On the morning of Tuesday the 11th of September 2001, I was in the Cork office with my boss from Dublin and we were discussing activities and sales plans for the next quarter. On the way to the canteen together we heard two girls in front of us discussing a film stunt in New York that went wrong.
My Dublin boss was getting a post lunchtime train back to Dublin and as was the way with the man, he wanted a beer and not a lunch that day. Twenty minutes later I had him seated in Henchey's Pub in St Luke's Cross, two frothy pints in front of us. That is when we noticed Sky News on the TV.
It was like something out of a block-buster movie. It was at first hard to believe that it was the real thing and then when it so obviously was the real thing, it was a bit too much to take in. The sheer scale of it defied comprehension and even trying to imagine a 110-story building as seen from street level was difficult to conjure up. To see two of them and with full-sized jet planes on fire and stuck into the sides of them was just beyond digesting at one sitting. But as we sat glued to the on-screen spectacle, one of the huge building fell down right in front of our eyes.
I remember jumping up from the bar-stool muttering, "Jesus-H". The news presenter had already told us there were people in the building who were alive. Then reports came in that the Pentagon was hit and shortly after that we heard that a fourth aircraft was missing. Staring agog at each other we were just in time to see the second building in New York come down and this had both standing staring wide-eyed. "Jasus lads, the Yanks'll go fuckin' spare at this!" the barman told us.
That was it for that day and several days after it. There are over twenty news channels on my home TV and I did spend several days flicking around all of them getting different opinions and even different film footage as more of it came out. The American Security People were quick to name the perpetrators and I have to admit I was quick and keen to want to believe them too. It had to be the Arab lads, most of us thought, sure who else would be mad enough to pull that one off.
That Tuesday and the next day Wednesday as well, there was just too much news coming in to make any sense of it. When I heard the News Anchor say that, "World Trade Seven came down," I remember thinking, "how many World Trades do they have over there?" By the following weekend though helpful diagrams and maps were appearing on the Euro networks giving us pictures and timelines for all of the incidents in order of when they took place and where.
I had a long drive the following Monday and I spent it running over 9/11 in my head while the day was still fresh in my mind. I remembered the barman in the pub in Cork saying that it was damned lucky that the two skyscrapers had fallen straight down on themselves because the streets either side were crammed with people. If one of them had broken in the middle and fallen over sideways they're would have nowhere to run!
The hotel I stayed in that night had a lively debate going at the bar also. What exactly hit building seven, many wanted to know. Was there a third jet in New York that nobody was telling us about. One guy speculated that it must have been an Air Force jet chasing the other ones and he severed at the last minute and hit the third building. The big mystery though that emerged from that chat was the lack of body and plane parts from the one that nose-dived into the field. Many of us had seen the footage of the coroner on the spot beside the field who told the cameras that within ten minutes of his arrival, he knew he had nothing to do because there were no people who had died as far as he could see.
The Pentagon was a mystery as well. In New York we had seen aircraft shapes gouged into the buildings but in the Pentagon, there was just a small round hole in the wall before the wall fell down. Where were the wings? Indeed, where were the engines, the two heaviest parts of any jet-liner? But these small anomalies aside, the abiding memories are of the emotional New Yorkers, whether fire-fighters, police or citizens. The whole world felt for them.
That 9/11 day spawned a lot of activity around the globe after that, much of it I did not necessarily agree with. But in the back of my mind I had the sneaking suspicion that whoever organized that attack would soon find themselves facing down the barrel of an American gun in response. That was why regardless of what America did in the weeks and months after 9/11 and regardless of how uneasy a lot of made me feel morally, I was inclined to shrug and think to myself, "They asked for it!"
Part 2 of this is coming shortly ………