Je Suis Charlie.
Yes indeed, at this stage of a harshly harrowing and horrific watershed in the democratic history of Europe and the free world, I am proud to join with my brothers and sisters in the international condemnation of what hideously occurred in Paris, and say yes I am Charlie and I will continue to live my working life as a proper Charlie, as they say here at home, until the last of my keyboards falls silent. Long may that be delayed.
In the aftermath of the French horror, this Charlie has been reflecting upon the many times in my working life when I have been assaulted one way or another because of my work as a journalist.
I am fortunate that I was never seriously injured in any of the incidents. I was certainly often frightened and, on at least two or three occasions, especially when covering the early stages of the Troubles in the North for The Irish Press, notably in Armagh and Belfast, I owed my eventual safety totally due to the fact that, as a fast sprinter in my schoolboy days, I was still fleeter of foot than those who hotly pursued me. Ironically the worst fright of all ended without me suffering even a scratch. It was in Derry in the early days of the civil rights marches and consequent riots and baton charges and flaring Molotov cocktails.
I was trapped in a telephone kiosk meeting a Dublin deadline when the violence swirled around the box, and I will never ever forget the look of malevolence on the pale face of the young RUC policeman who tried to get into the box when I was on the phone to baton me down. He smashed the glass panels of the door and tried to pull it open to get at me.
I was wearing the Pioneer pin on my lapel which showed him I was a Papish reporter, and that was certainly relevant back then before the bias of the RUC had been fully documented around the world.
It was horrific to see a policeman behaving like a thug. Somehow I prevented him from opening the door to baton me until he was swept away in the melee outside, and I made my shocked escape.
This Charlie can tell ye that I flung my poor Pioneer pin into the Foyle that night and drank my first brandies ever as an antidote. They worked too!
I am intrigued, when I study the assaults launched against me down the years by those who objected to what I had written for newspapers and magazines, that the majority of the attacks were generated not by the consequences of hard news reportage, but by what we called "color pieces" back then.
I still do that mostly, as ye well know here, and discovered the hard way a long time ago that what I honestly considered to be good-humored and witty, even with a sting in the tail, incredibly enough generated more anger than factual reportage of this or that situation.
Once I wrote a lighthearted description of the springy gait of Leitrim's mountainy men as compared to the heavier stepping of their lowland neighbors.
A mountainy man with a few drinks aboard took strong exception one Saturday night when I was identified to him. He caught me by the throat and would certainly have throttled me totally were I not lucky enough to be accompanied by strong friends at the time.
The famed Dublin Opinion magazine was revived briefly in the 1980s, and I supplied allegedly witty columns to it at that time and was delighted to appear inside such a magazine indeed. However, after I wrote a bit about the size of the porter bellies on Dublin civil servants one month I was punched into my long nose by a total stranger, maybe a very uncivil servant who was the owner of a very significant porter belly indeed. It took a week's supply of cotton wool up the nostrils to mend this Charlie's nose!
Given those experiences, I am not surprised at all that the murderers in the office of the French satirical magazine deliberately singled out the cartoonists by name for their first horrible fusillade of hate.
Great cartoonists, as we know, can say more with a few inked strokes of their champ genius than a garden hack like this Charlie can say with 10,000 words. Their gifted pens and pencils, for sure, are sharper than any sword.
Of all the international cartoon products which emerged in support of the dead journalists in the reaction phase, the simple one which most trapped my eye was the one featuring a gunman standing over a corpse and uttering just three words: "He drew first!" It does not get much more powerful than that.
Thank God the reaction globally has been as shocked and supportive as it has been. And it is significant that they are printing a million copies of the next issue of the magazine and that it is a certain sellout. We all need that.
Finally, again, Je Suis CHARLIE.