TRANSLATOR’S INTRODUCTORY NOTE
Secreted inside a thinned-out hollow high up along the southernmost edge of the tenth and last stonewalled holding cell comprising Clonmeleagh Prison Barracks West Wing, the survival of this tied with shoelace clutch of loose-leaved, faded papers, does in itself astonish.
Hastily scribbled in Irish-Gaelic over six successive days, this “Jail Journal”, as signatory and presumable author “Fin” describes it, unlike other similar titled prisoner-kept diaries or journals, reveals little about his time spent as prisoner, centering instead on a short but crucial period of six or seven days leading up to his imprisonment.
This then, translatory foibles, shortcomings and all, is Finn’s journey.
March 2nd 1920
“Somebody next to you may have a gun…”
Words that began the first meeting, calmly spoken in the vestry, as eve’s shadow lengthened across the backroom of our small town church. Hands raised and counted, loyalties pledged, so began the bloody drift into war. A handful of hand-me-down words I’d not been present and so not heard not spoken directly. And it is true, they did not come already armed and brandishing enough of a powerful and impelling force that would soon after bind and blind me to such devastating effect: nor haunt me and my waking dreams as they do now and with such re-collective vivacity. Lolling on the lickspittle larynx of the bodiless, be-hatted being afloat before me now, I can anticipate the coming moment when they first began to clutch me in their too-tight embrace. I can stare once again up into those two conventionally placed curd milk-slop-pail eyes set under just- visible Dulse-fringe and a be-devilling be-speckled, be-freckled face—except now with prideful eagerness not half-cocked indifference. The image curdles, becomes briefly luminescent then pales, but it helps in the near effortlessness with which I am transported back, one among many saluting soldiers in the then marshaled-before-him-brigade. Now, with eyes-half-closed and all attentive, I assume the listening with bristling vigor expression on those stood around me, already prickling with the fizzle and spark imminent to the explosion within, transforming my head and heart, and affecting vociferous approval among all, for which, the next words provided detonation.
‘That’s how this here fight ‘n all started …. Aye, his exact-same words. He, as much our brother as your own flesh and blood, Fin … and in whose blessed name we his soldiers fight on, for men, did we not love him the same?”
I remember it was near dawn that very same day when I awoke startled from uneasy sleep, stirred by the rampageous hammering on my chamber door. Yet, the delay caused by my half-forgotten need to dress prompts the barrage of brief and inwardly loud cursing I turn quickly into earnest, uneasy prayers. Until, at last—upon two worn-thin tiers, propelled by swiftly revolving toes pinched-hot into stirrups – I am moving fast, navigating the muddied, wilding trail, sluicing the gasconade greens and occasional, darkly yellowed fields pitched either side of me, once more, feel as then, the rough scratch of barley anns on the heel of my outstretched hand. Onwards I ride, past the white hawthorn of Christ’s Crown, under the ash boughs of our Saviour’s True Cross, racing the new day’s dawning and the zestless lemon of the skulking skyward sun.
Awake as never before to each newly appearing shard of cloud-bayoneted sunlight, sharp and relentless as the devil’s fork at my back. I seem curiously unaffected by this sudden and hardly usual call to exercise, forcing my brakes only to catch my breath momentarily having reached the top of a short rise. Till then, splashed in the continual cool of the dewy breeze, I felt nothing of the raw heat which then engulfed my neck and face and which accompanied by a sudden tidal outpouring of sweat, fortified the sensation of my head’s subsequent emersion from a too-hot washbasin of water. It is enough thinking a moment on the time it would take to allow the boiling acidic blood to cool in either of my legs and the impending peddles-less promise of the long downhill path, to get me moving once more. In the sensation of movement too, I seem to dwell less on what I know is to come. Sensing the rhythmic throbbing pulse in either leg beginning to fade, I catch perfectly one foot then the other in fast-whirling stirrups, pedaling hard as keenly aware from the steadily rising temperature; I have fallen way behind the now near-risen sun, and am already witnessing the last drops and demise of the dew-addled morning. It is I now alone, drenched with the moisture of fear and uncertainty, when my mind falls upon a thought-long-ago-forgotten memory.