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on 19 May 2016
The Troubles in Northern Ireland started more than a century ago, and they are an inconceivable time in history. To begin with, a seemingly reasonable settlement after the first world war resulted in British neglect and Unionism establishing total dominance, thereby repressing the Catholic community. Incredibly, this was tolerated until the late-1960s, when images of police brutality forced Britain to take action. That said, Catholic repression absolutely does not condone the subsequent I.R.A. campaign of sheer violence (largely endorsed by Sinn Fein) over the following decades that killed and maimed so many innocent people.
From my own British perspective, this book was interesting in showing the motivations of various Prime Ministers. Harold Wilson wisely first took charge of the Irish problems by insisting that Nationalists be given more representation, yet still misjudged the situation with his ‘spongers’ speech when he became understandably frustrated in the 1970s by Loyalist strikers disrupting peaceful settlements. Ted Heath was disgraceful with his internment policies that alienated many Republicans, and yet came round to reason with the expertly compromising Sunningdale Agreement. The cold-hearted Margaret Thatcher was rightly strong against the I.R.A. hunger-strikers, but required the help of Garret Fitzgerald and S.D.L.P. leader John Hume to form the Anglo-Irish Agreement – Hume would later deservedly receive the Nobel Peace Prize and characteristically donated the prize money to charity. And John Major’s scathing speech about Gerry Adams after a military murder was legendary.
In the end, not even the Good Friday Agreement (which finally brought long-term peace) could stop the extremists from taking charge in the form of Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness – their past crimes will probably never be atoned for.
Overall, the most disturbing element of the Troubles is the singularly uncompromising attitude from the vast majority of the population. Moderate intelligence was sadly a rare thing (the S.D.L.P. was the most consistent voice of sense, though not perfect). It is truly terrifying that so many people can be consumed by bigotry that they simply cannot see reason. Refusal to negotiate and compromise was the main reason why the Troubles lasted so long.
This book is a very even-handed and neutral account of the history of the Troubles. My sole criticism is that there should have been more detail on crucial events such as the Birmingham pub bombings and the Brighton Conservative conference bomb. If you lived through it and have a strong bias for one particular side then you will probably find it disappointing, but otherwise it is a quality work of social and political history.
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on 21 April 2014
Throughly enjoyed this book, very informative & balanced on what was a preventable & ultimately destructive conflict which claimed the lives of so many.
The chronological order was lucid & easy to digest. Having lived in Northern Ireland for 10 years & having a Northern Irish mother, a lot of the information stated in the book I could recall & still feel disgusted in what both sides did to justify their murders.
I just pray that all the people within N Ireland can move forward via democratic & peaceful means, despite the v small minority trying to drag it into the violent past (as I write this a former prominent CIRA member has been murdered).
I fully recommend this book for personnel who want to learn about the troubles or like me, who have lived through part of it.
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on 20 March 2002
The story of the Northern Ireland troubles has its roots deep in Irish history. It is one of grief and loss, power, pride, murderous hatred, missed opportunities, contradictions, political double-dealing, some brave - if frequently doomed - efforts at a solution, and often just mind-boggling stupidity. Above all, though, it is one of terrible, heartbreaking sadness. It is impossible to read "Making Sense of the Troubles" by journalist David McKittrick and historian David McVea, without tears in the eyes.
It is an ambitious title. How can anyone make sense of the deaths of more than 3,500 people; many of them civilians, lots of them children or babies - even unborn babies?... and amid the carnage the terrible toll of grief-stricken families, Protestant and Catholic alike, whose lives would never be the same again.
And yet as the 'straightforward and accessible account' promised by the authors, the book is an unqualified success.
It tells the story chronologically, packing 43 years of history - from the 1920 Government of Ireland Act which established the province with its own government (supposedly subordinate to Westminster: in reality allowed to set its own, often corrupt, agenda) to the start of the O'Neill era in 1963 - into just 25 pages. And in that first chapter the authors show how early the seeds of a discontented state that could never be fully at peace with itself, were sown.
It was not just that the state was "born in violence" (428 people killed in the first two years of its existence); it wasn't even that the system itself was inherently flawed (how could it have been otherwise when the boundaries were set by Westminster and the Unionists with the precise aim of ensuring Protestant supremacy?); or even that the Protestants felt insecure, and the Catholics trapped in a hostile land.
All these were important enough factors in ensuring the province would one day erupt. But a dominant theme of the narrative, which starts on the second page and runs through it like a geological fault, is that of indifference.
The British handed power to the Ulster Unionists in 1921 and did nothing for more than 40 years to prevent them abusing it; the Irish of the 26 counties were too busy: "The Free State was aggrieved by the loss of what it regarded as its rightful territory, but concentrated instead on making a success of its own fledgling state."
There are some poignant moments recalled in the book, which speak profoundly of Southern Irish indifference to the plight of their Northern compatriots: the immense disappointment this engenders in the reader has to do with the fact that from the Irish themselves we expected more. That the British were callously indifferent to the plight of a Catholic minority is appalling but not entirely surprising - to learn that the Irish appeared to wash their hands of the North has a real sadness about it, especially when so much appears to have been made over the years of the controversial articles 2 and 3 of the 1937 Irish Constitution, laying claim to the State.
"Politically Northern nationalists were unwelcome ghosts at the feast in Dublin." say the authors.
One of Harold Wilson's aides recalled a lunch the opposition leader had with Taoiseach Jack Lynch in 1969. Wilson mooted the idea of Irish unity: "The fascinating moment came when Harold Wilson put forward the plan for turning the dream of unity into reality. I had thought they would jump for joy, but their reaction was more akin to falling through the floor."
So for all the rhetoric, it appears there was little appetite in the South for an end to partition, and in England no sympathy at all for those trapped in what even David Trimble was to call "a cold house for Catholics."
Even in so dispassionate and objective an account it is not difficult to see that while the authors believe the terrorists of both sides have the blood of innocents on their hands, the politicians of virtually every persuasion, and on both sides of the Irish Sea, must take a huge share of the blame. John Hume and Gerry Fitt of the SDLP, and Mo Mowlam the one-time Labour Secretary of State, are among the few to emerge with any credibility or real integrity.
For the rest - of Left or Right - their actions are marked by errors of judgement, insensitive decisions, and an almost wilful inability to see where their policies would inevitably lead. They cite Terence O'Neill's empty rhetoric of reform, which in the mid to late 60s did much to antagonise the Unionists and nothing whatever to appease the nationalists; Faulkner's policy of internment which brought a massive increase in violence in its wake; Margaret Thatcher's steely refusal to grant political status to the hunger strikers in the Maze; Reginald Maudling's lazy indifference and crass concept of "an acceptable level of violence."
Labour politicians emerge with not much more credit. Merlyn Rees, the Labour Northern Ireland Secretary, is portrayed as inexperienced and weak: his inability to get to grips with the Ulster Workers Council (UWC) strike in May 1974, meant the brief experiment of power-sharing after the Sunningdale Agreement was doomed to failure.
This is a profoundly readable book, clear in its aim and consistent in its execution, but a deeply moving one, too. To read it is to understand a little more about an otherwise baffling, and seemingly intractable, problem.I cannot commend it too highly.
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on 3 July 2014
This book was a complete education for me. I have lived in the greater Belfast area all my life (24 years) yet for the most part I have remained completely ignorant of Northern Irish history and politics, only recently obtaining an interest. I decided to educate myself and purchased this book. I couldn't put it down.

The book winds chronologically through the Troubles, beginning by skimming over the Easter Rising and Northern Ireland's inception in the early 20th Century and finishing in 2012. The authors focus on delivering the facts in a clear, unbiased and unemotional manner, leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions.

The accounts of the innumerable atrocities, which often contained quotes from eyewitnesses, had a tear-jerking effect (Bloody Sunday and the Omagh bombing seem to stand out); and the immoral and unethical actions of the many irrational, bigoted and selfish characters that played a role in Northern Ireland's history, either in politics or through violence, or sometimes both, were astonishing and appalling. The book title suggests the impossible, that sense can be made of the Troubles, but it is nevertheless a thorough and balanced synopsis of what happened.

The book finishes on a positive note citing the unlikely partnership of Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, and later the support which Martin McGuinness provided to Peter Robinson after his wife's affair. It mentions the Queen's visit to Ireland which was widely acclaimed (by both Nationalists and Unionists) where she commemorated those who died fighting for Irish freedom, visited the scene of Bloody Sunday and delivered a speech at dinner which she began by speaking in Irish. It also mentions the funeral of Michaela Harte - daughter of Micky Harte - which was attended by former loyalist paramilitary leader Winston Rea, who spoke of how welcome the Harte family and Martin McGuinness, who was also at the funeral, made him feel.

It would appear that historical animosities are slowly being eroded and trust is slowly beginning to develop. Statistics and graphs at the back of the book show that the number of Troubles-related deaths per year is at an all-time low, and that the Nationalist and Unionist vote is as close to equal as it has ever been. I find myself excited at the prospect of living in post-Troubles Northern Ireland, uncertain of what lies ahead. This book is a must read for anyone from Northern Ireland, living in Northern Ireland or with an interest in the Troubles. We're not out of the woods yet but we're on the right path!
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on 14 May 2017
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on 15 March 2017
Arrived in great condition
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on 2 July 2013
I I bought this book prior to a trip to NI wanting to further my knowledge of NI`s history having grown up through the london bombing campaign and reading of the IRA news. This book has given me a better perspective on the faults and injustices attributed to all the key players involved in the troubles As expected it was quite heavy reading but worth it
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on 11 May 2015
Great read, very politically heavy but if like me you don't have a huge knowledge of the troubles in Northern Ireland then this is the book for you. From the formation of the country to present day, a very interesting read that covers every major and inevitably sad event through the troubles. I felt afterwards I gained an immense amount of knowledge on the subject that made me buy other books on the subject.
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on 31 December 2013
I have not yet completed the book.I am so impressed with how easy it is to read and its factual accurate account of events. It is limited in explaining the motivations and thoughts of communities.As an overview it does not fully acknowledge the experiences of victims and their families.Still a useful read
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on 16 March 2010
I have read many books about the troubles in the past and as I come from Belfast I can honestly say that this book is the closest to reality that I have ever read and is written in a way that is easy for someone who is not a native of Northern Ireland to understand. If you really want to understand about the troubles of Northern Ireland this is a "must read".
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