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New Left Review 73, January-February 2012


Daniel Finn

THE SOLDIER’S SWANSONG

Books on the ira and its political wing Sinn Féin have tended to fall into one of three categories. [1] Tommy McKearney, The Provisional IRA: From Insurrection to Parliament, Pluto: London 2011, £13.99, paperback 256 pp, 978 0 7453 3074 7 Journalists who spent their careers reporting on the Troubles in Northern Ireland have produced general histories of the republican movement, along with studies of particular regions (South Armagh), topics (the 1981 hunger strike) and leaders (Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness). In more recent times, academic historians have tilled the same ground hoping to achieve greater depth and perspective now that the dust of conflict has settled and government archives have begun to yield their secrets. Veterans of the ira themselves have usually preferred to work through their experiences in the form of memoir and autobiographical fiction. They can draw on a distinguished literary heritage—some of Ireland’s finest twentieth-century writers, including Séan Ó’Faoláin, Frank O’Connor and Brendan Behan, were graduates of the ira—and have enriched our understanding of the movement’s history. But few have set out to deliver a broad account of the ira that transcends their own role in the ‘long war’. Fewer still have brought the story up to date by analysing the current political set-up in Northern Ireland, which sees the ira’s former leadership helping to govern a territory that remains firmly encased within the United Kingdom while ‘dissident’ republicans seek to reignite the struggle against British rule.

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