Kevin Doyle Blog

Writing and activism

Posts Tagged ‘Special Branch

The Punk Bit …

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         I was a Stiff Little Fingers fan [c. 1980]

The truth is my punk records were stolen many years ago and it was a blow. What that says about my state of mind or the state of my life back then – this was in the early half of the eighties – is another question but it’s true that I took the loss badly. It was not that I was an obsessive collector of punk and New Wave records, but I had a decent collection, tempered by yearly visits to Portobello Road market in London.

I was lucky to have an uncle who lived in Paddington and he attended the market religiously on Friday and Saturday morning every week. My brothers and I often went to stay with him in the summer months during the seventies and through that I got to know the ins and outs of Portobello market in west London: where the ‘tourist’ end was and where the locals went. Under the Westway flyover, there were often plenty of punks and lots of punk records, new and second-hand, to be had; I spent a good deal of time there sifting through the records stalls. Further down the market , in the direction of Notting Hill, there was Rough Trade of course – another Mecca for anyone interested in punk back then.


Thankfully my collection of 45s survived the theft.

Douglas Street

Being broken into is an unpleasant experience. I was living on my own in a fairly decrepit flat on Douglas Street when it happened – working my way through my Masters when the theft took place. Some money was  taken and a few other bit and pieces but the record collection’s disappearance was the big loss. I can’t remember for sure now but I think the thief was caught – he attempted to cash a cheque from a campaign cheque book I was holding; I tended to volunteer then for jobs like ‘treasurer’ or ‘secretary’ – and after being told to return to the bank with ID if he wanted to cash said cheque, he did and was duly arrested. He never revealed where my prized collection was however and, as I recall, the garda detective involved was not that interested either.

I spent awhile haphazardly combing through various second-hand record stores in Cork hoping to spot one of my treasures, hoping indeed to see any part of my collection again but I never did; the records were gone and I suppose were soon dispersed in every direction.  That, in a sense, was the end of the story.

Charity Shop

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Castle Street, Cork

Years later and at a very different stage in my life, my record collection came back into my mind. By then I had two children and they were attending The Cork School Project (Educate Together) located on Grattan Street in Cork. I often dropped them to school and collected them later to bring them home again. This involved walking through town and one shop of particular interest that we often passed was on Castle Street (pictured) off North Main Street. A charity shop along the street was well known for making an art form of its interesting window displays.

This was the noughties and records and LPs were not yet back in fashion as they are now. There were boxes of vinyl lying on sale at giveaway prices in the shop and I often checked them, somewhat absent-mindedly, but with an eye for any of the gems that I had lost all those years ago. I wondered about the idea of finding my collection again and what that would feel like after all this time. It would be strange and odd too, right? Now what if I found the entire collection still intact, what would that mean?  It never happened but I did have an idea for how a story – probably set in Cork – could begin.  All this time later it is how To Keep A Bird Singing begins.

Related Links

Irish short story about Garda brutality online

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I’ve put up an audio (mp3 format) of But Your Mother, the second story from The Heavy Gang triptych of stories I wrote in the late 90s.  The story is about the ‘hidden from view’ intimidation that political activists have to face when they take a stand against injustice.  It is told from the point of view of the activist who arrives home from a protest about unemployment only to find that the Special Branch have been to his house and gone.

Take a listen … and let me know what you think.

do you like oranges? online

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In the 90s I wrote three loosely related short stories – each in some way connected to the issue of policing and repression.  I am adding each of these stories as PDFs to my site beginning with DO YOU LIKE ORANGES?

Do You Like Oranges? has been published a number of times, although never in Ireland.  In 1996 it was shortlisted for the Ian St James International Short Story Award and came runner-up to a winning entry by Michel Faber.

The idea for Do You Like Oranges? came from hearing about an incident that happened in Cork back in the early 80s.  At the time there was a lot of political repression.  Although mostly directed at ‘republicans’, many others were also getting caught in the net – intentionally, I imagine, in order to spread fear and intimidation.  I heard about an incident that went far beyond what you might consider ‘harrassment’.  If you place someone in a position where they perceive that they are facing imminent death – what is that?  I had heard of just such an incident.

I felt it was important to write about such a situation.  A lot of what the the Branch did back then – and still does when the ‘need’ arises – is legitimised for the public on the grounds of the ‘national good’ and the threat from ‘subversives’.   But the incident I had heard about – which incidentally is different to what happens in the story; that I made up – was serious and extremely worrying.  There was also at the time – and there still is  – an unwillingness to face up to the matter.  Torture is a problem for ‘elsewehre’, isn’t it?  Here in Ireland for example there has been little discussion about the so-called ‘Heavy Gang’ – a secretive and brutal section of the Irish Gardai charged with breaking suspect held in custody.  This ‘dark period’ in Irish history is usually glossed over and in any case there is the excuse that ‘a few bad apples’ just spoiled the barrel.  The reality of course is another matter entirely.  Torture orchastrated by the state comes from a clear stragegy decided from above; the torturers are often, literally, just followign orders.

In recent times the issue of torture – those who do and those who suffer it – has come back into the headlines.  We have had the exposure of state police activity around the so-called ‘rendition’ policy of Bush and Co – which has been aided and abetted by the state police in a number of other jurisdictions. The dreadful and shocking case of Binyam Mohamed comes to mind.  But Binyam is only one of a great number of people who have been grossly abused as part of the so-called ‘war on terror’.

Do You Like Oranges? follows a young man who returns to Ireland to stalk the man who tortured him many years before.  As he tracks the torturer he recalls what happened.  The story juxtaposes memory and action/ retribution (?) – although it is never clear if retribution either occurs or what it might entail.  As they say make your own mind up.

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