Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland

From award-winning New Yorker staff writer Patrick Radden Keefe, a stunning, intricate narrative about a notorious killing in Northern Ireland and its devastating repercussionsIn December 1972, Jean McConville, a thirty-eight-year-old mother of ten, was dragged from her Belfast home by masked intruders, her children clinging to her legs. They never saw her again. Her abd...

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Title:Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland
Author:Patrick Radden Keefe
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Edition Language:English

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland Reviews

  • megs_bookrack

    Very impressive, Radden Keefe. Very impressive indeed.

    is an

    piece of narrative nonfiction concerning The Troubles in the North of Ireland, particularly centered in Belfast, beginning in 1969 through the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

    Bookending Radden Keefe's extraordinary compilation of these events is the story of a mother of ten, Jean McConville, who was forcibly taken from her home in late 1972, becoming o

    Very impressive, Radden Keefe. Very impressive indeed.

    is an

    piece of narrative nonfiction concerning The Troubles in the North of Ireland, particularly centered in Belfast, beginning in 1969 through the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

    Bookending Radden Keefe's extraordinary compilation of these events is the story of a mother of ten, Jean McConville, who was forcibly taken from her home in late 1972, becoming one of 'the disappeared' during this bitter conflict. McConville had been accused of being a paid informant for the British Army and it was common knowledge at the time that the IRA was responsible for her disappearance.

    This book seems

    and indeed, Radden Keefe, provides copious notes at the end of the main story detailing where his information is coming from, etc. During the course of his 4-years of research, he interviewed around 100 people, although many more refused to speak with him, as talking about The Troubles can still hold repercussions.

    I was so impressed with how he was able to

    on the page. Weaving together an immersive account of a time fraught with violence, betrayals and loss. There are descriptive accounts of the roles of various players at the time such as Gerry Adams, Brendan Hughes, Bobby Sands and the Price Sisters, Dolours and Marian.

    One of the most interesting areas explored, for me, was the hunger strikes carried out by many of the volunteers captured and imprisoned by the British. I hadn't really heard too much about that before and found it

    , which the author handled so well.

    I would

    to anyone interested in 20th century Irish history or anyone interested in The Troubles in particular. I definitely have a couple of people in my own life that I will be purchasing this book for as a gift.

    Thank you so much to the publisher, Doubleday Books, for providing me with a copy to read and review. I truly appreciate having the opportunity to read this one.

    A big thank you as well to the author, Patrick Radden Keefe, for taking on this project as I feel this is a part of history that

    . Well done.

  • Rachel

    I wish it weren't only February because the statement 'this is the best book I've read all year' does not carry very much weight when we still have 10 months to go. But, nonetheless, this is my reigning book of 2019. And it ended up being one of those rare cases when the book turned out so differently from what I expected, but I ended up liking it all the more for that. From the blurb I got the impression that this was going to focus on the disappearance of a woman called Jean McConville, with d

    I wish it weren't only February because the statement 'this is the best book I've read all year' does not carry very much weight when we still have 10 months to go. But, nonetheless, this is my reigning book of 2019. And it ended up being one of those rare cases when the book turned out so differently from what I expected, but I ended up liking it all the more for that. From the blurb I got the impression that this was going to focus on the disappearance of a woman called Jean McConville, with details about the Troubles setting the background context, but instead it's primarily a narrative account of the Troubles which occasionally, haltingly zeroes in on McConville's story. So it's less true crime than it is historical nonfiction, but the final product is focused and compelling.

    , whose title comes from a line from a Seamus Heaney poem which examines the treacherous precedent of speaking plainly about the Troubles, paints a comprehensive picture of twentieth century Belfast and introduces us to a few of the main players responsible for much of the devastation caused by the IRA - Brendan Hughes, Gerry Adams, Dolours and Marian Price, et al. Radden Keefe explores the lives and family histories and philosophies and interpersonal dynamics of these individuals and I found it refreshing that he didn't have an interest in moralizing in his approach to this story; while I think true objectivity is probably impossible, this is about as multifaceted as it gets. Driven primarily by an interest in the human cost of the conflict, Radden Keefe turns four years of research into a richly detailed account of Northern Ireland's fraught history, particularly examining how difficult it is to cultivate a historical record when different accounts contain conflicting information, and when everyone is afraid to speak openly about a conflict that's officially been resolved, but is a strong force in cumulative living memory. (If you loved

    , or if you didn't understand

    , this is such a valuable nonfiction supplement.)

    Certain anecdotes and images in this book were just arresting, and I think it's telling that the two stories that affected me the most had victims on opposite sides of the conflict. The first was about an IRA man who ordered a hit on another IRA man, whose wife he was having an affair with; the first man was sentenced to death, and Dolours Price, driving him to his execution, was struck with the thought that she could let him go, or that he could attack her and escape, but neither of those possibilities was going to happen because they both wholly accepted their devotion to the cause. The chapter ends with the flat and haunting lines

    The second story that got under my skin was about two young British soldiers who had accidentally found themselves in the middle of an IRA funeral; because of a recent attack by loyalists, their presence was met with suspicion and they were dragged from their car and beaten, and eventually taken across the road and shot. A Catholic priest ran over and when he noticed that one of the men was still breathing, asked if anyone knew CPR, but he was met with silence from the crowd, and a photograph was captured of him kneeling over this soldier's body and staring into the camera, his lips bloody from trying to resuscitate him.

    As for the significance of Jean McConville, the mother of ten who went missing in 1972, and whose body wasn't recovered until her bones were found on a beach in 2003: at first I did worry that this element was being shoehorned as a bizarre piece of human interest (I say 'bizarre' due to the little attention that's paid to McConville and her children throughout). However, I needn't have worried, as everything does eventually dovetail in a way that fully justifies this book's premise. Running alongside the historical account of the Troubles, Radden Keefe introduces the reader to something called the Boston College Tapes, an aborted project in which heads of the college's Irish History department endeavored to curate an oral history of the Troubles, to be accessed by the college's students in future generations. Due to the fact that discussing past paramilitary activity is an incriminating act, participants in the project were granted a sort of amnesty and promised that the tapes would not be released until after the participant's death. This promise was violated in the form of a lengthy legal battle between BC and the UK government, and ended up playing a key role in getting to the bottom of McConville's disappearance.

    While I'd first and foremost recommend

    to those with an interest in Irish history and wouldn't dream of selling this as a true crime book, I don't want to downplay how enthralling this was. Granted, its focus is something I already had an interest in, but what Radden Keefe brought to this narrative was a fiercely human angle, and I found this as deeply moving as it was informative.

  • William2

    Harrowing. I’ve always wanted a book that could describe simply and clearly what happened in Ireland during The Troubles. Not being Irish, I’ve too often felt the pall of incomprehensibility daunting me. I never found the right book, until now.

    is indeed that longed-for book. The prose is just perfectly freighted, and the reader is hoovered into the narrative maelstrom from the very first page with the mad scene of Jean McConville being torn from the arms of her huge and loving famil

    Harrowing. I’ve always wanted a book that could describe simply and clearly what happened in Ireland during The Troubles. Not being Irish, I’ve too often felt the pall of incomprehensibility daunting me. I never found the right book, until now.

    is indeed that longed-for book. The prose is just perfectly freighted, and the reader is hoovered into the narrative maelstrom from the very first page with the mad scene of Jean McConville being torn from the arms of her huge and loving family—never to return—by masked goons.

    The hatred here is like hatred everywhere—irrational. Be it the Nazis and the Jews, the new “discoverers” of America and its indigenous peoples, the Tutsi and the Hutu—the list is abysmally long. And let’s not forget the Legacy Museum, in Montgomery, Alabama, also known as the lynching museum. I long to visit it. Why? What can I possibly do at this remove? I guess it’s as

    once said, or rather wrote, one must bear witness, even if it’s at second or third hand.

    There were five hostile entities in Belfast in the early 1970s. There was the IRA which was Catholic Nationalist and which split into two rival camps: (1) the Official IRA, which was Communist, and sought to remove Northern Ireland from the UK and create a workers' republic; and (2) the Provisional IRA, which sought to end British rule in Northern Ireland, and bring about an independent republic, and who were known as the Provos—the largest and most active republican paramilitary group. Other bellicose parties included (3) the loyalist paramilitaries, which were Protestant militia opposed to Catholic Emancipation and supporting the British occupation; (4) the Royal Ulster Constabulary, RUC, which was a Protestant police force; and finally (5) the British Army, the key military force of a (largely Protestant) nation which had recently lost virtually all of its colonial possessions. Other paramilitaries formed later.

    After Jean McConville was “snatched,” to use the tabloid argot, and her ten parentless children were left to fend for themselves in the execrable Divis flats—their father Arthur had died of cancer some time before—no one from the surrounding community took the orphans under their wing. These traumatized children received no care. Even the local parish priest was unsympathetic. With good reason, it turns out, since Jean had been taken by the papist IRA. This resulted in a culture of silence in Belfast not unlike that in the USSR under Stalin, when even next door neighbors would not speak to one another due to the mutual fear of denunciation.

    In the Provisional IRA, the members were all very young. Kids, really. They generally volunteered as children, with many assuming important roles by their teenage years and early twenties. These were the snipers and bombers and hit persons then so feared. Dolours Price was eighteen when she volunteered, having been raised by parents who’d both been IRA members back in the 1950s.

    It was Dolours Price’s idea to take the bombing campaign to London. ”The English public, removed on the other side of the Irish Sea, seemed only dimly aware of the catastrophe engulfing Northern Ireland. It was a case study in strategic insanity: the Irish were blowing up their own people in a misguided attempt to hurt the English, and the English hardly even noticed.” (p. 117) I abhor the religious irrationality which drives pietists and which here can be traced back to the 12th century. It is a long and labyrinthine historical view you’ve got to have to kill in the name of this very ancient idea. One wonders if everyone was a scholar here—if the origins of the conflict were as fully understood and recalled and recited chapter and verse as would seem necessary to justify so much killing?

    It’s now 1973 and the IRA is about to plant four car-bombs in London near government facilities. Dolours Price is given command of the operation. I was living in America when these horrors occurred. I can almost see the headline in the

    . The author is now destroying that distance. The night before the bombings Dolours and her companions go to a West End play by Brian Friel,

    . The next morning London police are scurrying about bright and early to locate the cars; they were tipped off 14 hours in advance by a Provo mole. That day there’s a transit strike so London is chockablock with cars. Fortuitously the cops find one vehicle and disarm it. It’s alarm-clock timer was set for 3:00 p.m. They infer that they have until then to find the three remaining cars.

    However, I don’t mean to be too hard on the NRA. So how’s this for balance? “Loyalist gangs, often operating with the tacit approval or the outright logistical assistance of the British state, killed hundreds of civilians in an endless stream of terror attacks. These victims were British subjects. Yet they had been dehumanized by the conflict to the point that organs of the British state often ended up complicit in such murders, without any sort of public inquiry or internal revolt in the security services.” (p. 274)

    is nonfiction. It’s every bit as good as, say,

    . In some ways, one might argue, its better, which is taking nothing away from David Grann. But to my mind Killers is a little thin at the end. It almost peters out.

    by contrast has a consistent verbal density and narrative compression throughout.

    How did I not know that the Irish Potato Famine has been justly laid at the feet of Britain, who was exporting food from Ireland for its own needs as one million Irish died and another million emigrated? Now Dolours and Marian Price, locked up with a sentence of twenty years each in H.M.P. Brixton, begin a hunger strike which echoes that genocide. “If the British had employed hunger as a weapon during the famine, it would now be turned around and used against them. Dolours Price had always felt that prison was where an IRA volunteer’s allegiance to the cause was truly tested. Now she told anyone who would listen, she stood more than ready to die.” (p. 151) The young women’s hunger strike will break your heart. That’s the surprise about this book. It knocks you off your moral high horse. Two-hundred and fifty people injured by the bombs—terrible!—but miraculously no one killed. So when the British decide to force feed these young women, you know this is a violation of their civil rights; you know it is wrong; only long after the fact is it condemned and prohibited by the state.

    After developing an eating disorder from the 207 days of forced-feeding, Marian is released near death. She has served 8 years. Dolours is released for the same reason after serving 13 years. To have kept her in jail would’ve been to kill her. She renounces the IRA and its violence. We skip ahead to Bobby Sands’s election to Parliament on the 41st day of his hunger strike in 1981; PM Margaret Thatcher’s recalcitrance in the face of all good sense; Sands’s death, followed by nine more hunger strike deaths that summer, one every week or so; the rise of Gerry Adams—blackly tarred for giving away the store as his onetime fighters see it—and with him Sinn Féin, the Good Friday Agreement etc. One aspect of the peace that the GFA did not provide for is the truth and reconciliation process; thus the last part of the book, The Reckoning. Boston College undertakes this role when it is apparent no one else will. (The city has a large Irish-American population.) It’s called Project Belfast. The sheer tonnage of mental derangement and searing regret shouldn’t surprise us, not after a war this prolonged and bitter, but it does, it does.

    Then Boston College “screws the pooch,” to quote former test pilot Chuck Yeager, when the old RUC, trying to take down General Adams, obtains the transcripts via subpoena in 2003 or so. None of Boston College’s agreements with the interviewees, it turns out, were ever vetted by in-house counsel, so the pledges to withhold the transcripts until after the interviewee(s)’s death(s) can not be honored. I was reading this and whispering: “oh God, oh my God,” which shows you how clichéd I become when dumbfounded.

    may wish to brace yourself.

  • Matt

    - Patrick Radden Keefe,

    Patrick Radden Keefe’s

    is a remarkable book. It bills itself as a murder mystery of sorts, centered on the December 1972 abduction – and subsequent “disappearance” – of a widowed mother in front of her ten children. But it is much more than that. It is, in fact, a retelling of “the Troubles” – the sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland – through four distinct characters: Gerry Adams, the morally malleable political leader of Sinn Fein; Brendan “the Dark” Hughes, the deadly brigade leader of the Provisional Irish Republican Army; Dolours Price, who joined the IRA as a young woman and embarked on the type of celebrity-terrorist career that brings to mind Patty Hurst without the trust fund; and finally, Jean McConville, who may or may not have been a British informant, but was certainly murdered for no good reason. Each is memorable in their own way, their lives intersecting, often violently, in a web of violence, ideals, and memory far larger than themselves.

    is elegantly structured, using the McConville murder as a narrative touchstone from which to embark on a larger exploration of the vicious, long-lasting, and incredibly intimate conflict pitting loyalists (mainly Protestants) who wanted Northern Ireland to remain in the United Kingdom, and republicans (mainly Catholics) who wanted it to become part of a united Ireland. This conflict was marked by kidnappings, extralegal confinements, torture, assassinations, and bombings.

    In terms of sheer numbers, the violence in Northern Ireland was low-grade. The numbers I’ve seen put total fatalities at around 3,500 over a roughly 30-year period. In our own Age of Terror, those numbers – unfortunately – barely make you blink. (By way of comparison: the Omagh Bombing, carried out by an IRA splinter group, killed around 30; on September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda killed around 3,000).

    In terms of viciousness, though, the Troubles still manage to shock and unsettle. This was a civil war pitting neighbor against neighbor. The violence was personal and every bullet had a name. When Jean McConville was taken, many of her abductors were recognized by her children, who saw them around for years later.

    When I picked up

    , the things I knew about the Troubles – about Irish history in general – could fit into a pint glass. Indeed, most of the things I knew revolved around pint glasses. I think that’s important to mention, because part of my reaction to this book is a function of the thrill of discovery. With the exception of Adams, Bloody Sunday, and a couple of the IRA’s most famous bombings, I did not have a lot of foreknowledge about this subject. It is quite possible that a person who has studied these times before will be less enthralled.

    That said, Keefe has still done an excellent job here. He is a consistently engaging writer with a really good grasp on what he is trying to do. He recognizes that the McConville murder itself can probably be covered comfortably in a long magazine article (and I believe it has been, by Keefe himself, in

    ). Thus, he weaves the crime into the overall tapestry of the Troubles. But he never resorts to mere filler. Instead, all the different storylines inform each other. While there are some pretty long stretches in which McConville is absent from

    , Keefe never forgets her (or her children), and he is always returning to her final moments, gradually revealing certain aspects of it that he has uncovered (including, in the final pages, the possible identity of her actual shooter).

    Keefe is also a dogged researcher and interviewer, and he has gone to great lengths to tell this tale right. His endnotes are extensive and reveal his efforts to get people to give up their secrets, in a land in which touts – informers or snitches – are still reviled. He tries extremely hard to remain unbiased, writing with a controlled sense of outrage about both loyalist and republican atrocities. There is no single villain here. Certainly, there is no unblemished hero. Both sides did appalling things. Undoubtedly, there will be partisans who say Keefe hasn’t told the truth, but that is to be expected. The “truth” is dead in an unmarked grave, and we are left with many competing remembrances. As Keefe demonstrates, many eyewitness accounts are at odds with each other and with contemporary reports; yet for the eyewitness, that account has become gospel.

    For me, one of the best measures of a book is how often I am unconsciously bringing it up in conversation. During the week in which I tore through

    , I probably said the words “I’m reading this book called

    ” a dozen times. And that’s not even counting St. Patrick’s Day, when I attempted to steer all bar conversations toward the ethics of political violence. Without ever indulging a lecture,

    has a lot of things to say about idealism and brutality; about national memory; and about which ends justify which means.

    is in part possible because of a secret oral history endeavor called the “Belfast Project,” in which interviewers spoke with former IRA men and women, collecting their stories (and their crimes) and placing them under seal at Boston College. When word of the project leaked, prosecutors in Northern Ireland subpoenaed these records, and Boston College hastily complied.

    What Keefe found in a lot of these reminisces is the concept of moral injury: the damage to a person’s soul for transgressive acts taken in the name of a cause. Many of these old fighters/terrorists felt betrayed by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, because they sensed that the awful things they’d done had been done for no reason. In the end, all their efforts ended in a compromise that probably could have been attained without the bloodshed.

    Yet someday, Ireland will be unified from top to bottom. Someday, the relatively recent history covered in

    will be old history. From that distant vantage, the answers to some extremely difficult questions will seem self-evident. It will be easy to shrug and say that the car bombs, the kidnappings, even the killing of a mother of ten children, were nothing more than minor speed-bumps on the road to unification. To that end,

    will serve as an important reminder of the terrible complexities of the Troubles. It is an indelible portrait of four participants living in a moral bog, where otherwise-decent men and women saw their choice as between killing a person and hiding their body, or killing a person and leaving their body on the street. It is a study of the cost of belief, to both victim and perpetrator alike.

  • Erin

    Everything you have heard or read about this book is true.

    is THE

    My review specifically will focus on my experience with the Audiobook.

    What compels an American journalist living in the United States to bring forth to readers the political violence that held the Irish public in a vice grip from 1916-1998? For Patrick Radden Keefe, it wasn't his 19th century Irish roots on his father's side. It was to bring to r

    Everything you have heard or read about this book is true.

    is THE

    My review specifically will focus on my experience with the Audiobook.

    What compels an American journalist living in the United States to bring forth to readers the political violence that held the Irish public in a vice grip from 1916-1998? For Patrick Radden Keefe, it wasn't his 19th century Irish roots on his father's side. It was to bring to readers attention how exactly radicalization can not only make people do anything and everything to achieve their cause, but it can also lead a whole society to stay silent on all that happens. Even when innocent civilians are caught in its midst.

    Keefe opens his novel with the disappearance of mother of ten, Jean McConville, in 1972. Her disappearance serves as a vehicle in which Keefe unfolds his story. This is

    Rather, Keefe peels back the layers of secrecy and focuses his attention on some of the major players of the IRA (Irish Republican Army) and their actions during this time. To borrow from an online book reviewer,

    provides readers with a panoramic analysis that leads us down many dark alleys and even into the political forum as well.

    Considering the author has four years of research, seven trips to Ireland, and interviews with over 100 people to weave into a book. The reader and or listener is given a very detailed perspective of the events. There were places where I would have to "playback," just to make sure that I got my facts straight. But what added to the experience was the rich narration provided by Matthew Blaney, a man whose Northern Irish accent immediately transported me from my kitchen to all the events in Belfast.

    As I finished this novel Northern Ireland is seeing more tension along their border as its citizens deal with the turmoil over Brexit and the recent killing of Irish journalist Lyra McKee earlier this month has caused many of its citizens to remember the times of the Troubles. Just today I read an article online that asked if Northern Ireland could ever move beyond their troubled past.

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