“one day, you turn your head and see that some people have been lost along the way. The truth of the matter is, some of you never did move forward. Some of you stopped and turned off in completely different directions. They didn’t think to say that the hurt was different for them, that they couldn’t move past it. And what you thought was forever, you now know was built on very little”
Liz, Sinéad and Orla are best friends. They hang out at a dive bar, The Cave, with Liz’s brother Paddy and his mates, Christy and Noel. Liz is dating a slightly older guy, Kevin. Orla gets together with Peter. The group drink their pints, smoke too much weed and debate the merits of popular music. Other than Noel, who has his own tatty place, they still live with their parents. Liz and Christy are preparing to sit A’ levels. With few employment opportunities, the others are mostly on the dole.
Opening on St Patrick’s Day 1981 this could be any group of working class young people at the time. They are on the cusp of the rest of their lives. But this is Derry, a tinderbox of sectarian violence with the added fuel of the Maze prison hunger strikers. The British army man the checkpoints and barricades. They stalk the streets with their guns and blackened faces. Their armoured vehicles rumble through the housing estates while military helicopters buzz overhead, watchful and threatening.
Drink, drugs, music and making out distract from the reality of living in a city at war. The violence rendered is physical and emotional but also the only life these teenagers have known. The English are despised yet an escape to England is considered a pathway to a better way of living. The future beckons but choices made in the present will inexorably shape its direction.
Rioting intensifies as the hunger strikers start to die, martyrs to a cause in which these young people show little interest. Then some of the group, intoxicated by the collective fear and excitement on the streets, start to join in. One of them is killed setting off a chain reaction that will mark each of them forever.
The story plays out over an intense six month period during which friendship and loyalties are tested to their limits. Actions reverberate through wider family circles. Granting favours can be dangerous.
The author has captured the voice, the time and the place, telling a tale that explains why certain young men joined the IRA. For those of us who lived through these times the memories kindled are as much of the fashions, music and close friendships that later melted away as of the terrible events and experiences that formed the backdrop to adolescent dreams.
Any Cop?: This is a masterful coming of age story but also a depiction of the impact of the Troubles on the generation who were born and raised during the years of conflict. As nostalgic as it is powerful, the story serves as a timely reminder of the importance of the Good Friday Agreement. It is also a damn fine read.