got out of the way fast as we roared through. The road lifted steeply on the other side, climbing the mountain through what looked like a Forestry Commission fir plantation.
About half a mile beyond the village, we rounded a sharp bend and Binnie braked to a halt in the centre of the road. There was a wooden fence on the left-hand side. I got out of the Cortina and glanced over. There was a drop of a hundred feet or more through fir trees to a stream bed below.
‘This is it,’ I said. ‘Let’s get moving.’
I’d intended a good solid push, but Binnie surprised me to the end. Instead of getting out, he moved into gear and drove straight at the fence. For a heart-stopping moment I thought he’d left it too late and then, as the Cortina smacked through the fence and disappeared over the edge, I saw him rolling over and over on the far side.
As he picked himself up there was the noise of metal tearing somewhere down below, a tremendous thud and then the kind of explosion that sounded as if someone had detonated around fifty pounds of gelignite. Pieces of metal cascaded into the air like shrapnel. When I peered over the edge what was left of the Cortina was blazing furiously in the ravine below.
Somewhere near at hand I could hear engines roaring as the Land-Rovers started to climb the hill. When I turned, Binnie was already running for the fence on the other side of the road. I scrambled over, no more than a yard behind him and we plunged into the undergrowth.
We were half way up the hillside when the two Land-Rovers braked to a halt on the bend below, one behind the other. The paratroopers got out and ran to the edge of the road, the young lieutenant from the checkpoint in Mount Hamilton well to the fore.
We didn’t hang about to see what happened. Binnie tugged at my sleeve, we went over a small rise, and I followed a stream that dropped down through a narrow ravine to the village.
As we came out of the trees at the back of the church, one of the Land-Rovers came down the road fast. I grabbed Binnie by the arm, we dropped behind the graveyard wall and waited until the Land-Rover had disappeared between the houses.
‘Come on,’ he said. ‘Follow me, Major, and do exactly as I tell you.’
We went through the graveyard cautiously, moving from tombstone to tombstone. When we were almost at the rear entrance of the church, a couple of paratroopers appeared on the street side of the far wall. We dropped down behind a rather nice Victorian mausoleum and waited in the steady rain, a grey angel leaning over us protectively.
Binnie said, ‘Sure and there’s nothing better than a nice cemetery. Have you ever seen your uncle’s grave at Stradballa, Major?’
‘Not since I was a boy. There was just a plain wooden cross as I remember.’
‘Not now.’ He shook his head. “They bought a stone by public subscription about ten years ago. White marble. It says: Michael Fitzgerald, Soldier of the Irish Republican Army. He died for Ireland. By God, but that would suit me.’
‘A somewhat limited ambition I would have thought.’ He stared at me blankly, so I pulled him to his feet, the soldiers having moved elsewhere. ‘Come on, let’s get out of this. I’m soaked to the bloody skin.’
A moment kter we were into the shelter of the back porch. He opened the massive oak door, motioning me to silence, and led the way in.
It was very quiet, winking candles and incense heavy on the cold morning air, and down by the altar the Virgin seemed to float out of darkness, a slight fixed smile on her delicate face.
Half a dozen people waited by a couple of confessional boxes. Someone turned and looked at us blankly, an old woman with a scarf bound round her head, peasant-fashion. Binnie put a finger to his lips as, one by one, the others sitting there turned to look at us. Beyond the great door at the far end a voice shouted an order, steps approached outside.