Secrets From Belfast

Historians in the News

Anthony McIntyre made one thing clear: The project had to remain absolutely secret. If Boston College wanted him to interview former members of the Irish Republican Army, he needed that guarantee. They would be talking about dangerous things—bombings, shootings, and murder.

It was June of 2000, just two years after a controversial peace accord ended three decades of conflict in Northern Ireland. Mr. McIntyre, an independent historian, was having dinner at Deanes Restaurant, in the center of this small, working-class city, with an Irish journalist and a librarian from Boston College.

The journalist, Ed Moloney, was a friend who had recommended Mr. McIntyre for the project. But the librarian, Robert K. O’Neill, was a stranger. And Mr. McIntyre needed to know what sorts of promises he and Boston College were willing to make. The IRA was an unforgiving organization. Although the fighting was over, informers—or “touts,” as the IRA called them—were not looked upon kindly. You just didn’t go around talking about what you had done in those dark years.

Yet the idea was undeniably appealing. To record the stories of the men and women who had put their lives on the line for the cause of independence, some of whom had committed horrific acts of violence in the process, that was something no one else had done. The three men at the table understood the insights that could be gained, Mr. McIntyre perhaps most of all. He was a former IRA man, and had spent nearly 17 years in prison for killing a loyalist paramilitary soldier. That’s why Mr. Moloney wanted him for this job: His fellow fighters would trust him.

“No matter how skilled or experienced the academic researcher or journalist,” Mr. Moloney wrote in a proposal two months before the meeting, “ex-paramilitaries know far more about the subject and are familiar with the lifestyles of ex-colleagues in a way others cannot even approach.”...

Read entire article at Chronicle of Higher Education

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