REBEL HEARTS: Journeys Within the IRA's Soul by Kevin Toolis

REBEL HEARTS: Journeys Within the IRA's Soul

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Small societies with big troubles often spawn remarkable books, and this one on the IRA by Toolis, a British journalist of Irish descent, is one of the best. The unequal dimensions of the adversaries are extraordinary enough. The IRA consists of about 600 volunteers and has a budget of less that $8 million a year. By comparison, the British government has 30,000 combat troops in Northern Ireland and spends Å’1 billion a year in attempting to suppress its opponents. Since 1973 the war has been taken to England itself in an attempt ""to sap the will of the British Government."" The IRA came close to assassinating Margaret Thatcher and a number of her colleagues in Brighton, and more recently John Major and his War Cabinet while they were meeting at Downing Street. The strength of Toolis's book is that he communicates the personal dimension of this dedication and cruelty: a once apolitical family whose sons became leaders in the IRA or lawyers defending it; Paddy Flood, who was executed by the IRA as a traitor; Frankie Ryan, who blew himself and his girlfriend up while trying to set off a bomb; Joe MacManus, who died trying to murder a Protestant dog-catcher; and Martin McGuinness, who is probably the head of the IRA. Toolis believes the ""the long horror of Ulster's troubles is dwindling away to a whimpering conclusion,"" an opinion surprising in light of the evidence of polarization that he deploys. Despite the ""final bitter contradiction"" that ""the justice of the political cause was invalidated by the cruelty of the murders carried out in its name,"" he believes that ""there will be peace in Ireland and it will be a republican peace."" One can argue with his conclusions, but it would be hard to find another book that looks as dispassionately into the soul of the IRA and its influence on the future of Northern Ireland.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0312156324
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's