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The Troubles: Ireland's Ordeal 1966-1996 and the Search for Peace Paperback – 1 Jan 2002

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 6 reviews
15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Good Survey 5 April 2002
By GK lover - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book provides a good survey of the Troubles of Northern Ireland. I would say in agreement with the other reviewer that it is definitely written from a nationalist perspective. Coogan does not, however, endorse IRA violence. But I think he is fascinated by the IRA, which might be why he has also written probably the definitive book on the IRA. This fascination does come out in "The Troubles." This is a helpful book because it takes you through the Troubles, providing a narrative of major events. Coogan knows whereof he writes; he is a journalist in the South of Ireland. He has seen the effects different acts have had on the mentality of people North and South. For that reason it is interesting.
It being written from a nationalistic perspective will not get in the way of most readers because most readers on this subject also sympathize with the nationalist side. And I don't believe that Coogan distorts facts. His bias comes out but his survey is the best I've found so far. His account is very densely written, however, and can be hard to follow. Also, the book ends in 1996. This might have seemed a logical endpoint at the time, but now it leaves you hanging because so much substantive negotiation has taken place since then.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Detailed History of the Troubles 14 Sept. 2011
By G. Appelhans - Published on
Format: Paperback
This excellent overview is both informational and detailed, while not focusing overly on the more lurid "true crime" aspects as do so many other anecdotally-based works that suffuse this genre of histories. While other reviewers have pointed to its political and legal detail as uninteresting, this story could not be told properly without providing the amount of context present here (and necessary, for an informed telling, in any good history). There are plenty of readers who require more than simple assertion or anecdotal popular versions of history to glean the most from the subject matter, and this book provides the detailed background that separates a work of history from a "story about the past."

I also struggled with the subject-orientation of the book, which at times made chronology challenging. The edition (2nd, 1996) I read did not have a Chronology, which would have come in handy. Also, at times the author presupposes a familiarity with British and Irish political structures and individuals that I did not have. Perhaps a handy Index of Notable Persons or something like the glossary of organizations and their acronyms found in the appendices would help with this.

At least one reviewer feels (and another agreed) that this is written from a Nationalist perspective, and that this bias harms the book. I feel that the illusion of objectivity associated with various works in the humanities, social sciences, AND all other aspects of studying and reporting on human behavior still holds sway. Every author brings their bias with them, and can only do their best to write with that in mind while openly dealing with the potential biases resulting from their subject-position within the text itself. This author does that, and his interjections in that vein have been commented upon in other reviews as well. He never hides his origins in the Republic, his role as a journalist, and his direct impact on some of the events he describes. He treads the line between not injecting himself into the work (anathema in journalism) and owning up to potential biases on his part very carefully and, I feel, successfully.

That said, I too suspect a sympathy for the Nationalist and/or Republican cause on the part of the author, but it is not different from the sympathy I've seen in a number of neutral parties engaging with the Troubles for the first time. The fact is that individuals raised in a tradition of Liberal Humanism (not the modern political sense of Liberal, by the way) seem to me more likely to identify with the Catholic population of Northern Ireland than with the Protestant Unionist perspective, especially if they're coming to the situation as neutrals.
Hard to avoid Coogan if you're studying Irish history. ... 15 April 2015
By Michael E Sweeney - Published on
Format: Paperback
Hard to avoid Coogan if you're studying Irish history.
As much as I respect Coogan, he's what I call an "editorial style" historian, meaning
that he's thinking in terms of impressing his colleagues, and so doesn't stoop to explaining the
endless acronyms and dates and places (because if you don't know what he's talking about, its your problem)

Thanks to wiki, you can get instant information about people, events etc.

I can't think of a historical topic more dominated by one author.
Troubled Northern Ireland's heartbreaking past, and present-day hopes for a lasting peace 3 Jun. 2015
By Paul Haspel - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
“The Troubles” – what a strange name for a war. In Northern Ireland, over the three decades between 1969 and 1998, 3000 people died violent deaths in a province the size of Connecticut; but we call it “The Troubles” – a name that seems more suitable to a long-standing family quarrel. At the same time, the civil conflict in Northern Ireland *was* in many ways a family quarrel, carried on between antagonists who knew each other exceedingly well, as Tim Pat Coogan conveys in his book "The Troubles."

Coogan, a former Irish Press editor, brings to his authorship of "The Troubles" decades of knowledge and experience studying the Northern Ireland conflict; he seems to know everyone involved in the conflict, and his encyclopedic knowledge of Irish history serves him well as he sets forth his history of the Troubles.

Going all the way back to the medieval beginnings of British involvement in Ireland, Coogan quickly brings the reader forward to the year 1969, when long-standing grievances between Northern Ireland’s dominant unionist, Protestant majority and the province’s largely disenfranchised nationalist, Catholic minority burst out in violence. Coogan’s journalistic experience serves him well through the way he cites primary sources, as when he provides the testimony of a Catholic priest recalling an August 1969 unionist attack on a Catholic neighborhood of Belfast: “We remember this night when the Falls Road area was devastated by gunfire and by petrol bombs. In the early hours of the morning I was standing at a fourth storey window of Clonard, looking out at a scene of desolation” (p. 100).

Coogan has sometimes been criticized for writing about the Northern Ireland conflict, and the history of Ireland generally, from an excessively nationalist perspective. And it is true that Coogan has written books about Michael Collins, but not Sir Edward Carson; about the IRA, but not the UVF. Yet Coogan is open about his inclinations toward the nationalist perspective; the book’s subtitle -- "Ireland’s Ordeal and the Search for Peace" -- provides a clear sense of the extent to which Coogan sees the Northern Ireland conflict as part of the broader sweep of Irish history generally. Coogan is frank about his perspective on the Troubles, as when he says that in a television debate with an Ulster unionist, “I argued as a Nationalist,” while his opponent “considered himself British and adumbrated the principles of his Belfast, Unionist and Protestant background” (p. 375). He is not pretending to be a disinterested and altogether objective observer; rather, he is reporting the on-the-ground facts from Northern Ireland, and stating what those facts mean to him.

Coogan is most conscientious in setting forth the intricacies and complexities of the conflict’s intelligence and media dimensions. Chapter 10, “Legal Weaponry,” dealing as it does with the military-intelligence dimension of the Troubles, may give unwary readers a bit of a headache. Before reading Coogan’s book, for example, I was not aware of a conflict between British intelligence agencies MI-5 (domestic intelligence) and MI-6 (foreign intelligence) regarding “whether the Six Counties [of Northern Ireland] were part of the ‘UK mainland’ or the ‘UK overseas’” (p. 291). Interesting to imagine that conversation, isn’t it? An MI-5 agent points out that Northern Ireland is one of the four largest units of the United Kingdom, along with England, Scotland, and Wales – “U.K. mainland,” clearly. In reply, an MI-6 agent sips his tea or claret and says, “My dear fellow, you will pardon me for pointing out that Northern Ireland is separated from Great Britain by North Channel and the Irish Sea, and is therefore clearly to be regarded as ‘U.K. overseas.’”

Chapter 11, “The Media War,” discusses perceptively the efforts of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government to control the terms in which the conflict was discussed, banning some programs and demanding the editing of others, but may be most memorable for Coogan’s verdict regarding Great Britain’s often strident tabloid newspapers: “Where the tabloid press is concerned, let me say merely that, as with Aids and cancer, I hope that some day a cure will be found” (p. 377).

Coogan is often harshly critical of unionist leaders like Ian Paisley, and of the Thatcher ministry’s approach to the Troubles. But he praises American leaders like U.S. President Bill Clinton, who worked hard to bring the opposing parties to the negotiating table in the 1994 ceasefire.

This book, published in 1996, fairly cries out for an update, considering that just two years later, the Good Friday accords of 1998 brought to troubled Northern Ireland a peace agreement that, miraculously, has lasted.

I read "The Troubles" while traveling in Northern Ireland, and was delighted to find, in my visit to the province, that the commitment to peace among citizens of Northern Ireland, whatever their political convictions, is strong. In Belfast, one can, if one wishes, take a “black taxi” tour and see the wall murals in the nationalist and unionist neighborhoods that were epicenters of the Troubles; or one can tour the very fine Titanic museum by the old Harland & Wolff docks, and observe how Belfast works to re-define herself. In Derry/Londonderry, historically a city so divided that its citizens can’t even agree upon what the city should be called (it is sardonically referred to as “Stroke City”), there is a Peace Bridge across the River Foyle, and a Peace Flame, and a statue called “Hands Across the Divide” that shows two people, symbolic of the Catholic/nationalist and Protestant/unionist communities, reaching toward each other across the space between them – not quite clasping hands in friendship just yet, but almost there. The details of the Northern Ireland conflict, as one reads about them in Coogan’s book, are painful in the extreme; but today, almost twenty years after the Good Friday accords were signed, one can look at the relatively tranquil life of the once-troubled province with a strong sense of hope. And if peace can take hold in a war-torn place like Northern Ireland, perhaps someday it can take hold everywhere.
10 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Obviously biased but the only 400+ page book on the subject 9 Jun. 2004
By John Leighton - Published on
Format: Paperback
I recently made a trip to NI to visit relatives, and I did a "Troubles" tour the entire time. I picked up several Troubles books, including Making Sense of the Troubles which is the best bok on the subject. However, this is the only non-memoir or "true crime" book which is 400+ pages AND includes photos.
Clearly, Catholics have suffered disproportionately. But I disagree with the previous reviewer that "most people who are interested in this subject sympathize with the Nationalists." I was interested in the whole civil war aspect. Coogan, as a native who lived through many things, has a peerless perspective to offer. He has a lot of detail and in-depth writing on many topics which are probably all but forgotten for many.
However, two complaints: as a general history for the topic this book is dense and not all that enjoyable a read. It is not particularly chronological, and is heavy on political and legalist sections which are crushingly dull. There are the odd story which is entrancing, but not too many.
Secondly, Coogan is clearly more bothered by Loyalists killing than the IRA killing. Far removed from the events, after several years of low paramilitary activity, anything other than total outrage for either side falls flat. There are many times Coogan goes on for pages listing Loyalist killings, which are obscene and savage, and then ends with some sentence like "The IRA was responsible for 13 civilian deaths during this same time." What makes this annoying is that one of the first things people think about when they think of NI is the IRA, and although Nationalist have many legitimate complaints, it is just not acceptable to have a sort of starry eyed view of terrorists. Coogan in many places seems to revel in his access to IRA members, taking it ass a sign of how cool he is or something. But in the book, it comes out as being soft on crime.
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