Immigrant Song

The Ballad of Jake Connelly

Book I: Time of Troubles

In the Belfast, Northern Ireland, of 1976, it was not at all uncommon to see a man in camouflage and a balaclava pulled up to his nose, carrying a menacing AR-18 assault rifle over his shoulder, walking casually down the streets of the city, without a care in the world. It was also not uncommon for another man, this one in a simple olive-drab overcoat and ski mask, fire on the first man with the same kind of rifle. Both of these men are members of the Irish Republican Army, and yet both are not.

To explain:

Since 1969 there had not been a single united Irish Republican Army. They had split into the extreme leftist, Marxist "Official" IRA (the man in the camouflage) and the more moderate-though that is not to say non-extremist-"Provisional" IRA (the man in olive drab). Both groups carry a torch for a united, 32 county Irish republic, unhampered by British influence, but both of radically different methods of achieving their goals. Both are violent paramilitary groups, fighting a guerrilla war against what they call the British occupiers. The Offical IRA, however, supports a Communist Irish republic and garners support from such places as Libya and the Soviet Union. The Provisional IRA, on the other hand, wishes to unite with the current Republic of Ireland and support the interests of its Catholic majority. And on top of fighting the "occupiers," the two groups are in conflict with one another.

Confused yet? Good.

Welcome to Belfast.

Jake Connelly sat in the corner booth of his favorite pub, trying his best to enjoy a reheated steak and kidney pie. It was a valiant effort, but doomed to fail. Jake sighed and called for reinforcements: enough whiskey so that the taste of this disgusting pie wouldn't matter in the slightest.

It was ten in the morning and Jake was the only one in the pub. The barman shook his head but brought him his water glass full of whiskey straight. Jake thanked the man and tossed back half the glass at a single gulp.

His AR-18 sat leaning against the wall next to his seat. His ski mask was rolled up on his head so his face was visible and he only appeared to be wearing a knit cap. His olive-drab overcoat fell almost to his knees, worn over a simple pair of blue jeans and a white knit T-shirt.

A man in a comuflage somewhat-military-but-not-quite uniform entered the pub. His features were obscured by a balaclava pulled up to his nose. Only his wide, staring eyes were visible. He slapped a fifty-pound note on the bar. Nodding, the barman ducked into the back room. Thus left alone, the man-who was of the rival Official IRA to Jake's Provisional-removed a pistol from his belt and strode over to Jake, pressing it to the side of his head.

Jake, not looking up, took another sip from his whiskey glass. "Hey, Luke. How's your sister doing?"

Luke cocked the pistol, his grip steady. "Fine, thank you. Merely appendicitis, the doctor said. No complications in the surgery."

Jake nodded. "Good, good to hear. So, what's new and exciting?"

"Oh, same old song and dance."

"Oh, I hear that. Are you here to kill me?"

"Yes. Yes I am."

"That's depressing."

"Well, you know. It's my job."

Jake quickly jerked his head to the side and in, so that the barrell of the gun was now against the side of his head, clear of the muzzle. Then he reached up to grab the barrel from the bottom and wrenched forward, over the back of Luke's hand, defeating his grip. The gun went off several times, embedding bullets harmlessly in the plaster wall. With his new gun Jake brought the butt of the handle down at the back of Luke's knee. Luke roared in pain and crumpled to one knee. Jake pressed the pistol to the side of Luke's neck and fired. The gun's loud report echoed through the pub, loud and surreal.

Jake stood and pocketed the pistol. He kicked aside the corpse as he slung his rifle on his back. He approached the bar and slapped another bill onto it. "Sorry about the mess," he called to the barman, who was still cowering in the back room.

Welcome to Belfast, indeed.