The Lies of the Father
It’s late as I sit in
Reflecting back on my
fifty years at our Lady of Guadalupe
Church, I drink the sweet red wine. When
I think of those memories of so long ago, I feel the wetness on my face.
But the tears I cry are for myself. Because
of my sins, those closest to me have suffered greatly.
God has given me much tragedy in my life, sending the very demons of hell
to plague me and those I’ve loved. My
life here in the barrio has been
filled with pain and sorrow, but to be fair, also with love and joy.
The good times and the bad, they’re all precious to me.
I’m now an old man in
search of his soul. A priest’s
priest, I’ve played my part well. Always,
I was first and foremost a man of the Church.
I learned well the truths of my Catholic religion. But my knowledge of
the faith has little to do with my practice of it.
Outwardly, I’ve exhibited the faith of my teachings, mouthing the words
of faith to those who would listen. Yet
I’ve denied their very power in my soul. Inwardly,
I question the very god and saints I worship.
How can I believe in a god who allowed such carnage and the deaths of
innocents? How can I reconcile
a world so full of poverty and pain? So,
I’ve spent my life doubting the very God I serve.
I’ve lived a lie. My life
has been a carefully crafted play, with myself as the savior.
Deep inside, I know I’m a murderer.
Killing for God and country, my victims were many Protestant men, women,
and children. Using any and all
means available to me, I bombed them, shot them, and burned them.
To this day, I hate the English. I
swore upon my soul to hate them until the day I die.
I’ve never wavered. So in
the end, I’m a fraud; for the scriptures say to love thy enemy.
But I cannot and will not.
I escaped to
What am I to say of
these Chicano men?
What I remember well is the Great War against the Japs and Germans.
Exhausting themselves for an ideal, these men from the barrios
fought for what was right. They
upheld the honor of their country on the great battlefields of
For men like my dear
friend, Aragón, the road back was
long and difficult. Access to money
and power was prohibited for those from the barrio.
At first, they tried the legitimate way.
Those men stood at the doors hoping to gain entry.
Only after long periods of waiting and, insult after insult, did they
find their own path. There were no
jobs for them, no avenues of opportunity for these men with Spanish surnames.
In the Anglo world of the nineteen forties and fifties, they had no
place. Whether the insults came with
names like Wetback and Spic or if it was delivered in a more civilized manner,
the result was the same. There were
no jobs. Men like Aragón
had to find another way. These Chicanos
had done the honorable thing, but they were dishonored by their American
brothers. So it was that they
created the shadow world of the barrio
gangster. These men would always be
on the fringes of American society. They
embraced the barrio and created a
society all their own.
It feels as if my life
has spanned an eternity. Those early
days seem as though they were lived by someone else.
There’s nothing left for me now but clouded memories.
On my better days, I can see them all clearly.
Those closest to me in life have been from the barrio.
But they’ve all gone on to the great beyond.
All of my closest friends and comrades have passed through this thin
veneer we call life. I haven’t
seen my homeland or my childhood friends since I left
Writing the story of my
best friend, Michael Aragón, isn’t
easy. But it must be done.
He was my cross to bear for such a long time.
Like brothers, we were constantly at war.
Until the moment I heard the news of his death, I hadn’t realized how
much the big man meant to me. Having
lost him, I’m now left to stand alone. Yes,
Aragón was my friend. And
he had honor, real and pure. In many
ways we were alike--honor meant everything to me as well.
As an old woman once remarked, he was the strong tree that never broke.
The winds of life were of gale force, but bending with them, he was never
broken by them. He grew long sturdy
branches and shaded his friends from the strong harsh rays of the sun.
Everyone he loved was the better for it.
In the end, he left many better off than had he not lived.
My own life was made richer because of him.
Michael was my best friend in life. He
might have been a gangster, but he was also a man of strength and dignity.
Living by the warrior’s code of honor, he fought well and died with
great élan. Remembering his hearty
laugh and wide grin, I smile when he’s called a gangster.
Like him, I, too, was a man without a country. But
we both found a home here in
I’ve had three lives
really; my life as a young Irish Republican Army assassin, my life as a priest,
and my life as a friend to Michael. Each
was distinct and apart; they never met. Well,
perhaps the priest and friend did.
I was christened
Ignatius Michael O’Brien, of the County Dublin O’Brien’s, in the year of
our Lord 1900. My father was a
schoolmaster in the small
I’m as Irish as they
come. My family clan is the O'Brynes.
They had held the land long before the great purge of 1641, and after it
ended in 1651. We were one of many
Irish clans to join in the convening of the Parliament at Kilkenny.
My clan joined in the proud announcement of the creation of a new Irish
state, the Irish Catholic Confederacy. It
was believed to be a bright Irish future, but it was not to be.
The O'Bryrne Clan was finally beaten in the military campaign fought in
The script of my life
was written for me many hundreds of years before my birth.
The corruption and persecution of religion preceded me.
This wasn’t God’s work; it was the work of man.
Like many other Irish families, we were victims of our English masters.
The Protestant zealots and their merchant accomplices were the
perpetrators of the crimes against my people.
The greatest sin of the Irish was our ownership of land and allegiance to
the Roman Catholic Church. Much like
the Mexican-Americans, my people were victims of greed and prejudice.
We have always been
victims of the Englishmen’s need to dominate the territories of others.
The curse of English domination had been the ugly reality for my people
for centuries. In 1641, my clan
became a subjugated people. The
There had been four
Commissioners of the Parliament of the
My family had nothing to
do with the historical aspects of this story.
The history of our people’s enslavement was written for them by the
From the beginning,
every Irish Catholic man knows he’s expendable.
For generations, my family was branded with the curse by our English
tormentors. I carried the curse of
the Catholic Church in my soul. The
Not a day goes by that I
don’t remember the house–to-house searches conducted by Black and Tans in my
small village. These assassins were
always looking for the elusive Irish Republican Army or IRA.
The real Irish Catholics viewed the IRA as saviors.
Helping them and hiding them, to the true Irish people the IRA soldiers
were patriots. They were the Robin
When I was young, I was
a true Catholic. For generations my
family had never wavered. We had
always been for the Church. In my
youth, I became a patriot, an IRA gunman. Once
you were in, you were always in. There
was no turning back. You were given
orders and expected to follow them without comment or condition.
The Chicano vatos in La
Eme call it Blood in, Blood out.
The bombings were the
worst, the burnings no better. The
cleanest was the assassination. But
it had to be done; there was no other way. It
was kill the wolf or die yourself. These
Protestant warriors were bloodthirsty animals who viewed my people as prey to be
slaughtered at will. To them, we
weren’t human beings, only vermin to be exterminated.
The Protestants couldn't be reasoned with, they knew only killing.
A predator must be hunted in order to stop its savage attacks.
Left unchecked, it would kill Christ’s own flock.
There was no other way! The
English gave us no choice.
The Protestant women and
children had nothing to do with that ugly war.
They were only the victims of it. When
I had my fill of burning and murdering innocents, I ran off into the night,
never to return to the Emerald Isle. I
became a priest and hid behind the skirts of
How I remember my youth
on that beautiful island. There I
was born and raised with great promise and dreams of a better world.
But one day, my youth and dreams of a future ended tragically.
As a soft rain breaks forth into a torrent sweeping away so much beauty,
so my youthful dreams were washed aside. Left
behind were broken promises and the sadness of what could have been.
After a flood, only destruction is left to bake in the new day’s sun.
As it breaks through the dark and dreary clouds, the sun brings the
promise of a new day, a time to rebuild, to make things new.
But not in Ireland and not for Catholics.
It was 1915, and I was a
tall gangly boy of fifteen, with thick, blondish, unkempt locks, and thin golden
wisps of fine hair for eyebrows. My
eyes are light blue, the color of a Robin’s egg.
What a sorry looking young lad I was, my pimply face long and thin.
The IRA struck regularly
at the English occupation troops. It
was always the same. A bomb exploded
at a Protestant pub killing several young occupiers.
A young English Black and Tan was found laying in the gutter with his
throat slit. An English Army patrol
was ambushed while stopping an automobile. After
the IRA patriots had done their work, the local townspeople were left behind to
be tormented and tortured by the English. The
British occupation troops were deeply committed to finding and destroying those
who had killed their fellow soldiers, even if those found were innocent. The
English soldiers always sought out a young Irish lad to unleash their vengeance
upon. Once found, he would be forced
to admit his guilt. The Black and
Tans took great joy in the torturing of an Irishman.
Everyone involved knew that the young man was probably innocent, but
someone had to pay. A great price
was paid for every English soldier lost to the hated IRA.
Ten pounds of low Irish flesh for one precious pound of superior English
flesh; that was the price of honor.
My older brother,
Patrick, was one of the unlucky ones. Preparing
for the priesthood, Patrick loved God and all His creatures, including the
English. The day a young English
soldier was found shot dead, my brother chose to visit a Protestant friend.
Patrick was returning home that night when an English platoon happened
upon him. He was no more than twenty
steps from our front door when they apprehended him.
The soldiers were enraged by the loss of another comrade.
That week had seen five of their assassin brothers killed by our brave
IRA patriots. They had to strike
out, to release the hate and anger boiling up from the very depths of their
My brother, an innocent,
had no weapons save his prayers. With
his eyes cast downward and shivering from the dampness and fear, it was clear to
the English assassins that this Irish lad was resisting arrest.
Standing before them as a lamb ready for the slaughter, the beating with
rifle butts began. Later, I was
told, he fell from the blows. Accused
of reaching for a weapon in his trouser pocket, a panicked young English soldier
fired a shot into the back of Patrick’s head.
He had no weapon; Patrick was a man of peace.
As Patrick lay dying in
the pool of bright red blood which oozed from the cavernous wound to his head,
my father left the house to investigate the loud noises.
There in front of his home, he found his first-born son.
Kneeling on the ground next to the limp dying body, he cried out to God
for help. As he sat, father lifted
his son's bleeding head onto his lap; my father felt the warm blood soak into
his trousers. Not knowing what else
to do, he tried to return the warm gray substance which had once held
Patrick’s wonderful mind to the gaping wound in his son's head.
Praying out loud, he tried in vain to stop the bleeding. As
he placed his hand over the large missing section of skull and scalp, Dad knew
it was too late. “My baby boy,”
I heard him shout to the world. As
his child lay dying there in front of him, a warm drizzle fell softly on them
both. The drops covered Father’s
face, but he brushed the rain and tears away from his eyes, not wanting to lose
a moment of sight. Holding him ever
so gently, my father cradled Patrick as he had done those many years before when
he was a newborn. As he held him in
the cold dark night, he prayed out loud to our great God in heaven.
The soldiers, enraged by their own sins, attacked my father.
Beating him into unconsciousness, he too became a victim of their rage
and slept the long sleep of death. Both
my father and his oldest son died there on the pavement that night.
The son died because a price had to be paid for the life of a young
English soldier. My father died for
the sins of the soldiers who killed his beloved son.
The last of my family, I
set out to right these wrongs. I ran
away from that empty house with its sad memories and became a patriot of
I reached him the
following evening at his home in
In the following months,
he introduced me to many IRA patriots. All
spoke of the great republic to come. At
the time, I didn’t know that these were the men history would call the heroes
next year was spent learning my new trade. I
was taught to use explosives by old Tom Clarke, himself.
In fact, he directed my bombings. Tom
selected the targets and planned each and every step.
He taught me where to place explosives for their maximum benefit.
I was an excellent student and a deadly practitioner.
Responsible for five bombings that first year, I repaid the English
bastards many times over for the deaths of my father and brother.
Killing twenty-five and wounded thirty–two, those numbers would only
Tom also taught me the
art of arson. I could burn down a
building in minutes. This dark art
we used only in special cases. Usually,
it was reserved for traitors. Tom
felt that they and their families deserved only the best.
During my training, we burnt seven homes.
The families rarely escaped. Even
the children were sacrificed to the god of war.
It was said that the burnings kept those IRA soldiers who might waiver
from making the wrong decision.
Sean McDermott taught me
to shoot a pistol and high-powered rifle. Teaching
me to shoot a pistol from many angles and positions, he later taught me to hit a
moving target at five, ten, and twenty paces.
I became a deadly shot. The
Italian rifle was an excellent piece of equipment.
It was fitted with a scope for killing at a distance.
This too became one of my tools of the trade.
I became a practiced
assassin at the tender age of fifteen. Because
of my disarming looks and tender young face, the Black and Tans never expected
what lay behind my kind smile and youthful blue eyes.
By the time they realized that I was there to send them to hell, it was
too late. In first three months, I
killed five English soldiers and eight Scots.
It was always the same, always easy.
I wore the long overcoat with a special pocket where I hid my pistol.
I did my killing with a smile and the offer of a cigarette.
Then, with the quick movement of a hand, up came the pistol and bang, it
was over. The young soldier was dead
before he hit the ground.
The rifle was best; I
could kill the English assassins at a distance.
I never was assigned a target of more than two or three English dogs.
The kill had to be quick and simple.
More would have been too confusing. Able
to squeeze off three rounds before they could react, the Black and Tans fell
like rag dolls in quick succession. There
would be no more of those stiff English salutes.
One after another, they hit the ground, dead as a doornail!
When it was over, I was safely away.
Before their officers could reconnoiter the area, I was far away having a
beer with my comrades in a pub. We
laughed at how the Englishmen died. Each
death was a victory for
Now in my nineties, I
remember few details of the uprising, but I can recall April.
There were mass rallies, newspaper articles, and speeches on every street
corner. Many meetings were held at
my uncle’s home. It was more of a
party than a meeting. The drinking
was always heavy and the speeches long. Plans
were thrown about and argued with great fervor.
The days leading up to the rebellion were sheer chaos.
There was gunrunning every night and into the early morning hours.
Hiding IRA soldiers coming in from all over
I remember the men had
little discipline and even less self-control.
Drunk most of the time, early mornings were usually reserved for nursing
hangovers. They were a rag-tag lot.
Men who should have never held a gun in their hands were drafted to
defend the Republic. It was a wonder
they didn’t shoot themselves.
As events unfolded there
was great confusion. One day brought
compromise, the next betrayal. The
English played the game of diplomacy well. There
were promises made and broken. Finally,
out of mass confusion, a battle emerged. It
started with isolated shootings and proceeded to running gun battles.
It ended with flames and bombardment.
In the end,
My uncle lost his life
early in the battle, sacrificed by the incompetence of others.
Later, there were many traitors who were willing to trade a name for
freedom. They told the English
everything. Few were spared.
Entire families were killed by the Black and Tans under the cover of
darkness. Those who were unlucky
enough to be imprisoned were tortured. Many
never returned alive, having died mysteriously while in custody.
Shortly after that
Monday, May Day, in 1916, it was all over. General
Sir John Grenfell Maxwell, the new General Officer Commanding his Majesty’s
armed forces in
In his palatial building
at Kilmanham, on the western edge of
To the General’s
satisfaction, James Connely, the union leader who had commanded the
Clarke, my teacher, had
been a member of the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood since 1878.
An explosives expert, he had learned his trade in
How different we Irish
viewed ourselves. The English saw us
as traitors, but to the true Irish people we were heroes, saints, and liberators
in a great cause. But the English
had won, and my fellow brothers in arms were to die for their sins against the
Before I could join the
others in payment for my sins, I ran. First,
I ran to the countryside and then on to
While on the run, I was
able to make contact with Joe by way of the IRA and his Clan na Gael.
The Clan was the Irish separatist movement in
Upon my arrival, I was
surprised to be hailed as a young hero come home from the great Gaelic wars
against the English. During those
first few weeks in
As the years passed, my
hosts saw me less as a hero and more as a young pest.
It wasn’t helpful to my cause that the English authorities had been
given my name by a traitor. Labeling
me an accomplished assassin, my picture soon adorned every government office in
Entering the seminary, I
spent the next several years preparing for the priesthood.
After completing my studies, I was ordained.
A newly minted Catholic priest, I was assigned to the Archdiocese of
Philadelphia to serve at the pleasure of Bishop Galvin.
He treated me as a son and I learned to love him as a father.
The Bishop was a wise and virtuous man of the Church.
He was respected by the Pontiff in
Those were happy times.
For the next seventeen years, I learned the ways of the Church.
Tutored by the Bishop on how alliances were made and lost, my studies and
reading helped me to understand the world of Church politics.
I was encouraged by the Bishop to study ancient history and philosophy
and we spoke often of the great poets and philosophers.
Tutoring me on the Church and its hierarchy, I became the Bishop’s
favorite. I traveled with him often
and acted as his valet. The Bishop
had plans for my elevation. Unfortunately,
over the years, I became the target of those who were jealous of my position.
There were many who felt that they were better suited for my station in
Bishop Kelly made it
clear that I would not be needed. Protesting,
I assured him of my worth. The
Bishop’s demeanor changed and his delivery took on a harsher tone.
Calling me impudent and presumptuous, it was then that Bishop Kelly
informed me of his reason for my replacement.
He produced a letter from
Envious enemies with
help from abroad had ensured my downfall. The
surfacing of newspaper clippings from my remote past could be no accident of
fate. It was instead a plot hatched
by political foes. Having waited
until my protector was with the Lord, they’d seized the most opportune time to
strike. Their dagger had found its
mark. My career was assassinated and
my dreams of the future were lost. Bishop
Kelly spoke to me of the need to protect
To feed my flock, I
learned their Spanish language. As
time passed, I spoke it as they do. I
was proud of my Spanish, speaking it without the Anglo-American accent so common
to Americans. I had found my second home.
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