Tag: Gerry Adams

reefe1The eyes on the cover of this book are some of the most expressive I have seen although only half of the person’s face is exposed.  As they stared back at me from the cover, I felt a chill because I knew they were the eyes of someone who did not fear death.  I did not know who the person was but I found myself compelled to learn more.   As I opened up the book and began to read, I soon learned the name of the woman on the cover whose story is one of several that are interwoven. Her name was Dolours Price (1951-2013) and this truly is a story of murder and memory.

The story begins with the abduction of a widowed housewife raising several children named Jean McConville (1934-1972).  She is taken away and never seen alive again.  There is no explanation given by her captors and her children are forced to fend for themselves without any adult supervision. This incident sets the theme of the book and her murder would come to haunt those involved for years to come.  We are soon introduced to Dolours and her sister Marian, who attend a rally in support of the movement for a united Ireland.  Mayhem ensues as British troops and loyalist forces push back agaisnt the protestors.  The experience leaves the sisters jarred and they make the decision to join the Irish Republican Army (“IRA”).   From this point on, their lives are never the same and the story becomes even darker.

I have to assume that most readers who pick up this book will have some familiarity with the conflict. But for those who do not, I strongly recommend Tim Pat Coogan’s 1916: The Easter Rising , which provides a thorough discussion of the uprising and seizure of the Dublin Post Office.  The events contained therein would later result in the founding of the Irish Free State and the paritioning of the six counties within Ulster Province that compose Northern Ireland.  For the Catholics in Ulster, life became a constant battle to resist discrmination by the Protestant majority and proclaim Northern Ireland part of the Irish Republic. And in this struggle, the IRA became the loudest voice for unification through acts of force and through the voices of figures such as Gerry Adams  Brendan “The Dark” Hughes (1948-2008) who are firmly entrenched in the story at hand.

As Dolours and Marian become deeper involved in the Republican movement, they are given more important task including one that shocked London on March 7, 1973.  In the aftermath, the sisters along with their conspirators, were sentenced and incarcerated in a British prison. Back in Ireland however, the British were ramping up their efforts to break the IRA chain of command and Keefe takes us back to the story of Adams and Hughes, both of whom join the most wanted list of IRA members.  Adams repeatedly denied being a part of the group and readers can make their own assessments.  What is clear is that both sides were playing for keeps and not adverse to using deadly measures to prove their point.

While moving through the book, I noticed that the book is really several smaller stories compiled into one.  There is the disappearance of McConville, Adams and Hughes, the Price Sisters, the Good Friday Agreement and Belfast Project.  They are all interconnected and Keefe connects them towards the end of the book with the right amount of suspenses and everything comes full circle. There are others who enter the story as well, in particualr Bobby Sands whose win in parliament and participation in the second hunger strike made him a martyr in the eyes of the IRA and its supporters.  And for those readers curious about Sands’ life, I strongly recommend Dennis O’Hearn’s The Life and Times of Bobby Sands, which is by far the definitive biography of Sands’ incredible story. Each story on its own is gripping and full of eye-opening events.  But it is when they all come together that the complete picture is formed and one of the darkest secrets of the IRA comes to light. 

Fittingly, the end of the book makes a return to the beginning as McConville becomes the focus once again.  Hughes and Dolours Price are now deceased, and unable to make any statement in regards to Keefe’s work, but before their deaths they spoke at length in private interviews and some of they revealed is discussed unraveling the mystery surrounding McConville’s final moments.  And when readers learn what did happen, some will be staring in disbelief while others will be shaking their heads.   Had it not been for the actions of Edmund “Ed” Maloney and the members of the Belfast Project, the death of Jean McConville might have remained a deeply buried IRA secret.  Undoubtedly, there are probably some parts of the story that remain hidden to this very day.

The author did provide another aspect of the conflict which I have not seen in other books and that is the issue of the men and women on the Republican side who disappeared during the Troubles.  Jean McConville was one of many who simply vanished after taking the final ride to their deaths.  Keefe revisits a few of the most notorious cases which did result in the closure sought by the victim’s surviving famly members.  However, other families were not as fortunate and have never fuly healed.  It is often said that war is hell.  For the McConville family and others hurt or killed in the conflict, these words are hauntingly accurate.

Opinion of the IRA will certainly vary according to who you ask.  After finishing the book, I have come to see that the IRA, while committed to its goal of a united Ireland, also suffered from internal rivalries, paranoia and in some cases outright murder.  The seriousness of their mission and the infiltration of British spies raised tensions putting all on edge.  The MRF intelligence unit of the British Army has its role in the story and previously, I did not know about its existence.  The revelations regarding the group’s work and who the informers were within the IRA will leave some readers spellbound.  It is simply an unbelievable account of the IRA struggle in the North of Ireland.  However, for the children of Jean McConville, the conflict is a wound that may never heal.

The conflict in Northern Ireland known as “The Troubles” remains the focus of intrigue as more books are published regarding a dark time in Irish and British history.  And while the violence of the past has subsided, divisions between Protestants and Catholics remain in place to this day.  But perhaps at some point in the future, Ireland will be unified and the IRA will no longer have a reason to exist. Highly recommended.

ASIN: B07CWGBK5K

Northern Ireland

20190518_112659Recently, I have become fascinated with the troubles in Northern Ireland, a culmination of long-simmering tensions between Catholics and Protestants in Ulster Province.  The conflict is among the longest running in the world and has claimed the lives of thousands.  In each of the books that I have read, I kept coming across the name Bobby Sands (1954-1981).   I knew he was one of several prisoners at the Long Kesh correctional facility who died following a hunger strike in protest of the conditions at the jail and the policies of London.   However, I did not know much about his life.   I became focused on him and eagerly searched online for whatever I could find.  Amazon delivered yet again with this definitive biography of Sands’ life by author Dennis O’Hearn that is nothing short of riveting.

Here in the United States, Sands’ name is largely unknown but across Ireland and other parts of the world, he is remembered as a champion of resistance and an inspiration to others who have waged their own battles for freedom including the late Nelson Mandela (1918-2013).  Mandel used Sands’ hunger strike as an example for strike of his own which proved to be highly successful.  However, Sands also had his detractors and many of them still view him with disgust, particularly in the six Protestant dominated counties in Ulster Province. And similar to other famous figures, there are endless stories about his life, some true and others most likely fiction.  Hearns sets the record straight here giving the best account of the life of one of the IRA’s most legendary leaders.

From the start, the book earned my undivided attention and at times I could not put it down.  Curiously, the Sands’ story begins like many other kids in Northern Ireland.  He was born several miles from Belfast and his childhood was a happy one by all accounts. He lived in a modest house with his parents and three siblings.  His friends were a mix of Catholic and Protestant.  But that would soon change as the battle between Republicans and Loyalists escalated and the induction of the British military further fueled tensions.  As Hearns shows, these events began to shape the mindset of the growing Sands and the events of Bloody Sunday, were the spark that fully ignited the raging conflict.

The author’s writing style flows very easily and the pace of the book moves just right.  Hearns follows Sands’ early life, showing his slow progression from the average young kid, to a young man learning about religion and complexities of life for Irish Catholics and finally to the wise and seasoned IRA member that launched the most famous and moving hunger strike in Irish history.  I think Hearns showcases clearly, how and why many young men and women joined the IRA, knowing full well that jail and death were the most likely outcomes.  To Americans, Sands might seem out of his mind. But that is far from the case and Hearns gives him a platform to spread his ideas.  Sands’ writing samples are included in the book, giving him a voice in this incredible biography.  Even if you do not agree with what Sands did, it will hard not to admire his dedication to his beliefs, his charisma, intelligence and willingness to sacrifice himself.

His incarceration at Long Kesh is without a doubt the crux of the book.  As Hearns tells this part of Sands’ life,  we step inside the walls of the prison and the different sections in which Sands and other IRA members were confined.  The ugly and vindictive atmosphere that developed at Long Kesh is on full display and some readers will be repulsed at the actions of some guards and conditions in which Sands and the others lived.  But the struggle inside the prison by no means was one sided. Sands and the others do their share of antagonizing the guards whom they affectionately refer to as “screws”.  A daily war of attrition developed as each side sought to find out just how far they could push the other. And to say that some aspects were barbaric would be an understatement.

Prison time was an accepted part of life for the men and women of the IRA. Death came as well to those who were either unlucky or extraordinarily brave.  The men at Long Kesh believed their fight was political and they decided they would not be confined within its walls without being appropriately labeled as political prisoners. London vehemently refused to agree to any such notion and thus, the stage was set for the battle between the IRA and the Iron Lady herself, Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013).  As this point in the book, the suspense heightens as the IRA becomes more defiant and the guards become more determined to break them into submission. It was an environment that would have driven most to insanity. But for Bobby Sands, this was the proving ground in which he could show his commitment to his cause. His studies of the works of Che Guevara, Franz Fanon and others became the backbone of his resistance and carried him through to the final moments of the second of two hunger strikes carried out by IRA prisoners. Hearns covers both in solid detail to give the reader an inside look into the battle behind-the-scenes battles within the IRA with regards to the impending doom by the hunger strikers.

As a sub-story to the events at Long Kesh, the author focuses on the turmoil in Sand’s personal life outside of the IRA.  Marriage and fatherhood enter the story and the effect the movement had on his personal life will cause many to wonder if it was truly worth it.  Sands would surely say yes but I am sure that if he could have gone back and done things differently, there is a good chance that he might have changed course.  But by the time he had reached this point in his life, his fate was sealed and destiny was waiting.  At the time of his death, he was only 27 years of age and joined a long list of other famous figures who died at age 27.  In death, he became a martyr and his image can still be found on murals in Northern Ireland.  To Republicans, he is a hero who fought against British Rule and to Loyalists, a criminal who caused his own demise.  But to some of his enemies, as Hearns shows, he was still worthy of respect and the interactions with guards in various parts of the book are confirmation of this.  I think that all can agree that he was one of a kind and remains a legend of the IRA.  His hunger strike changed public opinion of the IRA and their cause for a united Irish Republic. Future generations of IRA members and Republicans will surely look to him as one of their greatest figures whose memory shall continue to live on. This is the life and death of Robert Gerard Sands.

ISBN-10: 1560258888
ISBN-13: 978-1560258889

Biographies Northern Ireland