Graphic for the Peachy Books Book Review Read-a-Loud for Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe, with a background of the Irish coastline.
Blog Roll, book reviews, non-fiction, politics, Saturday in Stereo

Saturday in Stereo – Book Review Read-a-Loud: Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

This week on Saturday in Stereo we have the Peachy Books review for Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, read aloud by PeachyTO.

Please visit the Peachy Books YouTube channel or click on the video below to check it out. If you enjoy the reading, I’d be thrilled if you would ‘like,’ subscribe, and hit the notification bell; it will help my channel to grow, and you’ll be the first to know when the latest read-a-louds are available. Thank you so much for your support!

To find the written review for Say Nothing and see the Tricolour bookmark I was inspired to make, please click here.

Image of a mural in Northern Ireland showing 2 boys standing in front of a war torn complex with heaps of debris, with a red title on top reading: Summer of 69, which says: Don't miss Murals of Northern Ireland, a companion post to my recent review of Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe.
Blog Roll, non-fiction, politics, The Gallery

The Gallery: Murals of Northern Ireland

If you haven’t already read it, you can find my review for this riveting book here.

After spending a week with Patrick Radden Keefe‘s powerful book Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, recounting The Troubles, I am left thinking of the horrors the Irish people in the North had to contend with during those trying times. My thoughts sent me on a mission to look for the murals that represented the suffering.

Living in a warzone is tragic, no matter where on the globe. People do their best to try and get by, to make it out alive. Art can be a reverberating gift of solace during times of strife. Asserting a silent yet resonant voice through pictures is a way for humanity to share its grief while creating something new and beautiful, even as things are falling down and dying around them. The murals that one could find on the buildings in the North during this conflict spanning thirty years – some of which are still there today – were one such outlet.

Children shown in wore torn rubble during the summer of '69, around the time when 'The Troubles' began
Children shown in wore torn rubble, during the summer of ’69, around the time when ‘The Troubles’ began

Paramilitary murals for either side of the religious and territorial divide were menacing reminders that violence could be around any corner, especially if you were caught on the wrong block.

Mural depicting UVF 1st Battalion soldiers
Mural of the UVF 1st Battalion soldiers
East Belfast Battalion of the UVF black and white mural
Black and white mural for the East Belfast Battalion of the UVF
IRA mural and memorial
IRA mural and memorial

Funerals were one of the things you could count on during The Troubles, in fact, some would say it was the only time they got to socialise with friends and family if things were too heated to venture out. 

Depiction of a mural honouring an IRA soldiers passing with a 21 gun salute
Depiction of a mural hounoring an IRA soldier’s passing with a 21 gun salute at the funeral

A brilliant irony amidst this powder keg of religious conflict between the warring Christian factions in Ireland was the solidarity found between the Catholic Republicans and the Palestinian followers of Islam. Palestinian flags were erected proudly in the Republican neighbourhoods to show reverence to the commonality of their struggle.

Palestinian solidarity mural in Norther Ireland
Palestinian and Republican solidarity mural
POW mural showing solidarity between Palestinian and IRA captives

Artistic tributes meant to lionize the heroes of the cause are tangible proof and validation of the bloodshed. Political prisoners who gave their life for the freedom of Ireland, as noble or destructive as they might have been, are immortalised on these walls for the younger generations to venerate.

Mural and memorial of Bobby Sands
Mural memorialising Bobby Sands, Irish Nationalist who led a fatal hunger strike that changed history
Mural of Irish Nationalist and IRA soldiers who lost their lives in battle.
Mural depicting Irish Nationalists and IRA soldiers who lost their lives in battle during ‘The Troubles’

With the mark of a new century, Ireland is more peaceful than she’s ever been comparatively. In the North, however, troubled waters receded could return in a flash. With the UK’s Brexit from the European Union threatening to explode smoldering battlefields, and as walls and militarised checkpoints jeopardise harmony, one can only pray that the streets will remain calm.

The Greater Village Regeneration Trust introduced this commemorative painting to mark the centenary (1921-2021) whilst covering a paramilitary mural that remained. A less intrusive demarcation as a sign of the times, lest we forget how bad things were for so long.

New Mural in South Belfast of Norther Ireland commemorating the centenary 1921 - 2021, and encourage solidarity
Paramilitary mural painted over by new artwork commemorating centenary

I was inspired to make some art of my own after spending an afternoon sifting through these paintings of pain and remembrance. I am saddened to think that a simple bookmark such as this, hanging out of a child’s storybook as they trotted home from school, could have caused an uproar decades ago. I’m hopeful that the Irish lay to rest the tired sectarian battles of their past to live for the health and regeneration of her future.

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Book Cover for Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe superimposed on a tricolour Irish Flag, saying: Read the book review for this harrowing true story of tribal lines
Blog Roll, book reviews, non-fiction, politics

Review: Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe

“All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory.” – Vietnam, Thanh Nguyen as quoted in Say Nothing

Growing up in Canada has afforded me a comfortable life thus far, void of wars or societal conflict. A few minutes in front of any newscast will remind me of how fortunate I was to have won the birth lottery and had my start in a land with such opportunity, tolerance, and freedom. None of this would be even possible had my maternal grandfather’s parents not left Ballymena (in the North of Ireland) and immigrated to Ontario, Canada, near the beginning of the last century.

As politics and global conflict were topics omitted from the Sunday dinner table, I was mostly unaware of the history that plagued the place of my ancestry. Although never grasping the gravity of the situation, I remember watching the twisted expressions of anguish that would blanket my grandfather as he read through the papers and contemplated the fate of his left-behind relatives. As a young lass with no concept of sectarian strife, I chalked it up as one of those terrible things that happen in another part of the world, far away from the peaceful lands I inhabited.

Now that I’ve matured and grown less self-involved, I have become engrossed in the struggle that English Colonialism has imposed on the world for centuries. I crave answers to why the Irish were turned against one another, as I struggle to understand how this Christian conflict could result in the partition of her lands. 

In Say Nothing, Patrick Radden Keefe lays out a nail-biting recount of the three-decades-long dissidence that eventually ended in the Good Friday Agreement on April 10th, 1998 (in my 22nd year). I would recommend this courageous book to anyone, Irish or not, for the opportunity to bear witness to the terror that loomed over those devastating years.

The spotlight of the narrative was on the Irish Republicans and their leaders, soldiers, and struggle, while the Loyalists were the elusive ‘other’ side, grouped with the British soldiers. While I can certainly understand this framing, I would have liked to hear more from the Protestants in fairness to the fullness of the story. However, the code of silence amongst the paramilitaries may have rendered their version impossible to hear.

Given the secret nature of The Troubles, it’s a wonder that so many were willing to discuss those dark days at all. If not for the recordings procured for future academic study at the Boston University, by a reformed Republican insider, Radden Keefe would not have been able to write this book, at least not as extensively.

Just the rumour of someone speaking about the atrocities of those years could mean certain death. There was no place for disloyalty in the eyes of the Provisional IRA, real or perceived, as Jean McConville and her ten children were to find out when she was abducted from her kitchen table, never to be returned.

Throughout Say Nothing, Radden Keefe chronicles the orphaned children’s search for their mother, and it is the deafening silence of so many that rang the loudest for me. Fear of reprisal shrouded civilians and members alike, which kept their mouths sealed. It was mortifying to read how a weapon in the humiliation arsenal of the Provos was to tar and feather women they deemed traitorous. The minor act of offering a pillow to a British soldier who lay dying in front of their door, as was the crime of Jean McConville, could incur lethal wrath.

‘In the febrile atmosphere of wartime Belfast, for a local woman to be seen consorting with a British soldier could be a dangerous thing. Some women who were suspected of such transgressions were subjected to an antique mode of ritual humiliation: tarring and feathering. A mob would accost such women, forcibly shave their heads, anoint them with warm and sticky black tar, then shower a pillowcaseful of dirty feathers over their heads and chain them by the neck to a lamppost, like a dog, so that the whole community could observe the spectacle of their indignity.’

Of course, scenes like this, plus countless other rationale laid bare within the history of the conflict, are the reasons why they said nothing. For some, the silent torture of daily terrorism ended up culminating in Belfast Syndrome, or what we now refer to as PTSD. No matter which side of the divide these stunned women found themselves on, they survived by being fed sedatives to drown out the sounds of firebombs and screaming children whilst white-knuckling it through their days, in prayer to the same God.  

‘Doctors found, paradoxically, that the people most prone to this type of anxiety were not the active combatants, who were on the street and had a sense of agency, but the women and children stuck sheltering behind closed doors.’

Reading of the deadly bombing campaigns issued by the paramilitaries, where many innocents ended up casualties, left me feeling nauseous. How terrifying it must have been to live with these cruelties in one’s everyday life, sometimes even at your front door.

Prior to the British construction of the Long Kesh correctional facility on the premises of an aircraft base 12 miles outside of Belfast, internees were incarcerated on a floating prison: The HMP (Her Majesty’s Prison) Maidstone. This 500-foot ship had been used decades before, during WW2, and was described as a hell-hole, “not fit for pigs.” However, it was mainly Nationalist soldiers kept in these inhumane conditions, since, although terrorism was asserted by the Loyalists as well, they didn’t seem to be a target for capture; sort of like their brand of criminality was useful to Scotland Yard. 🤨

‘Just before dawn one morning in August 1971, three thousand British troops descended on nationalist areas across Northern Ireland…. Of the 350 suspects arrested that day, not a single one was a Loyalist…. The disparity in treatment only compounded the impression, in the minds of many Catholics, that the army was simply another instrument of sectarian oppression.’

We learnt about the tenacious spirit that saw various Republicans partake in lengthy internments and fatal hunger strikes, but, as noble as one might wish to see the Republicans, they had a longstanding tradition of failure that weighed heavily on the cause.

‘It was almost as if “defeat suited them better than victory,” in the words of one historian, “for there was a sense in which Irish Republicanism thrived on oppression and the isolated exclusivity that came with it.”‘

A glaring irony found within Say Nothing is the large chunk of the last half being devoted to Republican touts: double agents or betrayers. British Military intelligence estimated that by the end of The Troubles, 1 in 4 members was some type of an informant, with senior members nearing 1 in 2. You should take anything they report with a grain (or twenty) of salt, though, as this would be a helpful way to fabricate and disparage the loyalty of the Nationalists.

Fortunately for the masses, with the assistance of the Clinton government and the new British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, a final cease-fire was signed in 1997. Finally, there was a halt to the thirty-year tribal conflict, and The Good Friday Agreement was born.

‘Northern Ireland would remain part of the United Kingdom, but with its own devolved assembly and close links to the Republic of Ireland. The agreement acknowledged that the majority of people on the island wanted a united Ireland – but also that a majority of people in the six counties favoured remaining part of the United Kingdom. The key principle was “consent”: if, at some juncture, a majority of the people in the North wanted to unite with Ireland, then the governments of the UK and Ireland would have a “binding obligation” to honor that choice.’

As glorious as it is that the violence has stopped and people have forged ahead with a tolerance unseen in previous years, when I picture the Emerald Isle, I see her emaciated shadow as I pine for the fullness of what she could have been. Ireland’s soul lacks nourishment; hers, a people who have suffered through debilitating famine, only to live to fight injustice via hunger strike. Until the ravenous fangs of British gluttony are unclenched, she will remain detached, and starving for freedom.

Thanks for reading this review for Say Nothing, and please watch for my companion post coming up in The Gallery later this week, where I’ll showcase some of the murals found in Northern Ireland depicting the conflict.

Quote from Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland: If you could just get people to talk, he believed, the most bitter antagonists could discover common ground - Patrick Radden Keefe

Have you read any great books about The Troubles, or
other important times in Irish history? I’d love to hear
about them.