This is a book that had to be written because it covers a subject that extends far beyond Ireland and dispels many of the inaccurate assumptions that have been made by others. Ireland has had a long and bloody history of internecine conflict.
NAME: The Ulster Tales, A Tribute to Those Who Served 1969-2000
CLASSIFICATION: Book reviews
AUTHOR: John Wilsey
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: Soft back
SUBJECT: civil war, insurrection, terrorists, covert war, special forces, Ulster, The Six Counties, Northern Ireland, The Troubles, bombing, paramilitaries, drug pushers, organized crime
DESCRIPTION: This is a book that had to be written because it covers a subject that extends far beyond Ireland and dispels many of the inaccurate assumptions that have been made by others. Ireland has had a long and bloody history of internecine conflict. When Alcock and Brown were preparing to make the first trans-Atlantic flight a journalist asked them how they would know where they landed if successful in the crossing. The answer was ” if we see two men in a bog beating each other over the head with lumps of wood, we will know we have reached Ireland”. Perhaps an unfair reflection on Irish society, it never the less encapsulated the continuous level of violence associated with Ireland. The study of Irish history, back to before the settlement of Vikings in Ireland, shows that there have been long periods of strife interposed with short periods of peace. In the medieval period English and Scottish Kings tried to annex Ireland. Edward de Bruce, brother of Robert The Bruce, came very close to making himself King of Ireland before his army was forced back to Scotland. The source of more recent conflict goes back to Henry VIII when he broke from Rome to establish an English Catholic Church. That introduced religion into the traditional political and territorial disputes within Ireland and between Ireland and the rest of the British Isles. Through the Nineteenth Century Irish rebels periodically fought against what they regarded as foreign, English, rule. Many of the “English” were as Irish as the rebels and the real divisions were between Roman and English Catholics. It was a curious conflict because although some Irish rebels hoped to win by alliance with Germany in World War One, a great many Irish fought for Britain and its Allies. When the Irish Free State was granted independence, conflict continued in the Free State as the Protestants in the South were “ethnically cleansed”. In the North, Ulster remained part of the United Kingdom, where the majority were Protestants. Although there were divisions with the Ulster Catholics, much of Ulster enjoyed peace, harmony and integration. During the Second World War, Irish from the Free State served in the British forces, sailed as seamen and worked in the war industries in the UK, even though the Free State maintained a German-learning neutrality. The IRA formed to subjugate the people of Ulster and fought a series of campaigns in the province. With the overwhelming majority of Catholics and Protestants unsupportive of the IRA, the campaigns fizzled out although the IRA never really disbanded. Civil Rights protests provided an excuse for the IRA murderers and gangsters to crawl out of the woodwork in a new cycle of violence that ran from 1969 to 2000. When peace was declared, largely through appeasement of the IRA leaders, a full peace has never been achieved. Periodically there are reminders of violence with new bombing and shootings, although there are parts of Ulster where there has never been a bomb or bullet in recent history. Paramilitaries on both sides have engaged in a number of criminal activities and it is clear that the main driver on both sides can be criminal rather than political. When British soldiers were sent to Ulster in 1969, they were initially received by Catholics and Protestants as welcome protectors against violence. That inevitably changed because soldiers never make good policemen and the first priority of any insurgent is to provoke soldiers and paint them as occupiers. This is a tragically complex island with violence never far below the surface in contrast with the hospitable and peaceful nature of most Irish, whatever their political or religious background. The author approaches the subject with the experience of a soldier who has served in a number civil wars and in Ulster, eventually becoming GOC and Director of Operations in Northern Ireland. Although the book is a tribute to those who served in the Ulster police and the British Army, the author provides an insightful account, illustrated by a photographic plate section. The approach to the subject is successful, looking at the situation through the eyes of types of people, starting with the Reporter’s Tale. The Widow’s Tale is perhaps the most poignant of the perspectives of a savage conflict. The reader may find some parts of the book uncomfortable because whatever the reader’s initial perspective, this is a subject of complexity and controversy but by the end of the book everyone will probably have modified their initial perspective and, if that is so, the book has been a very valuable work.