An IRA man's long goodbye

Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Saturday, November 22, 2003

Sean McClorey's demons get their eviction notice Tuesday night on the
stage of Club Cafe on the South Side, when the old IRA man approaches
the microphone, guitar in his rifle hand, and says goodbye to Jackie

Mailey was setting a bomb with two other members of Belfast's A
Company in 1978 when British troops ambushed them. Machine guns all
but sawed Mailey and his comrades in half.

McClorey was in Dublin when his good friend was killed. He had been
banished from Northern Ireland after three years in prison.

In the parlance of Belfast, McClorey's arrest was called
being "lifted," a term not meant to suggest he was put back down
gently. Under the emergency laws of the times, mere suspicion of IRA
membership was enough for the authorities to take someone away and
jail them without trial.

McClorey served his sentence in Long Kesh prison. During those years,
he was beaten, a hand-dug tunnel out of prison fell in on him, and
then the guard dogs waiting on the other end chewed him up.

When Jackie was killed, McClorey couldn't risk attending the funeral.
Violating the ban would have meant an automatic 10 years in prison.

Back home in Dublin, McClorey found members of his guerrilla army
making arms deals with drug smugglers. Disgusted, he left the
movement, carrying with him the memories of gun battles meant to
reunite his partitioned country that, as he saw it, had only widened
the borders between Catholic and Protestant.

"It's been burning a hole in my soul for a long time," McClorey said.
He was sipping a coffee and bought me a root beer. We compared notes
about West Belfast, the names of corpses we both had known. Sean
recounted his imprisonment, his drift away from armed politics, then
his immigration to Pittsburgh, where he got a college degree, married
a girl from the Irish Republican movement and struggled to walk the
new world with one foot in the old.

"For a long time I'd get these depressions. A friend finally
said, 'Sean, you're in America, you've gone to university, you have a
family. Don't you think Jackie would have liked all that?" McClorey

As his own country moved away from its 80-year-old civil war and his
adopted one edged into new combat, McClorey started toying with songs
and poems that worked out his anger at watching young men wander into

"War is for dreamers," McClorey said. "And dreamers never know the
full price that has to be paid."

Karl Mullen, the Kildare-born leader of the group Ploughman's Lunch,
told McClorey he needed to put together a show, to tell his own
story. Old IRA members usually don't talk about it. Half of Irish
loquaciousness is just men building a wall of words to keep out the

"The climate has changed," Mullen said. "Things that couldn't be
spoken of in Ireland about all kinds of subjects can now be

McClorey, working with poet Sam Hazo, and a trio of backup singers
from Point Park University, will move from song to poetry and back

By the time we looked up, McClorey and I had wandered out of the
coffee shop to the middle of Market Square. He fished into a bundle
of papers and pulled up the words to something he'd written,
something he wants to say on the stage Tuesday night. It's a note to

I feel your hand give my arm a shake,
And hear your voice say 'steady, mate'

A hand once steady enough to keep a rifle's scope fixed on a passing
convoy will pass over taut strings and a voice will speak to the dead
in hopes the living are listening.

Steady, mate.

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