Sunday, January 31, 2010

This is the story of the Hurricane

When we were in sixth year, Bob Dylan magnificently championed the cause of Ruben Carter, the coloured boxer, who was the subject of a miscarriage of justice in the US and was wrongly imprisoned. Carter was nicknamed the Hurricane and Dylan's song of the same name remains a classic.

What we didn't know at that time was that we were players in a drama of our own, one which bore frightening resemblances to Carter's case in the US.

Stephen Byrne came from the wrong side of the tracks - Dublin's Northside - but for whatever reason socialised with the elite from one of Dublin's poshest schools, Rockbrook College. Assuming their accent with ease, he mingled with them freely and soon was fully accepted by them - particularly as he had a motorbike (followed quickly by a car) and was a lot faster than the 46A on runs into the Trinity Buttery of a Saturday evenings. The friendship continued for a number of years until the privileged Southsiders decided enough was enough, and they made horrific plans for Easter 1979.

On that fateful weekend they made Byrne drive his own red Toyota Corolla car to Donegal and while there, set about victimising him in an appalling and unrelenting manner - difficult quiz questions, rigged draws to make him empty the toilet bucket, designated driver assignments at nighttime and the sleeping bag position furthest away from the fire. It went on and on.

The sadistic treatment ended on the Sunday afternoon when they coaxed Byrne into an ill-chosen boxing match with one of their own, streetfighter Hartnett. It was a mismatch of David and Goliath proportions. Hartnett, a cornerboy from Stillorgan, was an experienced boxer who had learnt his trade with the famous Bollard brothers, notorious in Dublin's gangland warfare of the fifties. The bout on the beach in Portsalon that afternoon lasted a mere four minutes with Hartnett landing two fierce piledrivers below the belt and rupturing Byrne's left testicle. Byrne fell onto the golden sands, his dreams destroyed.

The event was captured by Robert Capa the Magnum photographer (who first made his name on the beaches of Normandy covering frisbee competitions) and is reproduced below.

Byrne never recovered from the humiliation, retired from public life and became a recluse in the mountains of Wicklow.