Rebel Columns/Choosing the Green

Pegeen O'Sullivan reviews Rebel Columns by Danny Morrison, Beyond the Pale, £9.99 pbk ISBN 1-900960-27-3 and Choosing the Green: second generation Irish and the cause of Ireland by Brian Dooley, Beyond the Pale, ISBN 1-900960-26-5, £8.99 pbk

Rebel Columns cover

THE REBEL columns of the title are newspaper columns written by Danny Morrison between 1998 (the year of the Good Friday agreement) and the 2004 European and Irish local government elections.

They serves to give us a flavour of mainstream republican views and hopes during these vital years and gain immensely from the fact that they are written by a man born and bred in Belfast writing about a history that he himself lived through.

Morrison reminds us that the times were indeed grim:

"Some time later the UDA, in an interview with, I believe, Jack Holland, said that they were working hand-in-hand with the British army and that it was one of their specialities to carry out an attack and provoke a republican response so that British soldiers could shoot active-service IRA Volunteers."

One of the virtues of Rebel Columns is that the conflict described is not seen in isolation. Right from the author's prologue British imperialism is presented as the enemy of all Britain's colonies and indeed that the routines of oppression throughout the Empire have varied very little.

Another of its virtues is that each of its six sections: 'From Armalites to Ballot Boxes', 'Unionism Misunderstood - Some Clarification', 'Collusion and the Dirty War', The 'Media', 'After September 11' and 'People', makes Rebel Columns easy to use as a reference book.

It is good to be reminded of what life was like in the dark days. Remember Nairac and the SAS? Here we learn that he 'drank around the pubs of Kilburn to improve his (Irish) accent and even bought tapes to learn Irish. It is details like this that makes history the most interesting reading of all.

Journalist and TV news reporter Kate Adie comes across as scarcely less unlikeable than Nairac, informing her readers that "in his coffin Bobby Sands looked like a banana". How right those English people are who have worked for Irish freedom because they hate what the subjugation of Ireland has done to English life.

Danny Morrison has served his readers well over the years giving a voice to shared grief and joyful victories. This is a good book to keep as a reminder of our time.

Choosing the Green is ostensibly about second generation Irish, though it speaks for more of us than that. What Dooley says is true of those of us who were actually born in Ireland but have spent most of our lives in Britain.

Choosing the Green cover

The position of the Irish is quite different from that of the Scots and the Welsh who do not have the benefit of being separated from England by the sea.

Choosing the Green traces the effect of these conflicts of loyalties on the personal and political decisions that second generation Irish people make on a daily basis.

Any child of Irish parents growing up in Britain will either attach an exaggerated importance to his or her Irish parentage or else try to deny it. This choice is forced on the child by a society embarrassed by our presence.

It is uncomfortable for the host country to feel that these people are in their country because of a brutal conquest. It is also annoying to have a minority population which hangs on so tenaciously to its conciousness of being different.

By the second generation we speak with the accent of the true native - we can, after all, pass for white.

A tell-tale surname could link us to a long-dead immigrant. Yet the fact remains that we know what we are and usually value our heritage. Our problem, however, is often not with the natives of Britain but with those Irish who feel that once we acquire an English accent we have become foreign.

David Granville adds

IT SHOULD come as no surprise that Danny Morrison, a former Sinn Fein director of publicity and the person responsible for announcing the republican's 'ballot box and armalite' strategy back in 1981, is something of a smart wordsmith.

In recent years, on foot of a spell in prison and a decision to stand down from the front-line of republican activism to develop a career as a writer, Morrison has successfully established himself as a author and political commentator of considerable skill, insight, sensitivity and wit.

Not that he has left his republican politics behind. Far from it. Morrison's is a partisan view, and non the worse for that.

Rebel Columns brings together political commentaries published in various British and Irish newspapers between the signing of the Good Friday agreement and elections on both sides of the Irish border in 2004.

As you would expect, Morrison is particularly adept at explaining the mainstream republican position on a range of issues. Yet, he's equally insightful when exposing the hyprocrisy of Ulster unionism and its leaders, when discussing the consequences of Britain's 'dirty war' against republicans or mainstream media responses to reporting the conflict in Ireland.

Yet Morrison doesn't confine himself to political developments in Ireland. British and US responses to the 9/11 attack, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the USA's illegal detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and the plight of the Palestinian people all come in for scrutiny and comment.

The book's final section consists of a series of tributes to individual poets, writers and political activists who stood up for freedom and justice, frequently at great personal cost.

US singer songwriters Johnny Cash and Bobby Darin, comedian Spike Milligan, US film maker, writer and political activist Michael Moore, imprisoned native American leader Leonard Peltier - to whom the book is dedicated, imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Bargouti and human rights activist and former Irish president Mary Robinson are among those whom Morrison salutes alongside republican comrades such as Terence 'Cleaky ' Clarke and Kieran Nugent.

Rebel Columns will appeal to anyone interested in intelligent and incisive political commentary, especially those wishing to broaden their understanding of the Irish conflict and subsequent peace process.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2005-06-16 18:24:26.
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