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There he meets Devlin Walsh. Ian has seen him before, and the impression left upon his body was not easy to ignore. He couldn't know that Devlin felt the same. But because of the war, they are...
There he meets Devlin Walsh. Ian has seen him before, and the impression left upon his body was not easy to ignore. He couldn't know that Devlin felt the same. But because of the war, they are comrades first, despite their silent, budding attraction to one another.
As the resistance grows and the violence escalates, Ian and Devlin fight the only way they know how, losing family and friends in their efforts to free their country. Together, they are stronger to face the next day's struggle. Together, they are united in their belief in the hand of God. Together, they will find a way to survive the war.
As Ian Mulroney left his house on the corner of Abbey and Travers streets, he glanced over his shoulder. Vigilance had become a habit after the latest violence had hit the streets of Cork. Cork, Ireland, in late 1919 had become a hotbed of resistance to British rule. The scent of war was in the air as the Irish Republican Army stepped up its resistance to the British and their methods of violence. Complete independence from Great Britain was the goal of the IRA, and it was willing to use any method to obtain that outcome, including armed conflict. In Cork County alone, there were three brigades with an additional brigade within the city.
Ian was never a supporter of war or violence. He tended to see the beauty in all things living and war was the antithesis of that outlook. As he walked toward the town center to meet with friends, he heard shouts and screaming. When shots rang out, Ian ignored his natural instincts and ran toward the tumult, rather than away from it. He rounded the corner and saw the RIC, the Royal Irish Constabulary, pointing weapons at his friends and others he did not know. At their feet lay the body of a local member of the IRA.
Ian was noticed by one of the RIC and ordered to the ground. He dropped at once and put his hands over the back of his head as ordered. The air was thick with people crying and cursing the RIC for shooting Byron Cason for the crime of refusing to take his hands out of his pockets.
A woman's scream cut through the bedlam and Ian looked up to see Byron's mother rush toward the RIC line. To his horror, the grief-stricken woman was shot before his eyes. Ian's heart seemed to stop, freezing time in a hangingmoment of dread. Then the men began to curse loudly and more townspeople approached, becoming a mob. Feeling outnumbered in spite of their weapons, the RIC quickly withdrew to the relative safety of their police station.
As Ian rose and tried to console his friends, curses filled the air like lightning bugs at dusk and promises of revenge flowed freely. There was nowhere to turn to for justice as the justice available was British justice. As a few men carried away the bodies of the slain, Ian was so sickened that he reexamined what it meant to be an Irishman. He had only nineteen years on this earth, but was aging fast in an era where life held so little value.
When the men of the town gathered in the local pub to rage on about what had happened, Ian joined them. Local members of the IRA were present and discussing means of exacting revenge. Shane O'Dea, the leader of the Cork City IRA, urged all of the men present to get involved.
"What's it gonna take for you lads to get into this thing? How long will you put up with the boot of British injustice on your throats before you yell enough?! All of you here need to join with us and fight for Ireland so we can rid ourselves of British rule once and for all!"
All those present agreed and a couple of men spoke up, pledging their support of the IRA. The brigade leader turned cold, furious eyes on Ian, an apprentice apothecary whose skills would be almost invaluable to the IRA. Shane's hair was fiery red and his hazel eyes as penetrating as a wolf's. He was a formidable man with a great deal of maturity for his thirty-two years and looked the part of a leader, taking the business of the IRA as seriously as it deserved. "Ian Mulroney, are you with us or are you content to watch your fellow Irishmen shot down in the street? You're old enough to fight for Ireland's future, and we need your skills with medicines and bone-setting. What do you say?"
The brutality of the shootings, especially of the grieving mother, truly revolted Ian. He would never be able to forget the savagery of that act as long as he lived. "Aye, I'll join with you," he said, in a voice he barely recognized, "but I warn you, I know nothing of fighting."
"That's all right, lad. We'll teach you all you need to know. Now, all of you new men come upstairs and take the oath."
As Ian climbed the stairs, he felt the sinking feeling that he was taking the first steps on a terrible path, but he knew he had to stand up and be counted along with his compatriots. In a large room over the bar, he found six other men already waiting for them to come up. Each was armed with a handgun. One of them was Devlin Walsh, just turned twenty, a lad that Ian had always found attractive, though he'd never done more than speak politely to him when they passed on the street. Now Ian's heart had another reason to race.
"All right, men," Shane said. "These are our new volunteers. It's now time to take the oath of loyalty to the IRA. This oath is a sacred bond. If you break it, you will die, pure and simple. We have only one another to rely on in this war of independence and there can be no mercy for any man who would break his word to Ireland or the Brotherhood."
After the oath was taken by all, beer was brought up from the pub to celebrate the new additions to the brigade and the somber mood lifted a bit. Mug in hand, Devlin approached Ian with congratulations.
"I'm glad to see you become part of us. Today is just one example out of many that proves the need for the brigades and the work we do. I've seen you about, you know. You're Ian Mulroney, right? I'm Devlin Walsh."
"Aye, you're known to me as well, but it's a pleasure to meet you properly," Ian said as they shook hands. Ian half-expected to feel a bolt of lightning when they touched, so strong was his attraction to the strapping Walsh. The man stood 6' 1" and looked to weigh about 180 pounds, and all of it muscle. However, it was not the impressive frame but the bright blue eyes that made Ian go weak in the knees. Walsh's deep blue gaze contrasted with his coal black hair made him a very handsome man that all the local girls chased after. "How long have you been with the brigade, Devlin?" Ian asked as casually as he could.
"Almost six months now. The training is hard and takes a lot of time, but there's no other choice. We must be a free people, don't you agree?"
"I have never been interested much in politics and government, but I value freedom greatly and after what I saw today.... I know now that we must fight for freedom and take it if it won't be given to us. The Americans did it over a hundred years ago; now it's our turn. I have been studying hard to make medicine my life's work, but I will gladly interrupt it for Ireland's sake. This new British demand that we all take a loyalty oath to the Crown has pushed many people over the edge and placed them firmly in the fight."
Devlin's smile held more than a trace of bitterness. "Your studies will continue, because your skills are greatly needed to treat wounded brigade members and the many injured that we come across in the countryside. I'm sure Shane will speak to you on this matter, but I can tell you that your career is not at an end; it is just beginning."
"Ah, I see you two know each other, is that right?" Shane appeared at Walsh's elbow.
"We've seen each other around town, but it's good to meet him under these circumstances," Devlin answered. "Ian was just telling me his fears that his apothecary work was at an end with his membership in the brigade."
"Nay, Ian, not at all. I want you to keep up your apprenticeship and learn all you can about treatment on the field of battle. We're gonna need your skills in the days to come and the more you know the more help you will be. In fact, it would be good if you were to start putting aside some medicines, bandages and the like."
"Aye, I will. And shall I tell Donald McCann why I'll be needing these things?"
"It would be better if you did not. McCann doesn't see the need for the IRA. He's happy to live under the Crown's thumb as long as he profits. If he knew that you were gathering supplies for us, you would lose your position, perhaps your life. I don't trust him to keep his mouth shut if he came under questioning by the IRC. You must be as careful as you can so as to not raise any suspicion. It's much safer for everyone that way."
"I'll do the best I can then. How soon will you be wanting these supplies?"
"Better make it soonest, Ian. We'll be striking back at the RIC for the murders of young Byron and his ma. The brigade is also putting together a flying column, and I want you and Devlin here to be part of it. This column of twelve will be a fast-moving, hard-hitting squad that will strike and move quickly by forced march to strike somewhere else far removed from the first action. This will keep the RIC and Brits guessing as to how many we really are and force them to keep more troops in the area. Our biggest problem now is a lack of arms and ammo. We're working on that locally and we're sending someone to America to see if She will help us with our war. After all, the Americans had to throw off the British to gain their independence so they might feel some brotherhood with us."
"Why don't I take Ian under my wing and teach him what I know?" Walsh offered.
"Excellent idea, Devlin. Good thinking. Ian will need a mentor and you're a good man for the job."
Ian's heart skipped a beat upon hearing this. "I thank you both for taking such good care of me," he managed to say.
"Not to worry. We'll get you trained." Devlin grinned, his piercing eyes fixed on Ian. "You just take care of us when we get hurt."
Ian opened his mouth to reply, but Shane spoke up first. "All right, men. It's time to break this up. We have to be even more careful about large gatherings from now on. Someone from the brigade'll be in touch in the next couple of days to tell you when and where training will begin. We don't have a lot of time and we need to get everyone trained as quickly as possible. In the days ahead, keep your regular schedules as much as possible so as to not draw attention from the RIC."
The men began to drift out of the pub heading to their homes, ever watchful for the prying eyes of the authorities. The weeks and months ahead would be filled with violence and death and no one knew whom the Grim Reaper would call upon.
Ian quickly walked home, worrying about how he was going to tell his Catholic mother that he had joined the IRA. He knew he had done the right thing, but it would not be so easy to convince her. Somehow, he must make her understand how the terrible events of the day had left him with no other choice.
"Come on, Ian, get in here and eat your supper; it's getting cold. Where have you been? You were supposed to meet your mates for a few minutes and be right back."
"I couldn't help it; something terrible happened and I was held by the RIC."
"What were you doing with the RIC?"
"They shot a man in the street today and I was ordered to the ground. After I was down, they shot the mother of the dead man. I thought we were all going to be shot."
"Dear Lord, how can this happen in Cork? Are you all right, son?"
"Aye, Mum, I'm fine, but I met with the men of the IRA afterward and they asked me to join up with them. At least seven men answered the call, including me."
"No! Ian, have you lost your mind, son? Haven't I told you that killing isn't the way, that violence is never the answer? I want you to go back there to that Shane O'Dea and tell him you have just changed your mind and you want nothing to do with them! Do you hear me, Ian?"
"I can't, Mum; I took the oath. Once in, never out. They want me to be their physician."
"Ian, do you think the RIC will care that you are acting as a doctor to members of the IRA? They will shoot you, Ian, just as sure as if you were carrying a gun instead of medicines. You will tell them that you quit. Do you hear me?"
"I can't just quit. The penalty is death. I know who most of the local members are now. I'm in and you're just gonna have to accept it. There will be times when I will be gone from home and I can't tell you where. In fact, this is the last time I'm gonna talk about my business with the Brotherhood with ya. I'm sorry, but this is the way it must be. Ireland must be free of the madness I witnessed today."
Ian's mother left the table crying and went into her room as Ian mechanically ate the stew she had made for his supper. He could see it was going to be difficult keeping a part of his life separate from her, but he knew that it was for her own good. If she didn't know anything, there would be no reason for the RIC to question her.
The next morning, Ian went into work at McCann's Apothecary at the usual time. Monday mornings were generally busy with people needing things due to incidents over the weekend. As McCann waited on customers, Ian slipped into his pockets several envelopes that were used to carry home purchases of medicine or herbs. Gradually, Ian would find something that could be used in the field and place a bit of the item into one of the envelopes. In this way, he began to stock up on necessary medicines. By the end of the day he had managed to acquire a little of everything essential to wound care. He resolved to do this each day until he built up a good store, taking a little at a time so that the missing items would not be noticed.
As he prepared to leave for the day, a sense of guilt came over him, for he had never stolen a thing in his life. Though his pilfering could someday save the lives of his new comrades, it was still theft. Surreptitiously, he took out a folded-up bill reserved for the weekend at the pub and placed it in the register. He left then, content that he met his goal without breaking one of his own moral tenets. He didn't know if he had put in enough to pay for all he'd taken, but he felt better nonetheless.
At home, he lifted the loose floorboard under his bed where he'd been hiding things since he was a wee lad. Now he was hiding grown-up things that could mean the difference between life and death for a mate. He carefully transferred the contents of the small envelopes into large ones so he would be able to reuse them instead of taking new envelopes. He thought he would try to get some gauze on Wednesday and realized that gathering supplies might take some time since he only worked three days a week. Well, it couldn't be helped; McCann couldn't afford to hire him full-time.
The morning after that, Devlin knocked on the door at breakfast time and Ian's mother let him in with some misgivings. After introducing himself to Mrs. Mulroney, Devlin entered the kitchen and sat down.
"So, you wanna do something today, Ian?"
"What do you have in mind then?"
"Well, it's a bright beautiful day. Why don't we go for a hike into the woods toward the sea? Some exercise will do us both good."
Devlin's innocent words informed Ian that there was an IRA practice drill on for the day. "Aye, I'll join you, but I'll need stouter shoes than I have on now. Come and talk to me while I change them."
Ian's mother watched the young men go up the stairs to Ian's bedroom. She wasn't a stupid woman and she suspected that this new mate was with the IRA.
When the bedroom door was closed, Ian removed the board and showed Devlin the beginnings of his horde of manufactured medicines and natural herbs. "When you get enough, Ian, we'll get them to a field camp where they can be hidden and protected from any searches made by the RIC. Today we practice with rifles and field tactics and discuss initial plans for a raid on the RIC station in Cork. They must be made to pay for the murders on Saturday with their own blood."
Devlin watched from the corners of his eyes as Ian removed his shoes and socks and dropped his trousers. He felt that odd twitch in his stomach that afflicted him a few times in school when the other fellows were changing clothes. Ian seemed unaware of Devlin's interest in his physical appearance, so Devlin looked his fill. The new recruit looked to be about 5' 11" and had little meat on his bones, but it all appeared quite solid. Devlin noticed how the sunlight made Ian's light brown hair look silky and lush and how well it went with his smooth complexion and pale blue eyes. Abruptly, Devlin pushed these strange thoughts from his mind and urged the lad to hurry up. Ian shrugged into his jacket, slapped Devlin on the back, and announced that he was ready to go.
They left by the kitchen door and cut through a narrow tree line as they headed into the small mountain range that marked the boundaries of Cork. After some ninety minutes of pleasant walking, they came upon a group of men headed up by Shane O'Dea and training began. The area that they were to train in was a combination of rocks, hills, and very little in the way of trees. The men could see the waters of the Atlantic Ocean far off in the distance, the source of the damp chill that required them to dress warmly. For the next four hours, part of the Cork Brigade strove to take a hilltop without being seen by Shane and his lieutenants. They were taught the principles of cover and camouflage so they could sneak up on their targets undetected. Toward the end of the session, the men started to grumble.
"In the name of all that's holy, when are we going to get some target practice in with those rifles you boys are carrying?" asked Kyle Dillon, one of the newly pledged.
"There will be no shooting today or this week. Don't ya know lad, that we are short of rifles and ammo? We can't afford to waste it popping at bottles or some such thing. Ammo is precious to us and until we carry off some raids, we're gonna remain short on these things."
"Well, when do we take what we need then?" asked another man.
"All right, gather around, everyone, and sit down. Time to talk about plans and any questions you have."
The men collapsed where they stood and gave O'Dea their attention. "We have a total of seven rifles, four handguns, and enough ammo for both to last about five minutes in a gun battle. The only way to get more is to raid the RIC and take from them what we need. When we go in, we will wear masks so that our faces can't be seen, and you will keep your mouths shut! Some of your voices are easily recognizable and I don't want you pulled in by the constables because you couldn't keep your big yap shut. No talking. You will know everything about the raid beforehand so there will be no need for talk. You will learn hand signals. You will wear gloves to cover your hands. You will not wear any jewelry which can be used to identify you. You will not wear any clothing that makes you stand out. I'll not lose a man because he chose to wear purple shoes! Our greatest asset is our ability to fade back into the populace after a mission. Any questions?"
"Aye, when would we be raiding our first RIC outpost to get some of these rifles and ammo?" asked young Brody Thompson.
"Soon, lad. All too soon. We can't carry out our other plans until we have more weapons, so the raids must be a priority. On the night of the first one, you'll be told what the target is. Any other questions?"
"Who's going to be in on this first raid?" asked Devlin.
"No one will be told ahead of time. You won't even know if it's gonna be you until that night. That's called operational security, boyo. If there are no other questions for now, that's all for today. Go on back to your homes and spend some time with your families."
"Come on, Ian," Devlin said. "Let's walk back together. How do you like working for old man McCann anyway?"
"Oh, he's all right, I suppose. He can be a bit touchy, but he pays me on time and doesn't abuse me when I'm there. 'Sides, there's no other jobs about right now, in case you haven't noticed."
"Aye, I've noticed, which is why I sweep out the pub for a few shillings, now and then. If it weren't for the fact that I eat there, as well, I'd starve. At least you're learning a profession that will get you through life," Devlin remarked sadly.
"A few shillings? That doesn't leave you much to spend on your girl, let alone rent, clothing, or anything else!"
"Well, my old girlfriend didn't want much and I make do with the clothes that I have. I don't buy much beyond a beer once in a while and I pay a little to me mum for living at home."
"Now that I'm grown, I would like my own place, but I cannot afford it on what McCann pays me." Ian paused. "All this walking makes ya thirsty, doesn't it?"
"I'll be leaving my thirst for another time. I've not got two coins to jingle together."
"Look, man, let's have a beer when we get back to town. I've enough for one beer each."
"Thank you, Ian. Gladly accepted. I'll buy sometime, don't you worry none."
"I'm not worried none and don't you worry about buying another time."
"You're all right, ya know that? We just became mates and now you're buying me a beer. What about you? You have a girl that likes nice things?"
"No, no girl; couldn't really afford one even if I could attract one. Sure are a lot of pretty ones in Cork though, eh?"
"Aye, you can say that again. But this is no time to be worried about girls and love and all that. A man's work needs doing in these hills. There is a lot of blood coming, you wait and see, and we'd best be prepared for it when it hits. You stick with me, Ian lad, and I'll get you through," he said as he pointed his index finger at Ian.
They entered the pub, and everyone glanced up to see if it was the RIC, going right back to their business, which mostly concerned the pint that was in front of them. Ian ordered and paid for two pints of Guinness and sat with Devlin at a table in the corner. Four of the locals were shooting darts and the barmaid was serving sandwiches to those who could afford to pay. The so-called sandwiches were two thin pieces of white bread with a smear of mustard and one papery slice of ham between. This was a feast to some that couldn't afford to buy food and cook at home. Times were hard due to the economic policies imposed by the British and many people ate only one poor meal a day.
"Devlin, how soon do you think we'll get called out?" Ian asked in a worried whisper.
"Only Shane knows the answer to that, but I'm ready if I'm called and you will be too. As I said, you stick by me and I'll get you through the tough spots."
"You seem so sure. Don't it scare ya that we might get killed for the cause, or worse, imprisoned for years in a British jail?"
"Aye, I'd be lying if I said I never gave a thought to it, but it's fate, Ian lad, a fate that's been put on us and we've got to answer when it knocks on our door. Trust in God and in your brothers of the brigade, even more so than your own mother," Devlin answered with conviction.
"I do trust the brothers and especially you for some reason. Maybe because you're like the brother I always wished for but never had."
"I feel the same and that's why I don't want to see anything happen to you. Pay attention in training and if there is something you don't understand, you must ask and we'll make sure you do. Besides, one day you might have to patch me up, so I'll be keeping you close."
Before Ian could reply, the door banged open and in walked four members of the RIC, one with gun in hand.
"All right!" the sergeant shouted. "Everyone up against the wall with your hands behind your heads, now! We'll be searching you and if one of you fucking bastards has a gun on ya, you'll be going away for a long time."
As the men lined up in response to the command, Ian shot a questioning look to Devlin, asking silently if he was armed. Devlin caught the look and shook his head as the men were roughly searched. No arms were found, which seemed to disappoint the RIC. They departed sullenly, dealing out random kicks and slaps, tipping over more than one beer.
"Rotten bastards, all of 'em," snarled an old man whose pint was dripping onto the floor.
"Here, Billy, have one on the house. Never let it be said that I would allow them bastards to stop a beer-drinking man from enjoying his comforts," replied the innkeeper.
"Ya see, Ian," Devlin said, "that's why we don't carry what handguns we have. If they had found one on you or me, we'd be in a cell with some heavy-fisted constables being beaten for information before being sent away to a military prison for five years. Not to mention losing a valuable weapon."
"I was afraid that you might have one on you and that I would lose ya."
"Would that bother you terribly, Ian?"
"Would what bother me?"
"Would it bother you to lose me to the RIC?"
"Of course it would, you silly sod. What do ya think of me anyway?"
"I was just wondering, that's all. No need to get all fussed up over it," Devlin replied with a broad grin.
"Come on; let's finish our beer and get out of here."
Posted August 4, 2010
Posted September 14, 2010
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