Enemies become friends

The following is a much shortened version of Chapter 13 of Adventures in Reconciliation (editors Monaghan & Boyle) and used here by permission of the publishers, Eagle Press, Guildford, Surrey, England.)

I was born in 1955 in Belfast. My parents had a family of four. I left school at the age of fifteen. I had to sign on the dole, so we all began to hang around street corners. I began to mix with the kind of people that inevitably drew the attention of the IRA. Some of my mates were members of Republican families so they were able to vouch for me and I joined Fianna Éireann, still at the age of fifteen. Almost immediately after I joined I engaged the British Army on the Monaghan Road. I fired my first shot! I was always first in the line of active duty. I didn’t care for my safety.

In February 1973 I was finally arrested and interned in Long Kesh for two and a half years. When I was freed in 1975 I resumed IRA activities. In August 1977 I was arrested and charged with the attempted murder of a British soldier. That charge was dropped but I was sentenced to seven years for possession of weapons and I began my time in the H-Blocks. All any man had in his cell was a Bible. I used the pages in it, after I read them, for making cigarettes. I called it having a holy smoke.

My release was in February 1982. Although there was a banner hanging across the front of my mother’s home saying, ‘Welcome Home Tom’, I didn’t feel that I was home. I felt empty. I began to ask myself, what had I achieved? The answer was, nothing! I saw only death and ruination. I decided that I wouldn’t get involved in violence anymore. I was now twenty-seven years old.

I met my future wife, Catherine, at a social club. My wife was going on religious pilgrimages and she asked me to go with her on one. So I went to Mount Melleray with her. I must have gone about four times before I asked myself what I was doing. I remember looking closely at the people. They were praying, hugging each other, laughing and talking lovingly about God. I asked myself what it was that they had that I hadn’t. I felt God saying to my mind, ‘Tom, I want your heart.’ I remember responding, ‘If you want my heart, then take it. Take its hardness, its blackness and use it.’ This happened in 1986. From that day I haven’t had one regret.

God brought into my life an American priest called Fr. Ed Wade. He himself was an ex-American marine, trained to kill or maim, but God took him clean away from it and made him a man of God. He opened my mind to new ways of thinking so that my old ways of thinking were completely obliterated. One Sunday evening Fr. Ed Wade telephoned me and asked me to come up to Poleglass to a meeting. He spoke about God’s love. He pulled no punches. It was man to man stuff, no wimps allowed: then it happened. He asked me to witness and I found myself talking to forty men. I repented before them and God, and was received by all with nothing but love and compassion. We’ve been meeting every Monday night since. We call ourselves ‘The Light of Christ Men’s Group.’

I was introduced to the Maranatha Community, an interdenominational group. I shared one night and a lady said she would like me to meet her husband Jim. Jim was interned like myself and was in the UVF, the Protestant paramilitary group. Both Jim and I repented to one another, hugged one another and became great friends. We repented before God and all the people present.

Jim is now the leader of the Light of Christ Men’s Group. God has led us in ways of service and growth. We have made a documentary for Dutch TV. We have visited many places of worship. I had to travel a bitter road before I discovered that the real prison for me was not Long Kesh Internment Camp, but my own heart which was captive to all manner of prejudice, fear, hatred, resentment and unforgiveness. We all need, in some way, to ask God to lead us out of our heart-prisons.