Book Review - Hope and History

Hope and History: Making Peace in Ireland
By Gerry Adams
Brandon, €25

Gerry Adams has come a long way since the 1993 publication of The Street and Other Stories. Just ten short years ago, RTE refused to carry a 20-second ad for the book of stories penned by Adams, about Belfast and the people he had met there over the years.

Conor Cruise O'Brien, the architect of the crippling censorship law, Section 31, testified in defence of the ban. He claimed that the little selection of short stories was thinly disguised propaganda for the IRA.

The whole furore that surrounded the 1993 book's release is described in Adams' new work, Hope and History. This book's reception proved very different to that for The Street.

Last Friday night, at its launch in Belfast, hundreds of people turned up to get a signed copy of the new addition to the Adams collection. No great shakes you might think - Adams has always been admired in many parts of Belfast.

But he went straight from there to the TV3 Dunphy Show to talk about the book and got a rousing reception from the audience.

Promoting his book on television in 1993 would have been impossible. Since the 1970s, RTE had been ordered to stop Sinn Féin and IRA representatives or spokespersons from being broadcast. Section 31 permitted governments to issue an annual censorship order aimed at censoring Sinn Féin. The ban was only lifted in 1994.

On Saturday, hordes of people descended on Dublin city centre and queued for hours outside Hughes & Hughes bookshop in St Stephen's Green Shopping Centre and then outside Eason's on O'Connell Street, for an autographed copy.

Book signings that should have taken a couple of hours stretched into the night, much to the dismay of Gerry Adams' pen-hand - all this in a week when he was named the most popular party leader in Ireland.

Yes, ten years is a hell of a long way.

A new edition to the family...

Adams has been a published writer since 1982. His books, ranging from local history to politics, have won critical acclaim in many quarters and have been widely translated.

If anything, Hope and History is probably his best work to date.

Everybody knows that history books can be boring, even at the best of times. For me, they remind me of homework and highlighted pages full of facts that have to be learned off for whatever exam is coming up.

But history books told in the first person are rare and stand out for even the most reluctant readers. And that is what Hope and History is - a rare, personal insight into one of Ireland's most significant historic occasions in centuries.

Some books take a while to get started, but not this one. We are thrown straight into the hunger-strikes, a tumultuous and painful period made even more harrowing when we quickly realise that the men who died were known and loved by our narrator.

There are other similarly upsetting chapters that put terrible events into a human perspective. In the chapters Battle of the Funerals, Murder on the Rock and The killing of Pat Finucane, Adams tells us of the pain that rippled throughout Ireland as funerals, which should have been solemn occasions, were attacked and trivialised by the Brits and sections of the media. He tells us how the families of the Gibraltar Three suffered even more unnecessary grief as they struggled to bring their loved ones home, and how the family of a man dedicated to human rights had their rights shattered by the British government, who refused to hold an independent inquiry into his murder.

The book is filled with heart-stopping moments such as these and also with many personal losses endured by Adams. It mentions the death of his mother at 67 years of age, after a life filled with stress and pain, and the death of his niece's husband, Terry Enright, a community activist gunned down at the age of 28.


But this is not a sad book. It is a full and textured account of a people and a movement in struggle and, as in life, there are many funny moments too. I laughed out loud when I read about him dropping his trousers and hopping up and down on a table to get his colleague's attention, backstage at The Larry King Show in the States. And then at his zipper breaking when he made himself decent, resulting in him having to hold a newspaper in front of himself when he left the studio.

Then there's the part where David Trimble tells him to ``grow up'' in the toilets during the negotiations at Stormont, (can't you just imagine him saying it?), or when he and Dermot Nesbitt are relieving themselves outside in the bushes and he cheekily remarks, ``This is the pee process''.

There are also absurd tales involving the unionists, which are funny in a ridiculous kind of way. Like when all the parties were travelling to an ANC conference on conflict resolution and the DUP's Peter Robinson proudly declared that they had demanded separate travel arrangements, living quarters, eating quarters, meetings, toilet arrangements and so on, so they wouldn't have to see or hear any republicans on the trip. The irony of his comments, in a country that had broken free from and defeated an apartheid regime, escaped the DUP man.

Frustrating the process

Politically, the book is an eye-opener for anyone who relied solely on the media to convey the events surrounding the Good Friday Agreement and the lead up to it. From the year he opens his tale to the year he closes, the unionists, the British, frequently the Irish government, and most of the establishment media, at various stages frustrated the process.

Sinn Féin was demonised and he personally was referred to at one point as being akin to Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda chief. On another occasion, the Daily Star, which had him as the unrivalled most evil man in history, printed in its editorial that it would love to see him in a coffin ``with a gap where his face used to be''.

He relays the important role that An Phoblacht played throughout this period - virtually the only outlet for what was really happening in the North - in the negotiations, and so on.

He also contradicts the readily accepted belief that republican violence was the reason the process took so long to come to fruition.

The British government's duplicity is revealed in full, as on the one hand it condemned Sinn Féin and on the other hand it partook in secret talks. Then it engaged in open talks, but secretly colluded with loyalist death squads to murder people on its target list.

He recalls it is by a man who lived through it, by a man who played a leading role in making most of it happen.

And in the end, it's clear that there is another book to come, when this one has been read and re-read and over-analysed by friends and critics alike.

I read this book over a weekend, no mean feat for somebody who prefers to be out and about after a hard week in the office. Unputdownable may sound like a cliché, but for once, it really does apply here.


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