Monday 10 November 2008

How Dash Died

Wee Dash grew up just across the road from us. He was four or five years older than the rest of us, but we all played together as children.

As the eldest, Dash was always in charge. He always seemed to enjoy the mantle of leadership. And he was good at it: as six year olds he had us eating out of is hand, sometimes literally.

I remember the time he converted their little back garden into a show jumping course. He had set up a variety of obstacles to mimic what we had seen on TV. Then he timed us younger children as we trotted around hopping over the fences pretending to be Eddie Macken or Harvey Smith. Dash would provide the commentary to an imaginary crowd - " and a clear round for Paul Darragh".

Dash also organised more important expeditions - like the building of a hut in Walls's field or the raid on a silage pit to collect tyres for bonfire night. And I remember he put more thought into these things and insisted on a form of discipline, in a way that we never saw in the other older boys.

As far as I remember, around the intercert Dash dropped out of school and took odd jobs here and there before settling into a regular job as a painter. It was about this time that his talent on the football field began to show. Dash was small, and like the best small players, he had a gift for being evasive - he could switch direction in the blink of an eye. And above all, he had oodles of skill.

But as he entered his twenties Dash developed a growing dependence on alcohol. At the time stories circulated that he would show up half tanked for training. Over time it clawed him under, and prematurely ended a promising career on the field.

By the time he was thirty his addiction had consumed him almost entirely. He would drink only raw spirits. They said he'd down a half bottle, at any time of the day, then collapse into a stupor, then hours later wake and start again.

I remember meeting him ocassionally when I'd come home from Galway. He was wasting away physically, and I always thought there was a look of defeat and shame in his eyes. After a number of failed attempts during his early thirties, however, he eventually managed to cut himself free of his terrible affliction.

A couple of years ago he parked the bottle and got a steady job. Then he got a little house, of which he was fiercly proud. My mother said he kept it like a doll's house, bright, dainty, and impeccably tidy.

Dash got involved in supporting local Sinn Féin candidates. I didn't really know him in recent years, but I would say he had a traditional, nationalist outlook. Either way, he got involved and got a great kick out of election campaigns and local meetings.

Then everything - young commander, athlete, recovered alcoholic, local activist, a half a lifetime of hurt and hope - all this, ended in an instant, terrifying thwack.

Last Sunday morning, Dash and his friend were sailing along the clear, open road to Ballyshannon. Out in the distance, coursing towards them, was a young man, drunk on high speed, brimming with reckless youth, and pushing his car forward like a missile.

The speeding car went out of control and detonated into Dash's car like an angry bomb. It discharged its energy in a violent shockwave that destroyed sinew, and bone, and metal, then rippled out wider to tear mothers' hearts. The two cars exploded into one another and careened along the centre of the N15, then stopped in an ugly, mangled embrace.

A sick silence descended over the wreckage. Hot metal and warm flesh cooled together; and the smell of engine oil and dying blood oozed out into the November air.

May all three men who died in the accident rest in peace.

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