Those of you who follow my blog probably know by now that I have covered quite a number of books regarding Northern Ireland the conflict known as “The Troubles”. My curiousity with the conflict in Northern Ireland stems partly from my love of history and partly from my visit to Ireland in 2016. I sought to fully understand the battle being waged by Republicans to unify the country and the opposition mounted by Loyalist who remain in support of British rule. Author Tim Pat Coogan has written of the 1916 Easter uprising, the lives of Michael Collins (1890-1922) and his Twelve Apostles, and others who remained focuses on Irish independence from the Crown. This book is his own memoir of his life in Ireland, time as a member of the Irish press and author of several significant books one of the world’s longest running feuds.
Coogan opens the book by recounting his family’s involvement in the development of tensions between Republicans and Loyalist. His grandfather once belonged to the Royal Irish Consabulary (RIC) and his father Edward worked on behalf of Republican forces even being tasked with organizing an unarmed police force during the Irish Civil war which erupted in the wake of the establishment of the Irish Free State. As a child, he grew up in Monkstown, County Dublin, far removed from the dangers of the north. However, fate would take him back to the Northern Ireland and land him right in the mix of the Troubles which would consume his writing material much later in his life.
Readers should be prepared to learn a lot about Irish history. Coogan has written extensively on the conflict and in particular the life of Eamon de Valera (1882-1975). As a journalist, he would form a working relationship with de Valera’s son Vivion (1910-1982), whose actions as owner of the Evening Press, played a critical role in the path Coogan’s life took over the years. The Irish press, of which Coogan was a part, figures prominently throughout the story as the Troubles rage and Ireland finds itself in the middle of fierce debate over aborition, divorce and even contraception. Coogan and other journalist walked fine lines as they tried to remain ahead of the competition and get the jump on new stories. His experience and zest for journalism took him to foreign nations, including the United States and Vietnam, where he was able to witness the war in person to report back about what he saw in comparison to what politicans in Washington were being told from commanders in the field.
The story is a roller coaster ride that shows the organized chaos of journalism and printing. Coogan is fully embroiled in this world while being married and the father of six children. As the Troubles heat up, the press is forced to take notice and Coogan remarks in the book that:
“another form of cancer that was to affect me profoundly during my career as editor, as it did the political life of the country as a whole, was the Northern Ireland situation“.
At the time the Troubles erupted, Coogan could have never imagined that one day he would be one of the most respected authors on the subject. The book is a not mean to be a complete history of the Troubles but rather an explanation of key events that pushed the two sides in Ulster province to engage in violence.
Some have accused Coogan of being Republican friendly in his writings. While his books do cover the Troubles mostly from the Republican view, I have found that in the books I have read to date by him, that he has so far provided balanced and detailed accounts of what actually happened. What is clear in this book is that his relationship with Vivion de Valera was strained by the time it ended and he came to realize many truths about de Valera which he reveals here. As part of his job, he was required to meet with the IRA which included figures such as Mairead Farrell (1957-1988), Joe Cahill (1920-2004) and Brendan Hughes (1948-2008). His visits to Belfast and the prison maze at Long Kesh helped form the discussion of the Troubles that he wrote after his final parting of ways with de Valera.
The demise of the Evening Press and affiliated publications are also examined in detail, showing the mis-steps and complex nature of de Valera, who was unable to see the larger picture. As one would expect, the long hours and story chasing proved to be a heavy burden on Coogan’s personal life. This part of the book is tough to read but not completely unexpected. In fact, the stage is set early in the book as Coogan describes the different lifestyles he and his wife lead. The entry of other figures into his life, helped seal the door on other parts and the complicated situation is explained by Coogan.
In spite of everything that happens, he did lead an incredible life which is sure to leave you with as much Irish history as any textbook on the market. Coogan is a wealth of knowledge on the Troubles and the history of the Irish Republic. He remains one of the best in the business and his books on on the conflict will surely stand the test of time. This is his story and that of Ireland, composed of the good, the bad and the tragic. Highly recommended.