Eamon McClean RIP
A while after Sinn Féin had presented me with the Kevin Lynch badge (please see previous section) I headed to Dublin to run the 2015 SSE Airtricity marathon for the Speedwell Trust, one of my book charities. I reckoned I could do a lifetime pb and beat my time in the Flora London marathon 15 year earlier given I'd heard Dublin had a fast course.
On the day of the race I walked to the start from the Clarence Hotel where I stayed (owned by 2 of the U2 guys I heard). Warmed up really carefully as had had a calf injury and set off. There were guys with helium balloons attached which said the time they were going to run on the balloon. I needed to beat 4:47 so set off behind the 4:45 chap.
After a few miles I felt sharp pain in my chest but was just pleased it wasn't my calf and carried on! The crowd round the course were absolutely mental and cheered on every runner as though they were
personal friends. One even said "Come on Speedwell" to me! I was going so well for the first half of the race I ended upfollowing the 4:30 balloon! I'd not run for more than 3 hours in practice so knew it would get tough and sure enough in the last few miles the 4:30 balloon caught me up and went past so it was with great relief that not only had I not failed due to injury but also beat my lifetime pb by some 5 minutes!
I was very tired of course at the finish though far fitter for my years than I had been 15 years earlier but had not thought about having to make my way back to the hotel cold and tired and got lost! Not only that but a young lady approaching me on the pavement looked horrified and I could not see why! Got to the hotel in the end and the receptionist handed me a congratulations card to present at the bar to get a complimentary pint of Guinness. She then asked me if I needed an ambulance and I asked why and she pointed at my bloody chest! The safety pins holding my number on had nearly severed both nipples! Now I understood why the girl in the street looked so shocked. The problem now was that Eamon McClean bless him instead of spending the October holiday with his family had driven all the way from Dungannon to Dublin just to meet me after the race and my phone was dead from pacing me. So I rushed up to my room, plugged it in, had a shower and called Eamon worried he must be wondering where on Earth I was.
Soon he was at the hotel and it was great to see him and we had a good chat. He said if ever I was over again to pop by the charity to see what they did with the money. Sometime later I got another day's work in Belfast, let Eamon know, and the next day after I'd done the job headed off on the bus to Dungannon. The night before I had a few drinks in Kelly's Cellars, Belfast, and when I heard Fleetwood Mac singing "Don't stop thinking about tomorrow" I wondered if Eamon would like me to make a speech at the school I was visiting the next day where the Speedwell workshop was so had written a little speech and emailed it to him but he did not reply.
Anyway next day Eamon picked me up from the bus station in Dungannon and took me straight to Windmill Integrated Primary School who were hosting St Mary's Cabragh for the workshop. The children were a little younger than I'd imagined. They mixed all the children up at random on all the tables in the hall so each table had pupils from both sides of the community and each table had a "steady hand game" kit which they were to put together amongst themselves. I now found I was in a teaching assistant role! So I asked a young girl what it was called that made the light go on in the game and she correctly replied "electricity" and confirming she was correct I thought, there, I've done a bit of teaching.
When all the games had been made and thoroughly tested Eamon announced that they had a special guest present namely me and without any warning whatsoever told them I had a speech to make. So I panicked slightly and set off with my speech. I told the kids that when I was a few days old a great man called President Kennedy had announced that America would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. I then told them that 8 years later Mum and Dad let me stay up to nearly 4am to see the first man on the moon and I fell asleep and missed it! I then said that with the Good Friday agreement (asking if anyone had heard of it and a few looked round and sheepishly put their hands up) these islands had chosen the path of peace, a task similarly difficult to putting a man on the moon, and they now had that chance. Now I had noticed the hall had plenty of the kids' artwork on the walls and, perchance, there seemed to be a space travel theme so at this moment I pointed to a particular picture which said "Reach for the Stars" on it with loads of rockets going off and every kid in the room turned their head to look at that display and I realised how powerful the position of teacher was first hand!
After photos Eamon took me to the museum at the Hill of the O'Neills which taught me about the part of the "Plantations" in Ulster history, people's heads being used as footballs, and I met Liz Weir "storyteller and writer". He then took me to see the Provisional IRA East (I think) Tyrone Brigade martyrs mural before lunch. I haven't a photo of me there and don't know if one exists; Eamon may have thought I'd not like one, perhaps, though I wouldn't have minded a bit.
At lunch I was offered roast potatoes: "Yes please" then new potatoes "Yes please" again and finally sautéd potatoes and it seemed churlish not to have some of those too! I asked Eamon how much the workshop had cost to put on. I forget the exact figure he gave me but I think he said less than £200. Next Eamon took me to Speedwell Trust HQ which was lovely it had a massive sense of creativity about the place, very healthy indeed and we had the cheque ceremony for my run. I could not believe how much I'd raised including
from many people in Ireland I'd never heard of. Said good bye to the Speedwell crew (see picture Eamon 2nd right) and then we were off to meet Eamon's father Paddy-Joe McClean. Paddy-Joe was one of the "hooded men" who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques by us in the early 70s, I had read John McGuffin's book about it The Guinea Pigs. I asked Paddy-Joe how could I possibly apologise and he kindly assured me there was no need it was a long time ago although the rest of the hooded men are suing us and I don't blame them from what I read (their solicitor is Amal Clooney). I gave Paddy-Joe a signed copy of my book (see picture of me with him and his wife Annie)
Next Eamon took me to the Ballygawley bus bomb memorial pointing out to me where the IRA man had let the bomb off from. This attack was the most deadly one the IRA carried out on our forces during the Troubles. What I noticed at the memorial was both that the memorial had not been vandalised in any way and that there were no disrespectful noises from passing cars.
Bit of a faux pas by me forgetting to take my hat off! (see picture). The memorial read:
In Memory of
20th August 1988
Private Jayson Burfitt (19)
Private Blair Edgar Morris Bishop (19)
Private Alexander Stephen Lewis (18)
Private Stephen James Wilkinson (18)
Private Peter Lloyd Bullock (21)
Private Richard Greener (21)
Private Mark Norsworthy (18)
Private Jason Spencer Winter (19)
though I have added their ages. 28 others were injured.
Now the pressure was really on me. Eamon had warned me in Dublin and again now that if I wore my badges in certain places then I was going to have some serious explaining to do. This website, and my book, is probably it. I had asked him to drive me to Dungiven where my self-set mission was to buy a Kevin Lynch's Hurling Club shirt. Eamon thought it very unlikely I'd be able to get one. To be honest I was only a little less than crapping myself as we arrived in Dungiven. It might have been less stressful if I'd just asked Ollie Lynch to be my fixer but somehow that seemed like cheating and I suppose I wanted to prove I deserved my SAS wings so had only told an SAS guy (Rob Paxman) I was going so, is you like, I was a spy. But I was not stupid: spiritually speaking I believed that Kevin Lynch, all knowing about my story, would watch over me in Dungiven. So Eamon took me into the nearest pub in town to ask where my b&b was and my cover was blown in less than a minute after a bit of Tyrone/Derry GAA banter ("Go back to Tyrone!") when Eamon said they had a friend over from Bedford and they said they knew someone in Bedford, that is Ollie Lynch who they told and there I was. Then Eamon left and I was all alone in Dungiven! Me! A British public school and Church of England faith school educated Royalist, member of the Conservative party and Artists' Rifles Clubhouse with an award from the Deputy Prime Minister of Her Majesty's government and wearing Special Air Service wings!
So after leaving my stuff at the b&b I went back to the pub (McReynold's bar) and asked the barman if he knew how I could buy a Kevin Lynch's Hurling club shirt and he said "There's your man!" and a very tall and gruff man came up to be and said "I am the founder of the Kevin Lynch's Hurling Club". Well as you can understand I was still nearly crapping myself as I was wearing my SAS wings of course with Kevin's badge and he now shook my hand. Now a week or so earlier I had stayed the night at my club for the first time, the Artists' Rifles Clubhouse. Had got almightily pissed and having gone to bed got up to go to the bathroom for a piss and in the dark being unfamiliar with upstairs I stepped not into the bathroom but into the stairway and tumbled like in a washing machine to the bottom dislocating all the fingers in my right hand and most in my left. Well I could not very well say to this chap sorry I can't shake your hand as I've dislocated every finger falling down the stairs at the SAS shooting club so had to receive his very firm handshake as though nothing was amiss. He now told me to go to the pub down the road and ask at the bar there so this is what I did after a pint.
I bought a pizza and was eating it al fresco when I spotted this statue and inscription.
I read what it said about Finvola and knew it was time to take the plunge into the Arcade Bar. Here is a picture I took of the mural on the pub on my later visit. I went into the bar and some guys were there and I offered them a drink but they declined so asked the barman if he knew how I could get the shirt and he gave me a number to call. Before I sat down with my drink to make the call I found local (and global) star Cara Dillon's handwritten personally signed lyrics to the folk song about Finvola, the Gem of the Roe (the river that flows through Dungiven) and I felt happy and there was nothing to fear. Here she is singing it.
I had a perfect evening in the Arcade bar sat in front of the fire getting gently pissed thinking about the determination, fortitude and suffering of a man that does not eat for 71 days for the love of his country. I did call the number, the call seemed a little odd, perhaps because of my accent and I gathered the shirt would be brought to my b&b. At the end of the evening the young barman came over and chatted to me, and I think I showed him my badges though only talking about Kevin's you'll understand. Before I left I gave him my business card which said Her Majesty's
Government Mental Health Hero. I left to go back to my b&b and he came running after me calling out "Clive!". I'd left a box of spent cartridges at my table (for my electronic cigar). Terrible of me I apologise you should never leave your smoking rubbish lying around.
Anyway maybe it's a bigger miracle I was up in time for breakfast the next day than that a friendly couple were there after it to sell me the shirt. Can't recommend hard enough to anyone else on our side who wants to join the peace process to take a trip to Dungiven to buy the shirt.