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The Secret Histories
January 27, 2014 8:53 AM   Subscribe

"Anthony McIntyre made one thing clear: The project had to remain absolutely secret. If Boston College wanted him to interview former members of the Irish Republican Army, he needed that guarantee.... In those heady, early days, when talk of reconciliation dominated public discussion in Northern Ireland, no one imagined their project would get caught up in an international criminal investigation into a four-decade-old murder. How that happened is a tale of grand ambitions undermined by insular decision-making and careless oversight."
posted by Rangeboy (18 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm reminded of a line from Leon Uris' Trinity - "There's no future, it's just the past happening over and over."

I'm not usually inclined to agree, but sometimes....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:56 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]


The subpoena was a shock. None of the four principals was aware that such a treaty existed, allowing the Police Services of Northern Ireland to ask the United States for help in securing evidence they thought relevant to their case.

What a farce. The aspersions cast on the British government over the request for the recordings are also rather despicable. They need to own that the screwed up and have nobody to blame but themselves.
posted by Thing at 10:15 AM on January 27


two men can keep a secret if one of them is dead .. A very interesting read, nice to catch up with something I'd forgotten about over the past 2-3 years.
posted by k5.user at 10:40 AM on January 27


Previously.

I'm continually annoyed by the dismissive attitude in this article (and others on the topic) when the investigation into the murder of Jean McConville is discussed. The IRA abducted a woman, tortured her, shot her in the back, buried her in a shallow grave, and spent the following decades threatening her children. That's a crime and it should be investigated.
posted by Area Man at 10:41 AM on January 27 [3 favorites]


Again we see some Bostonians supporting the IRA in every way possible, but look at their outrage when terrorists set off very similar bombs in Boston last year.
posted by w0mbat at 11:11 AM on January 27 [8 favorites]


It should also be pointed out that there is no evidence that Jean McConville was an informer.

It seems a shame that what could have been a valuable project was so catastrophically mismanaged. I don't see it as "supporting" the IRA or loyalist paramilitaries in collecting the oral histories of those involved. It could have been a very valuable contribution to the understanding of what motivates people to become involved in violent conflict.

There are a lot of cases which are not investigated properly because the potential for points-scoring is high, particularly in relation to Gerry Adams. See the recent conviction of his brother for the rape and sexual abuse of his daughter (Gerry Adams' niece.) When she and her mother first reported it the RUC were more interested in how to use it against Adams than prosecuting the abuser. (Note that I'm not defending Adams - he knew of this and many other abuse cases which were "investigated" internally by the IRA, allowing paedophiles to escape justice.)

There is little that is cut and dried when it comes to the Troubles and justice, on either side.
posted by billiebee at 11:29 AM on January 27 [2 favorites]


Again we see some Bostonians supporting the IRA in every way possible, but look at their outrage when terrorists set off very similar bombs in Boston last year.

What are you babbling about? Your connection between the IRA and the marathon bombers is nonsensical and offensive.
posted by Aizkolari at 11:58 AM on January 27 [3 favorites]


The article skirts round the topic but in case it wasn't clear: Anthony McIntyre, Dolours Price and Brendan Hughes weren't just former IRA volunteers - all three actively believed that the Good Friday agreement in which Sinn Fein effectively agreed to peace in return for political power in Northern Ireland was wrong. This is why they are so vehemently against Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and part of their motivation for trying to destroy the fiction that Adams remained in the IRA leadership for far longer than he publicly admits.

In an attempt to derail the peace process, dissidents exploded a bomb in Omagh in 1998, killing 29 people in what was widely regarded as the worst atrocity of the troubles. Price's sister, Marian, served time in jail when her license was revoked for providing assistance in the 2009 killings of two British soldiers. Republican dissidents continue to engage in terrorism.

So, on the one hand, bad form by Boston College for not doing their due diligence and bad form by the British government for subverting academic enquiry.

On the other:

- some of these people were, if not directly involved in ongoing terrorism then still close to people that were.
- Jean McConville was a festering sore for the IRA - a Catholic mother of small children whose murder the IRA denied for 20 years and whose body it refused to help locate: it was found by accident in 2003.
- The British really don't have much time for pro-Republican Boston Irish, academics or not. Their funding and political cover was ruinously harmful. The IRA killed hundreds of civilians while Boston Irish romanticised the violence in the name of Irish unity. In the great scheme of the Troubles, subpoenaing Boston College is not the dirtiest trick ever done.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:01 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


This recent BBC Storyville about The Disappeared of the Troubles covers many of these issues. It's really well done and shows Adams being pressed on how much he personally knew about Jean McConville's death.
posted by billiebee at 12:15 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


I understand the desire to collect oral histories of all kinds, and why the collection of first person accounts of who and what and when from terrorists/freedom fighters would would make a fascinating study but I just don’t see how any academic could be so naive as to think that anything collected wouldn’t be potentially subject to subpoena, whatever promises were made to the participants.

Of course the real mistake was to think that they only needed to wait until an individual was dead to start releasing information from that person’s account. If they had sealed everything for a long period (75 years?) then scholarship would have been served, though it would have removed the chance for personal academic credit, and criminal investigations would have been much less of an issue. But once the cat is out of the bag about the existence of the accounts then they are just documents subject to legal proceedings like anything else, be it medical or financial records, personal diaries or whatever.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 2:39 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


What are you babbling about? Your connection between the IRA and the marathon bombers is nonsensical and offensive.

No, characterizing a sensible post as "babbling" is nonsensical and offensive.

It's a comparison between a Catholic terrorist group who set off bombs in crowded population centers and once bombed a half-marathon and an Islamic terrorist group who set off bombs in crowded population centers and once bombed a marathon.
posted by w0mbat at 2:43 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]


Because a few Bostonians still romanticize the IRA doesn't mean "Boston" as such does, nor does it make for any sort of "irony" in light of the Tsarnaev brothers' terrorism. I'm not aware that any Republican apologists -- or for that matter Russian nationalists -- were killed or wounded in the Marathon bombing.

So in that sense, the comparison is careless and I can see how it might be offensive to a Bostonian (of which I am one, originally, and incidentally).

I was a student in the Boston area in the 1980s, when the Troubles were still intense. I was also a musician working a lot on the Boston Celtic music scene, and playing at any number of area sessions where I encountered IRA fund drives and all the rest. The younger Irish immigrant musicians I knew found it appalling then. I really think you'd be hard pressed to find a Romantic Republican of the Lace Curtain generation outside of a nursing home these days.

The analogy breaks down further in that no one in Boston romanticizes the Chechen conflict that I am aware of. There was no particular reason for Boston to be the site of the Tsarnaev atrocity except they lived there.
posted by spitbull at 2:52 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


Anyone with any real expertise on Northern Ireland or the Troubles knows or ought to have known about the U.S.-U.K. Extradition Treaty of 1986.

This treaty was fought against very hard, particularly in Boston, New York City and San Francisco.

It only had 10 'Nays' and I think two or three Abstentions.

To not have known of this treaty was to put it charitably, a failure to do basic home-work.

I am surprised that people did not know and did not consider the implications of that treaty, or that possialy, there were other treaties on information sharing.

The IRA in all it's various peramutations has never been a forgiving organization.

It's never been big on apologies.

The Troubles did not really and truely end with the Good Friday Agreement. Ending up in the EU didn't Ireland do that much good in the long run either.

Having been to Ireland, and having seen what the EU did, I don't know that all the lost and broken lives were worth it.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 4:31 PM on January 27


I was also a musician working a lot on the Boston Celtic music scene, and playing at any number of area sessions where I encountered IRA fund drives and all the rest. The younger Irish immigrant musicians I knew found it appalling then.

I have only seen my Irish friend get really good-and-angry livid twice - the first was when I innocently asked her a fairly innocuous question about the IRA sometime in the late 80's - a roommate asked me to ask her why, whenever there was an account of an action of any kind in US papers, the papers got a quote from the British government and a quote from Sinn Fein, but not from the Irish government? Her response began to the effect that the Irish government's response usually was "one of horror", and went on for a page and a half rant against the IRA's tactics, with much all-caps and underlined letters ("they have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the force that ACTUALLY won our independence, and so they're STEALING THEIR FAME"), and finally ended with "does THAT answer her question????" ....I think in my next letter I started by talking about puppies or something.

Her uncle was in a special unit of the gardai, I think the one that dealt with drug trafficking, and she told me that he also had to undergo some training to be on watch for IRA activity in the Republic as well; she didn't tell me the things he'd told the family, but it sounds like he had heard about some heavy shit.

when she first came for a visit I decided to be very, very selective about which of the Irish bars in this city we would visit.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:06 PM on January 27 [1 favorite]


("they have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the force that ACTUALLY won our independence, and so they're STEALING THEIR FAME")

I realise that's just one person's opinion, and repeated second-hand some years later, but there are so many parts of that sentence that are making me wince. To say it is more complicated than that is way beyond understating it.

I'm not going into some massive derail about the history of the IRA, however it's a good example of how even the "Irish" (as in "The younger Irish immigrant musicians I knew" and "my Irish friend") is not a homogeneous group of people with one viewpoint. Those from the North and South will have different views of the IRA (Original/Official, Provisional and Real), and Catholics and Protestants from the North will differ again, and even further ideological divisions are along class lines. Part of the problem of Irish-American support of paramilitaries has been a simplistic view of what Irish is, what the struggle involves, and what viewpoint they're backing.

As an illustration, a group of 6 friends and I went to Boston to work for three months in the Summer of the year the Omagh bombing happened. One of the guys' uncles had lived there for many years and his girlfriend was part Irish-American on her mother's side. We were there over the 4th of July and her mother kindly invited us to her house in Connecticut for a party. I'm not sure she'd ever been to Ireland but I think her Dad or Grandad had emmigrated. Anyway, at some point she began talking about the Troubles and started saying how if she lived in the North and was our age (very early 20s) she'd be "joining up" and went on a bit of a rant about "Brits out" etc. What she didn't think to consider was that one of us was Protestant. We all sat there and squirmed in embarrassment. We felt really awful for him having to listen to it, we were annoyed at her for her armchair pontificating while she sat on the veranda of her beautiful home far, far away from the things we had grown up with, and we had no idea how to politely ask her to stop talking as she'd been so nice to us and we were kids and she was a grown-up. She just saw a group of "Irish kids" and assumed we'd all feel the same about "the cause", when we were of different religions, classes and experiences of the reality of it all.

What I think a current danger is, is that the dissidents at the moment are appealing to a generation of young people who also never lived through the reality. There is a generation of young, working class men especially, who would have maybe been learning their trade as bricklayers, plumbers etc, but who are unemployed due to the collapse of the construction industry as a result of the property crash. They are listening to older uncles and community figures talking about the old days of armed resistance, and it seems romantic to them again. The likes of McIntyre, Price and Hughes felt Adams et al sold them out, and they're simply carrying on the fight. There's a younger generation that I'm afraid might see that as a resistance they're prepared to join, because rebel songs and tales of derring-do will always appeal to people with no real power.
posted by billiebee at 4:28 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


I apologize for any discomfort, and plead that it was entirely due to the ham-handedness of my trying to get my point across.

I do indeed know that it's a really complicated issue; I was responding more to what your friends seemed to be responding to, and that is the American perception that "all Irish people think the same about the IRA". And I know that's not the case - Cliona was an example of someone who reaaaaaaallly didn't like them, so it would have been really uneasy to introduce her to someone in the States who assumed everyone in Ireland was pro-IRA, was more my point.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:42 AM on January 28


Sorry, I should have made it clear that I understood that's what you meant when you were talking about being careful in terms of the bars you brought her to. I didn't mean to seem like I was accusing you of not understanding the issues. I assumed it was a true representation of her feelings, and I was actually thinking more along the lines of "she and I would disagree about this because she has missed some bits out!" rather than "there's another American misrepresenting things". I could well believe that she felt that way, and for those reasons, and was just thinking that Northerners like me and Southerners like her (I'm assuming) could have even more diverse versions of "our" history than "outsiders". (Something like: they sold us out vs they're nothing but violent trouble-makers.) Like families, from the outside we might look the same, but we often don't actually like each other much :)
posted by billiebee at 5:50 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


...and was just thinking that Northerners like me and Southerners like her (I'm assuming) could have even more diverse versions of "our" history than "outsiders".

Yep, she's indeed from the South - born in Cork City, now living in Bandon. And actually doesn't talk politics all that much as a rule - apparently her maternal and paternal grandparents were each on opposite sides of the 1922 (I think that's the year?) Civil War in the South, so election season always was really interesting in the house as a result. I chalked that response up to her wanting to correct an American assumption more so than anything; the only other time I've heard her comment on Irish politics it had to do with a referendum on Irish language use, and she was more cynical than anything else.

(And the only other time I've seen her get pissed off was when she saw her hero Marie Curie wasn't mentioned in the Dinner Party art installation here in Brooklyn; THAT was an interesting day....)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:34 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


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