My shocking secret: I was an informer





Somehow I was glad that my darkest secret was out at last, even though eldest son Cuan blanched and almost fell off his bar stool when I confessed to him in the Honk the other night.

Even though his first words afterwards were, "Dad you were not. Surely you never sank that low!"

I still felt free of shackles that have bound me for decades. I felt purer, relieved, somehow cleansed, ashamed of course but still able to nod my head at him and mutter, "It's true, God forgive me, it's all true."

And it was and it is. It will be a long time, I know well, before Cuan can bring himself to forgive me fully but, dammit, I could not go to my grave with this foul secret untold.

I was an Informer!

You know and I know and Cuan knows, like every Irishman, that there are no more despised animals in Ireland than Informers.

They are lower than snakes' bellies. We spit on them. They betrayed all our great revolutionary heroes all down the centuries, usually for English gold. They are our despised Iscariots.

Usually when they are discovered they are shot and nobody mourns them, not even their own mothers and fathers. Informers are the lowest of the low in most cultures, but nowhere are they more hated than here in Ireland.

They have always been loathed as much as pedophile priests are loathed today. And I was one of the breed.

Is it any wonder that I hid my foul secret for so long?

"I was very young at the time. I knew not what I did. It was the Catholic Church's fault really," is what I said to my son.

He looked anxiously around the bar lest anyone had overheard us. "I'd like to go home now as soon as we can finish these pints," is what he said.

We gulped down the last few inches and went home directly to the cottage. The Dutch Nation, thankfully, was abed.

We sat either side of the fire grasping the gold comfort of strong whiskey, and he stayed totally silent for the confession that, once begun, flowed out of me without a break.

“You have to see,” I said, “that when I was sixteen up in Fermanagh the Catholic Church was omnipotent. It controlled every aspect of our lives.

“Your granny was the local teacher and had to be one of the leading mothers in the community. So when a branch of the Pioneers was established in the parish she had to send along her eldest son – me -- to the foundation meeting.”

For those of you who are not Irish I have to interject that the Pioneers of Ireland were the church's tee-totaller organization, immensely strong throughout the land at the time.

Members wore lapel pins with great pride all their lives to show that at introductory meetings like the one I attended, they had taken a sacred pledge to abstain all their lives from alcoholic drinks in reparation for our nation's mountain of sins of intemperance.

Juveniles like us were issued with what were called Probationer's Pins for the first six months. Then you graduated to a full Pioneer Pin. These were -- and still are --worn by good and decent men and women who have never allowed a drop of the hard stuff to cross their lips.

The organization was started at a time when it was perceived that Ireland was drinking itself to death. I don't think it is as strong now as it was back then, but it still survives intact.

And I told Cuan that I became a most fervent Pioneer after that meeting, so fervent that within six months I was appointed secretary of the branch.

There was not a young fellow or girl in the parish that we did not enroll and, indeed, we once went all the way to Croke Park in Dublin for a Pioneer rally which crammed the city for the whole day. Nearly as big an occasion as the famed Eucharistic Congress of 20 years earlier! And nothing stronger than lemonade crossed any lips of ours on what was a parching day too.

Then I came to the hard bit. We set about recruiting to our ranks every poor man in the parish who enjoyed his drink.

This was part of our work, aided powerfully by the clergy's appeals from the pulpits to such decent men to take the pledge. And there was a rigid entry system for such recruits.

They would come to the priest, take a pledge for a certain restricted period, say six months, and would then be issued with what was called a Green Pin. This pin had a small cross inscribed atop an emerald background. It was a real badge of courage.

And of course we kept a close watch on our Green Pins, and that is how I became an Informer, may the good Lord forgive me now.

And that was how, after certain information came my way, that I once skulked outside the windows of our local pub one wintry evening in the rain, spying on one of our Green Pins.

I was your classic Informer, hidden in the shadows, lower than a snake's belly. The thought of it even now!

And the decent man, a laborer who had been working outdoors all the freezing day, chilled to the bone, was tearing into halves of Bushmills whiskey with a will, and worse still had not taken down his Green Pin.

The Informer saw this at once, checked through the pane that it was whiskey the man was drinking, and, 10 minutes after seeing a shot actually being poured, and the Green Pin downing it, was down knocking on the priest's big front door with his story.

That is the foul truth of the way Informers go about their business. They watch, they spy and then they slink down to the authorities.

I still shudder at the memory of what I did. And I will shudder for a good while yet at the expression on my son's face when my confession was over.

He was up early and gone before I arose the next morning, and I have yet to meet him again. That's all before me.

He was decently raised by his dear mother. I hope he forgives me in time.

But there is every possibility it will be months before he permits our paths to cross again. And I deserve all that I get...

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