So, I made it clear after the guns clicked as we walked home in the dark.
I reiterated the message after we endured more bombings, one in which we lost a friend.
We were LEAVING! LEAVING ! LEAVING!
Ken said he didn’t feel that afraid.
He was willing to stay on for one more year. It was Ireland after all. There was great music, Guinness, and we could get to Dublin by train.
He argued that I was overreacting.
“Bombs, dead people, guns and soldiers; that’s what there is,” I replied. “I mean it. We need to go home. I can’t take this anymore.” Ken frowned. He had accepted a two- year position. Leaving was not going to make him any friends or look great on a resume. I was hard hearted about it. I didn’t think what the consequences for his career would be, what position I was putting him in.
I wanted out of Belfast. ASAP.
The week that I told Ken I was determined to leave, there was to be a general round up of all suspicious people. At least that was the rumor. Everybody was talking about it. Peter asked if we would allow him and his wife and child to stay with us. How could we say no?
But, I knew that if he were seriously involved, if they found him at our house, we’d be in trouble too. Still we had them come over. They slept on the sofa and a pile of blankets on the floor. That was all we had.
Sirens wailed throughout the night.
Then there was a knock at the door around eight in the morning. Peter slid into the closet under the stairs. Ken went to the door. Briad and I held our breath in the kitchen. It was only a neighbor who brought our paper by. It had been delivered to them by mistake. Peter and Briad left to go back to their house. They wheeled the baby in a carriage and turned around to wave to us. Ken looked at me. “And, that’s why we are leaving,” I said. “This is no way to live.”
So Ken told his boss he wasn’t staying on another year and, of course, it caused a furor.
People didn’t leave positions like that. And, of course, his boss was not too understanding. His pride was injured. Two young Americans saying they wanted to go home?
What about all the crime in New York City?
In most cities of the US? “Tell them at least you can plan for that,” I said. “I have no idea when something will explode here.” Ken shrugged his shoulders and seemed to agree. Maybe he didn’t want to be responsible if something did happen? I don’t know. I do know that when people ask him, even now, if he would have stayed on another year, he says he would have. My eyebrows go up and I wonder momentarily about his ability to process danger.
We packed up the car; we didn’t have all that much. We gave away our furniture (what there was of it) to Peter and Briad. It was May and we planned to drive around the coast of Ireland camping, then take a ferry to Liverpool, and drive to London where we’d catch a Greek freighter to take us home. It sounded good to me.
The first night we found ourselves headed to Donegal, a place I wanted to see. It was the last of old Ireland. Some of the people there still spoke Gaelic. There were actual thatched cottages. I was eager to see them. We found a farmer who let us pitch our tent in his field for a couple of pounds. True he wore the IRA scarf around his neck. This was IRA country, but he was perfectly kind to us.
It rained. Then it rained harder.
There were horses in the field that kept racing around. They came pounding up to our tent and stopped. Ken jerked every time he heard one pound toward us. Water started seeping in the edges of the tent. By now, there was a solid sheet of water coming down from the sky. We got up to go crawl into the car, a very small Fiat. We were wet, chilled and a tad miserable crouched together in the back seat. It wasn’t possible to use the front seat. Then somebody knocked on the car window. I rolled it down and peered out.
“If you want you can stay in one of my trailers. Nothing fancy, but it will be dry. I rent them out come summer.” We fell over ourselves in gratitude, slogged over to the trailer and put what blankets we had, that were not sopping wet, on top of the two of us, and slept curled together. Next morning, we went to say thanks and the owner was nowhere in sight. “I hope he isn’t off to blow something up,” I said. “I like him.” We left a note and an address. Would you believe we got a note back saying, “To the wet American couple. It was a pleasure to help you.”
I still have the note.
So, we drove around Donegal, camping, occasionally staying at a bed and breakfast and taking in the part of Ireland that was not exploding all over the place. I loved it. “Too bad the university isn’t here,” I said to Ken. I was looking at green quiet hills, the sheep, the cattle crossing the road. We were eating soda bread and cheese for lunch. But of course that was nonsense. It wasn’t that the university was in the wrong location. It was that the space between the Ulster coalition and the southern Irish was huge. They had years of grievances between them. And the Catholic population in the north wanted to air those grievances, to merge with southern Ireland. But then the Ulsterites had their view, which was that their loyalty was to the British crown.
What a mess! However, all the bombing and tension was being pushed to the back of my mind while we drove round the coast of Donegal, ended up on the opposite coast, took a ferry across to Liverpool, and found our freighter in London to make our way home.
This was the life I could manage. But, I had no clue yet what the freighter ride home would be like.