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10 December 1998 Edition

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New in print

A Tyrone thriller

By Gerry McGeough
Published by Seesvu Press

This fast-paced thriller is set against the backdrop of the escalating conflict in the six counties and the two hunger strikes at the beginning of the 1980s.

Gerry McGeough scores a first in producing a modern story based on the historic events of that period written from the perspective of an OC of a local Tyrone IRA ASU.

The beginning of the story finds Tyrone man Turlough Gallagher and his unit lying behind the bank of a ditch training their AR-15 semi-automatic rifles on the road. Beside them is a box linked to a command wire attached to one of four milk churns packed with home-made explosives in a culvert.

The ambush becomes known as the `Cregoe incident' and triggers a tense cat and mouse tale of highly motivated volunteers and their families pitched against the full force of the British army and intelligence services.

As in a well directed film, events pile rapidly on top of one another, so vivid is McGeough's descriptive power.

He achieves a fine balance between fast moving scenes and gentler cameos with the women involved.

The occasional philosophical and religious discussion extends the book's dimensions beyond the intricate story of military operations and counter intelligence. The long narrative incorporated into the storyline presenting Ireland's history was risky but it works.

The reader is gripped by the patriotism, love, espionage and betrayal, eager to turn the page. Who could not be intrigued by this charismatic yet ruthless young Irishman, ``consumed by the belief that for Ireland to fulfill her historic role in human destiny, the British must be driven from her shores no matter what the cost''? The cost for him is high.

At the book launch Danny Morrison remarked that readers will be seeking similarities between the author and Turlough. There are no similarities. They are identical.

A cracking book, not to be missed.

Everyone's a republican

The Republican Ideal: Current Perspectives
Edited by and with an introduction by Norman Porter
Published by the Blackstaff Press
Price £12.99

There is a story that in 1939 Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice was performed in both Nazi Germany and the beleaguered Jewish ghetto of Krakow. The Nazi regime believed that the character of Shylock confirmed their own grotesque prejudices and thus that Shakespeare was validation of their persecution of the Jews.

Those same persecuted Jews simultaneously believed that the play was a prime exemplar of the noble Jew, the outsider, victimised by those around him. Both groups genuinely believed they understood the play and were conveying its true meaning.

The play does not, of course, simply offer one or other of these readings (although it could well do both), but the point of the story is that Shakespeare was and remains utterly ambiguous and, like the Bible, can be appropriated to underpin whatever agenda one happens to be pushing.

One could be forgiven, however, for believing that Wolfe Tone was singularly unambiguous about his vision and how it was to be achieved, but this collection of essays suggests that his writings are almost as open to interpretation as a Shakespearean drama.

Apart from Mitchel McLaughlin, contributions to this debate about republicanism include Des O'Hagan, Eamon Hanna, David Cook and Monica McWilliams. All claim that they understand and represent the true meaning of Wolfe Tone's brand of Republicanism but what they all, with the exception of McLaughlin and - maybe - Hanna, overlook or avoid discussing properly, is Rule Number One: in order to realise a republic one must first remove the monarchy.

There is absolutely no ambiguity whatsoever about this, whether one looks to America, France or Ireland. To pretend that one can fully incorporate republican ideals into a society whilst its inhabitants still labour under the status of subject rather than citizen is to wilfully misunderstand republicanism's most fundamental tenet.

Certainly, the vision of many of the contributors is laudable but, again with the exception of McLaughlin, all propose a form of `republicanism' which legitimises the British presence in Ireland and retains our status as subjects, albeit with the civic rights and responsibilities of citizens.

But whatever one chooses to call this, it is not anything that Wolfe Tone would have recognised as Republicanism. It's like writing a recipe for an omelette which doesn't include eggs: you may end up with something edible, but it sure as hell won't be an omelette.

Nevertheless, the book is fascinating and Norman Porter's efforts to get to grips with republicanism in his reflective introduction should be congratulated. This seems like a genuine effort to, as he says himself, open lines of communication which have previously been closed off. Porter lays bare his own thought processes in considering the ideology of Irish Republicanism and concludes that Unionism ``often proceeds to peddle Republicanism's ultimate distortion; its reduction to a synonym of violent, sectarian nationalism'', a distortion which Porter himself calls ``galling''.

For all that, there is much to disagree with. Porter's opening paragraphs goes; ``Republicanism inspires. And it terrifies. Maybe it no longer does both in most Western societies. But it does in Northern Ireland where the terrified appear to have little interest in hearing from the inspired.'' Very cute, no? But, as Danny Morrison recently observed, in Unionist history the play always opens with Republican violence. Well, like the Jews in Krakow, we see the play differently.

Ultimately, not even a liberal Unionist like Porter can bring himself to fully engage with or admit to the terror which inspired Republicanism.

By Fern Lane

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1