DOLOURS Price was one of the most enchanting, beautiful, bewitching women I have ever met. She and her sister Marian possessed in their youth a glorious inner glow that Kodak's light-sensitive chemicals strove in vain to capture. I first saw them illuminating an anti-internment rally in Casement Park in Belfast in 1971. And the only thought in my mind was not of internment, but Who The Hell Are They? Of course, Andersonstown people knew them: the daughters of one of the foremost local republicans, the strangely named Albert Price. We all stood there in the rain (as I remember), a huge herd of gnus, gazing entranced upon these two wide-eyed gazelles.
I only discovered their identity after they were arrested and convicted of the Old Bailey bombing, in March 1973, in which 200 people were injured. (Imagine the scenes in unprepared hospitals, with TWO HUNDRED bleeding bodies to staunch and to bind.) Had another of their bombs, outside New Scotland Yard, exploded, scores might have died.
I don't believe that, at the time, the Price sisters really cared, for they had been truly enthralled by the toxins, the thrills and the diseased morality of the Provisional IRA. Like many of their generation, they were hellbent on achieving the utterly unattainable: a united Ireland by force of arms. I knew a couple of their IRA Andersonstown colleagues, Mairead Farrell and Sean McDermott: intelligent and likeable, yet driven by a fearsome and quite lethal intensity, they did not expect to survive the struggle, and their fatalism was duly justified.
For Dolours (pictured on left) and Marian (on right), brilliant and beautiful, their personal sacrifice lay through hunger-strike, and countless lost opportunities – and not just their own. For Dolours, that enchanting gazelle, had always claimed that, on the orders of Gerry Adams, still denied by him, she had been involved in the abduction of at least two of the IRA's "disappeared", including Jean McConville. Most ordinary people can lower a mental shutter to shield themselves from the terrible deeds they do in time of war; but it is usually a shutter, not a wall. Sooner or later, for many, that shutter will rise again, enabling them to see, in evil and inescapable detail, the abominable deeds they did in their youth. Others are immune to such guilt. The wicked Seamus Twomey, the Belfast IRA commander of the time, was one such.
The Price sisters did not follow the Provisional IRA leadership into the peace process, remaining republicans in the armed tradition, which – such is the power of Adams over the media – is now called "dissident". It is not dissident. Adams and the rest, as they receive their British pay-cheques, are the dissidents. Marian and Dolours – racked with guilt though they might have been – steadfastly rejected disarmed compromise.
NOW, I had finally met Dolours through Gerry O'Hare, a journalist and former republican colleague of hers, in the 1980s, after she'd moved to Dublin. We saw each other occasionally, but never discussed politics: we knew that we stood poles apart. Nonetheless, I relished her company. Though she had lost much of the glow that had illuminated Casement Park – 200 days on hunger strike, with force-feeding, will do that to a girl – I found her utterly captivating. In due course, Stephen Rea, the actor, was even more captivated. I never saw her again, and in recent years she descended into a tormented anaesthesia of drug and alcohol abuse.
What a waste of a life: what a tragic and terrible waste. But such is the harvest of armed republicanism, repeated down the generations: futile suffering inflicted and futile suffering endured. How many other republican veterans have spent their later years, wrestling with their own terrible memories? And in the darker watches of that dreadful vigil, how many of them have heard the quintessence of every single "armed struggle": the dull thud of hessian-wrapped spades at midnight?