Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature

Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
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Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Home : Literature : Gerry Adams Autobiography Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature


 

GERRY ADAMS' AUTOBIOGRAPHY,
'BEFORE THE DAWN'

On December 17th 1920 beneath the Galtee Mountains in County Limerick, a relation of mine, Major General Donncadh O'Hannigan, and his IRA men shot dead 4 British soldiers. In doing so he acquired the title 'terrorist' and faced the prospect of execution as a traitor. Following the truce O'Hannigan chose the path of the Free State and watched forlornly as the British government, in defiance of the will of the people, partitioned Ireland. Regrettably, most commentators cannot or simply will not consider this context, choosing instead voyeurism -'has he ever shot anyone?', or sensationalism - 'the book will make him a millionaire', when they cast an eye over Gerry Adams' autobiography, 'Before the Dawn'.

Adams' life, beginning in the economic austerity of Ballymurphy from where he gravitated towards hard-line republicanism and by definition a life on the run and inevitable arrest and imprisonment for membership of an illegal organisation, is recounted quite matter of factly. The pressing of triggers, the detonating of bombs, the routine bashings at the hands of the security forces, and the death of volunteers on a political hunger strike or from the bullets of the British Army and the RUC which, says Adams, only 'stiffened the people's resolve to resist oppression' - it's all there, told with a remarkable absence of rancour and at times a disarming humour. The secrets as to how the IRA, described by Adams as 'an undefeated army', operates and has survived against one of the most sophisticated war machines in the world remain buried in the mystique.

I met the real Adams on a miserable, cold Easter Monday in the Sinn Fein office on the Falls Road in 1994. Although he didn't offer me a list of names of volunteers on active service or document his role in the armed struggle, he was gracious and uncomplicated, articulating Sinn Fein's one-Ireland agenda with consummate political skill. Outside, members of the occupying army, guns on the ready, nervously patrolled this most intransigent of republican territories having already been told to 'piss off' by Adams' minders. As the meeting revealed and Adams' book confirms, sentimentality and the divulging of secrets is a luxury guerrilla armies and their soldier statesmen leaders can ill afford.

'Before the Dawn' is an acutely political text designed to enhance and ultimately materialise the republican movement's dream of a unified Ireland. 'It's a long held republican aim to abolish the memory of past dissensions and to substitute the common name of Irish person in place of the denomination of Protestant, Catholic and dissenter,' writes Adams, delicately marginalising his Loyalist opponents. Under Adams' pen the past becomes the reason for change, not the source of moral superiority or triumphalism.

The problem for Adams, as documented by the polarised reception of his autobiography, is that declarations for peace in the context of civilian bombings will always be difficult to reconcile. Explanations such as, 'The IRA made a mistake in putting out so many bombs, and civilians were killed who certainly should not have been killed. This was the IRA's responsibility and a matter of deep regret,' will continue to leave those who believe the means justifies the ends at best jaundiced and at worst pathological about the republican movement.

Some will believe, as W.B.Yeats lamented in 'Easter 1916', 'Too long a sacrifice Can make a stone of the heart', and deduce that Adams is a callous man of violence under a veil of rhetoric. Few however who read this autobiography could claim that the Nationalists' call for fundamental political reform of a State founded on privilege and discrimination is unjustified or that Adams is palpably wrong when he says, 'The British government responded in a very negative way to the IRA cessation'. Whether they conclude that Adams is a saint or a sinner will have little to do with the book and more to do with which side they're on, which is why Prime Minister John Howard should read it.


BY PHILIP CLEARY
3 October, 1996
SUNDAY AGE

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