‘Dublin Can Be Heaven’ by Séamus Sweeney

Séamus Sweeney is a writer and doctor from Dublin. He currently practices in County Kilkenny. He is married with two daughters. He won the 2010 Molly Keane Short Story Award for his story ‘The Driver’. He has published reviews and non-fiction in The Times Literary Supplement, The Guardian, The Spectator, New Statesman, The Lancet and The Scotsman. He has published academic articles as Seamus Mac Suibhne.

Dublin Can Be Heaven

by Séamus Sweeney

All those grease-laden plates. Bacon. Eggs. Toast. Black pudding. White pudding. Piled high, more meat on one plate than he ate in six months in the mountains. For Harry, there could never be enough. The ability to walk into Bewley’s on Westmoreland Street and order a breakfast, freely available (at least if you could hand over the funds)—this signal fact was reason enough to love Dublin. What had Dublin, or indeed Ireland, been to him before? There were names—Michael Collins, de Valera, the Mayor of Cork on hunger strike, a vague sense of a desperate struggle—but nothing definite. Now Dublin was food, Dublin was breakfast, Dublin was lunch, Dublin was dinner. Also, Dublin was no ration cards, and no queuing. Every morning he ate slowly, relishing the sensation of gradually filling up. As he chewed he looked out at the street, or over towards the Liffey. How different all this was from those months before coming to Dublin, cadging coupons from the rest of the Balkan flotsam and jetsam that ended up in London, being ignored by the Foreign Office. Three years after the War, and still the British lived like a defeated people. Here in Ireland, money could talk as eloquently as ever.

He felt no embarrassment about spending his days drinking coffee and eating well. He was enjoying the Dublin spring. What else could one do? Only a few years before, he had been used to sleeping in the open in mountain country, eating husks and dirt. The mildewed flat in London, where the Organisation worked and dreamt and slept, would have seemed unimaginably luxurious to him in 1943. And as for this city … well, anywhere that a man could walk into a cafe and buy a fine cooked breakfast was a long way from where he came from. A land where his name was not Harry, no one had heard of Bewley’s, or Westmoreland Street.

Harry’s time in Dublin was turning into a failure. There was no trace of Andrija Artukovic, the man Harry was in Dublin to kill. They knew he had come here, via Switzerland, in the last months of the War. Various clerical and political personages had facilitated this passage; it seemed likely that the Irish authorities were unaware of the nature of the resident they hosted. Harry had obtained lists of foreign nationals kept by the Gardai, had staked out the lodgings of the few Croatians in the city, had walked the streets of Galway, Cork and Athlone checking up tenuous leads that went nowhere. He had lived rough for a week here and there, staking out monasteries; rapidly he realised that Irish Franciscans were rather different from their Croat confreres. He had sent a telegram from the G.P.O. in O’Connell Street back to the Organisation in London:


Less than an hour later came the reply:


Staying at market would not be a problem. Harry had been in the fields when the Ustaše came. He never looked back, as he crawled from field to field, and then into the mountains. He felt relieved that his mother and father had died years before the War. He did not allow himself to think about his brothers and sisters, and nephews. In the mountains, he crawled through scree and dirt. Eventually he stopped, lay there, and waited to starve. Then he realised that the thirst he had begun to feel meant that he still wanted to live. He met others, who had been hiding in the caves, and they found a monastery atop a cliff that escaped the notice of all the various empires which had tried to impose themselves on the land. Here, they had formed the Organisation. Here, they had fought back.

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