‘Speaking truth to power’: Blood lessons from the Troubles come to London
A play involving victims of the conflict will be seen by officers investigating collusion
Blood Red Lines, a play in which the performers tell their real-life stories of loss and pain in the Troubles, will be staged in London this week. Photograph: Columba O’Hare
As we sat in the Swan pub down a side lane in Holborn, Dessie Trainor swirled his drink and told me about the night his mother was murdered.s
He was aged 13 and from Portadown, a loyalist stronghold in Armagh. His mother, Dorothy, was a Protestant and his father, Malachy, a Catholic. Mixed marriages could get you killed in the bitter, obscenity-strewn North of Ireland of 1975.
The couple were walking home from a night out. Gunmen from the Ulster Volunteer Force, and linked to the notorious Glenanne gang that colluded with British security services, lay in wait. Dorothy died while Malachy was critically injured, his life never the same again.
Eight months later, and 10 days before Christmas 1975, loyalists blew up Trainor’s house. His 17-year old brother, Ronnie, an INLA member, died. A little more than two years later, they killed Trainor’s older brother, Tommy, who was also linked to the republican group. He was shot with a friend as they walked back from a dole office.
Trainor said his mother’s murder made him “run about wild”. He ended up in Crumlin Road prison before he was 14. “My life was completely ruined,” he said. Alcoholism and depression beckoned, lessening only after he started a family of his own when he hit his 30s.
And so there we sat in this atmospheric little London pub, five of us around a table, delving into one man’s trauma. Londoners, oblivious, chatted all around us. I asked Trainor if he feels he is now healed. He hesitated for a moment and looked me in the eye, giving time to survey his face. Its lines, imprints and his ponderous expression silently answered my question.
“I still have my bad thoughts but I am better. And it is because of the play,” said Trainor.
The play is Blood Red Lines, written and directed by Scotsman Robert Rae, who joined us in the Swan alongside Trainor’s partner, Maria, and Yemeni musician Saber Bamatraf, who works with Rae in the Art27 project in Edinburgh. Yemen is also where some of the brutal community suppression tactics later adopted by the Glenanne Gang are said to have been formulated. Life brings people together in curious ways.
In Blood Red Lines, Trainor and 10 other people, all from or linked to the North, tell real-life stories of loss and pain. It includes the recollections of a former British soldier. The play has run at various locations in Ireland, North and South, since 2019 and was also performed at Edinburgh Fringe.
The Department of Foreign Affairs’s reconciliation fund is financing its first production in London. It runs this week from Thursday to Saturday at the London Irish Centre, just north of central London on Camden Square, the hip city enclave where Amy Winehouse lived and died.
Blood Red Lines is open to the London public, but this week it also has some special audience members.
Former Bedfordshire chief constable Jon Boutcher leads several independent investigations into the Troubles, including the Kenova examination of the handling of IRA informer Stakeknife. He also leads the Barnard Review into collusion and the Glennane gang, which killed Trainor’s mother. Boutcher saw Blood Red Lines in Edinburgh and this week all 60 members of his investigating team will see it in London.
“It gives the people in the play an opportunity to speak truth directly to power,” said Rae.
Boutcher said that traditionally there was a “remoteness” among those investigating incidents in the North.
“It went back to the risks involved. But that remoteness isn’t how people in England, Scotland and Wales would experience tragic events investigated there,” he said. “By going to see the play it builds trust and confidence with the families. I want them to see that for my investigators, this is vocational. It will be therapeutic for everyone.”
Back at the Swan, I asked Bamatraf, who was driven from his home country by Houthi rebels, if his experience with Blood Red Lines chimed with his experience of conflict in his home country. “We have some similar stories. For [Trainor and the others] it is their past. For us, it is our present. But the stories give me hope. It reminds that, actually, there is an end.”
For Trainor it may not be the end, but it is far better than what went before. The former British soldier in Blood Red Lines was at his house for Christmas dinner.
“I was basically a nobody. I didn’t even think I had a story to tell. But now every time we have put on this play, we’ve got a standing ovation. That makes me feel six feet tall.”
Article link: https://www.irishtimes.com/world/uk/2023/02/15/speaking-truth-to-power-blood-lessons-from-the-troubles-come-to-london/