An Ulster Fable

World Without End, Amen

by Jimmy Breslin
Viking, 329 pp., $5.95

Jimmy Breslin
Jimmy Breslin; drawing by David Levine

The point is that a New York cop, Dermot Davey, visits Northern Ireland, and finds that there the Irish Catholics are the niggers. The cops are the British army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary. He identifies with these niggers, against these cops, and goes back to New York a better man. We see him, in an epilogue, performing an act of kindness for a black man.

The equation of Catholics and niggers is repeatedly brought home. Dermot sees it for himself:

The soldier held the boy by the hair. Dermot had seen it all his life. The gun in a nigger’s ear.

He is also told about it by his left-wing Catholic girl-friend-to-be in Northern Ireland:

She gave him another cigarette. “Do you not go around doing this to people in America?” she said.

“The hell I do.”

“Ah, Jesus now, come on. The whole fookin’ police force in America gets medals for shootin’ blacks.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Are not the blacks on the bottom in America?”

“I don’t know what you mean by the bottom.”

“The fookin’ blacks are on the fookin’ bottom and the fookin’ police beat them bloody, the same as we’re on the bottom here and the fookin’ police and the fookin’ soldiers beat us and shoot us like animals.”

Dermot resists this imputation, then remembers a brutality he had himself inflicted on a black boy in Knicker-bocker Avenue:

He sat on the floor and thought about it for a moment. No, Dermot told himself, that was different from this. That was a nigger kid who stole something.

He goes on drinking with the Catholic left: a tribe whose males, it seems, are a pretty cowardly lot, but whose women are charming, spirited, and intelligent. Back home in Queens, Dermot had been a bit of a slob, whose gun had to be taken off him at intervals, but here he does various brave acts on behalf of the oppressed Catholics (blacks) without even thinking about it. He even sees how to see cops as pigs:

A cop, pink cheeks sticking out from under his black hat—Christ, Dermot said to himself, the cops in Northern Ireland do look like pigs—had come up behind the bench.

Dermot’s regeneration proceeds apace. He administers a sound thrashing to an unworthy swain—though left-wing, yet of British origin—and gets the girl:

Ronald slouched into the bar, his head hanging. Dermot stepped out of the way to let him go through. Then he came in after him. Dermot kept his head down and didn’t look up. He looked at Ronald’s rear end and kept looking at it. He didn’t bring the head up, and he kicked him. It was a hard kick, a real hard kick, and Ronald went across the empty lounge to the back of…

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