The Troubles is how everyone refers to it — the violence that wracked Northern Ireland for much of the latter half of the 20th century.
It was a vicious and violent time that produced few heroes and no honor. All three sides in the confict — the Catholics, the Protestants, and the British Army — committed atrocities that no amount of rationalization can justify.
Emblematic of those acts was the murder of Jean McConville, the mother of 10 children, who was dragged out of her home in 1972 — many of her children watching in horror — by the Irish Republican Army, taken to an unknown location and shot in the back of the head. Her body was undiscovered for more than 30 years.
After thousands had died, peace of a sort came to Northern Ireland in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement that brought an end to the constant cycle of murder, torture, and retribution.
Not long after that agreement, a journalist who had covered both sides of the conflict began the Belfast Project, a secret project of interviewing participants on all sides of the Troubles. Ed Moloney would set up the interviews, and the tapes would be sent to Boston College for safekeeping. The agreement Moloney had struck with his interviewees was that the tapes would not be made public until after their deaths. It turned out to be an oral history goldmine, but no one knew about it
The secrecy of the agreement worked well until 2010 when, after the deaths of two of his interviewees, Moloney published a book, Voices from the Grave, based in great part on what they had revealed:
In 2010, the existence of the Belfast Project was revealed: After two of the participants in the project died, Ed Moloney published a book incorporating their interviews, called Voices From the Grave. A Belfast tabloid revealed that another participant, a former IRA gunwoman named Dolours Price, who was suffering from alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder, had entrusted “taped confessions” to BC (which, in a reflection of how far away Belfast is from Boston, the article erroneously referred to as “Boston University.”) Source: Who killed Jean McConville? Did a secret archive at Boston College hold clues? – The Boston Globe
The above was written by Patrick Radden Keefe as part of an article about the tapes that appeared last month in the Boston Globe. Keefe is the author of the recently-published and well-reviewed Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland.
Keefe did his own research for his book and used only a single transcipt from the Belfast Project. The story he tells is a fascinating — and horrifying. I recommend it with caution.
The Belfast Project — like one of the car bombs the IRA used in the 1970s — has blown up legally in the faces of all of the participants. Those who conducted the interviews had no legal standing to promise anonymity to people suspected or murder, and British and American legal forces have combined successfully to get their hands on the tapes. Keefe outlines what has happened in recent days to those tapes.
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