Authors: GERALD SEYMOUR
Field of Blood
It was a good plan. The Chief and his Brigade Officers had worked at it for five weeks.
They knew in which car the target would travel, and which routes his escorts could take between the detached suburban house and the Crown Court. They
had the timings on the car, and they knew that all the routes used the same final
half mile to the Court buildings.
The weapon was in the city. The weapon and its single projectile were available
and waiting. The marksmen were available and waiting. The strike was fixed by
the Chief for the Thursday of the following week.
It was a good plan, too good to fail. That it seemed to have failed was a matter of
dismal luck, the luck that had haunted the Organization in the last months.
Eammon Dalton and Fran Forde were stopped on the Glen Road at a randomly
placed police road block. On another evening the two Volunteers might have carried off the Person Check with indifference, given their names and addresses
quietly and calmly, spilled the fictitious every‐night story of where they were going, and been cleared and sent on their way. They were heading, when they were waved down, to a final briefing from Brigade. They were nervous and strung
taut and they aroused the interest of the heavily armed constables peering down
at the two young Catholics' torch‐lit faces. Dalton wouldn't speak, and Forde gave, in the heat of the moment, an alias which was found a minute later to differ
from the name on his driving licence. Dalton swore as soon as Forde had opened
his idiot mouth. At first, of course, the policemen didn't know what they had, but
they guessed they had something. Dalton and Forde were pulled out of the car
and their hands were spread on the roof and their legs were kicked apart, and they could hear the sergeant feeding the registration of the car into his radio's microphone ‐ and that was bad luck because the car was a Datsun and the plates
had been lifted off a Sierra. They were covered by an Ml carbine and a Sterling SMG, and they stayed very still because they knew the policemen would dearly
love to have them break and run, and they knew the fingers were stroking the triggers. The report on the plates came back to the sergeant's earpiece and the
handcuffs clicked on Eammon Dalton and Fran Forde's wrists. They were hustled
to the dark interior of the police landrover.
**For these two Volunteers the war was over, for some years at least. The Chief
and his Brigade Operations officer were brought the news of the arrest by courier.
The Chief reflected. The plan was too good to fail just because a piss‐arse Volunteer couldn't remember the bloody name on his driving licence. The
weapon was good, but bloody damn useless in the fists of a man who hadn't been
trained for it. He'd learned how useless this prize weapon was in untrained hands
when a projectile had overshot an Army Pig vehicle and blasted a Primary classroom, and when a projectile had missed a Pig and hit the front axle of a coal
delivery lorry. Dalton and Forde had been trained to use the weapon. They had
had the luxury of test firings in a remote Donegal quarry over the border, into the
The plan was too good to waste. He had the weapon, but only one
projectile. No bastard could make it work on a live first time firing. The Brigade
Operations officer read his mind. Ì'd do it myself, but . . .'
"Course you would, 'course I would and we'd be lucky to hit a bloody wall, let alone a bloody car.'
Ìn this city you had two boys only who could use it, both gone ...' The frown cut
into the Chief's forehead. `What of the old teams, the old boys who used to be
trained on it?
'One's shot, one's in the Kesh, one's buried for blowing himself away with his own
bomb. And one went down South, way back.' `Could he still fire it?
'Too right, but he went over the border, quit.' `Get him,' the Chief said.
`He walked out on us ‐ he was good with it, but he quit on us.' `Get the fucker back.'
`He could fire it, if we could get him here.' Ìt's too good to waste. Get him back.'
He rubbed at the condensation on the window and peered out at the slow‐
It was the second time it had cruised past the caravan.
A grey, misted morning. The cloud fog softened the greens of the grass on the canal's bank and brightened the yellows of the collapsing weed beds and
darkened the tarmac of the roadway running beside the straight line of the canal.
He had first seen the car when the bird had flapped fast away from the perch he
had placed for it in the grass. He always fed the bird at that time.
He moved quickly from the end window to the side window and stretched across
the small formica‐topped table and his stomach wobbled the sauce bottles he had left out for his tea. His fist smeared against the window so that he could better see the car as it went on up the narrow road towards Vicarstown. His vision
was obscured by a wild hedgerow but he made out the red flash of the brake lights, and he knew that the car had stopped. He darted back across the caravan
and switched off his radio and strained his ears in the new‐found quiet. Very faintly he could hear the drive of the car's engine as it turned in the roadway and
skidded on the verge beside the canal. He saw the bird, apprehensive in a tree across the water, watching.
Then silence. Only the wheeze of his own breathing. His eyes were against the window. He saw no movement from between the hedgerow branches where the
brake lights had shone.
He cursed and hurried the three strides back to the end window of the caravan from which he had first seen the car. He looked both ways up the road and he saw nothing.
He went to the door at the back of the caravan, the end away from the road, and
opened the door carefully and looked out over the fields to the squat farmhouse
two hundred yards away. Smoke from the chimney climbed straight to the cloud
ceiling. No sign of life. Again he strained his ears and heard nothing. He closed the door behind him.
For two years the caravan had been his home. It had a single bunk, a table, a chair, a gas ring, a sink: Behind a curtain near the door was a chemical bucket lavatory. On the wall above the table was a photograph of his wife and one of two of his children. The photographs were fastened to the wall with old, dried out
sellotape. His breakfast plate and mug lay in the small sink. Across the width of
the caravan, at eye
**level, hung a string carrying two pairs of pants and some socks and a shirt.
Because a cable reached from the farmhouse to the caravan he had the electricity
to burn a single‐bar fire. The caravan was his home.
He had made out the blurred outline of two men in the front seats each time that
the car had passed. He wondered why they waited. Perhaps they worked to a 3
schedule and waited on their watches; perhaps they allowed themselves a
cigarette before coming to him.
It was more than a year since he had been visited at the caravan. It had been two
detectives then. They'd said they were Crime and he'd known they were Special
Branch, and they'd come down from the station at Monasterevan, and they'd looked around and talked gently with him, and said it was only routine, and that
if he stayed clean then he'd be left to himself, and that if he went dirty that they'd fucking smash him. The one had looked quietly around the caravan, and the other had spoken with a twinkling eye and a soft Cork brogue. Alright for a Belfast man to live down south, but Jesus had he better be clean ... Because if he
was dirty, if he was Provo dirty, then he was in a heap of shit. And they'd shaken
his hand, and called him by his first name and closed the door behind them and
gone on their way. He had been clean before they came to the caravan, and clean
That was the last time that the young kestrel bird had been frightened away at
He rubbed again at the window, and tried to see the car and could not.
It was two years since he had taken up the offer of the caravan on the farm of his
mother's cousin. The cousin lived on his own, and didn't look for a stranger's company. There was the caravan at the end of the lane, beside the roadway, and
it was available for a distant relative who was a refugee from the north. In the summer if there was hay to be cut then he helped, or if there was repair work to
be done on a roof of an out‐house then he would do it. Mostly weeks went by and
he only saw the old man at a distance across the fields. It was a lonely life and Christ for all that it was better than the life he had lived before two years back.
Only on a Saturday evening would he take the bicycle into Vicarstown and drink
some stout in a bar. He knew that his accent betrayed his origins and wondered
what the local men said of him. He was lonely because he did not seek the locals'
company, nor was he given it. When he drank he'd have a plastic carrier bag beside his knee that was filled with sliced loaves and packets of margarine and a
pound of rashers and a pound of sausages. He took his milk from the farm, he took his money from a Thursday morning ride to Monasterevan and thèbrew'
from the Post Office.
The bird was his only companion. The farmer had taken the fledgeling kestrel from an abandoned nest a month after he had come to the caravan, and fed it on
bread and milk and meat scraps to maturity. The bird wasn't tame, not so it could
be touched, but it nested within sight of the farmhouse and the caravan, and it
came most days for food. He
talked to the bird, softly so as not to frighten it, and it had his bacon rind and slices of raw sausage. The bird wasn't a prisoner, no clipped wings, no thongs.
The bird was free, as he was free since he had come to the new life two years back.
He loved the bird.
Before he had come south he couldn't have imagined himself as pansy enough to
love a pink‐tailed kestrel bird. He loved his wife, too, but she was in Belfast. The kestrel bird was with him, and was all the company he had.
Through the window of the caravan he heard the dulled bang and knew it was the
slamming of a car door.
If his wife had travelled south with him then he might possibly have wriggled a lasting escape from the life of before two years back, but she said there was no
way she was going to exist in a soddin' field. She said Belfast was bad but it's where it's familiar. He'd told her it was a mobile home they could live in, she said it was a soddin' caravan, and no place for the wee ones. She said she'd prefer to
be with her Ma and her Da, and his mates and her friends, and not hidin' in a soddin' bog down south. She said she knew why he'd gone, because he had to go,
she don't think the less of him for going. He went back three times the first year,
four times the second year. Back to Belfast to be with her, to be with the kids. He
hadn't been for two months, but he'd be back up with her and the kids for Christmas. He often had the radio on inside the caravan, and when the reporters
broadcast of house searches and lifts and aggro and shootings in the area where
his wife lived, where his kids were, where his Ma and Da were, where her Ma and
Da were, then he would suffer a little in his helplessness. But she always said that she understood why he had gone away. She never blamed him. Christ, it would
have been easier if she had.
He wiped once more at the window glass. There were two men walking up the centre of the road towards the caravan.
He saw their pale town faces. The taller man wore a cap and the shorter man's hair was long to his shoulders and his beard covered his throat. The taller man bent and picked a stone off the side of the road and threw it hard and high into
the tree where the bird perched and watched the bird fly swiftly away. He grinned as if it pleased him that he had disturbed a picture that had been at peace. The kestrel flew frightened away down the length of the canal. The shorter man retched and coughed and spat and dropped a half‐used cigarette 5