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Wee Hughie

By David Gardiner

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We all got a day off school when they buried Wee Hughie. The head of the Christian Brothers came up from Dublin to make a speech at the funeral. It was great. Ye shoulda’ seen all the TV cameras an’ the microphones an’ everything. I don’t remember what he said but it was right good, like. All about how guns never solve problems and ye still have to talk things through after all the shootin’s done.

I never said nothin’ about it, never even told it in Confession, but I felt terrible bad about it. It’s not like I really done anything bad, but I don’t think what I done was too clever either.

Ye see Wee Hughie’s house was on my way home from school an’ I always dropped in to see him when I was passin’ by. Wee Hughie’s big brother Liam had a motorbike an' we used to sit on it, an’ Wee Hughie even knew how to turn on the engine an’ make it roar – only if Liam was anywhere near by an’ heard us doin’ it he would come back an’ give the two of us a clip around the ear.

Liam used to keep pigeons as well, in a wee shed up on the flat roof above the back extension, an’ Wee Hughie an’ me used to go up an’ feed them an’ look at them like. Liam used to get pissed off about that too because he said we would make them too fat. They smelled bloody awful.

Wee Hughie’s other brother was only seven so we never paid him no heed. I hardly even knew his name even though I’d been round there all them times, but of course the whole of Ireland knows his name now. Pedro it is. They say he had to go into some kind of a clinic after he done it, so he must've knew what it was he done. A lot of people said he was too young to know, but if he was too young then why did he have to go into the clinic, that’s what I say.

Liam used to play the guitar too an’ sing rebel songs. Right good he was. He used to sing The Foggy Dew an’ Father Murphy an The Rifles of the IRA. He could do a few good songs as well, Beatles and Cliff Richard an’ that, but mostly it was aul’ rebel songs. He told us all about how the Protestants shot Kevin Barry in 1916 an’ how millions of people died in the Famine because the Protestants took all the good potatoes for themselves. The same aul’ stuff ye’ get at school, but he seemed to really care about it. He said a war was comin’, the Second Irish War of Independence, he called it, and how we all had a duty to do our bit. My Mammy thought he was a wee bit touched. Not right in the head, like. Wee Hughie said Liam was a patriot, ready an’ willin’ to give his life for Ireland. I thought the two of them was right daft, but I didn’t say nothin’. I just liked the pigeons and the motorbike, an’ I wondered if Wee Hughie would inherit them if Liam gave his life for Ireland.

The day Wee Hughie took me up to Liam’s room to see the gun, we knew Liam wasn’t anywhere around because we’d had the motorbike engine goin’ an’ he hadn’t heard it. The gun was under Liam’s pillow, an’ it was grey an’ heavy, an’ very cold when ye picked it up. It was a real one too, an’ there was bullets in it. Wee Hughie said Liam needed it for personal protection, because he was in the Volunteers now, an’ if anybody from the UVF found out about him they would be round to shoot him in his bed.

Wee Hughie showed me how to take the magazine of bullets out and put it in again, an’ we held the gun an’ aimed it at one another an’ said ‘Bang! Bang! You’re dead!’ We didn’t actually pull the trigger of course. We weren’t that daft. The wee brother, Pedro, he must have been there watchin’ us, but I never even seen him.

An’ two days later was when it all broke. Wee Hughie wasn’t in school, but I thought he’d prob'ly bunked off like he often did an’ gone up Cave Hill or somewhere to look for tadpoles or down the shipyards to watch the men with the welding gear an’ the big cranes. The school secretary came around in the first period after Assembly an’ told us all we had to go back to the hall again because Brother Bernard had an announcement to make. We had no idea what was comin’, we were all dead excited, thought maybe the school was closin’ down or something.

Apparently Liam had gone off very early in the morning without tellin’ nobody, probably something to do with bein’ in the Volunteers, and Pedro and Wee Hughie was out of bed before their Mammy and Daddy. Wee Hughie’s Daddy heard Pedro shoutin’ ‘Bang! Bang! You’re dead!’. And then there was a real bang. Loud enough for the neighbours to hear as well. And Wee Hughie was dead. And Pedro hasn’t said a single word since. And now he’s in that clinic.

When Liam was arrested for havin’ the gun he said he was proud of Wee Hughie, that Wee Hughie was the first casualty in the Second Irish War of Independence. I think maybe my Mammy was right about Liam. He was daft in the head, that one.