When Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries died, some people said “Dreams” or “Linger” was the band’s best song. But for many people, myself include, it was “Zombie”, the song about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. It isn’t that the U2 songs about it are bad – “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” is powerful – but “Zombie” is so rare that powerful doesn’t even begin to describe it. It is the sense of horrible lose and pain.
And you can’t help but think of that song why reading Keefe’s account of the Troubles.
Keefe primarily focuses on the family of Jean McConville, a woman who was one of the Disappeared; Dolours Price, a member of the IRA; as well as Gerry Adams and Brenden Hughes.
To say that the reporting in this book is gripping is an understatement.
In addition to the personal stories that drive the narrative, the book also considers Boston College’s interviews with both republicans and loyalists. So, the book isn’t so much a history of the IRA or the Troubles, but of the impact of the Troubles or the effect of the Troubles upon people.
The most tragic part of the book is the story of the McConville family, whose story is the driving force behind the narrative and opens and closes the book. Jean McConville was abducted on night, her children were ostracized by a community as well, and what happens after treads on several Irish issues. It is interesting that for some reason I thought the number of Disappeared in the Troubles was higher than what Keefe states. This speaks to the pain, trauma, and horror of simply having a family member go missing. His examination of whether McConville (a Protestant who had married a Catholic) was an informer or not is well done. Memory is a slippery thing, and Keefe is careful when he relies on memory.
Keefe also looks at the IRA, not so much Gerry Adams, but the foot soldiers who Adams would eventually disavow. Primary he does with the Price sisters who were somewhat famous. They are also an example of what happens when young and pretty women do something. Part of what Keefe notes is the looks of the Price sisters contributed to how the media and people viewed them. But Keefe looks beyond the media and appearance. The impact of prison on the women is examined as well as their changing political views. Dolours Price may not get as sympathetic hearing as the McConville children but Keefe treats her and other IRA members with understanding.
It is this question of fairness and history that also is used when dealing with Boston College and the interviews. The project of recording interviews and the various problems this important idea of recording interviews is dealt with but so are the complications.
This is really a stunning piece of journalism.