As assignments go this one in the IRA stronghold of South Armagh was a little different. I was with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and husband Denis while they waited for a taxi to arrive. The taxi was a British army helicopter with orders to whisk them back to Belfast castle, while the waiting room was a makeshift barracks corridor, dark, narrow and uninviting. It was also a spectacular target for the real power in the area. Luckily for all “Mum” had been the word about the flash visit.
It’s a strange thing to make an assessment of one such as Maggie Thatcher. All the rumours, backbiting, back stabbing skulduggery, that mars political life was just not present on the crisp morning she visited the front line troops. It was not an easy place to secure for such a high profile figure. The IRA’s very successful 2nd Battalion dominated the area and the killing tally. They eventually scored over 160 security officers to a loss of four of their own in active combat service.
Mrs Thatcher would need to be very calm and very cool to for her and Denis to feel OK in the camp.
|The Iron Lady. Margaret of Finchley.|
To trust or not to Trust that is the question.
Image extracted from the Sunday Times
by artist Michael Leonard. April 2013
And that’s how it was for the 10 minutes we shared in the corridor. I was pleasantly surprised how much she and Denis relaxed with us to make small talk and present her cultured manner. I suppose behind very strong front person is just another human, just like the rest of us.
|Just another day.P.M. Margaret Thatcher, Husband Denis|
with the troops and Martin Nangle in the IRA's South
Armagh stronghold. The exit corridor in rear view.
Hard to take in that here was the leader of “the British occupation in Ireland,” the Iron Lady herself having a bit of banter with a couple of media people deep in IRA territory while a late helicopter ride made its way over the rolling hills for a pick-up.
Denis joked and was genuinely funny. Mrs Thatcher shuffled through her handbag for a tissue. We Patricks just tried to the Irish thing. Express restrained recognition for celebrity status. I mean she's just a Prime Minister, right!
Light information was exchanged about the things everyone does at home, the office, or the pub, or in this case, a narrow corridor of power locked at both ends. They soon said goodbye, using first names. Just another day in the Irish/UK Ulster conflict.