Michael Collins: The Lost Leader – Margery Forester

Collins

The story of Northern Ireland is long and complicated yet it cannot be told without mention of many key figures who played critical roles in the modern day status of country.   Among these figures is the former Chairman of the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State Michael Collins (1890-1922). He played a direct role in the treaty of 1921 that partitioned the country and preserved Ulster Province for British Rule.  In less than a year he was assassinated at the age of thirty-one.  He lived a short life but within that time had risen to the top rank of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (“IRB”) as the movement for independence from Britain gained momentum. In later years, tensions between Protestants and Catholics would erupt into the Troubles which claimed the lives of more than three thousand people and placed the Irish Republican Army (“IRA”) in the crosshairs of 10 Downing Street. However, the IRA can be seen as a continuation of the struggle in which Collins was involved for a free Irish Republic. This is the story of his life by author Margery Forester

The book was first published in 1971 and later updated in 1991, several years before the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.  And although peace was mostly achieved, the Crown still remains in place across Ulster Province with Derry or Londonderry as it sometimes called, being the ground zero for tensions that simmer below the surface. Republicans remain vigilant in the hopes that one day Ireland will be completely free of British rule. Nationalists remain loyal to the Union Jack flag and see British rule as essential.  If Michael Collins were alive today, he would undoubtedly push for British removal, a goal he had set for himself before his untimely death. In discussions I have had with others regarding the conflict in Northern Ireland, many people are unaware of who Collins was and why he was important.  For those and others in the same position, this is the book that tells his story in a way that all readers will appreciate.  I have written about Collins before, in my review of Tim Pat Coogan’s The Twelve Apostles: Michael Collins, the Squad and Ireland’s Fight for Freedom.  The book is outstanding in its own right but it is not a biography of Collins, simply his work during the rise of the Irish Free State and his crew of hitmen who carried out deeds in the name of the Republican cause.  But there is far more to his story, which we learn very quickly here.

When Michael Collins was born on October 16, 1890, his parents John and Mary Ann could have never imagined that their son would one day lead the resistance to British rule in Ireland. By the time Collins reached adulthood, both parents had died and did not get to see their son’s rise in power nor his tragic demise. He hailed from the town of Woodfield, Sam’s Cross but would make a name for himself in Dublin and London. But before we get to that point, we learn about Collins’ early life in Woodfield as the youngest child in a very large family. The early part of the book does read like a typical biography. Unquestionably, the story picks up pace when Collins joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood in November, 1909. From that point on, all bets are off as the IRB is determined t make its presence felt in across Ireland and in London.

Readers who are well-read in Irish history known the story regarding the 1916 uprising in Dublin and its surrounding areas. Forester does discuss it here but does not go into extensive detail. For those who are interested in the uprising itself, I do recommend Tim Pat Coogan’s 1916: The Easter Rising, which explores the revolt in extensive detail. Here, the author focuses mainly on Collins’ role but makes mention of fallen figures James Connolly (1868-1916), Patrick Henry Pearse (1879-1916) and Tom Clarke (1858-1916). The uprising did not end in the removal of the Crown but it should have been a warning to London of the mayhem that would come in later years as the “Irish question” proved to difficult to answer. The IRB was just getting started and Collins found himself in the middle of the fight for a free Ireland. But the road ahead would be difficult, far more so than even Collins could have thought. The author keeps the suspense at just the right pace as the stakes are raised and the reality of extreme violence becomes hauntingly real.

As the book progresses we learn a lot about Collins’ nature and his reception by those around him. Supportive, abrasive, off-putting and patriotic to the core, he was mixed bag of emotions and you could not always be sure what you would get. However, his commitment to Ireland never waivered. But one event changed the tide of the struggle and placed Collins on the most wanted list. On January 21, 1921, Redmond was shot and killed on his way home from work. He had been assigned to lead the Dublin Metropolitan Police and his murder earned Collins an infamous reputation. As Forester explains:

On the same day, 25 January, a putative offer was made of £10,000 for ‘the body, dead or alive, of Michael Collins

There would be no turning back and Collins rose to the occasion, ready to take on London in his capacity as an IRB member. The story picks up pace as negotiations are in progress for a treaty between Britain and the Republicans for an Irish Republic that will ward off an inevitable bloody war.

The Republican movement continued to gain momentum but sadly, some would be lost along the way. The death of Terence MacSwiney (1879-1920) is one that would repeated several times over years later and would result in Bobby Sands (1954-1981) becoming an immortal hero in Republican history. However, even with McSwiney’s death, London still seemed not to grasp the severity of the matter and the IRB’s determination. Negotiations became increasingly stressful but on December 6, 1921, a formal treaty was signed and the Irish Free State was born. But for Republicans, the war both internally and against Britain was far from over. It is this part of the book that shows the sharp differences of opinion Collins faced as he helped negotiate a treaty that gave the Republic of Ireland a sense of real power. Things became so tense that Collins even wrote directly to Winston Churchill (1874-1965) to preserve the treaty in place and avert a rebellion by the non-treaty faction of the IRB. Parts of his letters are included here to show the urgency with which Collins voiced his concerns. The later seizure of the Four Courts by anti-treaty IRB members is widely considered the first significant break from the mainline IRB position. Its aftermath and the damaged done internally to the IRB are both sad and regrettable. And even worse, it would manifest itself later in Collins’ final moments.

Arthur Griffith (1871-1922), the founder of (1871-1922) and former president of Dáil Éireann, died on August 12, 1922. As Collins walked in the procession, he had a encounter with a religious figure who gave him this warning as relayed by Forester:

Dr. Fogarty, the Bishop of Killaloe, spoke to Collins as he stood alone, gazing long at the grave of his friend. ‘Michael, you should be prepared—you may be the next.’ Collins turned. ‘I know’, he said simply. When the long, slow ceremony to Glasnevin was over, with its strain on men unused to processional marching, Michael sighed with relief. ‘I hope nobody takes it into his head to die for another twelve months’, he said.

Twelve days later, Collins would meet his fate and with his death, came a wave of grief to the Republican cause. Bu the movement continued and the memory of Collins remains firmly in place even today. He will always be one of the most iconic figures in Irish history as well as controversial. By all accounts he could be a rough person to be around but no one questioned his commitment to the cause. And provided here is a thorough examination of his life, his beliefs and how far he was willing to go to achieve a united Ireland.

Give us the future, we’ve had enough of your past. Give us back our country, to live in, to grow in, to love” – Michael Collins

ASIN : B00GJQ9WLW

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland – Patrick Radden Keefe

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

Bobby Sands: Writings from Prison – Robert “Bobby” Sands

Sands1The hunger strike at the HM Prison Maze in 1981, captured the attention of the British Government and earned the IRA sympathy around the world.  On May 5, news broke that IRA member Bobby Sands (1954-1981) had died after 66 days of refusing to eat.  Sands and his fellow strikers were determined to be recognized as political prisoners and earn several other concessions from Margaret Thatcher’s (1925-2013) government.  London had refused to give in and Thatcher had earned the nickname of “The Iron Lady”.  Today, the “Troubles” as they are known, continue in Northern Ireland.  The IRA remains committed to its goal of a unified Ireland and the removal of the British Crown from Ulster County.  Sands had risen among the ranks in the IRA and during his incarceration, his reputation as a leader and intellectual grew every day.  This book is a collection of his writings which were smuggled out in parts (The IRA prisoners at HM Prison Maze were engaged in a long running standoff with guards and were being kept in bare minimum cells with mainly a mattress and bucket to be used as waste disposal).

Gerry Adams, the former leader of Sinn Féin, provides a foreword in which he fondly remembers his friend and former fellow inmate Sands.  As the book moves on to Bobby’s words, we already know a bit of information about him.  However, for a more complete biography, I strongly recommend Dennis O’Hearn’s ‘Nothing But an Unfinished Song: The Life and Times of Bobby Sands‘. It is by far a thorough and highly engaging biography of Sands. The writings here begin after Sands has been incarcerated for quite some time. He is already well into the hunger strike, has stopped bathing and living in a cell that could only be described as hell on earth.  The day begins like most others with he and the guards having their daily battles.   Sands is frank and does not mince words when he describes what is happening.  It is graphic and it is gritty but he clearly intended for readers to truly understand the treatment he and other IRA members were receiving at the prison.  Other former prisoners and priests also sounded the alarms about the inhumane treatment at the prison, but officials within the Northern Ireland and British governments steadfastly denied the accusations.  What is clear from Sands’ writings is that there was no love lost between to the opposing groups with the IRA members routinely using the term “screws” to describe the guards.

It is hard to imagine just how extreme living conditions were at the prison.  Sands describes the lack of heat and sanitary conditions.  Some readers will be disgusted and repulsed by what he says.   Putting the hunger strike aside, living conditions at the jail were more than enough to induce psychosis in even the most rational individual.  In fact, at several points in the book, Sands questions his own sanity and realizes that his mind will never be the same again.  Yet, he never wavers from his cause and stays committed to the IRA beliefs. And whether you agree with the IRA or support the Crown, Sands’ stand is more than many of us would be willing to endure.

About mid-way through the book, we are able to read a series of poems that he wrote about his time inside and the IRA cause.   He was highly talented but as one would expect, the poems are all political and focused on the Troubles.  Regardless, they are good and showcase the many skills he developed that he was never able to use outside of prison.  And while I do believe he would have remained an IRA member, perhaps his time in prison and maturity would have resulted in a different approach to resolve the Troubles.

Later in the book, we shift back to Sands’ journal that was kept mostly on toilet paper due to the lack of any type of writing materials.  As we move on to the spring of 1981, Sands reports frequently and makes sure to note his weight which by that time had dropped to a shocking 127 lbs.  After several entries they stop, presumably as Sands entered the final stages of his fight.  Had he lived, I am sure he would have put together a book that would have contained far more than what we have here. However, what he did leave us is a trove of insightful notes that show the progression of his mind and why he believed in the Republican cause.

The book is a bit short but it is focused on the strike and is not an autobiography.  Readers who have been following the Troubles and are familiar with Sands’ life will appreciate this collection of his writings from the final months of his life.

ASIN: B07QPV3MGH

Rebel Hearts: Journeys Within the IRA’s Soul – Kevin Toolis

Rebel Hearts.jpgThe conflict in Northern Ireland between pro-British Protestants and Republic Catholics, is the longest running feud to date.  The planned exit by England from the European Union has resulted in suspense and apprehension throughout the rest of the United Kingdom.  The Irish have undoubtedly been watching closely as any movement by England will have a ripple effect that will eventually reach their shores.  Belfast remains a major tourist attraction in the north, similar to its southern counterpart Dublin, and receives millions of visitors each year.  History buffs may recall that Belfast is the city in which Harland and Wolff built the world-famous RMS Titanic for the White Star Line.   But behind the fame of the doomed ocean liner, lies a dark side that has taken more lives than anyone could have ever imagined.  Belfast and Londonberry (“Derry”) have served as the battlegrounds for the deadly war between Nationalists and Republicans forces.  Across Ulster province, six of the nine counties are protected by the British Crown (“the Crown”) and unofficially by the Ulster Volunteer Force and Ulster Defense Association.  The Irish Republican Army (“IRA”) stands firm as the opposition force founded to defend the minority Catholic population from what they believe to be the refusal of the Crown to let Ireland become a united country. Kevin Toolis is a journalist and screenwriter born in Edinburgh, Scotland to Irish parents.  In this eye-opening and chilling book, he travels back to the country of his ancestors, seeking to understand what drives the men and women of the IRA.

I believe that anyone interested in this book probably has a fair amount of knowledge regarding the IRA and “the troubles” as they are known by the Irish.  Toolis does not simply relay their well-known attacks but instead seeks to understand the mindset and conviction of those who have taken the pledge to see the Crown removed from Irish soil.  He interviewed many high-ranking members, some of whom are now deceased such as Martin McGuinnness (1950-2017), families of fallen IRA members and even those on the other side of the conflict.  And what he has come away with will shock readers who live outside of Ireland and are not of Irish ancestry.  To outsiders, the conflict seems surreal and the deaths of so many beyond needless.  It is a conflict that has no restrictions on violence and the ideology that fuels both sides is as strong as any found throughout the world.  However, as I read the book, I did find myself aghast at the ease in which so many accepted jail and death as part of the plan.  As the author shows,  to nearly all of the figures, taking up the IRA flag is seen as an act of honor, even if it means certain death and/or prison time.  It is a thought process that neither I nor many readers outside of the United Kingdom will be able to associate with.  But for those that remain in Northern Ireland, the troubles have never gone away.

The author provides a clear and thorough explanation for the origins of the conflict and the imposition of the Crown more than 400 years ago when Oliver Cromwell led the Crown in the War of Three Kingdoms, setting the stage for British rule.  As the book moves along, we are introduced to the IRA through polarizing and deadly figures.  The uprising of 1916 by Patrick Pearse (1879-1916) marked a new era in the Republic of Ireland.  His life and last moments are revisited here, showing the reader the level of conviction behind the Republican cause.  The IRA has been home to a large number of larger-than-life characters including the late Bobby Sands (1954-1981), whose hunger strike and death at HM Prison Maze, Long Kesh earned the IRA a major publicity coup against the administration of Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013).  Sands’ legacy and spirit are alive and well as a martyr in the cause for a united republic.  Toolis moves through IRA circles with bravado and fear, knowing full well just how dangerous the interviewees were.  But his journalist background, allowed him to continue his research as he descended deeper into the IRA’s soul.

The book is far more than just a collection of missions carried out by the IRA.  Here we learn the names and personal stories of several figures who became popular and infamous in IRA lore.  Some were heroes, others informers and the rest, tragically became casualties of war.  Regardless of their roles, each has their own story to tell about their life in Ireland and whey they feel that the Crown should no longer remain in power in the north.  One thing that did stand out is that in nearly every story, a common theme is terrible poverty and discrimination as a result of the majority Protestant rule.  In fact, not one person in the book that Toolis interviewed, came from a family of extreme wealth.  The opposite was more often than not true, and their prospects in life were grim.  But the IRA and the dream of a united Ireland, was enough to lure many into committing acts intended to drive the British away once and for all.  Frankie Ryan, Mairéad Farrell (1957-1988), Sean Savage (1965-1988), Daniel McCann(1957-1988), Joseph MacManus and Patricia Black (1972-1991) are just some of the names listed in the long register of IRA members who died tragically on behalf of the IRA.  Their goal to force the Crown to leave Ireland has not materialized but the IRA continues to stick to its core mission.

At first glance, it is easy to write off the voices in this book as delusional militants whose numbers were never any match for the Crown of the British military.  The six counties in Ulster province are still under the Crown but the IRA is recognized world-wide as the Catholic voice across the north.  As I read the stories of the figures being interviewed, I continued to ask myself if there was any possibility that they could have taken a different path in life.  For some, it almost seems that they were destined to join the IRA.  In fact, as a few explain, it is what they grew up with and a part of life that became accepted.  But those of us looking from the outside in may ask is the heartache and death truly worth it?  Those part of the IRA will undoubtedly say yes it is.  Even those that have been forced to bury siblings and even children, remain committed to the IRA’s cause: a British-free and unified Republic of Ireland.

Those who decide to read the book through pure fascination with the violence and gore that occurs will miss the point of the book.  What Toolis has done is to allow us to see how and why young men and women who could have led ordinary and long lives, made the decision to join a cause that many of them knew from the beginning would result in prison and death. Their rationale for answering the call to arms and joining the IRA will provoke a range of reaction in readers.  Some of us will be empathetic while others may dismiss them as nothing more than rebel hearts.  But regardless of our own personal opinions, these are their stories and the reasons behind their decisions and actions.  We do not have to agree with them but we can make the effort to understand their position. Furthermore, we are forced to ask ourselves what we would do in their place.

The British side of the question is not left out and the Crown does make an impact in the story through counter-intelligence missions spearheaded by MI5 and the Special Air Service (“SAS”), police action through the Royal Ulster Constabulary and informers within the IRA’s ranks. Deadly games of espionage, double-agents and collateral damage, turned Northern Ireland and even London in battlegrounds to force change to 10 Downing Street’s foreign policy toward its Irish neighbors.

Today there is a form of peace in Ireland but the Provisional IRA, which split for the traditional IRA in 1969, continues to operate.  Time will tell if peace will continue or if the troubles will once again be re-ignited.  As Britain struggles to find a suitable exit from the European Union, many eyes are on Ireland and the fears abound of the possible deadly impact of London’s final decision.  There may indeed come a day when the Crown is finally removed from Irish soil and the dream of a united Irish Republic becomes reality.  Protestants will have to make life changing decisions and for some that might include the use of violence.  We can only hope that cooler heads prevail and a British exit from Ireland will be done in an orderly and peaceful fashion.  But until that day comes, the IRA remains a force to be reckoned with and a voice for an oppressed minority seeking to change social conditions that have caused thousands of deaths. They are supported throughout Ireland and even here in the United States.  But if peace will have a chance of prevailing through a long term solution, we must first understand those that have served and died in their commitment to the IRA.   Some of those incredible and heartbreaking stories are captured here by Kevin Toolis in this breathtaking journey into the heart of the IRA.

ASIN: B00ZON5LIE

Provos: The IRA and Sinn Fein – Peter Taylor

Sinn fein2Britain is steadily moving towards the anticipated and dreaded exit from the European Union on March 29, 2019. For Ireland, the move comes with a mix of emotions, including fears of the re-ignition of a conflict that resulted in several thousands deaths over the span of several decades. The IRA has long been recognized as the extreme group responsible for dozens of bombs and acts of terrorism across Norther Ireland and London.  But the reality is that many groups were involved in one of the world’s deadliest conflicts.  I have been following Brexit since the referendum was held on June 23, 2016. The vote to leave the European Union sent shock waves throughout the world and left many wondering what would happen to both England and Ireland in its wake?  I wanted to know more about the conflict in Northern Ireland and decided on this book by author Peter Taylor.  And what I found inside its pages, has opened my eyes to a feud that would have dire consequences should it commence again.

Taylor explains early in the book that his first challenge was to decide on where to begin.  He decides on 1916, when Patrick Pearse and his “Irish Volunteers” laid siege on the General Post Office in Dublin, proclaiming the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic.  Their philosophy was modeled after Sinn Fein, created in 1905 by Arthur Griffith, a journalist in Dublin.  Six days of fighting ensued before Pearse gave orders to surrender.  On May 3, 2016, he was executed at the age of thirty-six. His life and legacy continue to live on after his death but I do not believe even he could have predicted the events that followed in Northern Ireland.

Taylor is beyond reproach in telling the story of the rise of the Catholic movement for Irish independence from British Rule.  In 1919, the Irish Volunteers became the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the name it carries to this day and in 2910, the Government of Ireland Act of 1920 officially partitioned the country into Norther Ireland and Southern Ireland, allotting six counties to the north and the remain twenty-six to the south. In the north, Protestants are the majority and live comfortably under British rule.  The Catholics are the minority and seek to be free of the control by the Government in London.  Discrimination becomes a tool of the trade, relegating the Catholics the lowest level in society.   Tensions begin to build and it is not long before both sides engage in violence.  Fianna Fail was established in 1927 after breaking away from Sinn Fein and in 1996, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) was created in response to the growing threat from the IRA.   London soon realizes that Northern Ireland is a powder keg and sends in British troops to restore order.  These various groups became entangled in a battle that was nothing short of all out war.  And as we see through Taylor’s words, it nearly tore the entire country apart.

I warn the reader that violence is prevalent in the book.  However, no story about the IRA, UVF and British Army conflict can be told without discussing it.  Here, Taylor does not mince words and the acts of violence might even disturb the most hardened of readers.  What I found to be even more shocking aside from the acts alone, were the ages of the young men and women involved, some of whom were no more than twenty years old.  But they believed in their causes and were determined to fight to the death in support.  As an American, it is with some difficulty that I was able to put myself in their position.  I have visited Ireland, seeing the General Post Office in Dublin while embracing all that the Irish have to offer.  But this story is not about the Irish breakfast or a pint of Guinness.  This is the bloody story of sectarianism in its most violent form.

Many of the fighters on all sides are no longer alive having succumbed to death, old age and in some cases a hunger strike, as was the case in 1981 at Long Kesh, now known as HM Prison Maze.  But in this excellent account of the conflict, their stories come back to life allowing the reader to go deep inside the mindset of the IRA and its followers.  In hindsight, we have the privilege of examining the actions of all involved.  But at the time, all believed that they were acting in good faith.  And even in some of the interviews that Taylor conducts, the soldiers and activists stand firm in their convictions.  The tense atmosphere, intimidation and fear that engulfed a nation is captured brilliantly by the author.

The British Government plays a huge role in the story for obvious reasons.  And although London is slow to react to the building tension, but once it does, the story picks up pace and its intervention adds another layer of tension of the already explosive conflict.  The administrations of Harold Wilson (1916-1995), Edward Heath (1916-2005), James Callaghan (1912-2005) and Margaret Thatcher (1923-2013) all tried their hand at moving the conflict towards peace. Thatcher would prove why she had been nicknamed the “Iron Lady” following the hunger strikes at Long Kesh in which Provisional IRA member Bobby Sands (1954-1981) died after being on strike for sixty-six days.  The failures of London and the eventual success at achieving peace are covered extensively by Taylor in full detail, putting together all the pieces of a tragic story.   One of the highlights of the book is that in his interviews, he was not afraid to ask the difficult questions of the interviewed.  His approach and the unfiltered answers, give the book even more authenticity as Taylor takes us back in time, recounting a story that should never be forgotten.

Today, Ireland seems peaceful but beneath the surface, old tensions exist and in Northern Ireland, sharp divisions remain between Protestant and Catholic.  Time will tell if the old rivalries will be resurrected and the IRA and UVF re-engage in deadly conflict. The hope is that calm prevails and he world can breathe a sigh of relief in a united Ireland.  What is certain, is that a willingness to maintain peace will be needed by all sides. Wisdom and foresight will prove to be invaluable tools along with unwavering patience.  The people of Ireland face an uncertain future but I remain confident that peace will prevail in the hope that all involved do not wish to see a return to the past.  For anyone who is trying to understand the Northern Ireland conflict, this is a great book to start with.

ASIN: B00K4SC5UG