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Sean MacStiofain, who was born and raised in London as John Stephenson, was the Chief of Staff of the Provisional IRA between 1969 and 1972 when violence in the North was rapidly accelerating. Not surprisingly, his autobiography is the monomaniacal story of a self-taught fanatic who schooled himself in Irish nationalism until it became a catechism and never swerved from his mission to unite the 32 counties by force of arms. Long before the Ulster Civil Rights Movement sparked the present conflagrations between Catholics and Protestants, MacStiofain was serving eight years in an English prison for heisting a small arsenal from a British military school. After release, he at once went to Ireland, there to immerse himself in the activities of a moribund IRA. MacStiofain, who saw ""the strange deadness of the Irish spirit,"" rallied the boys (some of them) away from the ""never-never land of theoretical Marxism and parliamentary politics."" The IRA split in two and MacStiofain took full advantage of the troubles in Ulster to launch a guerrilla campaign, sabotaging power supplies, telephone exchanges, etc., ""in enemy occupied territory."" He gives a stark picture of the war in the North and the twists and turns of British policy, never losing sight of his basic goal: drive the imperialists out. MacStiofain associates himself with other anti-colonial struggles but it's a pro forma declaration of unity since in the last analysis he believes that Ireland is unique. He is most effective when describing IRA strategy, offensives and counter-offensives, and his own nimble dodging of British soldiers, before and after Internment. There is little sense of a political reality behind the violence. When MacStiofain was finally captured and imprisoned he continued his ritualized Irish-revolutionary behavior by going on a 59-day hunger strike. Of dissension within the movement and the growing dissatisfaction with his leadership he says nothing. Undoubtedly this will fascinate those who have followed the grim scenario in Ulster closely, but anyone searching for a raison d'etre for the ongoing violence -- or for a way to stop it -- will be disappointed.

Pub Date: March 17th, 1975
Publisher: Saxon House -- dist. by Atheneum