BITING AT THE GRAVE: The Irish Hunger Strikes and the Politics of Despair by Padraig O'Malley

BITING AT THE GRAVE: The Irish Hunger Strikes and the Politics of Despair

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Here, journalist O'Malley (The Uncivil Wars, 1983) presents a moving, informed telling--if somewhat marred by the usual Irish self-hatred--of the hunger strikers in Northern Ireland. Between March 1 and October 3, 1981, ten convicted terrorists starved themselves to death in the prisons of Northern Ireland in the hope of pressuring the English government into granting them political status. The first to die, IRA member Bobby Sands, was front-page news worldwide. O'Malley traces the background of Sands, the hunger strike (a vintage Irish custom), and the reactions of the various governments--each with a skeleton, so to speak, in the closet. The English government had previously granted political status to some IRA members; the government in the Republic of Ireland, although officially concerned with the rights of the Catholic minority in the North, banned the IRA and its sympathizers from radio and TV. O'Malley has (or his colleagues have) interviewed some of the families of the hunger strikers--though Bobby Sands' family is significantly absent--and quote extensively from all the different reactions to the deaths. The facts are given, then, but O'Malley has a prose style that Celtically crosses over into bathos, undercutting the power of the events. Describing the dead strikers, he writes: ""eyes fixed on a star in a galaxy of patriot ghosts imploding in their imaginations, their bodies sacrificial offerings to the gluttonous gods of degenerative nationalism."" A familiar story told, again, once more with feeling.

Pub Date: April 15th, 1990
Publisher: Beacon--dist. by Farrar, Straus & Giroux