Beyond the Grave: Past witnesses to NI’s paramilitary struggles…

When he was on the Boston College trip with us, Sam McBride managed to take a few minutes out to interview Tom Hachey, who heads up the Irish Institute there. Today the Newsletter leads with a fascinating story on the College archive they have accumulated of interviews with loyalist and republican paramilitaries over the last nine years. Without going into detail, Haschey tells McBride that “Some of the speculation [on the forthcoming Voices from the Grave from Ed Moloney] is wide of the mark.” Professor Hachey went on to explain where he believes the real value of the interviews (some of them thought to go on for more than 20 hours of fluid conversation) lie:

“The people that we went out and interviewed were not gophers – people who were simply sent out on missions and had no idea who was sending them or why – nor was it the upper echelon, which is to say whomever the leadership may have been on the loyalist side or nationalist side.

“That sort of thing has been done by the BBC, NBC…this was really about the operational level. This first book which will be published does include two very prominent people (David Ervine and Brendan Hughes) – all (in the archive) won’t be equally prominent but all will have played similar roles.

In other words, informed testimony beyond the control of the various paramilitary leaderships…

UPDATE: In the now subscription locked, jpg bound Irish News, Diana Rusk has a slightly more detailed take from Professor Hachey on why the respondents were happy to participate:

Some were comforted by the geographical distance of 300 miles away, while others knew of Boston College and that we don’t have an agenda in Northern Ireland, Professor Hachey said. They also needed to know that we would honour an agreement not to publish any of their testimony until death. The only caveat is that if they give their consent before their death in writing, that would clear us legally.

And further:

“Being a historian I would like to see as much made publicly available as possible and we could put it entirely, digitally, online in the future or with other scholars.” He is conscious not to speculate on the impact the upcoming book and any future accounts on figures like Gerry Adams, who has consistently denied he was an IRA member.

“Overall the project is very important. The history of the Troubles has almost become a cottage industry with about a book a month being published. I don’t think this will eclipse them all but it is a unique approach from all ends of the political spectrum and it’s going to be more informative than other studies have been.”

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  • GFASupporterButRealist

    Tom Tracy, who died a short while ago, made a brilliant and positive parting contribution by funding this archive. He was an Irish-American who truly tried to understand BOTH communities in Northern Ireland and indeed went out of his way to try to understand the mindset and culture of the majority community there, in stark contrast to many of the Irish Americans who have only supported Sinn Fein or the SDLP and paid only lip service to crossing a sectarian divide. Some Irish Americans, like Bill Flynn, have been honoured with a CBE etc for their “contribution” to the peace process. Tom Tracy never was. But he should have been and far more so than those who played a predictable ethnic card in the past 20 years. God grant you eternal rest, Tom, for your decency, generosity and love of life. You put your money where your mouth was and championed pluralism in Northern Ireland.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    While the idea of a Truth Commission is flawed, I am in favour of archives recording the testimony of ordinary people……and indeed the “involved”.

    I say “archives” rather than “archive” because I think the very notion of an “archive” distorts the testimony.
    A lot of stuff has been collected by students looking for a cheap “MA” or “PhD” and when you actually listen to “Mauds story” in East Belfast or “Brendans story” in West Belfast, its hard to resist the conclusion that Maud and Brendan are playing it all up for the nice English student from the University of Durham.
    Collate a few of these crap stories and you have a PhD.

    There are actually people who do it much better and more accurately.

  • joeCanuck

    Therein lies a lot of our problems, GFASBR. Few if any mainstream politicians in N.I. have made any attempt to understand the “other side”. I am not aware of any lay institution such as a N.I. think tank where dialogue can help lead to understanding.

  • scarecrow

    ‘Some of the speculation from Ed Moloney is wide of the mark’

    So its going to need discerning readers and carefull analysis lest some people run off in all sorts of directions. Is it then all we can take from this book is any quotations from the mouths of those who talked and nothing from moloney?

  • sluggisht

    “Some of the speculation [on the forthcoming Voices from the Grave from Ed Moloney] is wide of the mark.”

    Yes, Scarecrow, it is evident that discerning readers and careful analysis are needed, given your sloppy [disingenuous] reading of the above sentence.

    Clearly the meaning you ascribed to it is not what was actually said nor implied.

  • Mick Fealty


    I think most of us sentient beings can perfectly well distinguish between an authorial POV and the enhanced utility of primary qualitative research material.

    It is simply not realistic to expect an author not to take a given line in presenting that material.

    IMHO, recursive demands for objectivity (from mostly unidentified and highly subjective ‘observers’) are mostly a device to ‘criminalise’ certain writers.

    In fact all writers (including myself and yourself) ought to be peer reviewed for errors first and bias after.

  • sluggisht

    However, the sentence Scarecrow has selectively (and incorrectly) quoted is referring to speculation [i]about[/i] the contents of the book; Hachey is not saying that the contents of the book itself is wide of the mark. It is disingenuous to claim that he is.

    Careful reading is needed, indeed.

  • scarecrow

    Slugshit 😉

    Clearly the meaning you ascribed to it is not what was actually said nor implied.

    Clearly you did not see the question mark at the end, usually there for discerning readers to know a question is being asked, and not to ascribe meaning. Perhaps for you an eye test or something wrong with your comprehension faculties?

    Thank you Mr Fealty for the reply.

  • granni trixie

    As a Troubles anorak I await the much trailed book with interest. Not just for facts which may emerge but because I really want to fill in the picture of what individuals thought they were doing killing (rather like I would like to know what was going on in priests heads in their cover ups and moving guilty priests around the place).

    Its not rocket science to work out the author’s take on the material or even his political agenda (I saw that at first hand when he was a journalist in NI).

    But when all arcives are assembled and all the books are written the accounts,perspectives and analysis of women and those you like to call “Alliance types” will be missing.
    Double whammy for me which I can live with but by the same token there is little point in expecting some overnight book of “truth”.

    The history of the Troubles is sure to be dominated by SF version of events (they have such a good machine to churn things out).

  • “that we don’t have an agenda in Northern Ireland”

    apart from this Jesuit establishment setting its project in the context of Strand 2 of the 1998 Agreement – making it just about as neutral as John Hume.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    oh I dont know about that granni trixie.
    And btw I must find an alternative to “types” which is obviously offensive to some…it is just a lazy way of referring to the perceived profiles of people who vote in a certain way.

    As for Women, Yvonne Galligan and others at QUB do the whole “wimmin” thing. Much to the chagrin it should be added of the big knobs so to speak at QUB.
    Indeed theres scacely a module at QUB which does not have some reference to “wimmin”.
    And if youre a regular in Sinn Féin bookshop (what do you mean you arent LOL) you will fall over books on Republican wimmin like Maire Drumm and Mairead Farrell. Quite possibly theres one being written about Sue Ramsey.

    So the role of women is guaranteed in the History Books.
    Unfortunately it will be judged by Historians.

    As for the role of the Alliance Party……well ok there is not much literature. Although some might say this is actually a commentary on how small a role was played. 😉
    Sorry I couldnt resist.
    Dont put a good thing past yourself.
    Write the book.
    I promise Id buy it. Honestly.
    And it would be your legacy.

  • sluggisht

    Slugshit 😉
    Clearly you did not see the question mark at the end, usually there for discerning readers to know a question is being asked, and not to ascribe meaning. Perhaps for you an eye test or something wrong with your comprehension faculties?

    Thank you Mr Fealty for the reply.

    What a rude way to twist my name here, winky face or not – there was no excuse for that.

    Your use of a question mark is irrelevant to the point. You referenced the quote out of context, so that it’s true meaning was obscured, and you bent the meaning to question the author, when that is not what Mr Hachey intended whatsoever. He was speaking of speculation by people who have not read the book (such as yourself) as to the contents of the book.

    You were deliberately rude in the changing of my name and your misreading (also deliberate?) of the referenced quote was disingenuous. My reading comprehension is fine. Yours, I’d worry about, if I didn’t think you knew exactly what you were/are doing.

  • granni trixie

    FJH: Then you are agreeing with me:naming the kinds of wimmin recorded in history (Republican) also by indicating that wimmin are contained in modules rather than mainstreamed.

    (+ why leave out she to be cannonised on her return, Rita O’Hare?)

    But to be fair I find that it is difficult to pin down exactly what the contribution of women of influence (usually) behind the scenes has been.

  • “In fact all writers (including myself and yourself) ought to be peer reviewed for errors first and bias after.”


    Maybe I am misunderstanding you, but why would you wish to be peer reviewed for bias, we all go through life with our own personal bias, it is part of what makes us who we are, to deny this or disguise it, [for no one casts it off] is to deny part of our humanity.

    It may be possible for an organisation, say like the BBC or Chanel 4, to attempt such deceit, and who pay front men to claim they are totally unbiased, but it is simply not possible for an individual human being.

  • FitzjamesHorse

    granni trixie.
    while women have obviously been marginalised, I dont think the balance can be redressed by modules that are really just a sop to women….especially young girl students. To show how “progressive” QUB is.
    You prolly remember PTQ in the 1960s and well into the 1970s as hardly a progressive indicator.

    Much better to tell them that Women were marginalised and had no real role, rather than kinda make up a role. The youngsters would learn more from that horrible truth.
    Certainly social historians like Mary O’Dowd at QUB have written extensively about “women” and “wimmin” but it really doesnt serve the cause of Women to play up contributions which they basically were not allowed to make.

  • granni trixie

    Totally agree. No making things up.

    1. “No real role” – you need to explain what you mean by “real role” – for as I indicated, I see that behind the scenes, there were wm of influence.
    Republican Wm had a restricted role (thank God for that then) but if you hold a cultural as well as structural analysis, then I argue that wm found a role in conditioning society for the GFA etc.

    You tend to find that the same group of wm were highly active in 3 spheres (p.movement,integrated schools and middle ground politics). Rick Wilfords research of around 1995 supports this.

    To explain further what I mean. Consensus was reached on many issues important to the peace process prior to the 90s by eg Women Together and the Peace People (after the rallies and the big 3 left). Internal conflicts for instance reflect working through “talking to terrorists”, “innocent victims” and should they take a position on strip searching.

    The PP bus offered an alternative means of transport to jails for families across the divide (interestingly before she was an MLA, Eileen Bell’s job was to travel with them).

    2. I also do not think that modules are intended so much as a sop as to get “women” onto academic’s agenda or an intervention to work towards recognition.

    3. Not connected to the above and it will not make its way into history books but I find it significant in terms of identity that Mairead Farrell’s brother, a bodybuilder, was Mr Ulster Universe in the 70s.

  • granni trixie

    Mick: say you didn’t mean it. Surely Slugger is all the better for all our quirky takes on what goes on? That and identity mistakes is half the fun. (eg I assumed Pipakin was a man…now I learn she is a she!…not that it matters ofcourse).

  • scarecrow

    What a rude way to twist my name here, winky face or not

    Your name? now I’m really worried about you!

  • Hogan

    As an Alumni of one of Boston College’s exchange programmes i can say that Hachey is as clued in as any academic over here.

    I had the priviledge of joining him for dinner in the Burns library one evening and found him to be a true gentleman.

    I’m delighted that people have decided to place their trust in BC for a project of this nature.

    It could not be in safer hands.

  • scarecrow

    Here is a further update:

    Some people proved hard to persuade and one person who was at first reluctant to get involved, ater agreed to be interviewed and then withdrew his testimony so he could publish his account independently.

    And who was this person?

    Richard O’Rawe.

    and a further update:

    Two people were tasked with carrying out the interviews. One was from the loyalist side and the other fom the republican side – former IRA prisoner Anthony McIntyre, a critic of the good Friday Agreement. They were paid an ‘abundantly modest’ sum for their work….

    ain’t that interesting?

  • Paddy

    Post 20: In keeping with the thread I will aks you is your name scarecrow or scaremonger

    McInttre hasd paid for his sins, listening to crap poetry as well as his own juvenile efforts. He is besdide the point.

    This forthcoming book puts more information into the public domain that genuine people, including Nevin and his “The Jesuits are behind the Troubles” type can hcew over. If O’Rawe puts his efforts out so much the better. Ditto the Adams brothers.

    Provos and scarecrows both have a real hard time with Moloney.

  • “The Jesuits are behind the Troubles”

    This is news to me, Reader. Would you care to elaborate? They’re certainly active in politics here but they wouldn’t be neutral on the Border question. Hence my post 10.

  • First the important part of my comment, Pippakin is not a man, not sure why, but this has cheered me up no end, as we have far to few women commentating on slugger and to find out one of the more articulate posters is not a he but a she has made my day.


    I am not going to get into a debate about McIntyre, but I will just say, that the shinners still feel the need to smear and attack him, just shows what an effective writer from the non SF republican camp he has become.

    You used the word juvenile to describe someones poetry, the first time I heard poetry described as juvenile was in the mid 1960s when some intellectual snob was writing about Bob Dylan”s work. Today the same man is probably teaching some uni course based on Dylan’s work.

    Surely poetry like all art forms is a matter of personal taste, one either likes the work or one does not, who is to set a bench mark for anyone else’s admiration and pleasure? I love Picasso and Banksy, sure I recognise a different level of artistic endeavour, but they both equally lift me.

    And that is what matters for me.

  • scarecrow

    Provos and scarecrows both have a real hard time with Moloney.

    Don’t know about provos but I sure have a problem with those who make money on the backs of the dead, it certainly muddys the waters.

  • Carsons Cat

    And what sort of Visa was Mr McBride travelling on to allow him to work whilst on the trip?

    Was he there on an educational visa? In which case the fact he’s publicising this interview shows he broke the terms on which it was issued……