Monday, May 11, 2020

Say Nothing by Patrick

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder And Memory In Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe
Read by Matthew Blaney
Published February 2019 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary:
In December 1972, Jean McConville, a thirty-eight-year-old mother of ten, was dragged from her Belfast home by masked intruders, her children clinging to her legs. They never saw her again. Her abduction was one of the most notorious episodes of the vicious conflict known as The Troubles. Everyone in the neighborhood knew the I.R.A. was responsible. But in a climate of fear and paranoia, no one would speak of it. In 2003, five years after an accord brought an uneasy peace to Northern Ireland, a set of human bones was discovered on a beach. McConville's children knew it was their mother when they were told a blue safety pin was attached to the dress—with so many kids, she had always kept it handy for diapers or ripped clothes.

Patrick Radden Keefe's mesmerizing book on the bitter conflict in Northern Ireland and its aftermath uses the McConville case as a starting point for the tale of a society wracked by a violent guerrilla war, a war whose consequences have never been reckoned with. The brutal violence seared not only people like the McConville children, but also I.R.A. members embittered by a peace that fell far short of the goal of a united Ireland, and left them wondering whether the killings they committed were not justified acts of war, but simple murders. From radical and impetuous I.R.A. terrorists such as Dolours Price, who, when she was barely out of her teens, was already planting bombs in London and targeting informers for execution, to the ferocious I.R.A. mastermind known as The Dark, to the spy games and dirty schemes of the British Army, to Gerry Adams, who negotiated the peace but betrayed his hardcore comrades by denying his I.R.A. past—Say Nothing conjures a world of passion, betrayal, vengeance, and anguish.

My  Thoughts:
In 2013, Patrick Keefe happened upon the obituary of Dolours Price, formerly a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. He knew a great story when he saw one. After reading that obituary, Keefe began a four year journey that would take him to Ireland seven times and have him interviewing more than 100 people. Many people refused to be interviewed and others backed out - The Troubles may have ended, but the fear had not left Northern Ireland. Many of the primary "characters" in the book were either dead or refused to be interviewed. Keefe was left to piece together the truth, as best he could, from other interviews and extensive research.

Top to bottom, left to right: Marian and Dolours Price at
10 Downing Street, Dolours Price, Dolours Price from the
book cover, Dolours and Marian Price at the march that
radicalized them, Marian's and Dolour's mug shots.
It's telling that I have looked at the front of the this book perhaps a hundred or more times at this point and it never once occurred to me that the person on the front of the book, a person I understood to be a member of the IRA, was a woman. That is not a man. That is Dolours Price. I am not alone in not thinking of a woman as an violent radical; Dolours and her sister, Marian, used their femininity to get into places they could not have gotten into if they were men and back out of plenty of trouble. The Price sisters were, in fact, more than willing to resort to violence for their cause as part of the branch of the IRA known as The Unknowns. They were inexplicably tied to many others who believed in the fight to rid Northern Ireland of the British including Brendan Hughs and Gerry Adams, who led the IRA (although Adams denies any involvement); Pat McClure, who led The Unknowns; and Bobby Sands, the IRA soldier who was the first IRA member to be allowed by the British to die on a hunger strike.

Jean McConville with three of her children, Gerry Adams
and Brendan Hughs at Long Kesh internment camp, newspaper
headline about the death of Bobby Sands, the aftermath of the Old
Bailey bombing for which Dolours and Marian were arrested.
It's clear that Keefe has little sympathy for the British but finds plenty of blame for what happened in the thirty-year period known as The Troubles. That bit of bias takes nothing away from this book. It is deserving of every accolade it earned last year. Keefe dives deep into the history of the IRA and The Troubles and the lasting impact of the divisions. Three decades after the Easter Sunday peace accord was reached, The Disappeared still have not all been found, the IRA, while, in theory, disarmed, still strikes fear into people, and Britain is still in Ireland, a fact that many still fight against.

Matthew Blaney is marvelous reading the book but the audiobook doesn't include the notes. They weren't necessary for me to be blown away by the book: I didn't even know they existed until the end of the book. But once I was aware for them, I really wished I had a copy of the physical book to refer to while I listened. If you're going to read this book, and get your hands on both the audio and print book, I certainly suggest you do that.

If you're looking for a book filled with fascinating people, a little known history (at least in the U.S.), and a remarkably well-told tale, I'd highly recommend Say Nothing.


  1. This was one of my favorite books last year. I delved more into the IRA and Irish and British history after I read it. Fascinating and no easy answers. It made me think. Glad you enjoyed it as well.

    1. That was the thing - other than I believe the British should get out, there really were no good guys or bad guys; just people fighting for what they believed in even though too many people had to die in the process.

  2. Thanks for the advice! I'm hoping to listen to this one soon, so will try to get the ebook from my library, too.