The Siren - Full transcript
SOUND: RUNNING. THE SIREN. NUCLEAR EXPLOSION. MURMURED TALKING/SHOUTING
DERMOT I don’t remember the dream exactly. There was a mushroom cloud on the horizon. I wasn’t alone; there was a group of us. We were fleeing frantically across some rocky landscape. Into a bunker. Or something. Panic, fear, pandemonium.
SOUND: SHARP BREATH. BLUNT SOUND OF SIREN.
DERMOT And then I awoke. Into the darkness of 4.45 on a November morning. The embers of the street light outside seared through a small slit at the top of my drawn curtains. I was "shook", but still sleepy enough to just lie there without moving.
DERMOT The dream had been vivid. I really felt like it had just happened.. And I could still hear..
SOUND: BLUNT SOUND OF SIREN
DERMOT That sound.
I waited another moment or two to see if I was still just asleep. "Am I really hearing that?." I was.
SOUND: SIREN VOLUME INCREASES/SHARPENS
DERMOT The siren. The sound itself is unsettling..
SOUND: SIREN MORPHS INTO A BANSHEE WAIL AND BACK
DERMOT I might have a thing about sounds that wail. Because I am Irish. My cousin used to tell me stories about the banshee, a sort of female grim reaper that heralds the death of a loved one through her terrifying "caoin".
DERMOT But the siren is also unsettling because of what I associate with it: Londoners crowding into tube stations during the Blitz; 1960s era American school kids drilling for a Soviet Strike. Around that time the siren became known as the doomsday siren.
SOUND: WW2 BOMBERS DRONE. BOMBS EXPLODING. "DUCK & COVER"
DERMOT The doomsday siren. Imagine that. Just in case you didn’t know, since the 1950s, it has been perfectly possible for the human race to wipe itself out through nuclear war. I first learned about this in the back seat of the car listening to a conversation between my older brother and father.
I was around eight. But they were talking about the end of the world. My brother’s line was about how there were soldiers in America and Russia who spent the whole day with their finger over the button, waiting for the order to press it. Actually, there probably are. But it’s not what an eight-year-old needs to hear.
DERMOT My brother was also the one who woke me in the middle of the night when NATO and Russian forces had an unexpected stand-off at Pristina airport in Kosovo. He was watching it all on Sky News.
SOUND: BEDROOM DOOR CREAKING OPEN.
BRENDAN Der! Der! DER! Get up and look at this! The Russians are taking over the airport! THE RUSSIANS ARE TAKING THE AIRPORT!
DERMOT Again. Not what an anxious teenager needs to be woken up to.
SOUND: SKY NEWS AUDIO
DERMOT He also watched the initial reports of Diana’s car accident in 1997, when she was reported badly injured. He didn’t wake me up for that. But I remember finding out news of her death the next morning. And after that, I watched Sky News for a week solid.
SOUND: BLUNT SIREN FADES BACK IN. GETTING OUT OF BED QUICKLY
DERMOT I got out of bed and headed for the window. I pulled the curtains. There were specs of rain hitting the pane.
SOUND: WIND AND RAIN FROM INSIDE
DERMOT Tall tress on the other side of road swayed in significant wind.
SOUND: OPENING WINDOW. LOUDER AND SHARPER SIREN. LOUDER WIND
DERMOT "Why is that going off now?" Some kind of international incident? Terrorism?
Or is it something local? Has something leaked? Some chemical or something? From one of the factories..
SOUND: FADE TO SILENT
DERMOT But this was Kilkenny. The city where I was born and raised. It’s famous for Smithwicks ale and hurling. And also for being pretty old. In fact, it’s been around for about 1000 years. That said, alarming incidents in the city’s history have been relatively rare.
In 1324, Kilkenny played host to the first recorded example of a trial for withcraft in Ireland. Alice Kytler was accused of acquiring illicit powers through sexual intercourse with a demon. The charge was motivated by the suspicions of Kytler’s stepchildren, which she had acquired through four wealthy husbands- all of whom seemed to..die..
Kytler was pursued by a particularly zealous bishop called Richard de Ledrede. The whole affair became known as a clash between secular and ecclesiastical authority in medieval Ireland.
When her goose was just about cooked, Alice escaped Ireland and was never seen again. Her maid, Petronella, took the blame and was burned to death as a heretic. That was rough. But not exactly a public emergency.
SOUND: MARCHING ARMOURED SOLDIERS.ENGLISH ACCENTS CHANTING
DERMOT In 1650, Kilkenny was besieged by Oliver Cromwell and the New Model Army. I once read that the puritan troops used to chant psalms as they prepared for battle. The image of "roundheads" reeling off their weird prayers as they march on Kilkenny definitely captures the imagination.
DERMOT Cromwell had already butchered Drogheda and Wexford. At the time, Kilkenny was the capital of the Confederation- a loose alliance of Irish Catholics and English royalists who both had a lot to lose if Cromwell succeeded. I’m sure the local population was worried. And that they had some kind of early warning system
SOUND: BELL RINGING
DERMOT In the end, Kilkenny gave Cromwell a decent fight. Sieges weren’t his strong point. And he had to probe the city for a day or two before one of his cannons finally breached the walls. After that, Kilkenny was done for. But the "New Model" went relatively easy on the city. Apparently, everyone was a bit knackered by plague and the general misery of it all.
SOUND: SIREN FADES IN. DRESSING ONESELF QUICKLY. DESCENDING
DERMOT Dressing myself quickly, I ran downstairs to get a grip of what was going on. I was alone in the house. So there was no one to speculate with.
SOUND: FRONT DOOR OPENING. LOUD SIREN. WIND AND RAIN
DERMOT I stepped outside my front door. Across the dark cloudy sky, tinted orange by Kilkenny’s lights, I could almost see the siren on the wind. I faced where it felt like it was coming from. Actually, it was so loud that I thought it was coming from a lorry depot across from where I lived.
I looked around to see if anyone else was out. But there no one.
SOUND: FRONT DOOR CLOSING. BLUNT SIREN.
DERMOT Back inside, I went through the living room on the way to the kitchen. Passing the TV, I considered turning on Sky News to see if this was more than an isolated incident. More possibilities ran through my mind.
SKY NEWS ANCHOR Breaking News: Explosion at Sellafield Nuclear Plant.
News Alert: Irish authorities evacuating East Coast
DERMOT Sellafield. That was the other great boogeyman of my nerves about the end of all things. After the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, Ireland started looking nervously at this nuclear power plant on the western English coast.
If Sellafield did a Chernobyl, it’s likely that Ireland would be badly exposed to fallout. This is something I remember internalising at a fairly young age.
After 9/11, as the threat of international terrorism became more glaring, the Irish government issued iodine tablets to the population as a kind of "it’s important to be seen to be doing something" measure. If Osama Bin Laden’s apostles managed to cause some kind of ruckus at Sellafield, the idea was that we would all pop an iodine tablet and.. "well shir it’s something anyway". A few years later, after the effectiveness of the original batch had expired, it was decided not to reissue the tablets. The notion that they would have worked in the first place had by then become.. questionable.
SOUND: DIALLING PHONE
DERMOT I don’t know why I didn’t turn on the news.. Maybe I really was scared.. I decided instead to ring Kilkenny Gardaí. The officer who answered sounded like she was having an early morning to remember. She was also the first person I had contact with since the siren had woken me up.
GARDA Hello, Kilkenny Garda Station
DERMOT Hello.. Hi.. I live on the Freshford Road.. And there’s a very loud siren coming from Braningan’s truck yard across the road
GARDA No.. It’s actually from the Army Barracks.. Someone’s set off the Civil Defence Siren and they don’t know how to turn it off!
DERMOT Oh! Right....
GARDA Yeah... I’ve had hundreds of calls all morning
SOUND: OTHER GARDAÍ LAUGHING IN BACKGROUND
DERMOT Oh God... I thought for a second we’d started World War 3!
GARDA No you’re safe enough.. Hopefully they’ll get it off soon now..
DERMOT Right. Yeah hopefully.. Exactly yeah
GARDA Okay? Bye Bye now
SOUND: PHONE HANGS UP
DERMOT The army barracks. James Stephens’ Barracks. Of course. It was behind the truck yard. Or at least in that direction.
SOUND: SIREN FADES OUT
DERMOT Built in 1803, "Victoria" barracks was designed to fortify Kilkenny as the gateway to the south-east. In 1798, the biggest rebellion in Irish history had happened in neighbouring Wexford. So the British were getting ready for the next one.
In 1848, the Young Irelanders targeted Kilkenny in their insurrection. But they never got beyond a farm house in rural Tipperary. However, one of them- James Stephens, who was actually born in the barracks, eventually had his name bestowed on it. Nice...
During the Irish revolution, Kilkenny saw more action than it had since Cromwell. The surrounding countryside was particularly active during the 1919-21 independence struggle. Two IRA men were killed in a botched ambush around the city Friary too.
Then, in 1922, Kilkenny staged a kind of rehersal for the impending Civil War. Several key buildings were occupied by IRA forces protesting what they saw as the Treaty sell-out.
The same thing was happening all over Ireland. The difference in Kilkenny was that the shooting started and finished before the rest of the country.
The occupation of the Castle by IRA forces was particularly hard for the newly formed Kilkenny battalion to deal with.
Since the fourteenth century, the Castle had been owned by the Butlers of Ormonde- a particularly loyal aristocratic family. During the 1922 siege, the Earl of Ossory, Butler in residence, stayed in the Castle with Lady Ossory and their dog while the battle raged. His account of the event reeks of British snobbery towards the two warring factions.
What’s worse.. The IRA men continously referred to him as "the boss" during the whole episode.
And even worse than that.. Ossory demanded that the new Irish governemnt pay for the damage they did to the Castle during their attack.. And they ended up paying!
AH LADS! SOUND: SIREN FADES IN
DERMOT It was now around an hour since I’d woken up from the nightmare. I looked at Facebook and Twitter to see if anyone in digital Kilkenny was noticing what was going on. There were a few tweets.. But not as many as I would have thought. I let one go myself:
@DerTobin: Dreaming about WW3 only to wake up to the Civil Defence Siren in #Kilkenny at 4.50am. Absolutely surreal
What’s really strange, and only something I noticed when I was putting this together, was the last tweet I had posted about three days previously. It was a link to a Washington Post article about the history "Air Raid Sirens"...
Curious.. SOUND: DISTANT BANSHEE WAIL
Although the siren was still blaring.. I was starting to get sleepy again. So I climbed the stairs and got back into bed.
SOUND: SIREN STOPS SUDDENLY
DERMOT Suddenly the siren stopped. You know the moment of relief when a seemingly incessant sound.. ceases.
I started drifting back to sleep, wondering what could have caused the siren to go off in the first place.
SOUND: BIRDS TWEETING, TOAST POPPING
DERMOT The next day I contacted the military press office to see if they could provide an explanation. The soldier who answered seemed reluctant to answer my questions. Instead, she recommended that I submit an email. So that someone could pour over them with a fine toothcomb I presume.
The official military response landed in my inbox a few hours later.
MILITARY OFFICER Almost all military barracks and facilities at home and overseas have some form of audible alarm system. It is either used to indicate a defensive requirement for the post or sometimes to re-call Military Personnel in the locality to the Barracks. Many barracks test these alarms for a few seconds from time to time and at a time of the day so as not to disturb local residents. In the case of Stephens Bks Kilkenny, a technical fault caused the alarm to sound in the early hours of the morning. I understand members of the garrison have been on local media apologising for this inconvenience.
DERMOT Strange.. The Garda on the phone had called it the Civil Defence Siren. But the military made no reference to that. This siren is designed to call the troops in when Cromwell and the New Model are on the horizon, or when the IRA take over the castle.
So there’s nothing for the average citizen to do.. No particular protocol we should follow.. No preparing for emergency evacuation.. Nothing.. Just.. listen.
SOUND: DISTANT SIREN
DERMOT The Irish Civil Defence does exist. It was set up in 1950 as a volunteer corps to assist front line services during big emergencies. It often gets sent out during bad flooding and other such incidents.
Originally though, it’s purpose was to prepare for the Big One. In 1965, the Civil Defence published Bás
DERMOT (cont’d) Beatha, a 55 page booklet on how citizens should handle the end of the world.
(READING INSTRUCTIONS. RURAL IRISH ACCENTS)
MAN When you hear the FINAL WARNING you know that fall-out has started, or is about to start. If you have fires in grates or boilers extinguish them. Turn off your water supply at the stopcock and any gas or electric heaters in use. Go into your refuge room immediately (even if your preperations are incomplete). Bring your radio set with you or make sure it can be heard in the refuge room
WOMAN The power of a nuclear weapon is measured in kilotons and megatons.
MAN Here is a general description of the probable effects of a one-megaton weapon exploded at, or near, ground level.
The explosion would produce A BLINDING FLASH lasting some seconds, accompanied by
WOMAN A SEARING HEAT
and followed, some seconds later, by
MAN A HURRICANE-LIKE BLAST
WOMAN You have to eat, even in the midst of a nuclear war. But your meals will seldom be cooked. Cooking uses up air and makes the enclosed atmosphere of the refuge room heavy with odours. Your stock of food will be made up of tinned goods and other foods which require little or no cooking.
MAN Here are suggestions for your emergency food stock
WOMAN Tinned Meat
MAN Tinned Fish
WOMAN Tinned Vegetables
MAN Tinned Fruit
WOMAN Tinned or packet soups