Tag Archives: police

The opening lines (and Happy Christmas)

One Christmas drink too many

One Christmas drink too many. (Thanks to savagechickens.com)

 Happy Christmas and a mellow new year from Belfast, which is where I am right now.

People sometimes ask me: If this blog is supposed to be at least partly about your book, where can I read some of it?

Fair question. The answer is here: Here. Now.

The most important lines in any story are the beginning. The stakes are high. Go wrong at the start, and that’s it. The reader has moved on before any emotional committment has formed. It’s easy to cut one’s losses before getting in too deep.

So – with trepidation – here are the opening lines of my book, Blackwatertown.

But first, here’s a little context to the story.  It’s set in rural Ireland, along the border,  in the mid 1950’s. The hero, Macken, is a police sergeant in the RUC, the then police force of Northern Ireland.

And so the story, Blackwatertown, begins – like this:

Sergeant Jolly Macken didn’t want to be a policeman anymore. He clenched his teeth, and sucked in through his nostrils the cool air of the Mourne foothills. The butt of his hand pressed down on the polished handle of the baton, not yet drawn. He hated his job. He hated the crowd pushing at his back and the string of men blocking the road ahead. All  of them waiting, impatient for his signal,  muttering his nickname. He  hated the verbal albatross that had been hung round his neck too. Jolly. Christ!

 The stoney slopes of fern and heather and gorse would usually lift his  heart. The open land a refuge from complication and regulation. He’d  feel the tension ebbing from his shoulders. The small smile that would  quietly creep over his face, unbidden and unwitnessed. If Macken believed in anything, it was that there was no better place, nor way, for a man to be at peace than by quiet water, with a rod and line.  Alone, but never lonely.

Today was different. Today he was only a hard-faced big man trapped inside a uniform. The Mourne mountain road he stood on was busy with intruders, eager for action. Stones bounced round his feet. The isolated serenity of this County Down emptiness had been shattered long before. But at this moment of decision, all the shouting and jeering, the drums and the flutes, seemed to fade to silence in Macken’s mind. The violence was about to begin – the striking out at head and body with stone and bar, baton and rifle butt. And he was going to be the one to start it.

That’s it. More to come in a while. But I would very much like your comments on the opening.

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Murphy and the Princess

Murphy & the Princess

DI Murphy accompanies Princess Elizabeth, Belfast, June 1949

There was no difficulty finding gunmen in those days. Swordsmen were rarer. But blades are the style when you’re escorting a princess. There she is, the future Queen Elizabeth, looking very nicely turned out.

It’s understandable that you didn’t notice her at first glance, given the distinguished handsome bloke beside her. He’s District Inspector Murphy – aka Great Uncle Mike – of B District.

He tended to be called in to lead RUC parades on royal visits, partly because he was one of the few officers versed in sword drill. That came from his Irish Guard days.

On this occasion Princess Elizabeth is inspecting an RUC Guard of Honour at Belfast City Hall in June 1949. The following month Michael Murphy was promoted from DI 2nd class to DI 1st class.

Another family policing link is here – Dan Waters of the RIC.

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Dan Waters RIC man

Dan Waters, RIC

Dan Waters, RIC

 That’s my great grandfather, Dan Waters. I suppose he’s part of the story, or the backstory at least. In my story, Blackwatertown, some of the main protagonists are RUC men – that is, members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the police. It was a very controversial organisation over the years, but more on that another time.

My great grandfather Dan joined the predecessor of the RUC, which was the RIC, the Royal Irish Constabulary. The Irish Constabulary was set up in 1835, and was granted the prefix Royal by Queen Victoria in 1867 after suppressing a nationalist rebellion.  Dan himself joined later, according to his card, on May 11th, 1875.

Dan Waters RIC card
The RIC disappeared in 1922 with the partitioning of Ireland into the six counties of Northern Ireland in the north east, and the twenty six counties of what is now the Republic of Ireland. Tough times for many members. In the south the RIC was replaced by the unarmed Civic Guards, who were renamed the Garda Siochana. They’re still there. In the north, the I became a U, and the RIC became the Royal Ulster Constabulary. (Northern Ireland comprises six of the nine counties of the province of Ulster.) It’s the RUC who feature in my book Blackwatertown.
The RUC name has itself since given way to a new title. As part of radical reforms, in 2001 the force became the Police Service of Northern Ireland, or PSNI.
So – does this personal link make me any better or worse qualifed to write a story about policemen in Ireland?
PS: There’s another family link to policing here – Mike Murphy, RUC District Inspector accompanying Princess Elizabeth.

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