Essays Photography

Foto Foyle 2012 Exhibitions

As coincidence would have it, I was in Derry-Londonderry for a set of meetings and decided to stay on for an early evening launch event of the 2012 Foto Foyle programme of photo exhibitions. Inside The Playhouse was a display of a new body of work by Christof Pluemacher, “one of Germany’s foremost photographic artists”. His exhibition, “Europe”, is a set of images that purposefully portray national stereotypes, e.g. “…So Spanish”, “…So British”, “…So Dutch”, “…So French”, and “…So German”:

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Foyle Foto Director, Michael Weir, described the different exhibitions on display, including an Open Submission at the Tower Museum, and Tribes (by Lucia Herrero) at the Big Screen, Waterloo Place. He was followed by welcoming remarks by the Mayor, Councillor Maurice Devenney:

As I am at the opposite end of being a fine art photographer such as Pluemacher, I demonstrated the capacities of my iPhone 4S, with magnetic snap on lenses by Photojojo. There was particular fascination with the fish eye and macro lenses.

I went over for the immediately following launch of the Open Submission group exhibition at the Tower Museum. I was expecting more images — there were about a dozen, based around four themes. I guess I’m saying that I would like to see more photography exhibitions featuring local artists!

The Foto Foyle programme runs until 11th February, and there’s a talk on Thursday, 2nd February: “Image and Reality: Photography and the Construction of an Ideal of Irish ‘Irishness'”, 1pm at the Tower Museum. I hope I have more work meetings in Derry that day.

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Book review – Paperboy (Tony MACAULAY)

20100901 Review Paperboy

Tony Macaulay is a respected professional community relations and youth worker based in Belfast. For example, he has written independently, “A discussion paper proposing a five phase process for the removal of ‘peace walls’ in Northern Ireland”.

This book is his story of being a 12-year-old paperboy, living in the Shankill area of West Belfast. I, too, was a 12-year-old paperboy, but that’s where my shared experience starts and ends.

Tony so well tells his story. It is actually difficult for adults to write in the prose of childhood. The retrospective voice is usually readily apparent. But here in Paperboy, you really do see the world from this boy’s experiences.

It’s a world of not quite comprehending the sectarianism and violence around you, and doing your best to get on with what really matters to most 12-year-old boys — your mates, your music, and earning some pocket money to spend on your girlfriend.

And just like a youngster, there are key words that regularly reappear in the dialogue — Sharon Burgess, “the only pacifist paperboy in Belfast”, Bay City Rollers, “so I was”.

Indeed, Tony writes in the local vernacular so well that the only criticism could be that he didn’t include a glossary! This Yank has lived here long enough to not need one for Paperboy (!), and some phrases like, “God love the wee dote” probably pass without translation, but me thinks Tony should provide one for the American edition (“Och, ballicks!”). And/or subtitles when the film comes out!

Amidst all the humour, though, there is the reality of the environment that Paperboy grows up in. He notices more and more “peace walls” — “… we were brilliant at walls in Belfast — they were going up everywhere, higher and higher, all around me”.

It’s actually his dad who says to a neighbour who is demanding even more walls, “Did you never think that it might be our side that’s bein’ walled in?”

And 35 years on, we have made little progress on dismantling our walls in Northern Ireland, whether physically or metaphorically. May Paperboy encourage more of us to put more effort into this.


Book review – Kosovo: What Everyone Needs to Know (Tim JUDAH)

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I was once asked if I thought the Northern Ireland conflict was difficult to comprehend. Not really, I replied. What confounded me was that as so many people within Northern Ireland understood the various factors involved, why work towards any resolution took so long.

Put another way, I found comprehending the geo-political situation of former Yugoslavia more difficult. For most of its former republics, resolutions were via the bloody wars of the 1990s.

And then there’s Kosovo, with its independence declared in 2008, but how much resolved?

For the sake of my day job, I had to get a good grasp of the situation of Kosovo. A good friend endorsed my short-listed choice of Kosovo: What Everyone Needs to Know, by Tim Judah, Balkan Correspondent for The Economist.

In the Author’s Note, Judah says that his book is to give general readers a straightforward introduction. He well achieves this. But a “general reader” who has some education in international relations, or at least is an avid reader of The Economist, will find the introduction that much easier to absorb. This is not because Kosovo is not easily accessible; it is. But there is a good amount of history and culture to take in the book’s concise 160 pages.

Judah does well in the first two chapters to provide cultural and historical overviews of Albanians and Serbs. Of course, this has to be a little superficial in such a generalist book. But an important highlight is that for Albanians, and particularly for those residing in Kosovo, it was language more than the role of the church that influences their nationalism. This contributed to a delayed nation-building — surrounding peoples and places having several hundred years’ head start — with its own consequences.

We are told how the Serbs see Kosovo as their Jerusalem (p. 18), with the full poem provided, “The Downfall of the Serbian Empire”. What interests me is that this is not the only contested place in the world with a Jerusalem-status, the sense of birthright and/or redemption.

The chapters are the right length, covering the essentials while moving you along to the next episode.

As in other contested places, the education system plays an important, often crucial role. For some decades, Albanians enjoyed an Albanian-language education (but while still needing to learn Serbian). However, when Serbian authorities clamped down on this in 1991, an underground, parallel system was created (p. 73). The consequence was that hereafter young Kosovo Albanians would be instilled with more nationalist thinking than under the “brotherhood and unity” era of Yugoslavia. For me, the significance is whether ethnic-based education is part of a wider whole or a particular sect.

Likewise, Judah describes the re-establishment of the Kosovo police service, one of the notable achievements  (p. 95), moving from no service at all in 1999 to one comprising over 7,000 officers (6,082 Albanian; 746 Serbs; 414 others) in 2007. However, with Kosovo independence, retaining an integrated, singular police service has become more of a challenge. Here, I hope there are applicable lessons from the recent years of the reform of policing in Northern Ireland.

Judah explains one particularly curiosity — multiple international calling codes (p. 99). Essentially, in the break up of Yugoslavia, Serbia retained code +381. For cell/mobile phones, new Kosovo wasn’t going to use that nor the Serbian +063, so it acquired underused Monaco +377. I can attest that in areas such as Mitrovica, individuals who need to contact both Albanians and Serbs will carry two mobile phones/SIM cards.

There is a good description of the Ahtisaari Plan (setting out Kosovo’s future, sans independence but with “supervised independence”) (Chapter 10). While this plan was blocked by the UN Security Council, all EU members backed it and proceeded to establish an International Civilian Office (ICO), to deal with matters of law and headed by an International Civilian Representative (ICR).

Then, after Kosovo’s declaration of independence, the EU replied by providing a Special Representative (EUSR), responsibilities which include “promoting overall EU coordination and coherence in Kosovo”.

The thing is, the ICR and EUSR are the same person: Pieter Feith. On one hand, Feith’s remit is to the EU’s unanimous consent to the Ahtisaari Plan, while on the other hand he serves as EUSR even though not all EU members recognise Kosovo’s independence. This conundrum is not lost on the local population.

Judah also succinctly puts the Kosovo situation in a global context of international relations (Chapter 12). Barring the wars that took place in the region in the 1990s, the disintegration of Yugoslavia, for the most part, reflected the disintegration of the Soviet Union, in that there was a reverting to previously existing republics (the “R” in USSR). Except Kosovo, which was not a pre-existing republic. Its declaration of independence, or at least EU semi-protectorate de facto status, is an unprecedented situation for the EU, which must proceed intelligently as other nations/subregions express their self-determination.

There’s clearly more to say on this matter, and Judah’s book is not the place for it. Indeed, while those with deeper knowledge of any particular dimension of the Kosovo scene won’t find sustenance by Judah’s overview, I found it an ideal primer and very useful in my subsequent visit. I sincerely recommend Kosovo: What Everyone Needs to Know as the first book to read in the path of unravelling the threads of politics and history in Kosovo.


Book review – The Storm (Vince CABLE)

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Vince Cable is the chief economic spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, and his lucid explanations of the credit crunch and overall current parlous global economic situation has seen him well sought after by mainstream news media outlets. For good reason — his analysis has been proven spot on.

In his book, The Storm: The World Economic Crisis & What It Means, Cable reviews both distant and more recent economic history to put the current situation in context. This includes a chapter on the surge in commodity prices in 2008. Here, his professional experience as a chief economist for Shell provides credence to his arguments.

Cable does his best to present the intricacies of international finance and macroeconomics to the lay reader, but having some education in economics does no harm, e.g. appreciating the diference between a trade balance and balance of payments.

My favoured sections were towards the end, when Cable suggests some actions for the way forward:

  • Central bank monetary policy to deal with asset prices as well as inflation (a la Irving Fisher; the Swedish experience)
  • Remove mortgage tax relief (USA) (reduce over-borrowing) and business interest tax relief (UK) (reduce excessive leverage)
  • Replace cash salary bonuses with stock with delayed redemption
  • Agreed international accounting standards and reporting (greater transparency)

More challenging is Cable’s suggestion for a new multilateralism that places Asia “at the heart” of the world economy.

Indeed, The Economist published an excellent article that described the role that China’s gigantic trade surplus had in flooding the American financial markets with funds needing investing (“When a flow becomes a flood”).

Cable calls for a New Bretton Woods, hosted in a place like Singapore, with key participants the USA, China, Japan, the eurozone, and India.

Part of Cable’s motivation is to prevent economic nationalism, or “state capitalism”, which encourages protectionism under numerous guises, including “economic security”. Cable isn’t predicting a repeat of what happened in the 1930s interwar years, but he repeatedly paints an ominous picture of what a failure to properly address the current issues could mean.

Cable has an enduring faith in liberal markets producing wealth and prosperity, which includes public services, and implores with policy makers to take the appropriate actions to ensure this remains the case.

My criticism would only be that I wished Cable had presented more detail on his own suggested actions, as well as on what he would deem as best practices around the world. Perhaps that’s the scope of a future volume.

Essays Photography

Book review – Eyewitness (Brendan MURPHY)


I always wanted this book, Eyewitness: Four Decades of Northern Life, by Brendan Murphy, but the original cover price of £30 was a little steep for me. Thankfully, the Bookshop at Queen’s has it discounted to £8. I only had to wait 6 years.

It is a brilliant book. Murphy’s photographs may not be the polished style of trained photo-journalists — the shots you see in AP and AFP — but they are blessed with sincerity and honesty.

As Murphy admits himself, when he started photography he missed many shots, taking time to learn what he had to do. It is worth reading Seamus Kelters’ text, as it is a truly interesting discovery of Murphy’s thinking behind the camera lens.

Murphy’s accounts reveal truths that make sense for those who live in Northern Ireland, but perhaps others find peculiar.

For example, he explains how the boxing arena is “one of the few truly politically correct places”:

“Nationalist and Unionists, loyalists and republicans, police even, all crush in side by side. Any animosity is left at the door. The atmosphere is no less charged for that … Religion doesn’t matter. All that’s important is a man’s ability.”

And there’s the cross-community protection among fellow photographers:

“Strangers would expect Catholic and Protestant photographers to be at each other’s throats. That was never the case. Nothing was further from reality. Protestant photographers have told me to stick close to them when we’ve been in fiercely loyalist areas. I’ve returned the favour. If they have faults and frailties, local press photographers also have great strength and integrity.”

The book’s title is apt: this is a journey of one man’s firsthand account of what he saw and recorded on film. So much has changed over 40 years — technically with cameras and historically with Northern Ireland politics — but Murphy has remained true to his community-oriented background.

This is demonstrated in Murphy’s coverage of sectarian attacks:

“Few bombing or shootings ever happened in middle-class areas … they usually wouldn’t want the attack highlighted. They would want to get on with their lives. Working class areas are different. Friends and family mostly live in the same area. The entire community was in the same boat. They would insist what had happened could not be swept away with the broken glass.”

Indeed, the last photograph in the book is an otherwise unremarkable photo of a Belfast corner shop, taken in 1974. But then comes the accompanying description: “The corner shop and bar were the hub of a community … More social work went on in these places than a host of government agencies. They were lost to redevelopment and supermarkets. With them went a way of life.”

Thankfully, Brendan Murphy remains a freelance photographer, and his new photographs regularly appear in the Irish News.


Book review – Ordinary Lives

Book review: Ordinary Lives
by Allan LEONARD for Shared Future News
8 January 2009

In recent years there has been an influx into Northern Ireland of new arrivals from east European countries, as well as more familiar western places of Portugal and Spain.


Book review – Sophie Scholl and the White Rose

Sophie Scholl and the White Rose (978-1851685363), by Annette Dumbach and Jud Newborn, is a superbly well researched and presented account of an act of honour and bravery by conscientious young German students, who dared to stand up against the mind numbing machine of Nazism and the Nationalist Socialist movement during World War II.

In 1989, I visited an exhibition in the Reichstag, where there were a variety of uniforms for every aspect of life — the postman, the milkman — one for everyone! It was as if all German society was so bound up in this regimented and unforgiving mode of living.

Thus it was all the more refreshing to learn about the Scholl siblings and their quest to make Germans think. “We are your bad conscience!” they declared in one of the leaflets.

Sophie School and the White Rose could not have been a better written book. Dumback and Newborn describe not only the events in fine detail, but provide insightful background perspectives of all the characters involved.

No advanced knowledge of the war is required. This is a story of a desperate campaign for freedom during Europe’s darkest days. As such, it should be required reading on every civics, philosophy, history or ethics course.

To cite the last sentence of the book, “…if people like those who formed the White Rose can exist, believe as they believed, act as they acted, maybe it means that this weary, corrupted, and extremely endangered species we belong to has the right to survive, and to keep on trying.” (5/5 stars)


Book review – The Blue Cabin (Michael FAULKNER)

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Michael Faulkner, son of Brian, loses his Sante Fe style furniture business and home in Scotland. Retreats to family cabin on an otherwise uninhabited small island in Strangford Lough, Ards Peninsula, Northern Ireland.

This is reading through a couple’s challenging times, that part of the wedding vows that read, “for better or worse”.

There are plenty of happy times — the guests, the picnics, the sublime peace of the place. All the while checked by the harsher realities of no mains electricity or regular water supply, and a barely insulated house.

Faulkner writes in a simple yet effective prose. In few words and sentences, you’re perhaps suddenly caught by the deep emotion involved.

The Blue Cabin is an enjoyable read, proving the adage of the road less travelled…


Book review – A Garden of Paper Flowers (Rosa EHRENREICH)

I had the privilege of participating in a study abroad programme while enrolled at Boston University. I attended St Catherine’s College, Oxford for the Michaelmus term, 1989. I experienced the peculiarities and uniqueness that is Oxford.

No one describes this better than Rosa Ehrenreich in A Garden of Paper Flowers. I immediately identified with her reactions to the arcane customs, traditions and attitudes.

My favourite example is her essay writing experience. At the start of her studies, she put much effort only to receive mediocre scores. She suspected that her tutor wasn’t actually reading her work, so she began inserting random irrelevant words and phrases. By the end of the term she was submitting gibberish, yet her tutor told her how much her writing was improving, with grades to match.

A reader’s health warning is the subtitle, An American at Oxford. Ehrenreich does her best to appreciate the cultural differences, but doesn’t pretend to overcome them. While any Yank who’s ever had a taste of Oxford will promptly understand Ehrenreich’s perspective, regular Oxford alumni should appreciate this alternative view, too. (4/5 stars)


Book review – Born Fighting (James WEBB)

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There’s no denying the fighting spirit of the Scots-Irish, particularly as James Webb describes the defence of the frontier in the Appalachian Mountains. However, Webb goes too far in defining this attribute as somehow ethnically unique.

Webb also overplays the Scots-Irish role in the American War of Independence. One giveaway passage is, “Although the trained minds of New England’s Puritan culture and Virginia’s Cavalier aristocracy had shaped the finer intellectual points of the argument for political disuinion, the true passion for individual rights emanated from the radical individualism of the Presbyterian and, increasingly, Baptist pulpits. This concept … dovetailed neatly with the aristocratic forces of revolution in the East.”

One can appreciate Webb’s desire to emphasise the passion of the Scots-Irish, but his arguments could have been stronger by demonstrating a more fulsome knowledge of the “finer intellectual points”. For example, it was no mean feat to convince some of the reluctant colonial governors to side with the cause of independence. Furthermore, these “trained minds” included many of America’s Founding Fathers, whose wisdom established the political philosophy by which the US government still lives by.

So, while Born Fighting is a decent read about a proud Scots-Irish American’s perspective on his communal ancestors’ contributions to American culture and society, this not the more serious investigation as it at times pretends to be. (3/5 stars)


Book review – My Life (Bill CLINTON) vs Himself Alone (Dean GODSON)

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Did a radio piece for BBC Radio Ulster’s books programme, to review two recent biographies: Bill Clinton’s autobiography, My Life, and Dean Godson’s, Himself Alone: David Trimble and the Ordeal of Unionism.

My Life has been dismissed by some as an exercise in some sort of cathartic releasing of guilt, or of exorcising the demons from the darker side of his parallel lives (as he self-explains his personality framework). Meanwhile, others have described Trimble as the loner, as epitomised by Godson’s book title, “Himself Alone”. Both are rather simplistic interpretations.

My review focuses on the different book writing styles, and what each subject has to say about the other.

Book styles

While both are 1,000 pages each, they are written very differently. Of course, it’s not really a fair comparison, because Clinton’s is an autobiography and Godson’s is a piece of impressive investigative research, with his subject, Trimble, neither endorsing nor censoring the final work.

Bill Clinton writes the way he speaks: fluid, in command of details. If it resembles a “diary dump”, then I doubt that Clinton had to resort to his Filofax much. Yet while people who meet Clinton in person are captivated by him and the attention he so comfortably gives you, this easy-going, homesy style doesn’t translate so well in the written form.

The narrative is easy enough to read, but there’s no discrimination in the detail. Also, he far too often jumps from one topic to another, with no rhyme or reason. I found the epilogue as one of the better parts of the book, because it was written in a more clearly comprehensible essay style. If only there was some thematic “thread” woven in the main body text.

Theme is not a problem with Godson’s work. The subtitle says it all, “the Ordeal of Unionism”. In a way, this is a history book of unionism wrapped around the life experiences of David Trimble. This may be in good part due to the observation by both subject and author of the relative dearth of comprehensive and analytical reading material on unionism, which both have sought to redress, in their own particular ways – one through politics and the other by penmanship.

Similar to Clinton’s work, Himself Alone can be sectioned off: (1) Trimble’s upbringing and introduction to politics; (2) emergence as leader and chief negotiator for unionism; and (3) the slings and arrows of internal wrangling, post-Belfast Agreement.

As my day job is politics, you would think I would have enjoyed this last section most. However, possibly precisely because I can personally recall many of the events myself, I didn’t find reliving them especially engrossing. I enjoyed the earlier sections, because Godson’s presentation provides a useful guide and insight into the personal and cultural background that Trimble found himself and his political community in. It helped explain why Trimble acted – and continues to act – in his particular way.

Trimble on Clinton; Clinton on Trimble

Trimble’s upbringing was humble, as was Clinton’s. Neither were members of the upper middle classes. High expectations were not placed on either of them. Trimble was naturally endeared to the Anglican, gentlemen’s club style of the Unionist Party or the Orange Order. Indeed, his joining of both were the result more of a desire to maintain contact with the friends he had made, than out of any ideological zeal.

I suspect Trimble always knew who he was and what he was about. That is, if Trimble was going to get involved with unionist politics, then it would be where he felt he could make a louder difference. Although he was content as the intellectual backroom boy, he did apply himself in the more radical movements of the day, especially within Vanguard.

Godson appreciates this, but his interpretation is that Trimble failed to recognise that the gains he felt were crucial, e.g. securing the Union, was not appreciated by his unionist supporters as much as the starker trade-offs of early prisoner releases and Sinn Fein in government sans decommissioning.

Some may dismiss Trimble’s aloofness as a weakness of leadership, but who else within unionism was ready to challenge the British and Irish Government’s treatment of Northern Ireland, as well as combat the hitherto inadequately challenged republican interpretations of Northern Ireland government under unionism?

Godson argues that Trimble placed too much trust or deference to Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, but weak unionist leadership would not likely have prevented everything else that was afoot, e.g. the bringing in of Sinn Fein to the political mainstream. Trimble may have expected too much by wanting Clinton to apply more pressure on Sinn Fein in regards to decommissioning, because what separated Clinton from other Irish-American politicians is that Clinton wanted to help by keeping channels of communication open, rather than to try to persuade one side over another (i.e. how Protestant rights would be ensured under a united Ireland). While Trimble is not the leader of the largest unionist party anymore, he is still leader of the Ulster Unionist Party.

Many pundits have speculated on his departure from the UUP. Perhaps ironically, I am minded to quote Ian Paisley’s response to the same question: “It takes a long time to die.” Until someone else in the UUP is willing and able to not only articulate an intelligent riposte to republicanism, but also to be able to handle the complexities of British and Irish Government convergent attitudes to Northern Ireland, then dissatisfied unionist voters will follow the louder (but perhaps less effective?) voice, for the while. Trimble’s aloofness has cost him popularity, but who else would have been able to swim against the currents so well?

Nancy Soderberg said that the American administration (which included herself) knew little about David Trimble (p. 185). Trimble was no anti-American (he enjoyed reading Encounter, after all!), but he disliked many Irish-Americans and Soderberg especially.

Upon meeting President Clinton, David Trimble gave him Pardon Me Boy, a book on American servicemen in Northern Ireland during WWII, by author Ronnie Hanna, and a book by Gordon Lucy on the Ulster Convenant (p. 190).

Godson argues that Clinton’s involvement in Northern Ireland was “not a case of rape, but of seduction”. (p. 195)

Trimble says that “I must be gracious to Clinton” (see more on p. 631 for Godson analysis of difference between Trimble and Clinton perceived roles

Clinton’s involvement with Northern Ireland began in 1991-2, when he reaffirmed his commitment to push for an end to discrimination against Northern Ireland Catholics. Nancy Soderberg wrote the draft statement. He said that he first got involved because of the politics of New York.

Clinton spends several pages (pp. 578-581) discussing his decision to grant Gerry Adams a visa to enter the US. Many administration officials were opposed to the idea, but the National Security Council team (of which Soderberg was a chief member) became determined to grant the visa, in order to boost Adams’ leverage within Sinn Fein and the IRA, because “unless the IRA renounced violence and Sinn Fein was part of the peace process, the Irish problem could not be resolved”. This reasoning was consistent with the approach made by John Hume.

The NSC team became convinced that Gerry Adams favoured an end to IRA violence, full Sinn Fein participation in the peace process, and a democratic future for Northern Ireland. Clinton also justifies his decision to grant a visa, because “the Irish were beginning to prosper economically, Europe as a whole was moving toward greater economic and political integration, and tolerance for terrorism among the Irish had dropped”. These are consistent with arguments put forward by John Hume at the time, but dubious. For example, there’s no arguing that the economy of the Irish Republic was improving, the EU was proceeding with policy, and that there was never much popular support, North or South for the IRA. So what was the link to Gerry Adams? Instead, Adams’ own message to Clinton, that the Irish people were taking risks for peace and Clinton should to, shows that in the end it was just that – a calculated risk.

Clinton hardly says anything about David Trimble: “Trimble could be dour and pessimistic, but beneath his stern Scots-Irish front was a brave idealist who was taking risks for peace.” (p. 896)

But Trimble is only interested in what is best for unionists. For example, when Sean Farren asked him what he wanted for his community, Trimble replied, “To be left alone.” This is not a visionary statement of a shared and united Northern Ireland, and hardly words of a “brave idealist”.

Clinton does not mention the intricacies of the Multi-Party Talks, except for the eve of the Agreement, trying to help George Mitchell close the deal, going to bed at 2.30am and being woken up at 5.00am to ring Adams again to seal the deal. One shouldn’t be disappointed not to learn more, since it was Mitchell who did most of the hard graft. His account, Making Peace, is highly recommended.

Meanwhile, Godson provides a near minute-by-minute account of what was transpiring with the UUP during the last 72 hours of the Talks.

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Book review – Making Sense of the Troubles (David McKITTRICK)

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Good for accuracy, not so good for background

Making Sense stays true to its objective, to tell ‘a straightforward and gripping story … in an accessible way’. It is a straightforward read.

But is it a good read? Yes, if you don’t want to be bogged down with pre-Troubles history (too simplistically outlined in the book) or don’t need to understand the ideologies of unionism and nationalism per se. In this way, Making Sense feels written for a general English/benign foreign audience.

However, if you know some Irish history and/or can appreciate the ethno-nationalist competition in Northern Ireland, then you may very well be let down.

The factual reportage in Making Sense is flawless, but the story told is not neutral. Of course, no account of the Troubles can be. Yet after reading Making Sense, one leaves with a sense that: a) Northern Protestants really don’t like Catholics; b) republican violence stems from a ideological struggle while loyalist violence is just sectarian hatred; c) the British government could have done more from 1921 forward, but were frustrated by intransigent unionists. All entirely acceptable to believe if one wishes, but by no means a neutral or fair position.

Thus, I was disappointed that Making Sense didn’t try harder to place the Troubles in an all-Ireland context. This would require more history, but would help explain some unionist perspective as well as the sometimes variable relationship between the Irish Republican government and Northern nationalists.

For the general reader, I would recommend A Pocket History of Ulster, by Brian Bardon (ISBN 086278428x). For more detail, try A History of Northern Ireland 1920-1996, by Thomas Hennessey (ISBN 0717124002), who has also written a book on the Northern Ireland peace process (ISBN 0717129462).