COLUMN FORTY-FIVE, MAY 1, 1999
(Copyright © 1999 Al Aronowitz)
I was there, In a Green Land.
Let me write of Ireland, a place where hands are thrown to the wind and heads sing on long after being severed. A land of the greatest of friendships leading to the blackest of betrayals. That wonderful place with crying beauty, I miss wandering Caven, I miss the talk of country people and I miss the learned discourse of the Universities. Let me write from my sanctuary in America where the part of me that is native to this place feels right and in harmony with the clock of the earth. My home is as, it has been, near the Rocky Mountains out on the Great Plains where the dust bowl began but this is now.
But we are talking about the larger part of me and of many of us that are between two worlds. At one time I wandered looking for the truth. I found it green and oozing from a land that gave insight into the walking of it.
I always knew I was more Irish than American even with large amounts of other Celtic tribes' blood rushing hotly through my veins. My mother read to me: Patric Colum, the King of Ireland's Son and the Frenzied Prince; she was a dark beauty given to anger, poetry and drink. My father was Welch-Indian and given to great charm, many loves, drink and deceit.
My mother's people, some of them, came from a place called Belfast which I was never to speak about; it made the rest of the Irish Americans unhappy and morose. I was in Detroit when I learned what it was to be a Prod. On the street, Woodward Ave, we lived very poor between the Blacks and the Irish. These were the real Irish, good Catholics, who, when they discovered we were Protestant, set their many children on me. I became friends with the Protestant Blacks. Strong kids who fought against a tide of red heads who fought with bricks and broken bottles, six to ten in a family. I learned how to use the razor and the knife, and to fight at great odds like a knight of the Red Branch.
My father had borrowed a sum of money from the mob and we never seemed out of debt. He would work at good jobs but we never had any money. He had to moonlight doing dark deeds for others. . .
I would spend my days with my packmates roaming the streets of Detroit, avoiding white kids who were real Irish, and watching the way people carried themselves. I carried a shiv in my pocket and used it on those who would harm me. (Large white men mainly, who wanted stray boys.)
had slipped from grace by marrying
a Creole who was Catholic
I learned that I was a cast off of the Irish; my great-great grandfather was a long-lived rich man named Kemp who was a henchman and in-law to the great Mr. Morgan. My great grandfather had slipped from grace by marrying a Creole who was Catholic and every hand was turned against me. My Grandfather Chouteaux Kemp died of diabetes and I would be lucky to live at all. I was seven years old.
My father after five or six attempts, got a house and I was allowed to move back to the zoo my home had become. My father had moved to deep country outside of the Detroit-Lancing area, a town called Salem.
One evening we got word my father was dead and I couldn't believe it. Then we heard that his business partner jumped or fell out of a light aircraft into Lake Huron; all my dad's business friends were happy. I wanted my father.
I first went to New Hampshire and when my mother got out of the mental hospital we settled on Martha's Vineyard.
We got to meet Dylan Thomas and hear him read Fern Hill and to meet the Behan brothers who appealed to my ideas about Republicanism. I read about Collins and Connley. I studied arms and fighting and was sent to an awful military academy where I was groomed to be an officer and gentleman. Instead I wanted to be a poet and photographer and ran away to Mexico to be with my grandmother who helped me to attend University there for a year.
My career in photography went well and I met and married an English woman who came to hate all Paddies. I migrated to Paris and there interviewed a man called Behail who'd run a train into the railroad station in Belfast. I was unimpressed with his motives, "pure", he said and the goal attained, three dead civilians. I thought him twisted, my English wife thought him as "Feaninon scum."
A cousin who worked at the American Embassy updated me on the coming 'troubles'; this was in 1964. He was Protestant but with a peaceful streak that most warriors have. We agreed that a peaceful resolve would be the only thing that would work with people as warlike as ourselves. He thought that the Americans were working to undermine the semblance of stability in the Province.
My friend, Ray Gosling in Nottingham, was working on a series about the Province and we talked all the time about the Rev. Paisley who, he thought, had a grip on history, and the hearts of the Ulstermen. As a Catholic, he wished to understand the man; we both found him to be real and articulating the fears of many people. We were working on a book about towns and cities in Britain; Belfast was a knotty problem. Like inside me, it was divided between heart and head. We traveled there and he interviewed a lot of people; I saw the city getting ready for war. It was like picking sides in a rugby scrum and it was horrible.
Ray found Paisley to be an affable monster. Not evil incarnate but a man strong in his faith, a faith holder. I was seeing the results of his vision, it was every bit as bloody and true as Ulsters'own vision of itself, doomed. The problem was that middle ground needed stern rules and no one on the middle ground or the peace ground had forum or floor for debate. If people disagreed with the extremes they were killed by gun thugs.
The people in Belfast all looked and talked like me. I was amazed that I could understand people's hearts immediately for good or bad. I found the hovel where my great great grandfather had been born and his legacy down the street, the Orange Tower. He made a lot of money and gave a large hunk of it to build a monument to divide the community more. He was buried in his sash. He disowned my great grandfather for marrying a Catholic, our name is never spoken in the Morgan-Kemp circle of family, we are outlawed.
The family we stayed with was a mixed family, Catholic and Protestant. He was Catholic and a police inspector and she was a convert. They lived in a quiet conservative police type suburb.
We talked with University types who were trying to work out some sort of compromise. They were quite pessimistic. I took some fine photos and returned to Paris and discovered that the Brits were not interested in anything to do with Ulster. They printed some of what we did but shoved Ray's piece under the carpet. Humble Harold Wilson was coming to power and socialists would resolve the Province's problems.
The problems were economic as well as social, and didn't seem to our eyes to be such an easy fix. In 1966 I moved to England and settled in Ladbrook Grove. I worked in the ups and downs of the flowering of 'swinging' England.
There was a coup coming---we all could feel it and we wondered where it was coming from. The left of the Labour Party seemed unable to see the bleeding wound called Ulster. They were afraid of the Six Counties and the people who lived there. They listened to the Who and missed the point. Huge anti war demonstrations were coming on even though Britain was simply a pimp for America's adventure in Cochin China.
SAS had advised the Americans; they did the opposite and were losing their backside. I was privy to some of that, because of my anti war stance there came a whole bunch of agents provocateurs into my circle. There were rich American Maoists, reporters for Ramparts Magazine, (a C.I.A front,) the backers of strange Fourth Internationale projects, suit cases full of money and we always wondered what sort of spies London was turning out. I met the Crays, Scots Mafia, Mandy and Christine and hosts of people left and right, all trying to keep the focus on Southeast (see the pea: see the shell) Asia rather than Britain where the oppression came from. I made a trip to Belfast in 1966 and it was hairy, about to explode; someone was pouring money into Republican coffers and if the Republicans were arming and getting militant, the Prods were right there with them. As the IRA seemed to get funding it fell apart. My street contacts told of bloody infighting going on.
out of pop culture
as it zigged and zagged to nowhere
The killings started, the English newspaper and television people kept warning me off of working Belfast. I was distracted with student issues, pop music, squatters, and making sense out of pop culture as it zigged and zagged to nowhere. 1967 came and I went all through Ireland and found the Republic to be dull and at peace with its self and the North.
The North was seething with problems; children, the indicators of everything, were ready to take to the streets. I became fascinated by the psycho-children living in a constant state of readiness for war. When the children get feral, watch out.
The film business was difficult and a hybrid; there was talk of an American presence and then a pullout to some other shores. Hollywood was dry and filled with empty westerns and war flicks. France had a strong cinema and Italy was booming. Kubric was around as was Dennis Hopper. I wasn't into being a druggie cowboy, however, I was called to the documentary.
The real media, B.B.C., was filled with terrified mice who hid in the studios; there were only a few street wise people who wouldn't find themselves catching a bullet. I was one of the street people, pretty handy with the poor equipment I could muster, and my footage was desired by ITN and the Americans; street stuff simply didn't happen to B.B.C. or, for that matter, the film people there in Belfast.
I was working with Irish people on my crew; we were a wordy bunch and had a good grasp on the reality that things were changing too quickly for either the Irish or the Brits to pull off. Suddenly there were drugs everywhere, which is a sign of American involvement. Also the splinter groups in the IRA were sporting new arms. Groups, people I knew socially, were suddenly becoming cells. When I took a vacation to North America and Mexico, I looked there for IRA fund raisers for the cause. I didn't find a lot of that going on in New York, Detroit, Chicago or Denver. Not to say that the Ted Kennedys didn't do their damage to peace by giving money to sociopaths, it appears to be an Irish hobby.
Four months later back in the Smoke, there was a change. Suddenly there were Paddy jokes everywhere and police were thick on every meeting, gathering or conversation. Our film was becoming valuable and I took more trips to Ireland and talked with Peoples' Democracy extensively. The networks didn't want any part of peaceful settlements, they were hell bent on war on the Irish. There was a fundamental change in British policy; the people were being directed to accept violent confrontation as a way of life.
London where I lived was starting to polarize; I would hit the pubs after work and listen to talk. Hatred of the Irish is nothing new and I have lived in places where my race was hated and oppressed, but London? As blacks were treated better than Pakistanis, Irish had a special part to play in the English bigotry.
My social life was around the poetry, literature, and arts world, so when I started hearing the Irish jokes come back to life, I knew what was happening; the official culture had found a new daemon seed. Friends in working class jobs like photo labs, pubs, and stage hands who had Irish names got quick notice, as did musicians. Many I have never heard from again, others immigrated to France and America only to be found after the invention of the Internet. . .
The scream of the bigot echoed across the English countryside. I for one didn't want to raise children around the senseless hatred of the Celt or any other colored for that matter.
I hung in there; in 1968, I was visiting Belfast when the American uniformed IRA types were on the streets of Belfast armed with the latest M-16s. They wandered in front of the camera and they said they were from American Special Forces, there to protect us from the Prods. That got air time but was D-noticed into a non-event, then the Merry Days of May took up a lot of my time.
I made it back for King Billy Days and the nastiness therein and the starting of the barricades. We then tried a Peace March South. The police were all over the foreigners who were peace marching in the Land of Many Kings, but we did pull it off, including a chance to see the IRA treated like the bully boys they were when they tried to discipline me among others, bad idea.
To get back into Britain we disguised ourselves as Murphy's labourers and entered Her Majesty's lands with our film. Belfast kept blowing up over that winter and I tried to keep up there but found that Special Branch was sitting on my tenus visa and they wanted me to stop in for a chat. Our lawyers told me about the Official Secrets Act and how, once exposed to it, I would be a prisoner in London having to ask for permission to travel. So I learned how to travel without being recorded by the then pervasive police state. Since I had to move with several people and camera cases, getting there was always interesting. One didn't want to be mistaken for a terrorist.
Cops were looking at his footage.
He called the boss, quit
and packed his bags
There were several arrests of people I had filmed at demonstrations in London and Belfast. I had not included these images in my sold footage and that worried me. It was now the summer of 1969 and one day, after returning to London, I got a call from a union steward at the lab that some Americans and British police were looking at my footage. I called the boss, quit, packed my bags for America and left everything behind.
I did not want to be a party to the human rights violations by the Brits or their American masters. I saw that long sentences were being handed out in the name of peace. Instead it was opening what we now know as a bloody history.
With the controlled press, the real story of the events in Ulster have been obscured and hidden from the masters as well as the common people who have to pay the price of ignorance. The Socialists were driven from power by a cold play by the Americans of the IRA card.
The Protestants were placed on more difficult ground by the terror-counter-terror they were sucked into. I saw the lines going up and was fired on several times by persons unknown off of Divis Street.
I was threatened with beatings by gangsters in London. The police tossed my apartment in London twice, looking for seditious materials. The problem was that the people I worked with were tough as nuts and involved in life, loving the truth and the quest for it. To the government, thinking was sedition, just like in the third world.
We found the English were looking for answers to problems they made for themselves in a language they enforced rather than in Irish which would have the real answers. The Americans made a lot off the Irish Question and they too kept control of the media. The media simply sucked up to whomever they were told to, and did little but profit from the horror I was seeing.
People's lives were ruined by bad information, lies, distortions and betrayal by a media that simply did what was ordered of them.
I left Ireland in 1969 and left Britain several days later. Outside of one short trip there, I have not returned. Since I arrived back in the United States, I can still hear the marchers' fife and lambag, the children running ahead of the main body of the march to maim the unwary or simply to fight each other. I hear the shots. I still can feel the fear of knowing the gunmen knew where I was sleeping. . . I sleep lightly and wake totally at a footfall.
And I too have the feeling of betrayal that decent people feel when ignorant fools run governments and allow thugs to do their bidding in the court house, the jail house, the studio and in the night. . . What was gained these last thirty years? ##
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