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The Trouble with Guns: Republican Strategy and the Provisional IRA (A Blackstaff paperback original) [Paperback]

Malachi O'Doherty
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct 1997 A Blackstaff paperback original
This is a critique of IRA strategy from a Belfast journalist with a personal insight. Malachi O'Doherty grew up as a Catholic nationalist in West Belfast, as part of the same generation as the men who were to be the leaders of Sinn Fein and the IRA. O'Doherty was immediately averse to supporting the IRA and felt, at the beginning of the Troubles, a loss of moral bearings, when both the state and the insurgents were in murderous form. The book combines a personal retelling of the period which produced modern Irish Republicanism, with a study of how its political and military strategies have evolved. O'Doherty argues that the achievement of the armed struggle was to create the conditions in which agreement inside Northern Ireland would be impossible, so that those who wished to bring peace would be forced to consider a progression towards Irish unification.


Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Blackstaff Press Ltd (Oct 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0856406058
  • ISBN-13: 978-0856406058
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 14.8 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 734,768 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

I was born in Muff, County Donegal Ireland, to a barman and a nurse who had met just after the war.
I grew up in Belfast, on a housing estate to the west of the city, in the shadow of Black Mountain and as a child played in fields and on building sites.
School taught me to read and write but had few attractions for me. A pity that, since I might have thrived under a decent education and saved myself the trouble of going the long away round to a sense of being educated.
Still, a life that was more ordered and purposeful might have deprived me of the chance to learn more about myself through the challenges of travel and the need to work in different areas.
I have been a teacher to Libyan soldiers, a ghost writer for an Indian guru and a freelance journalist in Belfast for the BBC and several newspapers.
My books reflect that diversity in my life. Much of my writing career coincided with the Northern Irish Troubles and I have written two books about that period, The Trouble With Guns - a critique of the IRA - and The Telling Year, a memoir of working as a journalist in the most violent year, 1972.
Two of my books address religion. I Was A Teenage Catholic recalls a Catholic upbringing and compares it to the years I spent in an Indian ashram. Empty Pulpits is a more analytical book about the decline of religion in Ireland.
More recently I have written about my father in Under His Roof. This was an effort to get to know and understand a difficult man. One thing I inherited from him was a love of cycling and that is the theme of my book, On My Own Two Wheels.
I have written some short fiction and my first novel is a self publishing venture on Kindle. Iscariot is a retelling of the life of Christ, in which he is two different people who are confused with each other, one a zealot revolutionary , the other quiet mystic.

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brave honest analysis , a landmark book. 15 Sep 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
A really great insight into the recent 'troubles' - such honesty and courage does not come often in book form. Why? Let me explain, briefly. We hear on the UK media, a bomb here, a bomb there. What can we really make of such erratic behaviour? In unravelling a few of the myths of Republicanism , see page 10, the reader will come away with the best re-interpretation of this behaviour I have seen for ages. This book is all about the interpretation of strategy and many of the misunderstandings about the tactics. Criticising the 'long war' - the wearing down of the British so they withdraw- O'doherty is not here espousing a political way forward so much as pointing out inconsistencies.
For that reason this book is sad as is the tragedy of N. Ireland and its political stalemate. Sad, yes, because at present times so much of the peace effort towards an internal settlement seems here highly improbable given irrevocable Republican strategy. O'Doherty is critical not so much of the ideal of Irish unity, see page 204, but of its promotion through the use of violence. No future either for any kind of ethnically divisive politics in that the picture of oursleves as human beings first is paramount. In that unstartling 'conclusion' this book is a resounding note for commonsense. But how can we get away from the notion of the 'two communities' idea so prevalent in govt. policy eg. the Anglo-Irish agreement?
Unfortunately, not to rise to the sectarian bait of the 'otherside', is going to take more than this book, great as it is, to really change hearts and minds towards real peace.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars valuable viewpoint about the Northern Conflict, 12 July 2007
Format:Paperback
Overall, I disagree with his analysis, but it's a valuable viewpoint about the Northern Conflict,

I had heard about this book for quite a while, it was written in 1997/8 providing an analysis of the Provisional movement as it was starting it's major change from guns to government. O'Doherty sees the use of violence by the Republican movement as a hijacking of the Civil Rights movement which frustrated political progress in Northern Ireland for decades. He sees the purpose of Republican violence as negating all internal political options for progress, by ensuring that Northern society is destabilised, in this he claims that Republican's had no problem, in general, with Loyalist violence, as it underlined instability. He quotes Gerry's Adams use of the term `armed propaganda', and makes a valid point that Republican's were engaged in neither rebellion nor revolution, but rather resistance.
O'Doherty is most acute on the contradictions between the ballot box and bullet strategy. He points to a 1997 Sinn Fein demonstration about the danger of traffic to children of a particular roadway, followed by their silence when the IRA abandons a car bomb on the same roadway the following week. More pointedly, he demonstrates the changes which occurred in the British Government negotiations position before and after the killings of RUC constables Graham and Johnston in Lurgan in the same year. This latter is a telling point, concessions were made to bring Sinn Fein to the table, and O'Doherty sees the IRA as manipulating these concessions, I suppose the rest of us hope that in retrospect the negotiations/concessions brought the right result.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and thought provoking 8 Nov 2013
By G. D.
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Really enjoyed Malachi O'Doherty's writing . The myths and what we are told is always best challenged by such insightful information from someone who's lived there through the worst of humanity. I would love to read a present day book on what faces the everyday folk in modern NI . Any suggestions welcome
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
4.0 out of 5 stars a valuable viewpoint about the Northern Conflict, 26 Mar 2008
By Hugh Claffey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Overall, I disagree with his analysis, but it's a valuable viewpoint about the Northern Conflict,

I had heard about this book for quite a while, it was written in 1997/8 providing an analysis of the Provisional movement as it was starting it's major change from guns to government. O'Doherty sees the use of violence by the Republican movement as a hijacking of the Civil Rights movement which frustrated political progress in Northern Ireland for decades. He sees the purpose of Republican violence as negating all internal political options for progress, by ensuring that Northern society is destabilised, in this he claims that Republican's had no problem, in general, with Loyalist violence, as it underlined instability. He quotes Gerry's Adams use of the term `armed propaganda', and makes a valid point that Republican's were engaged in neither rebellion nor revolution, but rather resistance.
O'Doherty is most acute on the contradictions between the ballot box and bullet strategy. He points to a 1997 Sinn Fein demonstration about the danger of traffic to children of a particular roadway, followed by their silence when the IRA abandons a car bomb on the same roadway the following week. More pointedly, he demonstrates the changes which occurred in the British Government negotiations position before and after the killings of RUC constables Graham and Johnston in Lurgan in the same year. This latter is a telling point, concessions were made to bring Sinn Fein to the table, and O'Doherty sees the IRA as manipulating these concessions, I suppose the rest of us hope that in retrospect the negotiations/concessions brought the right result. In truth the years from the first ceasefire to decommissioning were ones in which many moral compromises were made, however, they do seem to have been vindicated by history.

While I believe this is a valuable book, I think it credits IRA/Sinn Fein with too much co-ordination and foresight. I think it treats the Provisional movement, and even the IRA as a cohesive unit, which is completely rational in its aims and activities. Therefore the killings of the RUC men in Lurgan was a response of the IRA as a whole to their perception of the inadequacies of the talks on offer by the British government at the time. Given the secretive nature of the IRA, it is impossible to know if this is true. It might also be posited that the murders were the actions of a local unit, which had authorisation to act on its own initiative, and whose actions were complicating the aspirations of those in the IRA who wanted to both bring about a ceasefire and keep the movement unified. It is impossible to know the truth of this, and O'Doherty's view is valuable, even if its not valid. As someone who has lived through the hunger strikes of the early eighties, and witnessed the cluelessness of the Sinn Fein (and IRA) leadership at that time, I don't believe in their omnipotence or foresight. I think O'Doherty credits the IRA leadershop with too much unity and guile. Reading Ed Moloney's book on the ceasefires, gives, I think, a more credible viewpoint that the peace strategy within the IRA was pursued slowly, with tiny advances and major setbacks, wearing down a militant movement, without taking divisive steps.

One really irritating point about the book is the personalisation. O'Doherty gives us his view of the IRA strategy, but he mixes this up with the story of his own upbringing in the Catholic community in Belfast, from which the IRA revived in the late 1960's. He does this, he says, to show his own prejudices and to let the reader judge the context. I think this jars with the cold analysis of the rest of the material.

Overall, I disagree with his analysis, but it's a valuable viewpoint about the Northern Conflict, and unlike a lot of books of that era, it's value as insight has not been negated by subsequent events.
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