Thursday, October 16, 2008

Reader's Diary #402- M.L.R. Smith: Fighting For Ireland

M.L.R. Smith's book Fighting For Ireland is 18 years old. Furthermore, the Provisional Irish Republican Army hasn't been active in recent years, calling an end to its armed campaign in 2005 and possibly disbanded in its entirety just last month. So why am I interested in their military strategy now?

I'm not.

When I first moved to Yellowknife, a lot of the fun was unloading my boxes and boxes of books unto my bookshelf. That's when I noticed that I had not one, but two books about the I.R.A. (Smith's book and Peter Taylor's Loyalists). I honestly have no idea where these came from. Must have been that angry leprechaun that helped us pack. In any case, I thought it was about time to rid my shelf of one of these books.

And it was a hard slog. Have you heard people praise Pierre Berton's ability to personalize history and make it interesting? Smith is no Berton. Throwing out dates and acronyms willy-nilly, this is not I.R.A. For Dummies. Unfortunately. Until now, I hadn't even heard of the PIRA. It was all the IRA as far as I was concerned. I had a lot to learn.

And I did learn a little. In particular, I learned that the Protestant-Catholic animosities had a much more complicated relationship with the IRA than I'd ever fathomed. At times the IRA tried to distance itself from the sectarianism, saying that they were for the freedom of all Irish, Catholic and Protestant. At other times, the IRA seemed to exploit the tensions to its advantage. And at other times, it seemed to be a veritable Catholic militant group.

But usually, I found myself drifting away. To Smith's credit, I wasn't able to drift far. Instead of thinking of Irish issues, I found myself thinking "what if" questions about Canada. What if, for instance, Newfoundland and Labrador separatists were told they could just have the island? Would the separatists go for it? On the one hand, it would be hard to pass up a concession. On the other, what chance would that leave the Labradorians? The island has the larger population and therefore a louder voice. Would they continue to fight for Labrador's independence? The old adage "divided we fall" comes to mind. And what about Quebec? If they were to separate due to demands of French separatists, would the English people residing there show loyalty to Canada or Quebec? It was interesting trying to transpose some of Ireland's issues over Canada's. It is with some relief that despite the number of separatist groups in Canada, there have been few incidents of violence (the FLQ is, of course, one exception).

So, dull as Smith's book was (it takes a special skill to make a car-bomb boring), at least it gave me time to reflect on my own country.

The Soundtrack
1. Sunday Bloody Sunday- U2
2. Shankill Butchers- the Decemberists
3. The Orange and The Green- The Irish Rovers
4. Anarchy in the U.K.- the Sex Pistols
5. The Foggy Dew- The Battering Ram


Anonymous said...

It's always political with leprechauns.

Wanda said...

A daunting read to be sure, congrats for sticking with it. Although I suppose I should take more interest in Irelands political struggles (Irish blood in these here veins) I'd much rather “visit” the home of my fore bearers with Frank McCourt and Brendan Ocarroll as my tour guides.

John Mutford said...

Robert: They're the most trouble when they're organized.

Wanda: Yes, they certainly make the grass of home look a wee bit greener.