Since the beginning of the year, I have reviewed two books on the time of Trouble in Northern Ireland. Both dealt with the conflict between the Irish nationalists, also called republicans, and their foes, referred to as unionists or loyalists, aided and abetted by the British government. The nationalists were mostly Catholic, the unionists principally Protestant.
The dispute began in the 1960s and ended, at least on paper, in 1998 when the parties signed a peace agreement of sorts. During the early part of that struggle, until 1975, I was either in Vietnam or between trips. My attention was focused on the U.S. war in Southeast Asia, and I paid little attention to events in Northern Ireland. As a result, both books were eye-openers for me.
The first, Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe (Doubleday, 2019), published in February, is for all intents and purposes a history of the low-level war. It’s title comes from a poem by Seamus Heaney about the Trouble:
O land of the password, handgrip, wink and nod,
Whatever You Say, Say Nothing.
Secrecy was paramount for the nationalists. They barely trusted one another and revealed nothing to those who were not known to be on their side.