Peter Dougls comes back from England, where he works as a newspaper journalist, to his hometown in
Northern Ireland. When he tells his parents about the freedom and peace he enjoys in England, his
father is rather dismayed about these remarks.
One night when Peter has just fallen asleep, he is awakened
by a loud noise and commotion coming up from the street below. He rushes to the window and recognizes several
police beating up a young man. The next morning Peter and his father are having the following conversation
about last night's incident:
"Did you hear what happened last night?"
"I did," said his son, "did you?"
"I only heard the tail-end of it, but I heard them all talking his morning."
"What did they say?"
"They said B-specials beat up a young man called Ferguson, whom they accused of being in the I.R.A."
"Sure how would I know? Most people say not, a harmless lad that was courting his girl on the bridge,
without minding anyone."
"Then why did they attack him?"
"Why do you think? You know bloody well those boys don't need a reason for beating up one of our sort."
"Maybe he had papers on him, or an explosive. After all, there's been a lot of trouble lately."
In the preceding months, the I.R.A. campaign against the North had been revived. It was the same sad old
story, barracks, customs huts blown up, and police patrols ambushed. Several men had been killed on
both sides, and the police force had been augmented, even in relatively quiet areas like Moorhill,
which though predominantly Catholic, was too far from the border for a raiding party to risk. A hut
at the end of the town had gone on fire one night, but it turned out to be some children playing a
"Damn the explosive he had with him, except," his father smiled thinly, "you count the girl. But those
bloody B-Specials are so anxious to prove their importance, strutting around the town with their wee
guns. Besides, they're shitting their britches with fear and mad to get their own back."
"I see." Peter forbore from pointing out that some of these motives were mutually exclusive, recognizing
his father's mood only too well. He poured a last cup of tea.
"Well, what are you going to do about it?"
"What do you mean, what am I going to do?"
"You were talking last night about Englishmen and freedom, and a fine sight it is. What are you going
to do about it?"
"What do you mean do? Look for a gun?" he said sardonically.
"You could do worse. But your sort would faint at the sight of one."
Peter flared. "Would we, indeed? Well, maybe we've seen too many, handled by the wrong people."
"What the hell are you going to fight them with, then?" his father snorted. "A pen-nib? A typewriter?
A fat lot of good that would be against a machine gun."
"It might be of more use than you think. Moral protest is always best as Gandhi showed. But they did not
teach you that in Ballykinlar internment camp."
"Moral protest, me granny. How are you going to bring moral protest to bear on bucks like that? Force
only recognizes greater force."
Peter Douglas rose and, placing his back against the rail of the stove, looked down at his father.
The dark-blue pouches under his eyes, gorged with blood, the right arm raised as though to thump the
table in affirmation: he could have been cast in bronze as The Patriot. His own limp ease, the horn-rimmed
glasses, the scarf tucked in neatly at the throat of his sport-shirt, the pointed black Italian shoes -
everything represented a reaction against this old fire-eater who had dominated his childhood like a
thundercloud. But now he felt no fear of him, only a calm certainty of his own position.
"You know well, Father, in your heart of hearts, that violence is the wrong way. Now you ask me what I
can do. Well, in this specific case, I can do more than you or a whole regiment of the I.R.A. I can
write an article in 'The Tocsin' which will expose
the whole thing. Good, decent - yes, English - people will read it and be ashamed of what is being done
in their name. Questions will be asked, maybe in Parliament, if not this time then the next. And gradually,
if they are shown the enormity of what they are doing, the ruling classes of Ulster will come to their
senses. One cannot hope to survive in the twentieth century on the strength of a few outdated shibboleths:
prejudice always breeds violence."
His father was silent, impressed or not, Peter could not say. Then rising to clear away the breakfast
things, he said:
"You'll do that then. You'll write the article."
His father smiled. "Well, at least I got you to do something. You haven't completely lost your Ulster
Source: An Occasion of Sin - Stories by John Montagur, White Pine Press, New York 1992, pp. 85-87
B-specials - Armed, part-time section of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The B-Specials helped to police
Northern Ireland between their formation in 1920 to their abolition in 1969. They were replaced by the
Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) in 1970.
to ambush - aus d. Hinterhalt angreifen
to augment - vergrößern
shitting their britches - aus Angst in die Hosen ......
to forebear/forbore - verzichten auf
to flare up - aufbrausen
bucks (sl.) - Böcke
limp ease - schlaffe Ungezwungenheit
shibboleths - Parolen, Plattitüden
1. Peter's life has developed differently from his father's. From what the text tells you, what are the main
differences concerning their lives?
2. Describe the attitudes Father and son have towards the English and the IRA?
3. From your knowledge about the history of Northern Ireland, describe the situation in N.I. at the time the above
story takes place.