A secrt history of innaccuracy, hearsay

Peter Berresford Ellis reviews A Secret History of the IRA, Ed Moloney, Penguin, pbk £8.99

WITH THE amount of publicity and the ‘rave reviews’ from the established Press and media already received by this book, there is surely not a lot one can say. Perhaps, even, a book that is so commercially designed might have something serious to say to those seeking an understanding of the events of 1969-2001 in Northern Ireland.

Yet from the opening paragraph of the acknowledgements I felt unease at the hyped-up drama for Ed Moloney, a journalist with a eye for the dramatic if ever there was, states that he researched and wrote the book ‘in secret’ because if it had been known that he was writing it ‘the book would probably have been stillborn’.

One is left to imagine the identity of the person or persons and their methods by which Ed would have been prevented from writing the book. It’s all good theatre.

The trouble in assessing a book which has a lot of information that is ‘beyond one’s ken’ (the behind the scenes events) is how far to trust its accuracy when the areas that one has knowledge of are presented in either a distorted fashion or without regard to accuracy at all.

For example, readers of this journal will be surprised to find that the Connolly Association (p564) was merely ‘a British-based Marxist and Irish republican discussion group in the 1960s’. On page 57 and 59 the Connolly Association is linked as an offshoot of the Community Party of Great Britain. It is credited with urging the IRA, prior to 1962, to make a ‘new departure’ and, basically, setting in train the events leading to the Official/Provo split in 1969. This was done by the Connolly Association using a Stalinist programme.

And on p.75 you will again find reference to ‘the Communist Party (CP) and its Irish offshoot, the Connolly Association’.

Such statements make me wonder what else is inaccurate in the book. I was slightly worried when there was no mention of Seán Mac Stiofáin’s Memoirs of a Revolutionary in the bibliography. Surely, an essential work if one is dealing with the inner workings of the IRA? However, I did spot a hidden footnote reference to it, but not in the bibliography.

More surprising, in the discussion on events leading to the ‘peace process’, was there is no reference to Owen Bennett’s The Road to National Democracy: Owen’s contribution to that debate and the insider role could not be ignored in any serious discussion. Was the omission made because it was published by the Connolly Association?

In keeping with the journalese attitude of the book, I am also surprised that there was no mention of Maria McGuire’s memoir To Take Arms: A Year in the Provisional IRA (1973). Not a good source on history but perhaps just the sort of book that Ed would have loved to quote on what people imagined might be happening in the upper echelons of the IRA in 1971/72. But this was not the only source Ed missed out in his researches.

There are the usual hosts of irritants to contend with. The ‘English Invasion of Ireland’ in 1169 is mentioned. England had, of course, been conquered by the French-speaking Angevin Empire in 1066 and what was going on between 1169 and 1172 was that the Angevin Emperor, whose centre was in Anjou (not England), extended his Norman Angevin empire into Ireland. Anglo-Saxons had little to do with it. And of course, there are (surprisingly) a lot of misspellings of Irish words.

I am afraid this book failed to excite or even inform me and the ‘over the top’ praise from the press and media seems quite extraordinary. I leave you with The Sunday Independent quote ‘the best insider account of the IRA’. Oops. When was Ed Moloney a member of the IRA?

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2003-12-23 19:37:40.
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