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22 July 1999 Edition

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New in print

Story of a people's struggle

The Irish Republic
by Dorothy Macardle.
Published by Wolfhound Press.
Price £40 hardback.

``Whether the Irish Republic ever existed has been disputed not only by jurists and not only with words. For the Irish people the Republic was, for a few tense years, a living reality which dominated every aspect of their lives. its existence was a fact of human history, if not of logic or of law.''

With these eloquent words, Dorothy Macardle begins her monumental work on the history of the Irish struggle for freedom between the years 1916 and 1923. Its republication this week is an event in itself and is long overdue. The Irish Republic is a book which has been neglected for over 30 years, last reprinted in 1968 and frowned upon ever since by `revisionist' historians.

You will not find this book on most academic bibliographies. Because it views events from a frankly republican standpoint it was deemed out of bounds by the anti-republican historians who dominated history writing and history teaching. Yet the same historians used this book in the quiet of their university libraries as an invaluable source of information not to be found elsewhere.

The great value of Dorothy Macardle's book is its attention to detail and its strict chronological approach. Add to that the 32 documents and speeches in its appendices and its biographical notes and you have by far the most comprehensive survey of the period. The book was written soon after the events it describes with the benefit of the author's personal experience and wide circle of friends and acquaintances who were centrally involved.

The book, and Macardle's reputation, have suffered because of de Valera's association with it. De Valera wrote the preface and the book has been described by Tim Pat Coogan as a ``hymn to de Valera''. But to drag down this book along with the reputation of de Valera would be a travesty.

It is not an apologia for any one person but is the testimony of a people in struggle.

Dorothy Macardle was an independent-minded feminist republican. She played her own part in the national struggle, was for long an admirer of de Valera but, like so many others, became disillusioned with his regime in the 1930s. She was among the prominent republican women who publicly deplored the anti-woman 1937 Constitution and urged de Valera to change it. He ignored their demands.

This book, the major achievement of Dorothy Macardle's writing life, deserves to be reclaimed and rediscovered. For anyone interested in Irish history it is essential reading. The cult of Michael Collins has distorted the view of the Civil War period and this book is especially important in understanding the republican perspective of that time. But equally, its carefully documented account of the Home Rule crisis, the 1916 Rising, the growth of Sinn Féin and the Tan war has to be read for a thorough understanding of those revolutionary years.

All public and school libraries should be encouraged to obtain it. Hopefully a more accessible paperback edition will follow fairly soon so that many more people can add it to their personal libraries.

By Mícheál MacDonncha

Fatal flaws

Fatal Encounter
By Nicholas Eckert
Published by Poolbeg
Price £7.99

Maybe itÕs because IÕm just picky. Or maybe IÕm an overly sensitive republican who thinks that any publication which doesnÕt proclaim our enemiesÕ failings is fatally flawed. Anyhow, Nicholas EckertÕs Fatal Encounter - The Story of the Gibraltar Killings struck me as a book that promised much but failed to deliver.

EckertÕs book contains a substantial amount of research. His canvas, which covers of the killing of Mairead Farrell, Daniel McCann and Sean Savage along with the attack and killings by Michael Stone of the mourners in Milltown Cemetery and the deaths of British Army corporals David Howes and Derek Wood, is an interesting exercise.

But EckertÕs text reads at times like a Tom Clancy novel. For example, the SAS are ``the IRAÕs nemesisÕÕ. He writes also of the fact that Remembrance Sunday is ``a particularly sacred time for UlstermenÕÕ and of the ``blood sacrificeÕÕ that was made by the soldiers at the Somme for ``the EmpireÕÕ. This literary nonsense is sprinkled throughout the book.

Eckert tries to be fair to everyone and this just doesnÕt work. His pen pictures of Thatcher, the three IRA Volunteers shot in Gibraltar, and the two corporals grate. You get the feeling that that Nicholas Eckert is somehow the judge who can understand the reasoning of all parties to the conflict and is in a position to offer a calm unbiased verdict.

Given the fact that he was a military intelligence officer who took part in the US invasion of Panama and the Gulf War, you wonder why he didnÕt write about these conflicts. After all, thereÕs something he actually has first-hand experience of - rather than giving the impression that he was taking a holiday in somebody elseÕs misery.

That being said, some elements of the book are excellent but he is drawing from existing material such as Death on the Rock and other publications.

Perhaps the largest gap in the book is the section on the two British Army corporals who died during the funeral of IRA Volunteer Kevin Brady, one of the Milltown Cemetery victims of loyalist assassin Michael Stone.

Eckert tells us that Corporal Wood was in the Volkswagen Passat with Corporal Howes because Wood was ending his four-year tour of duty and was now showing Howes ``what his `patch of West Belfast looked like.

Why did Wood not seem to know that the Brady funeral was underway that afternoon? It seems strange that he didnÕt know this much about his supposed ``patch.

In another part of the book, Eckert quotes a military intelligence officer saying that SAS men ``like to dress in tight blue jeans, trainers and bomber jackets.

Later we are told that both Wood and Howes were wearing jeans and T-shirts, with one wearing a jacket and another a pullover. Both were armed with Browning 9mm automatic pistols, the same weapons used to kill the IRA Volunteers in Gibraltar. Yet Eckert does not seem to make the obvious link that many people in the crowd at BradyÕs funeral made that day - Wood and Howes were an undercover SAS team attacking the cortege, that lives were in danger and another shoot-to-kill attack was taking place.

The blurb on the back of this book proclaims that ``it is a haunting and totally damning indictment of both the SAS and the IRA. This is also the bookÕs failing. Eckert has to learn how to take sides, otherwise his work comes across as patronising and trite. Given that he was a soldier in the US Army, he should have plenty of experience of taking sides without worrying who is right or wrong.


An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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