The cages in Magilligan were laid out in such a way that each republican cage could look on their fellow republican cage only diagonally, but gaze full on into the two loyalist cages. It was the same for the loyalists in their own cages. The UVF prisoners were in H and the UDA in E. From a prison admin point of view it was simple but effective. Psychologically, each cage felt boxed in by two from the other side. Still, it suited me. The best rock music of the day blasted out from Cage H, competing with the endless cracks from the British Army firing range just outside the camp for decibelic supremacy.
It was in Cage F that the news of the death of Jim Templeton reached us, as had the news of so many other deaths of people I had known. Apart from Sean Donaldson in Cage G, I don’t remember anyone else from South or East Belfast being in the republican end, certainly no one who knew Temp as we called him. He had been gunned down, by the UVF it is said, while he stood talking to someone outside a bar that had been bombed the year previous by the same UVF, resulting in six civilian deaths. Temp never managed to make it to the chip shop which was his destination. A car came out of University Street - where two years earlier my father and myself had found and comforted the Protestant teenager Norman Hutchinson as he lay dying from a UVF gunshot wound - and pulled up alongside him. A man, maybe not much older than himself, reached out, gun in hand, and ended his life.
Jim Templeton was 15 years old, but age has never been known to act as a foil against bullets. From the perspective of his killers, that he was obviously a Catholic trumped all else.
What happened to him was something all teenagers in the Lower Ormeau Road lived with as we stood at the street corners that staged the main thoroughfare, for lack of anywhere else to go or something better to do. Their parents lived with it too. On learning that her son had been shot Jim’s mother said “I couldn’t believe it. It was something I always dreaded.” Gun and bomb attacks on civilians were frequent enough. It was part of loyalist strategy. Target a civilian population in a bid to put pressure on the Provisional IRA.
Jim Templeton would be 55 now had he lived, perhaps with a grown up family of his own, and quite possibly not even interested in the form of republicanism that attracted him as a youth and which drew him into the ranks of Na Fianna Eireann. Not that his short membership figured in the decision to kill him. That was a more a case of Yabba Dabba Doo any Taig will do, just as it was when Joe Fitzpatrick had been shot dead as he swept the streets to turn a pound six months earlier.
Such reflection spurs a digression into ruminations about the volunteers who lie in graveyards up and down the country: in death denied the essence of volunteering because choice is no longer a factor. Now perpetually trapped as combatants who perhaps given a year or two might have seen their lives traverse different paths. It happened to so many of their contemporaries, so presumably the law of averages would have applied to them. It is only in death that people are captured in that still frame where they are condemned to remain combatants forever: those falling soldiers of the Spanish Civil War or Stalingrad (staged or not). On its own, death for any cause is not proof of political and ideological stamina but rather of timing and misfortune.
Jim Templeton did not die for the cause he professed a belief in, having no say in the matter. He died for someone else’s, the cause of those who snatched his life from him. Maybe killed by people no longer remotely interested in the politics of that night. Ideas can be short lived whereas grief and death are forever. There is no equivalence. Your permanent death for my temporary idea seems the most usurious of exchanges.
Despite the eulogies and orations, what do we really believe in as teenagers? For the most part our fidelities are to fads. Oscar Wilde’s proclamation that he was glad not to be young enough to know everything, by definition always arrives too late.
It was reassuring in Magilligan to have a loyalist cage to the front and left of our own, to gaze on gleefully and gloatingly when the UDA held a ceremony for Ernie Dowds, shot dead by the IRA not many weeks after Jim Templeton’s death. Staring balefully at the despised loyalists as they walked their cages it was easy to nurture and focus hatred. Now I can converse without any semblance of hostility with some of those who were in them. Perhaps nothing, apart from the peace process and death, it seems, lasts forever: neither lives, loves nor hatreds.
Ten years ago on the 30th anniversary of Jim’s death, if I am not mistaken, Gerard Davison was among the crowd that gathered in the Lower Ormeau Road in memory of him. Now he too lies dead. For nothing other than the temporary satiation that revenge brings. The sites where he, Kevin McGuigan and Jim Templeton died are but a hop, skip and jump from each other. Triangulated hate. The difference between Jim’s death and the other two is that the peace process is with us and we must be grateful that it has ushered in a new era, one in which people are no longer murdered violently, but peacefully. Perhaps I am stupid or simply unhelpful to the peace process but it is a distinction that wholly escapes me.
On the fortieth anniversary of his death the most fitting manner in which to honour Jim Templeton is to revile the methods that ended his life rather than revive them in the Markets or Short Strand.