One has to wonder at the wisdom of world leaders who chose Northern Ireland as the location for the G8 summit, scheduled for next week at a lakeside golf resort there.
That troubled land is simmering with violence, again, after centuries of conflict among people who have been killing each other forever in the name of religion.
A week or so ago police defused a car bomb found not far from the meeting site. Reading about that brought back memories of my first visit to Northern Ireland about 40 years ago.
As a London-based correspondent for ABC News, I knew that Northern Ireland duty was part of the deal, but I didn’t expect the in-your-face experience I encountered while checking into a Belfast hotel.
I entered my room and noticed a “dear guest” flyer on the desk. It read: “Because of the ‘Troubles,” it may be necessary for our guests to evacuate the hotel on short...”
That’s as far as I got. Ka-BOOM!
A blast blew out the windows in the hotel room, shards covering me and the floor.
As I tried to stand up, someone began pounding on the door.
It was my ABC News cameraman, a Briton who had been to Belfast many times. His arm was around a shaking, bloody, teenaged chambermaid.
“Welcome to Northern Ireland” he said.
It was the autumn of 1972. The leaves were gone from the trees. Most of the trees were gone too, probably DOA in the crossfire of a thousand bullets.
Troops patrolled key areas. Parts of town were dangerous for Protestants; other neighborhoods were big trouble for Catholics.
School kids tangled relentlessly, fighting over their “faiths.”
I had covered wars, revolutions and riots before, elsewhere, but Northern Ireland seemed at the time to be the most pointless conflict in my checkered resume.
I had been in country less than an hour, in my hotel room less than a minute, when that explosion jolted me into the reality of Belfast.
“What happened to her?” I asked the cameraman, Jim as tears on the maid’s face streaked into trickles of blood coming from her hairline.
“She was looking out the window at the end of the hall when it shattered.”
Fortunately, her injuries were bloody but superficial. The blast had been from a bomb in a car in a “car park,” a parking lot next to the hotel.
Staffers said the bomber had phoned the hotel with a warning. But the hotel alarm system had failed and they didn’t have time to call all the rooms and alert the guests. Mine was one of the rooms they didn’t call.
I brushed the broken glass off the desk and picked up that notice I had been reading when the bomb went off. I read it again and was able to finish the message this time:
“Because of the troubles, it may be necessary for our guests to evacuate the hotel on short notice. If you hear the warning bell, please leave your room immediately and walk down the stairs and out of the hotel. Please gather for further instructions in the car park next door.”
It’s a good thing nobody heard the faulty alarm system because the car park is where the bomb went off.
Security will be tight when the bigwigs gather to palaver in Northern Ireland.