The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Armed Struggle
Armed Struggle: A history of the IRA. Author: Richard English. Publishers: MacMillan
Anthony McIntyre • The Other View, Summer 2003

The Provisional IRA may have failed in its war to remove the British from Ireland, but it has most definitely not lost its ability to fascinate a public eager to understand what made the organisation tick. When Richard English’s book Armed Struggle was launched in Queen’s University’s Great Hall in April, it was received by a packed audience. Virtually, every shade from across the political spectrum was present in the audience. Patti Smith’s rock concert the following month in the College of Art pulled similar numbers. Which tells us that in terms of research the IRA has certainly not gone away.

The author claimed to offer an analysis of the Provisionals based on the ‘widest range of sources ever used.’ This was no idle boast - many sources often ignored over the three decades it has taken a Provisional republican historiography to grow, layer upon layer, were trawled for what insight they could provide. Whether such an exercise allows for the width to be complemented by the depth is a moot point. Reconciling the tension between reach and grasp is the researcher’s dilemma.

The challenges facing Richard English’s attempt to both scale and bridge these polarised peaks were magnified by a daring statement of intent on behalf of his scholarly project. To study the Provisionals ‘in a systematic and measured fashion, and to offer the fullest, most balanced and most authoritative treatment’ yet is a statement that would have raised few eyebrows back in February 1971 when it could be reported that relatively little was known about the Provisionals. Matters are not the same in 2003.

Provisional republicanism is a goldmine whose coveted treasure trove of illicit gems has drawn numerous researchers, in the hope that they alone might shout ’eureka.’ Professor English’s cry of ‘I have found it’ in this regard will be challenged by many in the field. Fortunately, however, like all historiographies not crafted by a central committee, many contesting histories rather than one definitive history will better replenish and enrich the fountain of public knowledge.

In seeking to explain the origins of the Provisional IRA Richard English has employed a novel variant of the continuity theme which allows the IRA to trace its history back to 1916. The pre-Provisional IRA were responsible for the Civil Rights Movement which in turn became the midwife for the Provisionals. There is something of the auto-fusion here which allows a greater emphasis to be placed on a linear progression rather than those discontinuous ‘interruptions whose status and nature vary considerably’ as postulated in the work of Michel Foucault. A discontinuous counterfactual interrogation of the theme of continuity in Provisional historiography may better allow us to assess the weight of Richard English’s contention.

A major strength of Armed Struggle lies in the author’s readiness to allow the participants to have their say. His ability to politically evaluate the limited effects of the IRA campaign avoids slipping into simplistic and dubious moral evaluations of those involved. Sufficient condemnation of republicans has emerged from within unionism, without in any way increasing understanding of what made them function. Richard English in approaching them in a morally non-judgemental manner much better allows students of the conflict in general to appreciate the interactive and multi-causal nature of the political violence that plagued the North for almost three decades.

In a world where being right too early can lead to social isolation Armed Struggle is a work of considerable personal courage from a writer grounded in the unionist academic tradition. Those republicans who seek refuge in its pages as a shelter to shield them from Ed Moloney’s incisive examination of the corrosive effects of a leadership led movement, and subsequent deconstruction of its strategy, will find only temporary respite. English subtly but with clinical skill subverts the purpose of the IRA’s war that leaves the reader to stare at a gaping chasm separating objectives from achievement.











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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

18 September 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others
Eamon Sweeney


Members of 32CSM and IRPWA Physically Assaulted by RUC/PSNI
Andy Martin


Report: Belfast Anti Racist Meeting
Davy Carlin


The Shadows
Carrie Twomey


DHSS Lives
Liam O Ruairc


Freedom and Democracy in Cuba Depend on Support for Dissidents
Vaclav Havel, Arpad Göncz, Lech Walesa


Cancun - Whose Setback and Whose Opportunity?
Michael Youlton


How Do You Like Your Elections - Fixed and Murky?
Toni Solo


Armed Struggle
Anthony McIntyre


Republican Sinn Fein commemorates Robert Emmet


16 September 2003


In The Shadow of Fear
Anthony McIntyre


Derry's Disappeared
Deaglán Ó Donghaile


Bangers on the Blanket?
Kathleen O Halloran


Dialectics of Terror
M Shaid Alam


Prison Segregation
Republican Prisoners Support Network


Letter to the Chief Constable
British Irish Rights Watch


A Jackboot on my Presscard
Anthony McIntyre


The Letters Page has been updated.




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