There I was absentmindedly scanning the digital press last month when an article jumped out at me.
"The man behind the 1985 bombing of a 747 off the coast of Cork has been freed," the headline roared at me. "The only person convicted in the 1985 Air India bombings that killed 329 people is now free, Canada’s parole board said today." and the Journal ran with it. Three hundred and twenty-nine poor souls died in that terrorist atrocity including some entire families. I remember it all so vividly even now thirty-two years later.
At the time I ran a "Marine Laundry and Chandlery Service" to the Port of Cork and I was just back in the laundry after my early morning rounds of the harbour area when the phone rang. "I suppose you heard," the ship's agent said. I hadn't so he filled me in including news that the Canadian Coast Guard were dispatching a search and rescue vessel called, "The John Cabot," (seen here), to assist in whatever needed to be done. The Air India Jumbo had taken off from Canada for London en route to Delhi. Its flight path took it offshore Southern Ireland for the approaches to Heathrow.
So this messed up fucker, Inderjit Singh Reyat, sees it in his heart to anonymously place a bomb onboard and kill all of those innocent people and today he's walking around a free man and those 329 poor souls are resting at the bottom of the Celtic Sea. I was awarded the contract to supply the John Cabot for the duration and it was a long duration at that. The big crew meant huge bags of laundry for one side of my business and many mouths to feed for the other. The ship kept me very busy for a long time and the resultant profits should have made me happy. But it was like blood money, if you can understand that. Given a choice I would have preferred those people reach their destinations a million times over rather than me ending up servicing their clean-up mission.
I did speak to some crew members about they things they saw and found because the ship was tasked with gathering up as much of the plane and the people as it could. It was harrowing for them and gruesome to listen to. My own Mother died that year so all the way around, 1985 was a shitty year for this twenty-nine year old bloke aback then. But I remembered this February 2017 as the Journal reminded me of the many thoughts I had at night alone in the apartment I lived in during 1985.
My first cousin in Northern Ireland had previously been the victim of a kidnapping that included three days of torture at the hands of Loyalist terrorists before they pumped seven bullets into his head and dumped his naked body by a roadside. It proved nothing but the savage ignorance of those involved. I went up for the funeral and it was all so mind-numbingly sad and pointless. There was a general strike called the "Ulster Workers Strike" on at the time and Michael couldn't catch his usual bus back to Belfast University, so he hitched and wasn't seen for a few days. The coolish RUC explained that he was a catholic in the wrong place.
And I thought, "Why?" I thought the same thing in 1985 when the bomber struck Flight 185. I stood at the memorial to them once near Sheep's Head and looked out over the angry sea at the burial spot. The fucker responsible had still not be charged but I remember hoping they'd publicly burn the bastard. Is that the true purpose of terrorism? Do those with a deep hatred in their hearts want to bring the rest of us down to their level? Would it make them happy if we in turn murdered their loved ones? It's a pertinent thought today as American bombs create more terrorists in the Middle East.
In the end though I confess to being baffled by human nature. Perhaps I'm naive or just an idealist but for me, life is about making the most of what you have to create a modicum of happiness around you, which in turn makes you happy. I will never understand the minds that killed Michael nor the motivation of an individual to plant a bomb. I can understand taking up a gun when you are under fire but that is self-defense. Ruthlessly murdering 329 strangers is beyond my comprehension.
And it is depressing even writing about it all those years later.