Tuesday, February 21, 2012

irish republican army - book - 2010 - Voices from the Grave: Two Men's War in Ireland

Voices from the Grave: Two Men’s War in Ireland
Ed Moloney
Faber and Faber
2010
512 pages

Are there any books about the troubles of Northern Ireland that are less than 400 pages?  This is the second Ed Moloney book that I’ve profiled for this blog (I have also discussed A Secret History of the IRA).  Both Voices from the Grave and A Secret History investigate or discuss Gerry Adams career as a high ranking member of the Provisional IRA, although Voices touches upon a number of other aspects of the troubles as well, including the less discussed Protestant paramilitary units of Northern Ireland.

Voices from the Grave is a book that uses materials from the Boston College Oral History Archive on the Troubles in Northern Ireland.  A controversial archival project wherein individuals active in the Troubles gave interviews recorded by Boston College historians.  The recordings are now sealed until the death of the interviewees, and certain governmental bodies seek to have these sealed archives released for legal purposes.  Ed Moloney, in his blog, The Broken Elbow, discusses at length the issues surrounding this archival project.  The present book is the first text to take advantage of the archives, as Brendan Hughes, a high-ranking Provisional member, and David Ervine, a Ulster Volunteer Force leader, and eventually a successful politician, were the first of Boston College’s interviewees to pass.  Two men on either side of Northern Ireland’s sectarian struggle, gave Moloney a chance to discuss the troubles across the cultural divide.

The material about Brendan Hughes, a former OC (Officer Commanding) of the Provisional Irish Republican Army in Belfast, takes up more than half of Moloney’s book.  Hughes discusses daily life as an IRA volunteer, and his position as a ranked officer of the paramilitary organization, but to a large extent Moloney emphasizes the parts of Hugh’s interviews wherein he discusses the hurt he felt over Gerry Adams denying any involvement with the Provos, a denial that Moloney is particularly concerned with as it supports the main thesis of A Secret History.  Moloney’s Secret History was glibly dismissed by Adams et. al. because it included unnamed interview subjects among its sources.  Voices presents a perspective on this issue from a named source who was close to the heart of the matter, and what’s more, Moloney was not Hughes’ interviewer, and therefore cannot be accused of asking questions that guide his subject towards a particular agenda.  Hugh’s discusses his prison escapes, and via Hugh’s testimony, Moloney mocks Gerry Adam’s own attempt at escape from incarceration.  It is, perhaps Hugh’s discussions of his prison experiences that are the most relevent passages of the book, as he discusses the blanket protest (where the incarcerated Provos protested rules against them wearing their own clothes by going nude) and the hunger strikes.  Hughs also laments the role he played in the 1981 prison hunger strikes where ten men died, an event over which the IRA veteran expresses deep regret.

Converse to Brendan Hughes, David Ervine, Hughes ideological enemy, served in the Ulster Volunteer Force, a particularly violent Protestant/Loyalist paramilitary organization.  The brutal Shankhill Butchers, who committed numerous random torture killings against catholics, for example, were UVF affiliated.  Ervine discusses the violence of the UVF in vague terms.  Hughs was often quite explicit about his experiences, while Ervine was often vague or evasive in his responses to questions.  Hughes discussed, in candid detail, matters that are close to those interests Moloney explored so thoroughly in A Secret History, while Ervine was significantly less revealing than Hughes’ was about his own role and knowledge of the conflict.  Ervine, perhaps wanted to protect his reputation as a mainstream politician, or perhaps held onto the ideal of secrecy when it comes to UVF matters, and his inclusion in this volume creates a false sense of balance.  Still, the Irish Republican Army is a well represented topic in literature on the troubles, while the protestant paramilitary organizations are largely underrepresented as the history of the British military is often represented in their place.

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