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

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

Published in 2019 by Doubleday
Genre: History, Ireland
Format: Hardcover, library, 441 pages


From award-winning New Yorker staff writer Patrick Radden Keefe, a stunning, intricate narrative about a notorious killing in Northern Ireland and its devastating repercussions

In December 1972, Jean McConville, a thirty-eight-year-old mother of ten, was dragged from her Belfast home by masked intruders, her children clinging to her legs. They never saw her again. Her abduction was one of the most notorious episodes of the vicious conflict known as The Troubles. Everyone in the neighborhood knew the I.R.A. was responsible. But in a climate of fear and paranoia, no one would speak of it. In 2003, five years after an accord brought an uneasy peace to Northern Ireland, a set of human bones was discovered on a beach. McConville’s children knew it was their mother when they were told a blue safety pin was attached to the dress–with so many kids, she had always kept it handy for diapers or ripped clothes.

Patrick Radden Keefe’s mesmerizing book on the bitter conflict in Northern Ireland and its aftermath uses the McConville case as a starting point for the tale of a society wracked by a violent guerrilla war, a war whose consequences have never been reckoned with. The brutal violence seared not only people like the McConville children, but also I.R.A. members embittered by a peace that fell far short of the goal of a united Ireland, and left them wondering whether the killings they committed were not justified acts of war, but simple murders. From radical and impetuous I.R.A. terrorists such as Dolours Price, who, when she was barely out of her teens, was already planting bombs in London and targeting informers for execution; to the ferocious I.R.A. mastermind known as The Dark; to the spy games and dirty schemes of the British Army; to Gerry Adams, who negotiated the peace but betrayed his hardcore comrades by denying his I.R.A. past, Say Nothing conjures a world of passion, betrayal, vengeance, and anguish.

Being a teenager in the 90s I remember hearing some things about The Troubles but not much. It didn’t affect me so why worry or remember or think much about it at all? And it wasn’t until the whole Brexit fiasco did I even start to remember I’d heard anything about it. I started looking into books I could read to find out more about it. What happened? And why? Well, Patrick Radden Keefe came through for me and just published Say Nothing. He uses the murder of Jean McConville, a protestant living in Northern Ireland at the time, a mother of 10, and a recent widow to talk about The Troubles and its aftermath.

The way he writes about everyone involved makes you think. He explains the views of each side and how it all escalated to the beginning of the conflict in the late 60s. I really got a sense of the injustice the minority Catholics had felt being in Northern Ireland after they were left behind when the 6 counties were formed that stayed in the UK after the civil war.

The main characters Keefe focuses on are the McConville children dealing with the aftermath of the disappearance of their mother, Dolours Price who helped orchestrate the bombing of the Old Bailey building in London, and her sister Marian. Dolours Price grew up in a Republican family. Her Aunt Bridie had her hands and eyes blown off and out when she was only 25. She was a living martyr. But Dolours and her sister wanted to give non-violence a chance. A lot of idealistic youth at that time organized a peace march drafted after Martin Luther King’s Selma march. But it went all wrong. The Protestant Loyalists and the Protestant majority police force stood back and watched while the protesters were beaten terribly.

Dolours said she looked into the eyes of one of the Loyalists who were beating her and her fellow protesters and saw a fog of hate. And she knew she would never be able to get him or people like him to sympathize or change their minds. That’s when her and her sister Marian joined the I.R.A.

England sent in soldiers to mediate but they targeted Catholic communities and let Loyalist paramilitary attacks slide. This in turn caused more people to join the I.R.A., which in turn caused more violence and escalation. This new I.R.A. “…aimed to be clean, disciplined, organized, ideological and ruthless. They called themselves “volunteers,”…As a volunteer, you stood ready to sacrifice everything–even your own life–in service to the cause. This pact tended to inculcate, among the revolutionaries, an intoxicating sense of camaraderie and mission, a bond that could seem indestructible.”

In this environment Dolours and Marian and many others were willing to kill people in the name of their cause, no questions asked.

Eventually Jean McConville was found but no one has ever been prosecuted. Her children have suffered terribly. She is one of the disappeared and no evidence has ever been found of her being an informant to the British.

It’s an astounding account of what humans will do to one another. Us vs. Them. Dolours gave a couple of interviews before she died in 2013 where she was willing to discuss her crimes while apart of the I.R.A. She said she’s not very religious but that she still says a prayer for the Disappeared. Not religious. Her fight, while technically sectarian–Catholics vs. Protestants, was actually something quite different.

For more on The Troubles check out the documentary I, Dolours which was done by Ed Moloney who interviewed her in 2010.

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