recently visited Glasgow, a place where there is a
sectarian divide,a place not too dissimilar to Belfast.
The reason for my visit being, a friend of my wife
was having health problems and like most women, my
wife thinks that she can resolve the problems of the
world, so, to Glasgow we had to go.
As we were travelling over to Scotland on the ferry,
my wife informed me that her friend Bridie's husband
John is a Protestant and a Rangers supporter, though
why she felt it would make any difference to me, I
don't know, because as I have said before, I was born
a Protestant, a republican one, but a Protestant never
On arrival in Scotland, the first thing that happened
was, I was stopped by Special Branch and asked for
identification and after being detained for threequarters
of an hour( the shortest time I have ever been detained
by any police force), supposedly, while they authenticated
my identification,( they were actually searching my
car) I was allowed to carry on my journey to Glasgow.
Bridie, my wife's friend, stays in Dennistoun in the
East End of Glasgow, which incidentally, is where
Parkhead, the home of Celtic Football Club is situated
and as I discovered later, a public house called the
after what felt like a lifetime of driving around
in circles (we got lost about five times), we finally
arrived at Bridie's and were met and greeted by Bridie
and her husband, John, at the mouth of the close (the
opening to a three storied tenement building) where
looked an awful lot different from when I knew her
as an eighteen year old in West Belfast back in the
seventies, at the outset of the Troubles. Then she
was, Bridie Gallagher, a raven haired, rosy cheeked,
Irish beauty, who always had an opinion about everything
and who according to her, was never wrong. Now, she
looked like a frail old woman who was obviously seriously
unwell, and who, as I listened to her talking, had
developed a half Irish, half Glasgow accent, but I
suppose if you live somewhere for thirty years you
do pick up some of the colloquialisms.
actually looked more Irish than I do, with his bright
red hair and face to match, I thought he looked like
the epitomy of what an American film producer would
think any Irishman should look like, but John wasn't
Irish, he was Scottish and as I was to discover later,
very proud of that fact.
the usual introductions, John said to me "Awright
big yin, rey tell me yer wan ae us", so not knowing
to what he was referring, I smiled politely and nodded.
To which, he then replied, "Efter ye get a tightener,
we'll leave the wimmin tae talk awe that wimmin's
shite an' a'll take ye tae a right good boozer, ye'll
like it there, nae Taigs allowed".
Now I don't know about anybody else, but talking in
the manner in which John had just done, is not the
best way for anybody meeting myself for the first
time, to actually ingratiate themselves, but as I
looked at my wife and saw the look that says, "Don't
you dare say anything", I decided that discretion
was the better part of valor and kept my mouth firmly
After we had what John had referred to as a "tightener",
which I learned meant something to eat, John stood
up and said, "Heh Bridie, while you 'n' yer Mickey
pal ur reminiscin', me 'n' ra big yin ur gonnae head
doon ra Loudon fur a cupla beers, awright".
To which she replied "Aye, nae borra"
So off we went to the pub, myself and my obviously
religiously bigoted companion.
As we approached the Loudon Bar, John turned and said
to me, "See this boozer, it wiz oan ra telly,
know thoan programme aboot Britain's hardest pubs,
thurs some real characters in it, a'll need tae gie
ye a knockdoon tae Big Robie".
I couldn't help wondering if the makers of the programme
had ever thought about visiting the Felon's Club.
The first thing I noticed about the bar that we were
about to enter was that it had no windows and had
the Glasgow Rangers crest emblazoned on the doors
and on the tiles on the floor as you walked in.
inside, you were treated to what can only be described
as a shrine to Glasgow Rangers Football Club, with
paintings of players past and present decorating the
walls and even the toilets, as I discovered later.
we moved closer to the bar, people were shouting greetings
to John and I didn't quite catch what he had said,
so he repeated himself "Whit ur ye wanting? Don't
take ra heavy, A'm sure they piss in it." he
said, I told him lager would be fine.
from the bar John said "Ersi big man" and
shouted "Awright Robie, how ye daein',
ris is Bridie's mate's man fae Belfast, ris is George,
its awright, he's wan ae us".
Robie was a man in his forties about six feet tall
and built like an ox. The first thing I noticed about
him as we shook hands, was that he had the letters
UDA tattooed across his knuckles, and I automatically
made the assumption that he was your typical loyalist
moron of whom I had seen hundreds over the years,
but his hand shake was firm and his eyes didn't leave
mine, as he said in a quiet, slightly cultured sounding
voice, "Alright George, how are you and how are
things in Belfast, anything changed since the start
of the peace process?"
I replied that not much had changed for the working
class people and that it was the same old story of
the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.
To which, Robie looked straight into my eyes and said,
"Ah, a rare commodity in this place, a socialist
like myself, everybody in this dump is either a dumb
orangeman who pays homage to the English queen or
a Tory who extolls about all the good things that
Maggie Thatcher did for Britain, but when you ask
them to name one, they immediately change the subject.
Basically, the biggest majority of them, don't know
their arse from their elbow."
this point John excused himself and said, "A'll
leave yuse two tae talk shite, A'm away tae talk tae
then informed me, with a little glint in his eye,
that the person who John was going to speak to, is
the only Catholic who drinks in the pub and that the
reason for that is, JayJay's mother hasn't told him
what his religion is yet, as it might be too much
for him to take in at the one time and that the reason
John is talking to him is that, he is the only person
in the pub who John can feel intellectually superior
I sat and entered into a political conversation with
a person, who although he held a completely different
viewpoint from my own regarding the politics of Northern
Ireland, was putting forward some valid points about
the loyalist side of things and I began to realise
that this man was no moron.
the conversation developed, I discovered that as a
nineteen year old, he had been in the British Army
and had been stationed in Belfast in the eighties
and that he had encountered first hand what he called
"that bullshit war". He told me of people
who had been in the same unit as him, who had been
killed and of others, who after their tour had finished,
had never been quite the same.
replied, without trying to give away where my own
loyalties had lain throughout the conflict, that to
the republican side at that particular time, it hadn't
been a "bullshit war".
I didn't tell him that there were an awful lot of
us who perhaps felt that way now.
then, to my astonishment, told me that he could understand
the Catholics' point of view and said, "Any people
who are being pissed on from a great height, in my
opinion, have the right to take up arms to defend
themselves, I don't care whether they are Catholic,
Protestant, Moslem or Hindu. As a matter of fact ,
if the English Army had marched into Glasgow, I believe
that every Glaswegian, be he Protestant or Catholic,
would have been taking up arms."
at that point John returned and caught the end of
what his friend had been saying, "Aye yer dead
right big man, we widda booted they English bastarts
back tae where they came fae," he said.
At that point I excused myself and went to the toilet,
two pints of lager is generally my limit at any one
time and I had drunk about two and a half, so a visit
to the toilet was definitely required.
I entered, there was a guy already using the toilet
who turned as I came in and said,
big yin, you big John's wife's mate's man fae Ireland,
the big mans a Neil Sedaka", which all came out
as one long word and left me wondering what a Neil
JayJay, ra bigyins brand new, thick, but brand new.
Ur you a Tim bigyin? A um, A'm ra only wan allowed
in ris shoap. Ray awe think A'm daft , bit JayJay's
no' as daft as awe ray balloons think he is".
then went on to tell me all about the day that Rangers
had won the league championship and that the pub had
been encircled by about two thousand irate Celtic
fans who were intent on wreaking their own personal
revenge on all the patrons of the Loudon.
they were gonnae murder the lot ae us, but JayJay
jist took his Tricolor badge oot, stuck it oan his
jaickit an' walked through the lot ae them".
I thought, he's right, he isn't stupid and more astute
than myself and probably most of the bar's customers.
After I had finished what remained of my third pint,
John asked me if I wanted to head home, so we said
our farewells to Robie, JayJay and a few other people
who John had been in conversation with, when, as we
were opening the door to leave the bar, Robie called
me back and whispered in my ear, "Give my regards
to West Belfast".
then nodded , as did he, we shook hands and both John
and I left.
John and I didn't converse too much on the way back
to his house, just the odd comment about football
in general and who we both believed would win the
European Nations Cup. "France".
When we got back to John and Bridie's, John fell asleep.
My wife, Bridie and I sat and talked about the old
times till about 3:00am, before retiring for a well
earned night's sleep.
In the morning after we had breakfast, we said our
goodbyes, as my wife and I were going to visit a cousin
of hers on the other side of Glasgow, where we would
stay the night.
after getting directions from John on how to best
negotiate the journey to the Gorbals on Glasgow's
south side, we set off.
we travelled, my wife informed me that Bridie had
a brain tumour and that she was going into hospital
the following week to have it removed. There wasn't
a lot to say about that, so for the remainder of the
journey, we remained quiet.
about a half hour's journey, we duly arrived at my
wife's cousin Maggie's house. John's directions were
absolutely spot on.
Maggie and her husband Pat live in the high flats
that are dotted around the Gorbals and after finding
the correct block, we made our way via the elevator
to Maggie's house.
at the correct house we knocked on the door and it
was opened by a man who could have been John's brother,
who immediately threw his arms around my wife, giving
her a massive hug and shouted, "Heh Maggie, its
Grania an' 'er man."
then heard the scurrying of feet along the hallway
and a woman, who I presumed correctly to be Maggie,
appeared and gave my wife the same treatment as her
husband had before her.
After the normal introductions, we entered their house.
I sat down, Pat spoke to me, saying, " See efter
big man, when the pubs open, A'll take ye tae a good
boozer, O'Neil's its called, its wan ae they Irish
theme pubs, its full ae Celtic supporters, ye'll like
it in 'er."
nodded politely, but had the feeling of de-ja vu.
we sat around drinking tea, while my wife told them
all about our visit to Bridie and John's place.
my wife mentioned John and Bridie's names, Pat said,
"Bridie's a Neil Sedaka, bit A cannae go him,
he's an Orange bastart."
he was again, the singer of Solitaire and I was just
going to ask what a Neil Sedaka was, but Pat carried
on saying, "Know whit, she says A look like him
an' A said tae her, Aye, an ra Pope's no' an Italian.
Look like him, aye rattle be right."
was going to tell him that he was absolutely right,
that the Pope wasn't an Italian but I didn't think
it would go down too well, so I sat with my lips sealed
and said nothing.
At precisely twelve noon, Pat stood up and said, "Maggie,
A'm gonnae take ra bigyin ower tae O'Neil's fur a
pint. Ur yuse wantin' tae come tae?"
which both spouses replied in the negative. So we
set off to the Irish theme pub.
was about twelve thirty when we arrived at the pub,
we had to get on a bus to get there and as we walked
through the door of the bar, I caught the sound of
"The Fields Of Athenry" blaring out from
place was amazingly busy for that time of the day
and every second person, it seemed, was dressed in
the green and white hoops of Celtic Football Club.
said to me, "Grab a seat, an' A'll get ra beer,
whit ye wanting?"
told him that lager would be fine and off he went
to the bar. I sat down at the nearest table, where
two people were already seated, a man and a woman.
Both he and she had the same mode of dress as every
other person in the place, so they were obviously
I sat waiting for the return of Pat with the beers,
I decided to light a cigarette but my lighter seemed
to have run out of gas, so as I busily flicked away
at my lighter trying to get it to ignite, the gent
at the other end of the table, leaned over and flicked
a lighter under my nose to give me a light, which
I duly took, I thanked him and settled back waiting
for the return of Pat.
man then said to me, "You, Irish?" To which
I replied in the affirmative.
wher?" he then asked, to which I begged his pardon,
as I didn't understand the question.
woman then said, "Whereaboots in Ireland ye fae?"
which point, Pat had returned from the bar and replied
for me, saying, "He's fae Belfast, awright Kevin,
Mary, how yez daein'. Ris is Maggie's cousin's man,
his name's George."
obviously knew both of them, so as Pat did the introductions,
I shook both of their hands. As I did so, Kevin leaned
forward, pulled at the front of his football top and
said, "You know whit rat is?"
replied that I did and told him that it was a Celtic
my response, he erupted into laughter and said, "Naw
no' rat, ya bamstick,rat", as he pulled at the
front of his football shirt yet again. It was then
that I noticed, to what he was referring.
had a badge with a Phoenix on it, the badge of the
Provisionals, he wasn't a Provo, but he was putting
me in a rather awkward situation, as I didn't quite
know how to reply to the question, so I thought I
had better reply in the affirmative to see where the
conversation would lead, which I duly did.
then retorted, "Ye must be wan ae us." and
patted me on the shoulder, I just smiled.
wife then asked if I was on holiday and how long I
would be in Scotland, so I told her about Bridie's
situation and that my wife and I would be returning
to Belfast the following morning.
then asked, "Whit did ye dae last night then,
did ye go oot wi' that Orange bam?"
that he was talking about John, I said that I had
and that we had gone to his local bar for a couple
total amazement, Pat roared, "WHIT, ur ye aff
yer heed, rat balloon drinks in ra Loudon, its full
ae loyalists, if ray foun' oot rat ye were a Tim,
ye coulda goat murdered in 'er. Somebody should drap
a bomb oan rat dump."
told him that everyone I had met there had been courteous
and friendly and that I had enjoyed the conversation,
although I must admit that what he had said sparked
a realisation in me which I hadn't thought about,
the previous night.
was the first time in my life that I had ever, knowingly,
drank with loyalist supporters, which to be perfectly
honest, provoked a certain sadness in me.
Both Pat and Kevin proceeded to tell me the same story,
which JayJay had told me the night before, about the
surrounding of the Loudon by Celtic fans and of the
running battles between rival sets of fans, before
and after the incident.
After we finished our third beer, Pat and I decided
to make our way back to his place, so after we had
said our goodbyes to Kevin and Mary we set out. When
we arrived, we discovered that his house was full
of our two wives' relations, so the rest of the evening
was spent listening to all the family reminiscing.
In the morning, as we walked to our car, after saying
our farewells to Maggie and Pat, I remembered something,
turned back, walked up to Pat and enquired of him
what a Neil Sedaka was.
erupted in laughter and said, " Its Glesga rhymning
slang, it means rat yer a cracker."
As we travelled back to Ireland on the ferry, I couldn't
help thinking about what Robie had said, regarding
the scenario of English troops on the streets of Glasgow
and of what he believed would happen. It made me quite
sad that the people of Ireland had never adopted that
attitude with regard to Thirty Two Counties, perhaps
there would not have been any conflict between Irishman
and Irishman but as the song says "What's done
I just hope that it is not, "lost and gone forever."
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