A BUBBLE rose from the past last week and popped sullenly, and largely unnoticed, on the surface of life in Ireland

A BUBBLE rose from the past last week and popped sullenly, and largely unnoticed, on the surface of life in Ireland. Let us inhale so as to sense the scent of that evil which lies at the bottom of this shallow pond of ours, even while the IRA goads its loyalist counterparts back to war. For those Protestant paramilitaries who want to hold on to their ceasefire are understandably reluctant to permit the bottom of their pond be agitated. They know what lives there. Last week, Ann Marie Smyth reminded us.

She was nothing, this Ann Marie Smyth, a harmless child of her time and like so many a child of her times, an unmarried mother of two. Five years ago she was in Belfast and ended up in the Hillfoot Glentoran Supporters Club. What happened there reveals something of the nature of female evil; for though women are seldom as violent as men, they can be equally evil, as Michelle Thompson handsomely, proved.

Thompson met Ann Marie in the club, and later confided in a friend, Hazel Colligan, that she was going to befriend this Catholic and get her to go to a house in nearby Cregagh Street, where she would she would give her "a good hiding". But Thompson did not, it seems, leave the hiding to her own pretty little fists. When the merry little party returned to Cregagh Street, and those girls sat in the front room chatting away, oh you know, like girls do, some men arrived and waited outside the room. When Ann Marie went out of the room, presumably to go to the lavatory, these fine fellows were waiting for her.

Discussing the Banging

These fine fellows beat this blameless young mother to death, merely because she was a Catholic, while her new found friends sat below discussing the banging noise from upstairs. Thompson opined that they were probably doing her knees in.

A car arrived, and another man appeared at the front door. Colligan answered it, and the man asked where "they" were. Upstairs, she said, and returned to the living room, where the girls were having a chat, as girls do, while upstairs an Armagh taig was breathing her last.

One of the girls, Cheryl Kelly, told the murder trial that at one stage Thompson and Colligan went upstairs. When they came down, Thompson was laughing and Colligan was white. Later, as the din upstairs continued, Thompson turned the sound on the stereo down - the better to hear the sounds - approaching death, perhaps? Later the girts heard a thumping on the stairs, at which point, Colligan, as she later said, realised Ann Marie was dead.

Maybe she was and maybe she wasn't. As the men carried Ann Marie from the house, one of them shouted a merry mid murder quip, perhaps? - "she's full the night again". The job was finished off somewhere on waste ground nearby, where Ann Marie's throat was cut through to her spine. Then the carload of loyalists returned to the house where they had such a jolly evening, stopping en route to buy a packet of fags. Well, that's the way of it. You need a good smoke after stiffing a taig.

Two men were found guilty of Ann Marie's murder - Graham Bingham and Samuel Cooke, the owner of the house where Ann Marie was beaten and possibly killed. As for the four girls down below, one, Cheryl Kelly, gave evidence, one was never named, and the two others, our beloved Thompson and Colligan, had murder charges against them dropped.

Thompson, of Loopland Drive, pleaded guilty to conspiring to assault Ann Marie, and to aiding the killers by helping to clean the house afterwards - a very tasty morning's work, eh, Michelle? - and by helping to destroy vital evidence. Colligan, of Glenvarlock Street, pleaded guilty to comparable charges. The murder charges against them were dropped.

May they never Sleep

Thompson and Colligan, who were architects of much of the evening's splendours, were on bail during the trial, and I have been unable to discover what sentence they received. Light, presumably, as is the way with courts and women; may they never have another night's sleep for the rest of their lives. Three men initially found guilty of murder were this day last week found guilty only of assisting, others during the murder, and will soon be free - as Thompson and Colligan already are, I do not doubt.

There were a couple of particularly striking features about this case. One was the complete absence of any remorse from the defendants.

Another was the utter lack of outcry in loyalist Belfast at the murder of this mere Fenian - quite unlike the uproar at the comparable murder some time later of a Protestant girl by Protestants who thought she was a Fenian. There is a third feature, and it is not fashionable to mention it - it is simply inconceivable that a Protestant girl found drinking in a Catholic club would have come to such an end.

Whatever passions and hatreds drive nationalists, they do not permit such chummy, semi recreational group murders of a kind which loyalists, from the romper rooms through the Shankill Butchers to the little party in Cregagh Street that night five years ago, repeatedly indulged in during the Troubles.

I think knowledge of this - and shame, and terror of a return to such disgusting little habits - helps to drive the loyalist ceasefire, much as an alcoholic who abuses children when drunk is terrified of drink. But this is not to deny IRA atrocities with their own barbarous social dimensions. So let me remind you of just one case which I came across while researching Ann Marie's murder.

Towards Calvary

Three years ago, Reginald McCollum, aged 19, and a Protestant, was eating chips in Armagh at 2.30 a.m. after a stag night out. He was recognised as a member of the Royal Irish Regiment, abducted, held and interrogated for six hours by the IRA, before being murdered.

Who cares to think about those six hours of torment? Do Reggie's killers, who sat with him as he bore his cross towards Calvary for his final six hours of life, wake up blinking even now at the thought of what they put that teenager through?

And what do his family think of the community from which his killers came? What can they think? For not merely did the IRA murder this blameless youngster eating chips in Armagh, but it had previously murdered his brother, a building worker, and his grandmother, booby trapping her garden shed.

The pond is shallow. Glinting in the spring light, it seems deep. It is not.