You’ve had enough of it. The Troubles. Sometimes it gets to you: the unceasing, rattling, buzz of the helicopters low overhead, the gridlocked traffic, the checkpoints, the army patrols, the stop and search, the constant flow of bad news, the slabbering politicians, the destruction, the bigotry, the injustice, the fear. There was another one shot dead yesterday at his work; just an ordinary guy by all accounts. It’s enough to drive you nuts. Time to head for the hills – the hills of Donegal. You grab your rucksack, throw in a couple of changes of clothes, lift the guitar, and slam the door behind you. On the road you stop a Black Taxi and head into town to the coach station.
As the bus makes the long climb up Glenshane you can feel the tension in your shoulders and neck starting to ease. Even the Army patrol at the top, near the Ponderosa Bar, doesn’t annoy you. The Sperrin Mountains are glorious, wild, untamed. The boggy hillsides are dotted with sheep, and there are gushing waterfalls at the side of the road. Only a couple of hours and you’ll be across the border. The checkpoint on the Letterkenny Road is quiet, and you don’t have to wait long to get across and into the Republic. Your friend is there to meet you, and within an hour you’re drinking your first creamy pint of stout in the Shamrock Lodge Bar in Falcarragh. Donegal has everything you need: scree-strewn grey mountains, peaty brown rivers, rocky coastline, the smell of turf smoke, the company of friends, music, laughter, peace. After four days you have loosened up, your smile has returned. You can face Belfast again with a clear mind.
Peace. You have brought this precious gift back to the city, and must hold on to it for as long as possible. You share a private cab home. There’s an old fella in the front; he’s quiet, keeping himself to himself. You chat to the driver, telling him about your trip, how peaceful it was in Donegal, how you had to get away for a few days to relax. The driver agrees with you: I know what you mean; we should all live in peace. Yeah, peace, great. The old man mutters something, but you don’t catch it. The driver seems to know him, because he responds: aye well you can shut the fuck up you old bollix, then to you: fuck’s sake – he’d start a fight in an empty room, that boy. Mustard. Belfast. Welcome home.