[Author’s note: My first job in media, when I was still in college, was as producer of Jack McKinney’s top-rated talk show on WCAU radio. We played a lot of Clancy Brothers’ songs.]
BELFAST, BRITISH OCCUPIED NORTHERN IRELAND—Mist over the hills missed over the city, which is the color of oatmeal now. Cold, though. Eats your bones, makes you sick. No heat, just coal. The lesson of two evils. A child is dying of black lung. An old woman has already gone. Sean is in the basement mixing up some medicine. Johnny’s on the pavement thinking about the government.
Eamonn McCann, who is the real Bernadette Devlin, is watching Jimmy the Dummy on the telly. The Royal College of Physicians has just come out with a report that says cigarette smoking is hazardous to your health. Cigarettes. They are telling the viewers who are out every night in the streets getting pieces of their bodies blown off by petrol bombs that cigarette smoking could give them cancer in the long run.
On the tube Jimmy the Dummy sits on the ventriloquist’s knee smoking and choking, the dumb little twirp. Eamonn McCann is rolling on the bed under the posters of Martin Luther King, Nikolai Lenin and Karl Marx, none of whom have cracked a smile. Jack McKinney (enter the hero) is sitting by the phone gagging on a guzzle of whiskey.
Jimmy the Dummy is the BBC’s way of reaching the young. He is worked by an older man who never moves his mouth, only his eyebrows. There is no way they can crop the guy’s eyebrows out of the picture so they move in and hold on a tight shot of the dummy. “Stop now before it’s too late,” the dummy tells the young people.
EAMONN MCCANN is 27. A lot of people consider him the most articulate political voice in all of Ireland. He is head of the Derry Labor Party. But most of the time he is prince consort to Queen Bernadette. He is a burning bush of hair, the wiseman from the North. So here is the best Christ symbol Ireland’s got sitting on the iron bed in Jack McKinney’s flat watching Jimmy the Dummy and waiting for the devil.
This was to be a summit of sorts among three of the major forces in the Irish revolution: Devlin, McCann and McKinney. Queen Bernadette, as is her custom, was late.
“I guess I’d better call and see that she hasn’t gotten her bloody little head blown off,” McCann says. He rings her up at her home in Cookstown, County Tyrone. “She’s what? Taken a taxi? It’s almost 60 miles from there to Belfast. Oh well.” He hangs up. “She’s gone and done it now, Jack. Somebody’s going to find out about this. Miss Devlin, M.P., symbol of the struggling masses, is taking a 60-mile taxi ride.” Read the rest of this entry »