling sweetly as if she were trying to soothe a spoiled child.

“Not real books, silly,” she said. “Pornography.”

I hadn’t excpected that. The thought of enough pornography to make a bonfire of had an instantly intoxicating effect on me, but before I could daydream proper, Sarah burst in with—

“You know, like “Catcher in the Rye.” ”

I began losing my mind, and before I said something I could never take back,  Sarah’s friend led me away gently.

That evening I went over to my friend Ned’s house to study (drink beer).  Ned was a great student but also a very wild boy who loved causing discomfort in others, particularly religious folk. I told him my tale of woe and once he got his righteous indignation out of  way, he laughed and made a suggestion.

“You should go,” he said, leaning in with a grin and a whisper. “And just when the fire gets roaring, you should pitch in a Bible!”

“I’m not going to burn a Bible!”

“Not even the King James version?”


He did give me another idea, though.


During that time, there were a great many books that were either banned outright or so controversial that many bookstores simply would not carry them.

My father did his best to acquire them all.

“If a priest doesn’t like it, it must be a good read,” he, the former candidate for the priesthood would say.  ( I remember being very excited when he came home from a trip with a copy of The Satanic Verses by Salmon Rushdie, which was not banned but had earned Rushdie the murderous ire of the Ayatollah Khomeini, amongst others. I couldn’t wait to read all of the lurid Satanic things the book had to say. God, was I disappointed.)  At the time of my difficulty with the book burning brunette, the book of the moment was The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis. The book was banned. The movie was banned. You’d go straight to hell if you so much as saw a copy. My dad had it on a shelf in the sitting room.

“Dad, can I read this?”

“I don’t know, can you?”

Sigh. “May I read this?”

“Yes, you may.”

I took the book from the shelf, brimming with gleeful malice. As I walked back to my room, he spoke—

“You’re not to take that to school, or out of the house, at all—”

“I won’t!”

“I mean it, now. If that thing gets confiscated I’ll be explaining it away for months. I have to deal with people, you know.’

“I wouldn’t take it from the house. Why would I?”

I took it from the house.


If I couldn’t stop the book burning, and couldn’t stop Sarah from going, I was going to let her know that I had the book she likely wanted to burn the most, and she wasn’t going to get her hands on it. I was nine kinds of nervous on the way to school that day. But I was determined to go through with my plan.

As luck would have it, my opportunity came during biology class when Mr. Waterson was called away on a personal matter. As my classmates chattered away, I reached into my bag, produced the book, and made a show of presenting it to Ned.

“Jesus!’ he bellowed so loudly that I almost started laughing. “Surely that’s not The Last Temptation of Christ?!

Everyone stopped what they were doing to look, including Sarah, who was sitting directly in front of me. Her eyes widened and her face went white. I felt proud and sick in the same moment. Probably a bit more sick.

“It is,” I replied. “I’ve had it for a while now.” Some of the other students were out of their chairs, gathering around for a look. Others stayed in their seats, clucking and hissing. I was beginning to regret what I’d done; there was no way news of my stunt wasn’t going to get back to my father.

“Have you read that?” Sarah asked me in a trembling whisper. Her expression was now a mixture of pity for me and fear for her own eternal soul for sitting so close to an unrepentant sinner.

“Yes, I have.” I began slowly turning the pages as the onlookers waited for lightning to rain down upon me. “It’s quite good.”

“Well tell us all about it!” Ned shouted, knowing full well I hadn’t read a word of it. I glared at him but before I could reply, everyone sat in their seats, eyes front, to face Mr. Waterson. We had all been so wrapped up in my little drama that no one had noticed his return.

“Mr. O’Mara. What is it you’ve got there?”

My death warrant. 

He began walking toward me with an outstretched hand. All eyes were upon  me, almost all of them gleeful. The Lord’s vengeance had come, not in the form of  a lightning bolt, but in the guise of a disgruntled biology teacher. My beating would be bloody and epic. People would talk of it for centuries. Maybe even base a religion on it. I hung my head handed him the book. He read the title aloud.

“Is it any good?’

That was not what anyone expected to hear. I looked up to see if he was serious. He was. I nodded my head, praying he wouldn’t ask me what it was about.

“May I borrow it?”

This struck fear into me as well, for if my father asked for the book, trouble at school would pale in comparison but I had no choice but to nod my head in assent. The rest of the class went by in silence. When we were dismissed, Mr. Waterson said—

“Not you.”  I felt a few smug glances tossed my way as my classmates left.

“Is this your father’s book?”

I stared at him and said nothing.

“I thought so. I’ll have it back to you shortly. You can go.”

I began to hurry out the door.


” Yes Sir? ”

“You really are an  idiot. You know that, don’t you?”

He was smiling. I had never seen him smile before. And it was a smile for a special occasion, for it was one of the warmest and most genuine smiles I had ever seen.

“Yes Sir.”


The following Monday, I asked Sarah how her book burning went. She mumbled something about low attendance and asked if we could not talk about it anymore.  That suited me fine. We set our differences aside and slowly became friends again. Mr. Waterson finally returned my father’s book to me near the end of the school year, a bit later than I’d wanted.

“What did  you think?”

“Not bad,” he said. “Ran on a bit in the middle.”

Early the next  year , he suffered a massive heart attack. Apparently he had been suffering from a heart condition for some time, and that was what had prompted his move to our town in the first place. He took an early retirement. I only saw him once more.

Towards the end of my last summer in the place where I grew up, I was out for an afternoon drive with my girlfriend. She stopped for petrol. As she was getting back in the car, she said—

“Waterson is trying to get your attention. He’s waving at you.” Apparently he had been doing so for some time, as when I looked up he flung his arm down as if to say “To hell with you!” and stormed inside the station. I asked my girlfriend to wait until he came back outside.

“Why? I hate that man.”

“I love him. Best teacher I’ve ever had. Just a minute.”

When he opened the door, scowling as usual, I began waving like a madman. He saw me and stopped. He waved back, and he smiled. But instead of “you are an idiot”, this time the smile said—

Run, young man.

Do all of the things I can no longer do.

And that is exactly what I did.

to be continued…

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