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.”

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty