Matty was an Aran islander, a fisherman by trade in his younger years, and a rebel his entire life.
I was introduced to him by a friend back in the 90’s. He was small in stature and elderly, but at the first sight of him, I knew he was not to be trifled with either verbally or physically. He was hesitant to speak to me at first; but after I explained to him my background and my reasons for wanting to speak to him, he opened up a bit. That’s actually an understatement. He opened up a lot.
There’s many a man and woman from Ireland and elsewhere who had the singular experience of meeting this man, and none could forget him. He had a portrait ( a very large portrait) of Eamonn DeValera hanging in his small parlour, which horrified some of my younger friends who regarded Dev as, well…the Devil. I found it amusing, until Matty started speaking to me about his father’s trials and tribulations during the Irish civil war.
“F@&kin’ Free Staters! Traitors! Traitors and murderers! All of them!”
He glared at me. As I said, he was a bit intimidating.
“Are you a Free Stater?”
“I’ll bet you think Michael Collins was the business now, don’t you?”
He then embarked upon a twenty minute rant during which he told me that I was an over-educated, ignorant, privileged Free-Stater, until my friend intervened and calmed him down a bit.
Then, he invited me into his kitchen for some tea.
Matty had a rottweiler, something that both he and my friend failed to mention. This beast was sitting on the kitchen table as we rounded the corner, and lashed out at me at first sight, barking his brains out.
“Be careful of the dog,” Matty said. “He’s quite vicious.”
Matty’s hands shook quite badly and as he poured our tea, he spilled boiling water over his hands. He didn’t even flinch. After the initial interrogation/introduction, the mad dog, and now this, I was quite ready to flee for my life. It must have showed on my face, which my friend found quite amusing. While Matty finished making our tea, my friend gave me a smile and a silent gesture telling me that this was normal; to be calm and stay for a bit. Matty, if he noticed my fears, politely gave no indication of having done so. After he’d got a bit of tea in him, he calmed down. As much as Matty could calm down, anyway. After some more questions about me, he went back to talking about Free-Staters and anti-Anglo-Irish treaty Republicans.
And then he started talking about the battle of Clontarf.
You would have thought that he was there. He was literally frothing at the mouth as he spoke about Brian Boru killing Vikings, and how the Irish drove those bastards off the island once and for all. After a while, he calmed down again and invited us outside to help him take a look at his fishing boat.
Oddly enough, it seemed as if he’d had a dispute with a couple of young local boys who had shot up his boat with a .22 caliber rifle. Matty had a tricolour painted on the side and there were bullet holes visible, but no real damage. I offered to re-paint the tri-colour.
“No,” he said quietly. “Leave it be. It’s part of it’s history.”
Part of Matty’s history was that, the year before I met him, he took his boat offshore, with all the other fishermen on the island, to be blessed by a priest. All of the boats were blessed, except for Matty’s, because in addition to flying a tricolour, he was also flying a Basque Nationalist flag. Because of the priest’s refusal to bless his vessel, and despite being quite Catholic, Matty invited the priest to go and perform a physically impossible act upon himself.
You can’t keep a good man down.
He was eccentric; off-putting to some (alright, almost everyone), and volatile. But as long as he lived, he was truly alive; because he was a rebel, and saw rebellion as a means of freedom in every aspect of his life, however seemingly trivial to others.
No matter how crazy others may think you are, remember Matty; and remember that if you’re not standing up for something, then you’re lying down for nothing.