Voices from the Grave

Coming up to the Halloween holiday, some people might be frightened of the idea of Voices from the Grave – but for others, the chance to hear an oral history of the Troubles from the mouths of two (in)famous protagonists, PUP leader and former UVF member David Ervine, and Brendan “The Dark” Hughes, is not to be missed. It had been said of one of the men, former IRA OC and hunger striker Brendan Hughes, that he was ‘not right in the head’ at the time he gave extensive interviews to Boston College’s paramilitary archive. Tuesday’s documentary puts that notion to shame: in this you hear a man confident and competent, glad to be sharing his past for the historical record.

Earlier this week on RTE, Pat Kenny spoke with filmmaker Patrick Farrelly, along with former FF minister, peace process guru and historian Martin Mansergh, about the documentary. Mansergh questioned the idea of releasing such material after the death of the participants; it should be noted, however, that at the time of the recordings – almost 10 years ago – to be making oral histories outside of “approved” channels in paramilitary controlled societies was a very dangerous thing to be doing. [And still is – Ed.] Therefore the oral history project was kept secret and it wasn’t really until the death of two of its participants enabled the release of their material that the scope of the project became known. Neither man, Hughes nor Ervine, could have anticipated the date of their own deaths and, presumably, wanted to live for much longer than they did. It is understood that Hughes wanted to release his tapes prior to his death but in consideration for the safety of other participants, and to maintain the secrecy around the project, refrained.

The issue of speaking from beyond the grave is not isolated to the north’s history; Mark Twain stipulated that his autobiography not be published until 100 years after his death. It is believed this gave him the freedom to write what he really felt about politics, religion and people he knew. If even someone as outspoken and cantankerous as Mark Twain felt the need for the distance of death to speak freely about his own life, it is understandable then why those living in the world of the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries would need the same to speak freely about their lives.

And that is what makes Voices from the Grave, both the book and the forthcoming documentary, so compelling. It’s the story of people’s lives, how ordinary people became changed by historical events. In a sense both the book and the documentary are a history of the Troubles as seen through the lives of two men. The extraordinary aspect of the Boston College project is that it is a history of the troubles as seen through the lives of its foot soldiers.

Trailer for Voices from the Grave (click to play):

Voices from the Grave will air this Tuesday, 26 October, on RTE1 at 10:15

Voices from the Grave is also reviewed by Liam Clarke: “Dead Men Talking”

You can buy Voices from the Grave here.

  • lamhdearg

    Thanks for the tip Rusty, i will be watching.

  • Tweedybird

    I have read the book and its very interesting reading, more-so Brendan Hughes comments. The provies hierarchy/SF are bound to be squirming on his revelations on the role he took,and others,on the acts of terrorism in the past as an active member of the provies…..

  • Kathy C

    I read most of the book—very telling.

  • pippakin

    I’m looking forward to the program. It should be, interesting…

  • Alan Maskey

    This is an excellent post Rusty Nail. It is good to see some of our esteemed commentators will watch it. Let us hope Mark McG does. He might see how someone who has been through the mill changes. Obviously a voice like Hughes’ carries more weight because he was in the thick of things. He is dead now so Gerry cannpot catch up and discuss old times with him just yet.
    Interesting to see Gerry’s hobby is growing trees. From little acorns etc. But he need not worry about whatever might sprout form this show. His place is secure. No one gives a fuck. His political enemies are being hunted down by the forces of the State, who are now his friends. Jean McConville got a derisory funeral by Republican standards. Gery can be smug.
    Gerry’s electorate had not even the decency to turn out to say goodbye to one of the most heart breaking victims of the Troubles.
    The Provos inch towards respectability just as the Nazis did. Unlike the Nazis, they do not have the proud middle class with them. That being so, they often appear funny as they ape the ways of their betters, pretending to be politicians, peace makers, patriots, historians, decent members of society.
    Without the connivances of Adams and his ilk, the world would have been a better place. Ireland would certainly have been much better. But the Irish don’t care. We love losers and tossers. That is why we vote for them.

  • slappymcgroundout

    I’ll be waiting for someone other than me comment on Hughes’ one comment, to wit: I have never ever ever admitted to being in the IRA, never… Big Gerry would be proud. I’ll let you all explain why Darkie got a pass on that one while you’ve certified Big Gerry as clinically insane for the same. Now for a word from the late David Ervine on being Irish, and in favor of union:

  • Munsterview

    “……That being so, they often appear funny as they ape the ways of their betters, pretending to be politicians, peace makers, patriots, historians, decent members of society……..”

    Memo to Pesky’s handlers, aside from the fact that this persona cover is well blown it was time to change the record anyway. You lot failed : republicans are in power; live with it and continue to enjoy your pensions at least until SF makes largest party and First Minister !

  • Lionel Hutz

    This will have no impact in the north but will it have an impact in the south. That is a big question! If Sinn Fein cannot capatilise from the disaster in ROI now, they have no chance in the future. And if they are seen to be completely unelectable in the south, even now, will that eventually permeate north of the border.

    It will take time ofcourse. However, nationalists know that N.I. is a political backwater but if Sinn Fein are unelectable in the south and if northern nationalists finally see it as imperative that there is an effective representation in the north, will we look elsewhere.

    The problem is that the SDLP are a joke. They get my vote by default only now. If the SDLP had any credible politicians left, they would destroy Sinn Fein. But everytime I hear Ritchie and Attwood, I want to to slap them – in a constructive way. These guys cannot provide a credible atlernative

  • Tom O Braonain

    After reading the book and watching the programme It looks like form 73 onwards the British Intelligence had total control over the 6 counties , the sad thing is that Gerry and Martin (and cohorts) have a long term view of united through consensus (justified) but as we know there is 6-700 young men ready to go down the road Hughes went today 2010 (for the same reasons but without the injustice his generation faced), even with Sinn Féin in power in the 6 counties and an agreed peace process. He was a brave soldier in the basic level of soldiering but the generals left him behind. The irony is as always the generals are alive but the soldier speaks more profoundly from the grave, time will tell.

  • Tom O Braonain

    lámh dhearg- is focal baininsineach é lámh

  • wee buns

    In full empathy…with your wanting to slap them…except in my case it’s all of them, north and south. Utter wasters.

  • wee buns

    Just watched the docu. Compelling stories but found myself uber intrigued by ye olde footage: where exactly; faces of people etc. Glad I recorded it.

  • francesco

    Excellent documentary indeed, watched it a few days ago while at work and found it very interesting, a true slice of the troubled history of Ireland narrated by two of the biggest fugures of the troubles.. both sadly gone

    i’m sure peter taylor would be proud of this work