on 29 July 1999
Anyone who has ever been baffled by the seemingly mindless intransigence of politics in 'Norn Iron' (and, let's face it, who hasn't?) should beg, borrow or steal this superb book. Politicians are a product of their society and this is the most brilliantly insightful book I have ever read on Northern Irish society. What other writer would sit through the tedium of EIGHT Free Presbyterian services in various locations so as to ensure she had a proper understanding of that peculiarly Ulster phenomenon? Who else has attempted to get to know what South Armagh is really like behind the easy 'bandit country' cliches?
Most of those who hold forth on the subject either lack a real understanding of the North or bring a Unionist/Nationalist agenda to bear on their writings. Murphy manages to be both harshly critical of some sectors of Northern society (Orangemen, Provos) whilst retaining sympathy for them as individuals and attempting to understand how they come to hold the beliefs they do. Only one figure becomes uglier the more closely she observes him - Ian Paisley. Her description of the near hypnotic power which his sermons exerted on his listeners was chilling.
Dervla Murphy's combination of thoroughness and keen insight, together with her fluid writing style, make this an enthralling read. Now well over 20 years old, it is still the best portrait of Northern society yet written. Highly recommended.