One evening in the Seventies I was coming down along O'Connell Street and I stopped at a meeting outside the GPO. Ruairi O'Bradaigh was preaching his usual version of history to a fair-sized audience. I had nothing to learn.
As I was about to depart, Ruairi paused dramatically and the news from Radio Eireann came on and told that a soldier had been killed in Belfast. A horrible cry went up. As it subsided, it was mixed with obscenities about the dead soldier. It was one of the worst moments of my life. I was sick in my heart and hastened to The Oval Bar lest I be sick physically.
What perturbed me most of all was that those people who exulted in the killing of that soldier seemed to be ordinary men and women and boys and girls.
They didn't look like the people that you would associate with a lynching in The Deep South.
After a while it dawned on me that they were like them. The people at a lynching were probably ordinary men and women and boys and girls, inflamed with hatred.
Did those people in O'Connell Street think that the dead soldier had a family whose lives would forever be affected by his loss. Of course they didn't: to them he was an enemy -- he had no feeling nor had his family.
And I thought of The Holocaust: a great people among the most cultured in the world, had been taught not only to hate the Jews but to despise them.
They hadn't been indoctrinated by bigots in pubs and cafes or by mob orators but by respected teachers and eminent philosophers.
I have read enough of the "philosophy" directed against the Jews to wonder how any rational people could be deceived by it but sufficient of them were.
To speak of Germans and Jews as distinct people is hardly logical: the Jews were so much a part of the German nation that they were like the yeast in the beer.
They were recognised by their names as the people of Bavaria were by their accents; all were part of the nation, if that term has any meaning at all.
When the Nazis set out to exterminate the Jews, they were attempting something as impossible as extracting alcohol from beer; without the Jews you could say that the German nation would hardly exist.
The Nazis "executed" millions of them but they couldn't extricate the wealth of intellectual and artistic achievement that was part of their conditioning. Every German was in part Jewish.
On that evening long ago in The Oval Bar, I asked myself whence came our hatred of the British and especially of the English. The answer wasn't far to seek: we had been taught at school to see them as the source of all our ills.
And, of course, The Catholic Church didn't help; we were made to believe that Protestants were inferior people who would never see the light of Heaven.
When I was a small boy down at home long ago, I used to see reprobates playing cards in quiet corners of the chapel yard when they were supposed to be at Mass and I thought that "outside the Church there is no salvation" referred to them.
Many years later I worked in a Church of Ireland school and I came to know some of my pupils' parents fairly well and occasionally I was asked by some of my neighbours who should have known better "What kind of people are they?"
I tried to explain that they were like ourselves, so much so that some of them bought The Irish Press and The Irish Independent rather than The Irish Times.
Some of them had fairly good farms; others had such small holdings that they barely made a living; others had no land at all and worked as mechanics or farm labourers or tradesmen or in the bog with Bord na Mona.
My questioner might appear to be convinced but I could not help suspecting that they looked on our Protestant neighbours as different -- and inferior.
I need hardly add that some of those super-patriots conceived a United Ireland as a land without Protestants not to mention Dissenters.
I recall Ruairi O'Bradaigh's oft-repeated war cry: "One more push and we'll drive them into the sea."
Perhaps he was talking about the British Army but I had my doubts.
A significant number of people in The Republic seemed to think likewise.
The atrocity in Enniskillen didn't cause noticeable shock and horror in The Republic -- the atrocity in Omagh did. Seemingly it was all right to murder Protestants.
We must face up to a terrible truth: a succession of governments allowed the Republic to be used as a launching pad and a safe haven for the subversives. Of course it was impossible to seal off The Border completely but a better attempt could have been made. The men who planted the bombs in Monaghan and in Dublin had no difficulty in coming down or getting back.
There were occasional arrests but in general the subversives were allowed the freedom of The Republic.
There was an establishment in Kerry which was like a rest home for the poor devils who were war weary from planting bombs in pubs and under cars and in school busses.
Those "freedom fighters" usually drank in the more fashionable bars in Tralee.
It was easy to pick them out -- they were the ones drinking Bacardi. The self-styled PIRA were perhaps the most remarkable secret army in history -- certainly in Europe. For a start, it was hardly a secret army at all. And for a finish, they were the best fed and the best clad and the best housed and the best armed. And for good measure they had a national daily paper to give them aid and comfort.
It was a far remove from my father and his comrades who spent some of their time in dark and dank caves dug out from the bog and lived off the thin of the land and were frequently denounced from the pulpit.
All the killing and maiming and destroying carried out by "the patriots" was aimed at achieving an United Ireland. This island was never a single political entity except for 18 years during Grattan's Parliament. Brian Boru might claim to be High King of Ireland but there were some warlords who didn't see it that way.
And yet there are many people who believe that unity is not only desirable but attainable. I think of a day in a bar in Tralee long ago when I was joined by three young men who had just escaped from the Maidstone prison ship in Belfast Lough. They had read some of my articles in The Kerryman and were well acquainted with my views. A long debate ensued.
Their honesty was alarming: they had two wars to win and were convinced that they would win them both. The first would be against the British Army; they would keep up the pressure until public opinion in Britain would have the army called home. Then they would turn their attention to the Unionists -- it would be no problem. Their competence was almost convincing.
Then I remembered the many times I had seen Linfield's followers in action and I said to myself that the Unionists wouldn't lie down. The sad aspect of all this was that there were many people who believed in this vision and they weren't all young men and women who had grown up under Unionist misrule.
There was a mystical aura about the Provos. A friend of mine who must be nameless because he is no longer in this world said in his Gaelic-language column in The Irish Times that the Provos had the best songs and the best- looking women. I hadn't noticed.
When Nelson Mandela was here he spoke glowingly about the men who would free Ireland and he spoke even more glowingly about them when he was in New York.
I could sing out a list of prominent people in The Republic who were of like mind. Some of them could be called intellectuals -- writers and artists and musicians and journalists.
Then there were those prominent people who were ominously silent. I think of something that Sean O'Faolain said when he was interviewed after coming back from a lecture tour in America. This was at the worst of the troubles. And he said: "There is a time for silence." He may have thought he was being cryptic -- I thought he was being cowardly.
When I think of all those people, I understand better how the Nazis came to power in Germany in the early 1930s.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, things haven't changed much.
There was a sham vote of no confidence in Bertie Ahern. Two newspapers came out with the same headline: 'Opposition Go For The Jugular' -- it should have been 'Opposition Go For The Juggler'. Fianna Fail wheeled out good old Martin Cullen to defend The Chief. He told us that Bertie was the best leader the country ever had: he had achieved peace in The North and played a big part in the Celtic Tiger. He was respected nationally and internationally.
Martin seemed to forget that there are 300,000 people still living in consistent poverty. That's the official figure. Of course the real number is far greater because some of the poor are invisible.
He seems to forget too that our health service might have been designed by the people who organised Barbra Streisand's concert at Castletown House. And that our education system is almost as bad.
When he said that Bertie is our greatest leader ever he seemed to have forgotten O'Connell and Parnell. He also committed heresy: it is a rock of Fianna Fail's gospel that Eamon de Valera was the country's best leader ever -- admittedly there are some who would give that honour to the late Charlie Haughey.
My old friend, Senator Harris, seems to have an endless penchant for Eoghan goals. I can see him next Summer in the Fianna Fail tent at Galway races colloguing with pillars of state who build bad houses and don't pay their taxes.