Say Nothing-A True Story Of Murder And Memory In Northern Ireland

Jean McConville
Jean McConville With Three Of Her Children

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 Redden Keefe’s Memorizing Book

Keefe and his book
Patrick Redden Keefe

Keefe’s memorizing 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 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 out 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.

Kirkus Review Of Say Nothing

Half a century after the fact, a cold case in Northern Ireland provides a frame for deeply observed history of the Troubles.

IRA fighters
IRA Women Fighters

In 1972, though only 38, Jean McConville was the mother of 10, trying to raise them on a widow’s pension in a cloud of depression-a walking tale of bad luck turned all the worse when she comforted a wounded British soldier, bringing the dreaded graffito “Brit lover” to her door. Not long after masked guerrillas took her from her home in the Catholic ghetto of Belfast; three decades later, bones found on a remote beach were identified as hers. These events are rooted in centuries of discord, but, as a New Yorker staff writer Keefe (The Snakehead: An Epic Tale Of The Chinatown Underworld And The American Dream, 2009,etc.) recounts the kidnapping and killing took place in the darkest days of the near civil war between Catholics and Protestants. Another Belfast graffito of the time read, “If you are ‘e not confused you don’t know what’s going on,” and the author does an excellent job of keeping an exceedingly complicated story line on track. At its heart is Gerry Adams, who eventually brokered the true between warring factions while insisting that he was never a member of the IRA, whose fighters killed McConville “Of course he was in the I.R.A., said an erstwhile comrade. “The British know it. The people on the street know it. The dogs know it on the street.” Yet as this unhappy story shows one of the great sorrows of Northern Ireland is that naming murderers, even long after their crimes and even after their deaths is sure to bring terrible things on a person even today. Keefe’s reconstruction of events and the players involved is careful and assured. Adams himself doubtless won’t be pleased with it, although his cause will probably prevail. As the author writes, “Adams will probably not live to see a united Ireland, but it seems that such a day will inevitably come”-perhaps as an indirect, ironic result of Brexit.

A harrowing story of politically motivated crime that could not have been better told.

If you have any questions, or want to leave a comment, please do below and I will get back with you as soon as I can.

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All The Best,



6 thoughts on “Say Nothing-A True Story Of Murder And Memory In Northern Ireland”

  1. Hi Bobbi! Thank you for reviewing this book. This period of Northern Ireland’s history has always left me baffled. It’s a bit complicated to understand all that was taking place. And I’m constantly reading books on the topic to get fresh and new points of view from that period. So, for me, this book is a must.

    1. Thank you Able for your comment, and I agree with you, I grew up hearing about the I.R.A. and some of the cruel things that they had done, but this book really goes into both sides of the story, and that is always the best. It is just sad that an innocent person had to die, trying to protect herself and her ten children.

  2. Hello, Bobbi.  Interesting article.

    Although I don’t know a whole lot about the history of the Irish “Civil War” or what I would more call a feud between religious, can we call them factions?  

    The sad part to me, in my limited knowledge, was that they were “Christian”.  They both thought they were right and they were both (to me anyway) seemed to be unwilling to give.  In essence, I think both sides of the conflict were very bull-headed and closed-minded, unwilling to reach any sort of compromise.

    What was Jean McConville’s sin, being kind to another fellow human?  She and many others, In my mind, were innocent and did not deserve what they received.  Many were caught in the middle of that “War” not wanting to take sides and were murdered (that’s what it should be called) because of it.

    Bull-headed Catholics against Bull-headed Protestants… Maybe it was more than that but that’s what I see.


    1. Thank you Wayne for your comment, and I agree with you, that both sides were unwilling to give an inch, so what usually happens in these tug-of-wars is the innocent end up getting hurt, it is a sad story, but it needs to be heard, so that everyone can learn from the mistakes of the past. Bull-headed is an amazing description of the conflicts between these two religions.

  3. I’ve always been intrigued by missing persons and murder stories. Add in history & politics and I’m even more intrigued. A widow with 10 children, I couldn’t imagine. If she was being paid by the British Army for information as the IRA claims, what a spot to be stuck in. Do I let my kids starve and stay loyal to a government who hasn’t exactly been looking out for our well being? or do I risk it all to make sure my kids are taken care of? It really makes you contemplate the darker side of politics and history in the US and throughout the world. I’ve been doing more research on US History and Politics in the last year, and it has been really enlightening. It’s really interesting to see how we evolved, and how our past has represented us in our present day. Thank you for sharing! 

    1. Thank you for your comment Pros, it is intriguing on its base, but when you add the murder of this widowed mother of ten, it really takes on a new and scary truth, that these people had to live, even now days, no one is speaking, due to fear of retaliation, that cannot be a good place to be in, thanks again for your comment.

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