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IRA: The Belfast Connection

MONEY AND MUNITIONS FROM NEW YORK ARE HELPING THE IRA LAY SIEGE TO LONDON. THE NEW TRIANGLE TRADE.

BELFAST — In the head­quarters of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the deputy chief constable is concluding a briefing on the situation in Northern Ireland. The briefing is, of course, granted on condi­tion of anonymity. Neat in appearance, a trifle wan, diffident, the constable sits in a chair in a corner of the room clearly wishing he were someplace else. Not at all like John LeCarre’s Smiley, the exquisite spy­master modeled after Sir Maurice Oldfield, the British intelligence boss who once oversaw the local securi­ty situation. Nodding off at the constable’s side is his press aide.

The constable speaks positively about how well things are going, the excellent cooperation with the FBI in the United States, and the remarkable efforts of the British Embassy in Washington in setting the record straight about the ongoing war with the Irish Republican Army. Asked about the IRA’s “ingenu­ity” in concocting an arsenal of homemade weapon­ry, his mouth tightens. “Deviousness, I should say,” he corrects. He gestures with a pointer to a map of Northern Ireland on the desk before him. Little col­ored pins mark hot spots. Above the desk on a file cabinet a television screen flashes the comforting mes­sage: “All Quiet.”

That’s before lunch. By midafternoon, an unarmed female British soldier on patrol in the New Lodge section of Belfast has been shot in the face by an IRA sniper. A squad of British soldiers rushes the house where they think the sniper is hidden; a time-delayed bomb goes off, blowing it up. As night and a light rain fall, choppers hover overhead. Across the city, patrols of British soldiers, guns at the ready, inch down the streets. In a pub frequented by pro-IRA nationalists, everyone sits watching the door, uncon­sciously tensing every time it opens for fear a loyal­ist gunman is coming in. Late that night, in the mid­dle of Belfast, reporters hail a passerby to ask directions. The man halts, his eyes turning wide with fright. Fearing that these three men in a car are about to shoot him, he jackknifes away, running like a startled deer down the street.

The war in Northern Ireland is one of the longest-running and most intensive guerril­la insurgencies in the history of modern warfare. On one side, the forces of the Brit­ish union: 20,000 regular British soldiers, including a special homegrown regiment of Royal Irish Rangers, another 12,000 po­lice — Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Spe­cial Air Services, the elite British Special Forces unit. Then there are MIS, the British equivalent of the FBI, and MI6, the Brit’s CIA. There are Ulster Special Branch de­tectives, local detectives, and a myriad of competing intelligence units running agents and informers, and organizing surveillance. And amidst the loyalist, heavily Protestant community — the Brits’ allies — are paramil­itary units, Salvadoran-style death squads.

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Heavily fortified police stations and army barracks are spread across the coun­tryside — Fire Post Charlies amidst a sea of insurgents. There is a camera on every main road, hooked to a centralized intelli­gence-gathering computer. Tall, reinforced watch posts dot the countryside. Every de­cent-sized town has at least one heavily fortified checkpoint, and some as many as three. The license plate of every car is en­tered on a central computer, the location of every house, the number of inhabitants in the house, the color of the wallpaper. And in the sky hovering all day and all night, the ubiquitous choppers.

Against the massed forces of Her Majesty are the members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army. The IRA. The Terror­ists. The scum. The “wee fucking provies.” Five hundred of them at the very most in operations, and 350 more functioning as an active unit inside the Maze at Long Kesh, Europe’s most modern maximum security prison. Behind the fighters, a network of supporters, farmers, townspeople, and teen­agers, who stand ready when called upon to make their homes over into safe houses, to surrender their autos, to hide the fighters, and most of all to watch the Brits. These are the dickers, the lookouts in every town, out of every window, in the gas station, at the post office, in the cafe. Beyond them, another network of supporters 3000 miles away in the United States: money men meeting in the clubs of Wall Street, gunrun­ners, sympathizers offering IRA fighters safe jobs, new identities, new lives.

Since the early 1970s the Brits have tried everything to break the IRA. They have rolled through the streets of West Belfast with armored personnel carriers, sent squads of troops against the populace, shot civilians on sight, ambushed the IRA with shoot-to-kill SAS units, penetrated and ma­nipulated the Protestant paramilitary death squads. They have interned the populace, using statements obtained through torture to convict suspected IRA members in jury-less trials.

In return, the IRA has become the world’s most sophisticated guerrilla force. It has at times displayed a tendency to inflict damage on itself and its supporters by engaging in reckless and brutal adven­tures that have resulted in civilian casual­ties both in Northern Ireland and in Brit­ain. It has also displayed an ability, albeit erratically, to learn from its mistakes. To­day, the IRA controls large sections of this tiny portion of the world, which runs just 100 miles from the Irish Sea to the Atlantic. It has de facto control of the nationalist ghettos of the North’s two cities and large towns. From its secret and mobile com­mand posts in the South. the IRA is strong enough to keep up a constantly varied level of attacks against British targets across the North, as well as carrying its campaign of bombing to the very heart of London.

The siege of London has thrown the Brit­ish government onto the defensive and, in the view of many observers, driven the Tory government into a new initiative to settle the conflict. The hierarchy of the Tory party began quietly to push Prime Minister John Major into taking a more active role on Ireland, and despite the fact that he needs the 10 votes from Protestant Ulster to hang onto his majority for unifi­cation with Europe, Major set about open­ing secret channels with the IRA. For three years now the IRA through its political arm, Sinn Fein, has been engaged in on­-again off-again talks with the British, seek­ing some political solution to the war. Be­fore Christmas, the Republic of Ireland joined in attempting to broker a deal. But unlike Hong Kong, where the British clear­ly have announced their plans to retire, in the Union’s first colony, settled in the 12th century, they are staying.

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There may be no logistical or economic interest left, but emotions run deep, and to the Tory establishment the loss of Ulster is the loss of Britain, a Dunkirk too humiliat­ing to reckon. The IRA leadership may be eager to end the war, but it faces a potential revolt in its own ranks, among the grass­roots in the prisons, the ghettos of West Belfast, and the rural hinterlands, deter­mined to give no quarter to the British. So talk of peace goes on amidst a general sense that, for the time being, so too will the war. On Tuesday, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Ad­ams attended a conference on Northern Ire­land in New York, the first time in 20 years that a Sinn Fein leader has openly been in the United States. The visit, needless to say, is being interpreted as another move — ­this time by the U.S. — to nudge the peace process forward.

Adams’s 48-hour visa, agreed to by the Clinton administration after two weeks of negotiations, is a blow to the British, who had lobbied against it, mainly through the offices of House Speaker Tom Foley, a well-established Anglophile Irishman. Ar­rayed against him were Ted Kennedy, Dan­iel Patrick Moynihan, and, in the White House, Mark Gearan, director of the Office of Communications. Anthony Lake, the president’s national security adviser, spent much of last week on the phone, quelling the FBl’s nervousness over having a terror­ist openly visiting New York and splitting hairs over Adams’s views on violence. American diplomats in Belfast said Adams’s statements to them about wanting to halt the war met the American precondi­tion that he renounce violence before being allowed into this country. But there were plenty of signs before he left Belfast that Adams’s line toward the British had, if any­thing, hardened.

In early January, we set out to make our own assessment of the war in Northern Ireland, with visits and interviews at the three key points of the triangle: here in New York, center of the American network pro­viding money and still some of the key arms to the nationalists, as well as an over­all support system; Belfast and the rural North — the so-called cockpit of the war, where the fighting grinds on and where strategy is laid; and London, where the IRA recently has transformed the City, the his­toric financial district, into a veritable bun­ker. We talked to fighters in the field in the North and those hiding in New York; to the political leaders of Sinn Fein; and to the major counselors of the IRA. We even spoke with a senior official at General Headquarters, the IRA’s secret command post from the which the campaign against London is being carried out.

NEW YORK

IRISH REPUBLICANISM was born among Irish émigrés in Europe, formed by the in­fluence of French revolutionary Jacobin­ism. Its first uprising, in 1798, was aided by the navy of revolutionary France. But its modern day counterpart, the Irish Republi­can Army, has its origins in the teeming Irish ghettos on the Eastern seaboard of mid-19th-century America. It was there, amongst the economic and political refu­gees of Famine Ireland, that the so-called Fenian movement and the secret Irish Re­publican Brotherhood and Clan Na Gael organizations were formed with the aim of violently overthrowing British rule in Ireland.

Since that time, every important uprising in Ireland has been financed with money from the Irish community in the U.S. When the nationalist ghettos in Northern Ireland came under attack from loyalist mobs and the police in 1969 and 1970, it was to the Irish emigrant network in the U.S. that the Catholics looked for relief aid and munitions. The first weapons for the revived IRA campaign against the Brit­ish — 12 M1s — were smuggled from the United States into Northern Ireland in 1970.

Beginning in October of that year, Joe Cahill, the senior IRA official charged with overseeing the pipeline to America, made a series of trips to the U.S. to raise money and arrange for the purchase of weapons. Here he hooked up with old republican activists like Michael Flannery and George Harrison and set up arms-importation net­works that included, ironically, the QE2 luxury liner. One of the first clear indica­tions of the IRA’s reliance on this source was the emergence of the American AR-I5, or Armalite, as the IRA’s weapon of choice in the 1970s.

Today in the traditional Irish neighbor­hoods in New York — Norwood in the North Bronx, Woodside and Sunnyside in Queens, and Bay Ridge in Brooklyn — the old gunrunning and fundraising network based on bars and construction companies has been supplemented by the influx of new Irish immigrants, many of them fleeing un­employment and political repression in Northern Ireland.

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People travel back and forth to Ireland two or three times a year, send money home, make room for visiting relatives. The local bars are places where new immi­grants cash their pay checks, find jobs, lo­cate apartments. Just as in Belfast, locals watching out for the FBI’s antiterrorist squad agents cruise the neighborhood. In the bars along 204th Street in the Bain­bridge section of the northern Bronx, post­ers advertising IRA fundraising socials for organizations like Clan Na Gael, are com­mon. The serious fundraising goes on at invitation-only private gatherings, where the latest courier from Belfast makes a pitch and the attendees make out checks in the thousands.

The FBI has had some notable successes in arresting leading IRA members who’ve fled to the U.S. to avoid the heat in North­ern Ireland. Joe Doherty was arrested in New York in 1983 and Jimmy Smyth, Ke­vin Arrt, and Pol Brennan were picked up in California nearly 10 years after they took part in a mass escape from the Maze prison in Northern Ireland. Smyth and Arrt were carrying U.S. passports in the names of twins who had died from a rare blood dis­order in the early 1970s.

The IRA has its own structure here, with an OC or Officer-in-Command who coordi­nates activities on behalf of the leadership in Belfast and Dublin. One OC, Liam Ryan, moved back to his native Tyrone in 1987 only to be assassinated by a loyalist gang in the family bar that he managed. Ryan, who was himself charged in an arms-­dealing case in 1985, ran a courier trail with contacts in Kennedy Airport and a smuggling operation that carried people and money into the U.S. through Buffalo from Canada.

What began as gunrunning has now evolved into a complicated network helping to provide the IRA with high-tech improve­ments in its homegrown arsenal. New York is also a sort of r&r spot for men and women coming off active duty, some of whom are too hot to remain in Northern Ireland or the republic, and who are sent to America to get lost, to find new identities that cannot be traced. Others come here for a break, often finding employment as ille­gals in the construction business. And there is the constant flow of funds to keep the struggle going, ranging from money sent home to individuals to funds raised by legal entities such as Irish Northern Aid to help prisoners and their families.

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The Irish American community “is very important because the British think it is very important,” Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader said during an interview in Bel­fast. “There is a huge part of the U.S. —­ people who claim, or want, or are of Irish extraction; there is no language difficulty. Most American Irish are in the states be­cause of the relationship between Ireland and Britain. All of this has the British a bit paranoid, and I think it is the duty of freedom lovers to make the British very paranoid.”

The British commonly attempt to turn immigrants from Northern Ireland into spies. In at least one instance, American FBI and British intelligence agents engaged in a covert operation in New York to turn an Irish construction worker from Northern Ireland.

Kevin Corrigan, 31, had come to the U.S. with his wife and baby in 1989 from the small farm village of Cappagh in County Tyrone. Cappagh has been a center of at­tack and counterattack over the last 15 years.

On arriving in New York the Corrigans took up residence in a one-bedroom apart­ment in the Bronx, and Kevin got work in the construction industry around New York. Like many Irish immigrants, he did not have a green card. One evening in Au­gust 1990, Corrigan says, FBI agents ap­peared outside his Bronx apartment flash­ing their badges. They told him that he was in breach of the immigration laws. One of the agents proceeded to rattle off details of Kevin’s life, incidental facts such as where his son had been born, where he had been christened, and where the party was held afterward. Then the FBI agent threatened him with deportation.

When Corrigan said he was ready to go back to Ireland, the agent said, “You don’t have to go back, in fact you can stay here as long as you want. If you help us out we can help you.” And he said, “I’ll show you a number of photographs of men who drink in bars around here. All you have to do is tell me who they’re with and the times they come and go. That’s all I want.” Corrigan refused. The agent persisted, renewing the offer, and threatening him with the same fate as Liam Ryan. After 20 minutes or so, the FBI men left, promising to get back in touch.

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Two days later, as Corrigan approached the subway station on 204th Street on his way to work, the agents turned up again. One of them sat opposite him as he rode the D train into Manhattan to his job at a construction site near Herald Square. At the end of his workday Corrigan was ap­proached by two FBI agents who hand­cuffed him and marched him off the con­struction site. They put him in a car and drove a few blocks to 32nd Street and Fifth Avenue, where they took the cuffs off him and got out. Moments later another man got into the back of the car with Corrigan. He recognized the man as “Alex,” the Roy­al Ulster Constabulary Special Branch offi­cer who had interrogated him back home in County Tyrone. “Alex” repeated the FBI deportation threat. Pulling a cigarette in his mouth, the RUC man said, “When this cigarette is finished I’m getting out of this car, and there is nothing more I can do for you … If you were cooperative we could be sitting in a bar — any bar you like — ­having a friendly conversation, chatting about old times and I’d be telling you what was going on in the North and what all the boys are doing. Nobody need know any­thing about it.”

Corrigan refused. The cigarette burned down, and the man ordered Corrigan to get out of the car. Corrigan got out and walked away. Later that night the phone rang. It was “Alex.” Corrigan unplugged the phone. Later, he went back to his native Tyrone, where he still lives today. Apart from his unwillingness to betray his own people, Corrigan’s refusal was motivated by a sec­ond fact: he knew that the IRA’s way of dealing with informers was to kill them.

IN THE 1980s, the IRA’s weaponry needs shifted from guns to surface-to-air missiles with which to shoot down British Army helicopters, in many rural areas the only reliable form of surveillance and troop transportation. IRA engineers put together a team to devise their own system. The project was led by Richard Johnson, a Mas­sachusetts-based scientist with top U.S. se­curity clearance, and Martin Quigley, an IRA engineer. Backing them up was Chris­tina Reid, a Bay Area engineering student, and Peter Maguire, a technician with Aer Lingus, the Irish national airline. For seven years, from 1982 to 1989, the FBI set up an elaborate surveillance operation against the IRA team. By 1989, when the feds moved in, the prototype of a radio-signal con­trolled missile system had been developed.

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Parallel to the efforts to develop its own system, the IRA also made various efforts to buy Stinger surface-to-air missiles in the U.S. In one case, a group in Florida led by IRA member Kevin McKinley made ar­rangements with a group of arms dealers to purchase Stingers. To raise the needed $50,000, according to a federal indictment, an IRA member made a “charity fund run” to New York, hitting bars — including the Kilarney Rose and the Spinning Wheel­ — the Bank of Ireland, Chemical Bank, and several residences. After the cash was hand­ed over, the arms dealers revealed them­selves as undercover FBI agents and four men, including McKinley, were arrested.

In a follow-up operation, a total of 14 men, including those convicted in Florida, were indicted last year in Tucson, Arizona, charged with the purchasing and shipment to the IRA of 2900 detonators, which they claimed would be used for mining. From Tucson, the detonators were put on a Grey­hound Bus and shipped to New York and then sent on to Northern Ireland, where, according to the feds, they were used in explosive devices from January 1991 to June 1992. According to the indictment, another IRA member slipped into the Unit­ed States from Canada with a munitions shopping list that included night vision glasses for a Ruger mini-14, 2000 nonelec­tric detonators, 200 electric ignitors, bullet molds for 9mms, and conversion kits for various rifles. Those arrested in New York included a Bronx bar-owner, a building su­perintendent, a carpenter, and a Toronto-based bank executive.

When some of the defendants in the Tuc­son case were released on multimillion-dol­lar bail, they appeared at a welcome-home rally at Gaelic Park in the northern Bronx. The party was a standing-room-only affair packed with young Irish immigrants, repre­sentatives of Irish organizations from across the tristate area, labor union offi­cials, and Irish sports organizations. Speak­er after speaker told the cheering crowd that, while the defendants were innocent victims of FBI collusion with the British security forces, only armed resistance could drive the British out of Ireland. The high­light of the night was a speech from Gerry McGeough, an IRA figure who was himself on trial for trying to buy a Stinger missile.

Another boisterous victory party was thrown after a group of admitted IRA gun­runners was acquitted by a Brooklyn jury in 1982. Much to the annoyance of federal prosecutors, says one man who attended, some of the jurors showed up and music was provided by the NYPD Emerald Soci­ety Pipe band.

NORTHERN IRELAND 

CARVED OUT OF the historic Irish prov­ince of Ulster after the IRA’s War of Inde­pendence brought the British to the negoti­ating table in 1921, and constructed to ensure a loyalist/Protestant majority, Northern Ireland became, in the words of one of its founders, a “Protestant State for a Protestant People.” The island was turned into two underdeveloped units, both dominated by backward, religious-based ideologies, the “carnivals of reaction” James Connolly, the Socialist republican leader executed by the British in the 1916, predicted partition would create.

The early years of Northern Ireland saw large-scale pogroms against Catholic ghet­tos and the arming of more than one-third of adult Protestant males. The Catholic na­tionalist minority — which constituted be­tween a third and two-fifths of the popula­tion — was subject to institutionalized discrimination in employment, housing, voting, and almost all aspects of public life. The Civil Rights movement of the late 1960s — consciously modeled on its Ameri­can counterpart — provided a challenge to the system, and eventually tore it asunder. By 1969, it became apparent that Northern Ireland was incapable of reforming itself and British troops were sent in. The conclu­sion drawn by many Catholics was simple: civil rights could not be attained within the confines of the state of Northern Ireland. Only by uniting Ireland could they guaran­tee their democratic rights. That, coinci­dentally, had always been the position of Irish republicanism and its armed manifes­tation, the IRA.

Now, driving through the rain-swept, overcast countryside, we pass a slogan on a gable-end wall that sums up the perspective of this part of the world: “In the Middle­-East they say ‘Yassir,’ in County Tyrone we say ‘No-Sir!’ ” We are on our way to the small village of Loughmacrory in the hills of mid-Tyrone, where a Gaelic football match is in progress. The local side, many of whom have served time for various IRA offenses, is playing a team of IRA prisoners on a weeklong holiday parole from the H­-Blocks. After the game — which is won by the locals who, though lacking the prison­ers’ fitness, have the edge in game prac­tice — the players are joined by 300 to 400 locals in the village’s community center to debate the political and military strategy of the republican movement. First, though, the winning team has to be presented with medals.

Later, in a nearby roadhouse, hundreds of Tyrone republicans gather for a social event, the highlight of which is the presen­tation of plaques to the families of Tyrone IRA volunteers killed in action in the latest phase of the conflict. The ceremony goes on for an hour as family after family leaves its table and makes its way to the podium amid loud ovations from the crowd. The presentations are testimony both to the strength of support in the community for the IRA and also to the price paid in casu­alties over the last 20 years.

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A center of rebellion as far back as the 16th century, Tyrone became subject to a two-pronged British policy of genocide and plantation that saw the lands of the native Irish confiscated and the inhabitants re­placed by thousands of settlers imported from Scotland and England. The Irish fled to the poor land on the hillsides. Their descendants live there still, strong supporters of the secret military conspiracy that is the IRA. From here, in the late 1960s, Bernadette Devlin traveled to Queen’s Uni­versity in Belfast and became a leader of the civil rights movement that was first attacked and clubbed by loyalist mobs and their supporters in the RUC, and then shot off the streets by British paratroopers. On Bloody Sunday, in January 1972, they killed 14 unarmed civil rights marchers in Derry. Afterward, nationalist youth in Ty­rone joined the IRA in droves.

As the war has changed over the years, with the IRA focusing its targets more closely on commercial enterprises, the number of civilian casualties from its bombing attacks has declined. But the war has taken an ominous turn with the emer­gence of loyalist death squads, drawn from the descendants of the 17th-century Scot­tish and English settlers. In the last three years, the two main loyalist paramilitary groups — the Ulster Defense Association (UDA) and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) — have carried out more killings than anyone else. Their targets vary from known republican activists to ordinary Catholics who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

(It was an IRA attempt to take out the leadership of the UDA that resulted in one of the army’s biggest public relations disas­ters of recent years, when a bomb directed against a UDA leadership meeting explod­ed prematurely, killing 10 people, including the IRA bomber, in a fish store on loyalist Shankill Road in Belfast last December.)

Drawn from the lower sections of the Protestant working class, the loyalist gangs have close connections to neo-fascist groups in Britain and adopt a racially su­premacist attitude toward the Catholics. In many cases the loyalist gangs have been able to operate with impunity because of the latent sympathy among sections of the RUC for their aims and their methods.

For many years there have also been alle­gations of collusion between the British se­curity forces and the loyalist gangs. “It is a matter of common knowledge within the nationalist community that information gathered by the British forces regularly and easily finds its way into the hands of loyal­ist death squads,” says Gerry Adams. In 1989, the British government was forced to dispatch a senior British police official, John Stevens, to investigate the growing evidence that intelligence files on republi­cans were being handed over to the loyalists.

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One of the men Stevens arrested was the UDA’s intelligence officer, Brian Nelson. Shortly afterward it was revealed that Nel­son was an agent of British military intelli­gence. It was his function in the UDA to collate all of the intelligence files on nation­alists provided by the British security forces and provide computer readouts on poten­tial victims to UDA hit squads. One of Nelson’s victims was lawyer Patrick Finu­cane, who had become a thorn in the side of the North’s legal and security establish­ment by his courageous civil rights advoca­cy and his defense of IRA suspects.

Nelson had also been party to an arms deal engineered by loyalists in 1988 that imported 200 AK-47s, 90 Browning pistols, 500 splinter grenades, numerous rocket launchers, and tens of thousands of bullets from South Africa. The deal was set up by the South African authorities in collabora­tion with a Middle East arms dealer.

The arrest of Nelson was both a huge embarrassment to the British authorities and clear evidence that loyalist death squads were being armed and directed with the assistance of British intelligence. At his trial in January 1992, during which a senior British military intelligence officer provid­ed a character reference for Nelson, murder charges were dropped in the “public interest” in return for a guilty plea. Nelson is due to be released in 1996.

The loyalists’ propensity for violence is directly correlated to any indication of ambivalence on the part of the British govern­ment to the status quo in Northern Ireland. Should the British suggest even a long-term process of disengagement, the loyalist gangs, along with important sections of the local security forces, could be expected to unleash an unprecedented onslaught against the nationalist community.

LONDON

STARTING IN THE early 1970s, the IRA ran a wild and ruthless campaign, marked by bombings of civilian targets — pubs fre­quented by British Army personnel at Guildford and Woolwich, well-to-do gentle­men’s clubs and fancy restaurants in Knightsbridge, and Harrods department store in the middle of London. It botched a warning at a Birmingham pub, where the bomb killed 21 civilians. It killed horses in a ceremonial parade, and shot and killed the editor of the Guinness Book of Records, who had offered a reward for the capture of IRA squads in England.

Then, during the middle ’70s, it came close to collapsing altogether into what turned out to be a shrewd British trap. Offering the IRA a ceasefire, which they then extended, the British hinted they wanted to end the violence and leave Northern Ireland. The IRA accepted the ceasefire: the guerrilla fighters came out into the open and here and there began to take up normal lives, revealing their cover and support system in the process. Behind the scenes, the British were beefing up their own intelligence operations, penetrating the IRA brigade system that now was nakedly exposed, tightening the rules for criminal arrest and prosecution. They then swooped down, and the IRA buckled.

It was at that point that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein’s vice-­president, took over and, on the basis of discussion groups IRA prisoners had undertaken in jail, reorganized the republican movement. The IRA replaced brigades with cells, ended the retaliatory shootings of Protestants, and shifted its focus to a long-term campaign against commercial targets aimed at costing the British money. It began blowing off big bombs in the downtown provincial towns of the North, blowing up the center of Belfast itself, all the while aiming to kill as many British soldiers as possible in hit-and-run ambushes.

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Even with this redirection of efforts, they never quite got rid of the brutal IRA reputation, which was revived by what came to be known as the European campaign, in which British military units stationed along the Rhine and off-duty soldiers in Holland and Belgium were attacked. This campaign soon became marked by a sense of ruthless abandon, with IRA units killing a baby, injuring a mother on her way home from the store, and mistakenly killing two people with short hair it thought surely were off-duty soldiers. As it turned out, they were Australian tourists.

In 1988, amidst the botched campaign on the continent, the IRA launched another campaign within Britain itself, attacking a variety of targets — a soldiers’ barracks, the homes of Tory politicians — mortaring a cabinet meeting during the Gulf War, switching quickly back and forth to keep the British security forces off guard. The campaign climaxed with two big bombs in the City of London, the British capital’s financial district, which demolished the Baltic Exchange, the shipping center. A year later, just as the Tory establishment was congratulating itself with a grand banquet for reopening the Baltic, the IRA struck again, this time with an enormous bomb in Bishopsgate, which blew up buildings housing foreign banks and offices, and damaged the big Liverpool Street train and subway station. All in all, in 1993 the IRA tried to blow up three times as many explosives — 18 tons — in the City of London as it did in the whole of Northern Ireland. The damage totaled upward of $ 1.5 billion. It was the heaviest bombing since the Blitz.

From the bustling entrance of the mod­ern Liverpool Station the City looks like any modern downtown, construction cranes pulling the finishing touches on high-rise towers that are crowding out the historic financial buildings. It takes a moment to get one’s bearings, but a security guard standing outside a bank helpfully points out what’s going on. “There,” he jabs with a finger at a high-rise office building. “And over there.” Another jab. “There, there, there.” All points where the IRA truck bomb took out the heart of the City.

The cranes and workmen sprawled across the narrow, rain-swept streets are still struggling to rebuild. The streets are all but empty, traffic having been diverted around the City area. Another helpful guard points out the slim silver canisters at the beginning and end of every street, outside the entrances of Lloyd’s, all around the bank buildings. These are security cameras, so common in Belfast, but remarkable here.

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Inside a commodity trading house, which is reached only through locked doors and with a pass from a security guard (hooked by beeper into all the other security guards in the City), a young English broker de­scribes the effect of the IRA bombings. “The windows,” he says, pointing to the glass expanse that encloses the trading room, “there’s a bulletproof film over them. And most of the securities firms have duplicated their trading rooms.” That is, taking advantage of the recession to rent other quarters, they have created replicas of their offices, complete with telephones and computers. These stand empty, ready to be inhabited should there be another bombing.

Last fall, the IRA began to steadily bomb or hoax the commuter railroads. In Decem­ber, the army set off a bomb on the Reading railroad, a main commuter line. The IRA can easily close every mainline station during the morning rush hour. Last year it claimed there was a bomb on the Kent line, completely shutting it down for hours. It’s been estimated that hoax cost nearly $100 million.

Steady, long-term surveillance has brought a certain success to British security forces, leading the police to one or another stash of explosives. But, from what one can tell, the IRA’s operational network in England remains in place, ready to strike. In all probability it involves sleepers, people who are sent over to England years before they are activated. From some recent arrests, it’s clear the IRA now has second­-generation Irish involved, people who emigrated from Ireland, married, became to all intents and purposes English with English accents, living in working-class suburbs with decent working-class jobs. They drink at the corner pub. They fit no profile. Who would have ever thought that these descendants of the oldest colony — the dependable handyman, the maid, the accomplished but eccentric writer, the day laborer, the workers who built the Chunnel, would at the end of the 20th century turn on their decent En­glish employers and entertain the prospect of becoming urban guerrillas?

THE GHQ 

THE ATTACKS ON the City of London, indeed the overall British campaign, have been directed by a handful of individuals who make up the IRA’s General Headquarters, a secret floating command center that moves about the island of Ireland. Sometimes it’s in the north in working-class Belfast, and at others across the border in the countryside of the south. Getting in touch with GHQ isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but over time, following a circuitous and often haphazard-seeming route through New York, Dublin, and Belfast, we asked for and eventually were granted an inter­view with one of the officials at GHQ.

We were to show up on a certain street corner in downtown Belfast after lunch on a cold, drizzly day in mid-January. Our contact man was driving a small sedan. He didn’t speak as he drove carefully through a warren of terraced houses just west of Belfast’s city center. After about 10 minutes of taking side streets to avoid British Army checkpoints, we pulled up outside a small group of neighborhood stores. The driver nodded to another car parked adjacent to a grocery store. Inside were two young men in jeans. We switched cars, and started off again, crisscrossing the working-class hous­ing estates that slope down from the Divis mountain and sprawl across nationalist West Belfast. The two young men in the car drove along, asking how easy it would be to get a ticket to the World Cup soccer match in New York. Nobody mentioned politics.

After another car switch, and more criss­crossing, we stopped outside a small, two-­story dwelling on a cul-de-sac in a non­descript public housing development. We entered and waited in the front sitting room while the last driver scanned the street from the window. Then, a man who looked to be in his thirties came up the sidewalk and into the house. The two men who had brought us there produced massive dead­bolts, locking the front door. Settling into a chair, the official from GHQ began to talk.

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“It’s important to see the English cam­paign in the context of overall IRA strate­gy,” he began, setting up right away the political context for the discussion. “Our strategy is underpinned by a number of strategic objectives, the aim of which is to sap the will of the British government’s violent denial of the Irish people’s right to self-determination. Given that objective, the IRA seeks with a variety of tactics to stretch and re-stretch the British in terms of their personnel and resources.” He paused.

“Like all guerrilla armies, the IRA seeks to improvise and manufacture at as low a cost as possible weaponry and armaments which can be deployed against Crown forces and other targets on the basis of the largest return for the least outlay. Another factor is the need to pace ourselves. The essence of guerrilla warfare is that the smaller insurgency force harries and harass­es a massively superior enemy. The object is to have the enemy in a constant state of high alert and continuously guarding a wide range of potential targets. For example, in the mid 1980s the IRA devastated over 45 rural British Army and RUC bases with large-scale bombings. One effect of this was that the British had to undertake a large campaign of reconstruction and refortifica­tion. The IRA then issued a warning that anyone involved in the reconstruction of these bases would themselves become tar­gets. The effect of that was two-fold: it caused a major inflation in the cost of re­building, and two, it meant that the British had to deploy two extra battalions of troops to assist in the rebuilding program.

“The nature of the rebuilding program rendered the use of car bombs redundant because we were dealing with three-foot-­thick walls, sometimes reaching 20 to 30 feet. Quite early in that program the IRA began to improvise with their mortar tech­nology. We had the production of the Mark 10 to Mark 14 mortars and now the Mark 15, which the British call a barrack buster. When that mortar goes in — and it has a maximum payload of 500 pounds of explo­sives although they now average 150 to 200 pounds — the fortifications which act as a deterrent to car bombs actually multiply the damage in the base.”

But, he continued, if the IRA were to focus on just one method, the British soon would catch on and counter it. It’s the whole “tapestry of operations” that mat­ters. One important element was strikes against commercial targets, which countered British claims that life was normal.

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“Throughout 1991, ’92, and continuing in 1993, we engaged in massive bomb at­tacks in the commercial heartland of London. The IRA in one period of 1992 de­ployed 26 tons of explosives in and around London. Unfortunately 18 tons of explo­sives were seized by British forces, and the operation itself went wrong, when British forces tailed one van. IRA engineers and backup volunteers were in position with the explosives and had a simple choice to make. They could have executed the British police who had stumbled into an operation that was beyond their capacity to deal with, but it was decided that because the opportunity to remove the explosives didn’t exist there was no military justification for attacking the British police, and the volun­teers withdrew from the area. It had been our intention at that point to simultaneous­ly explode six substantial explosive devices at targets throughout the capital.

“Another aspect of the campaign has been the persistent and long-term disrup­tion of the travel network in and around London. There is the economic loss of work hours, and the sheer frustration of the local populace when the IRA paralyzes the city, making it hellish. That has the effect, along with our other operations, of draining the Exchequer and straining the nerves of the British establishment.

“It is clear that the British establishment, when it comes to the question of Ireland, are slow learners but they will find that the IRA are very patient teachers.”

The official broke off, rising to talk to one of the guards who had come into the room. Then, turning to us, he said, “I’ve got to get out of here right away,” and departed.

WAR WITHOUT END

WITH THE PHONY ceasefire of the mid 1970s very much in mind, the IRA leader­ship warily approaches the recent British maneuvering over Ireland. They suspect that, far from planning to retire from Northern Ireland, John Major is more like­ly to try to split the IRA by luring Adams and the leadership into a ceasefire without the kind of concessions that would radically alter the situation. IRA leaders see rhetoric on Irish self-determination contradicted by the insistence that a majority in Northern Ireland have a veto over any change.

All of this takes place against a back­ground of secret talks between Sinn Fein, IRA leadership, and the British that began in 1990. In Belfast, Gerry Adams explained that the IRA had indeed been involved in direct talks with the British before the at­tacks on the City of London began. “We engaged in protracted dialogue and contact with the British government for almost a three-year period,” he said. “In the course of that, the British government offered a series of meetings with Sinn Fein and ar­gued that this could be facilitated and as­sisted if the IRA campaign was stopped. Having negotiated the logistics and the gen­eral political parameters of the meeting, Sinn Fein then asked the IRA leadership to suspend its campaign in line with the Brit­ish request.”

The IRA agreed to suspend the campaign for two weeks, after which the talks were supposed to take place at one of a number of suggested locations in mainland Europe. But having got the agreement of the IRA, Sinn Fein found that the British were sud­denly no longer interested.

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Adams continued: “The British govern­ment then walked away from the proposals. By that time, we think they got into trouble within their own Tory party and when they started to make an arrangement to deal with the unionists.” In June of last year, Major needed the votes of the Ulster union­ists in the House of Commons to save his political hide in a vote on European inte­gration. That need coincided with the Brit­ish decision not to pursue the peace talks with Sinn Fein/IRA.

But Adams had been pursuing his own talks with John Hume, the leader of moder­ate nationalist in Northern Ireland. Those talks created a momentum — particularly in Dublin, where the Irish government has, since the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, had a consultative role in the running of North­ern Ireland. The talks, and the revelation that the British had already been talking to Sinn Fein, created the pressure that result­ed in the so-called Downing Street Joint Declaration signed by Major and Irish prime minister Albert Reynolds.

Full of ambiguous language, the Joint Declaration implies that Britain is playing a neutral role in Northern Ireland. It declares that when the IRA lays down its arms the British will open talks with Sinn Fein — a new precondition. While the British and Irish governments talk of their initiative as one that will eventually open up the door to a United Ireland, the reality is easier to discern by the fact that the Unionist Party, the core of Ulster unionism, welcomed it as a document that would “copper-fasten the Union.”

The Joint Declaration was seen by Re­publican leaders as a maneuver designed for quick rejection by them —a rejection that the British could use first to isolate them and then to bring in even harsher repressive measures. Adams’s response was to seek clarification of the Joint Declaration and to place the onus on London and Dublin to prove that it was a genuine peace initiative.

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Under pressure from its electorate and an attempt to draw the IRA into a ceasefire, the Dublin government lifted the 20-year-­old censorship of Sinn Fem on television and radio. Dublin also made it known to the White House that it had no objection to the ban on Adams entering the U.S. being lifted.

Meanwhile, a consistent majority of peo­ple in Britain tell opinion pollers that they want out of Northern Ireland. Apart from the hundreds of millions of dollars that are paid out in compensation for IRA damage, Britain pays out $5 billion every year just to keep things running. So why, many peo­ple ask, don’t they just cut and run? One television journalist we met in London who has worked extensively in Northern Ireland pointed to the crisis in the British state as one key reason. “We have strong national­ist movements in Scotland and Wales, the monarchy is in a state of crisis, the Justice system is discredited, nobody believes in the established Anglican church anymore, and they can’t come to terms with the Eu­ropean Community. Ireland is our first and oldest colony and key parts of the establish­ment are scared to death of the ramifica­tions of losing what’s left of it.”

There is also the problem of the 1 million Protestants. “We have managed to create a hybrid race of our own little Afrikaners over there,” the Journalist added. “They say they are British but nobody here wants anything to do with them. They’re already armed to the teeth and ready to go to war if we pull out.”

Any deal struck between London, Dublin, and Belfast would have to meet the approval of the IRA, and especially the prisoners at Long Kesh. An indication of their view of things came during our meet­ing in the Maze with Sean Lynch, the OC of 350 IRA men who arc organized as a pris­oner-of-war unit. The peace proposals, among other things, offer them the possibil­ity of a general amnesty, a chance to abruptly conclude their 20-to-30-year sen­tences and return to normal life. Their an­swer, Lynch said without hesitation, was no. No until the British said they would retire from the island of Ireland.

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“The war has gone on for 25 years,” Bernadette Devlin McAliskey said. “And nobody can say what the balance sheet of suffering is. Certainly the greatest weight of war has been carried within the republican community. Those of us who have been part of the struggle for 25 years have chil­dren. The children have grown up in a totally militarized society. The most alarming thing about the situation is that this is nor­mal life for our children. This is the kind of society, the kind of life, the kind of struc­ture, that has provided the normal basis of their growing up. Peace is abnormal to any­body in this country under the age of 25. There may be some people around who say that anything would be better at this point than seeing these people have to go through the next 25 years the same as ourselves. But that’s not our decision. That decision is for people who are 22 and 23.

“And the kids? What they’re saying to the leadership is, if you’re tired, that’s all right. Go home. We’re not tired.” ■

Special thanks to Ed Moloney, the Sunday Tribune‘s Belfast correspondent, who has diligently covered the war and its complex politics over the last two decades. Additional reporting in New York: Susan Walsh, Eamon Lynch. 

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An Irishman Bemoans St. Patrick’s Day

The Irish Renaissance? A terrible blather is born
March 23, 1972

This piece is dedicated to Frank McCourt who, with the wisdom of Solomon, spent the day lying on his bloody Irish arse.

Sweet sufferin’ Jesus, thank be it is over for another year.

I’m no good at these occasions of calendared merriment. I go mad with depression on holidays, and for good reason. At Christmas it is demanded I be gentle beyond my means, on New Year’s I’m called upon to be a lunatic with a monkey’s hat on my head, at Easter there is a suit to be bought I can’t afford, and on St. Patrick’s Day my consumption is expected to equal the reserves of the Grand Coulee Dam. As a man grows older, he longs to pass his life away in a rosary of innocuous Wednesdays.

Now as a race the Irish are no more mediocre than any other group in large numbers, but this year they were enraptured with their own purity. Since Northern Ireland began to dominate the headlines, there has been flap about an Irish Renaissance or what-have-you, and every paddy in sight has bored me wit the beauty of us all.

In point of fact every non-Irishman I met also mumbled leprechaun lyrics in my ear. Greeks quoted Yeats, Jews sang ballads, and Croatians gave me clenched fist salutes. Irishmen who had developed their biceps by throwing bricks at peace and civil rights marchers compared themselves to the Vietnamese and the blacks. A terrible blather is born.

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The whole experience kept me in a maudlin drunk for two weeks. The only green I sported was what I was hacking out of my lungs every morning, and by the end of it you could have written “Goodyear” across my liver. My mailbox was stuffed with pleas for every Irish cause from Derry to Harrisburg, and the Irish-American Cultural Society (that must be an elite group) demanded a contribution of $50, $100, or $150 from me, which was an insult beyond repair. I rationalized that if I was a trophy of their culture they should have been sending me checks.

Total strangers elbowed their way to the bar to discuss our “literary tradition.” I said fine, let’s talk about the Daily News and the Brooklyn Tablet and the Baltimore Catechism. But this didn’t seem to satisfy them, so I had to recite how we had starved O’Casey to death and turned Shaw and Wilde into the best bogus limeys since Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., how Joyce, soused in Paris, trembled over nightmares of hell for sins of self-abuse, and how Samuel Beckett has adopted a foreign tongue. But there was no stopping them. They mistook all this bile for vaunted Irish wit and hugged me, pronouncing I was a regular ould sod brother.

Radio and television shows beckoned me to take on the airways to extol my heritage. What in the name of hell did these people want to know? I had cauliflower ears courtesy of the nuns. Every time I get acid indigestion I check into a hospital for a biopsy, fall on my knees, and say an act of contrition, because of my esthetic concern over which band of angels I will end up singing with.

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Certainly they didn’t want to know about my early sex life, because if they did, all they would have had to do was air a minute of silence on their networks. I was terrified to leave my home in the morning for fear there would be a group of sociologists on my doorstep waiting to kidnap me off to the Smithsonian: “Authentic Ethnic Found in Wilds of Village.”

But when the day finally came, sanity returned. There was the parade in all its glory, with Jack McCarthy narrating on tv in a borrowed accent so heavy St. Christopher couldn’t have shouldered it. McCarthy was adorned in a white fireman’s hat, presented to him by one Raymond Gimmler (best remembered for staging the pro-war march of 1965).

As one women’s college group passed, Jack cooed, “Their proudest claim to fame is that they produce Catholic mothers,” a curriculum, one presumed, that started with a drop of holy water and ended with a splash of sperm.

But one has to admit Jack knows the nature of every Irishman’s dreams — to make a fortune in the new country and spend it in the old. He spouted blessings on Irish Airlines and various hotels and resorts in Ireland, and you knew old Jack was in for a grand summer.

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They came in legions: the sons of every county, those out-of-step high school bands (we reserve our rhythm for the sheets, not the streets), the good nurses, the good clergy, the good civil servants all paunches and pensions, and the Grand Marshal himself, proudly stating that that very evening 2500 Friendly Sons of St. Patrick would be attending a dinner at which Spiro would be the guest speaker. Agnew was to repeat his triumph on Sunday morning at a breakfast of the Holy Name Society of the Police Department before 3500 wildly cheering guests.

When our Renaissance came marching by, wearing black armbands and chanting at the pols in the grandstand, they were told to keep their arses moving; or else it was time for a commercial interruption. Jack put a final benediction on the whole affair with his patented tagline: “May ye be a half hour dead before the divil knows it.”

As I walked into a saloon that night in my beret and shaggy locks, a fireman with the face of an uncooked roast beef looked up and snarled, “Hello, Pierre.” It was the first honest comment I had heard in weeks, and I was tempted to say it was grand to be back among my own.

I have lived as Irish-American for 35 years. I have endured it, and it is too late in the march for me to believe we are going to become champions of humanity. Which is not an insult, since I don’t believe any other race has a franchise on that claim either.

So I hope that by next year all the blather fades, and the cynical gilders of humanity spend their day in church with the saints and let the people have the street. If not, look for me to be marching in the middle of the parade, carrying a red, white, and blue banner, and loudly proclaiming: “Ireland, Get Out of America.”

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Donald Trump and the Coming War on Women’s Rights

The history of women in America before Roe v. Wade is a history of blood.

When Caroline had an abortion in 1963, she went alone to a “ramshackle little house” in a disreputable neighborhood of Youngstown, Ohio. Later, in her college dormitory, she labored for twelve hours, alone, and began to bleed uncontrollably. “There was more blood than I ever imagined,” she told the Cut. When, at last, she overcame her fear of seeing a doctor for the aftereffects of the abortion, she was told her life had been at risk.

A reader of Ms. recalled his mother telling him that, after an illegal abortion in her teens, she bled so profusely that her boyfriend at the time collected newspapers for her to sit on, as she waited out the pain in a hotel room, unable to seek medical care without facing potential criminal charges. 

In 2018, after decades of erosion, the last levee protecting reproductive rights in the U.S. seems poised to break. The impending retirement of Anthony Kennedy, and his imminent replacement with a Trump-appointed Supreme Court judge, seems to portend the end of Roe v. Wade, which struck down anti-abortion laws in forty-six states and the District of Columbia in 1973.

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The United States government, seeking to restrict women’s reproductive rights, is bucking a global trend, as countries that have criminalized abortion for decades begin to ease their stringent laws in the face of determined feminist outcry.

Just two months ago, across the Atlantic, women all over Ireland rose up in celebration of a hard-won victory: By an overwhelming margin, the country’s 3.2 million registered voters supported a referendum to overturn a 1983 constitutional amendment that effectively outlawed abortion. From as far away as Sydney and Tokyo and Los Angeles, members of the Irish diaspora returned home to vote on May 25 in favor of a woman’s right to choose, detailing their journeys on social media. The voters, arriving to the whoops of supportive crowds, served as a direct parallel to the women who for decades took lonely journeys out of their home country to get abortions.

“We have voted to provide compassion where there was once a cold shoulder, and to offer medical care where once we turned a blind eye,” Ireland’s prime minister, Leo Varadkar, said in a speech the morning the results were announced.

Last month, in Argentina, a bill to decriminalize abortion narrowly passed the lower chamber of that nation’s Congress, and is currently under debate in the Argentinian Senate. The decriminalization campaign was driven by a multiyear wave of feminist activism, in a movement entitled “Ni Una Menos (Not One Less),” that has demanded a stop to the needless deaths of women at the hands of male partners and as a result of unsafe illegal abortions. Argentina’s vote comes just under a year after Chile voted to reverse its absolute prohibition on abortion, despite vehement opposition from Catholic groups in that country.

In Argentina, jubilant crowds of women in city squares celebrated the passage of the decriminalization bill, wearing the signature green bandanas of Argentina’s abortion rights movement; in Ireland, videos of women weeping with joy at the referendum’s outcome flooded social networks.

Here in the United States, the mood among women’s rights advocates is justly somber. With more than 60 percent of the public indicating, in recent polls, that they wish to see the decision remain intact, the coalition in charge of the government seems to be salivating to fully strip women of access to abortion, at which a series of increasingly restrictive state laws has already chipped away. The legal groundwork for a challenge to Roe is already being laid. In Iowa, Louisiana, and Mississippi, state legislatures have advanced strict limits on abortion that could wind up being the instruments in a Supreme Court case — one decided by a conservative majority.

This prospect is the fulfillment of an official promise by the administration. In February, Vice President Mike Pence told the Susan B. Anthony List & Life Issues Institute, an anti-abortion group, that a change to “the center of American law” would happen “in our time.” Now it’s July, and that time seems near at hand.

But a change in the law is only that. It doesn’t change human nature —  or desire, or love, or desperation, or disease, or loss.

There are as many ways to get pregnant as there are to have sex: in bliss, in recklessness, in despair, in traumatic circumstances. The end of legal abortion in states across the country won’t end rape or domestic abuse; it won’t create more money in families’ budgets for more children; it won’t make birth control more effective or affordable. The end of legal abortion doesn’t mean the end of the consumption of alcohol or drugs; it doesn’t mean the end of heated trysts on stairways and in offices and parking lots and narrow, overheated bedrooms. There were extramarital affairs before 1973 and there will be extramarital affairs after Roe is overturned. The end of legal abortion is merely the end of legal abortion. It won’t change the number of wombs yearly inseminated in this country. 

But when Roe is overturned, more women will die.

There will be unwanted pregnancies carried to term with severe complications or postpartum infections. There will be knitting needles and coat hangers and off-label pills. There will be secret decisions, with a bank balance open and a tear in the heart; there will be fledgling careers to preserve, marriages to save, traumas to expunge. There will be herbs, forceful massage, a sudden fall down a flight of stairs. And some of the women who do what they feel they must will die. Every year, across the world, nearly 70,000 women die as a result of complications from unsafe abortions. A country without legal abortion is not a country without abortion. It’s just a country in which more women die.

To know this is to know that what we face is a long walk into the dark, in the cynical, silencing, hideous, hypocritical name of the “sanctity of life.”

And the true cruelty of such laws becomes more clear when you know — as we know, because history is open to us such as it never has been before, a few taps of a keyboard away — that such laws always, always, always spare the wealthy.

There are planes to different states, just a few hundred dollars away. There are other countries with sterile, friendly clinics for the right man’s mistress, the right man’s wife, the right man’s daughter. There will be salvation, for those who can afford it, in the guise of a well-timed vacation to Europe or Canada.

For millions of American women, Roe v. Wade has already been functionally overturned. More than 400 state laws have been passed to restrict abortion since 2010, when a wave of conservative legislators and governors took power. The theoretical existence of a right means little to those who have no ability to act upon it —  those who lack the financial ability or personal flexibility to travel long distances to receive access to abortion care. There is one abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi, for a population of almost 3 million. Mississippi has one of the highest pregnancy-related mortality rates in the United States, and it is rising.

What’s more: Every law in the United States is enforced unevenly across racial lines. Anti-abortion laws won’t buck that trend. What woman is punished and what woman goes free; what woman lives, what woman dies; what woman can feed her children and what woman cannot — in America, little about these answers is incidental.

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It’s difficult to know all this without feeling pure doom; difficult to look at your belly and know that its flesh will be beyond your control, that the soft, yielding, and familiar terrain of your own body will be bound by laws made by men who know their actions might cause you to die, and who do not care.

But all along the long, dark walk we face, there will be those who risk everything to help, in the tradition of those who have battled unjust governance throughout history. There will be women who fight in the streets and in the courts and in state legislatures. There are already networks of abortion funds, some hyper-local, some national, that finance the secret trips and the stays in the motels and the bus tickets and the plane tickets and the journeys home. There are open purses ready to pay the price for a woman not to have a child if she doesn’t want to. There will be women who swap abortifacient recipes; there will be, as there were before Roe, midwives and chiropractors and family doctors who will perform the procedure nearly a quarter of American women have already experienced, in secret, and under legal threat. Perhaps there will be a revival of the secret feminist network that provided underground abortions to the women of Chicago: All you had to do was pick up the phone, dial a certain numberand ask for Jane.

In time, and after many deaths, and irreversible losses; after blood, and pain, and shame, and careers prematurely ended, and women killed for getting pregnant, and women dying in childbirth, the ban — like Ireland’s and Chile’s — will be lifted. Any path to legislative reversal on the subject will be paved with women’s bodies. We know this. The “sanctity of life” touted by opponents of abortion is extended to an embryo but not to the woman who carries it. And that’s why, despite the seeming inevitability of a federal ban on abortion, women and the men who fuck them and love them will fight to the end; and if and when such a ban is imposed, we will claw our way out of that darkness, until we walk in free bodies again.

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Toast the Irish With a Single Grain Whiskey Made in Dublin

As we celebrate the great holiday of the Emerald Isle, it’s worth nothing that Ireland’s capital city of Dublin — long associated with Jameson and other Irish whiskeys — hadn’t housed a working distillery in nearly half a century. That dry spell ended mercifully in 2012 when Stephen Teeling and his family opened Teeling Whiskey in the industrial outskirts of town. The distillery’s flagship offering was finished in rum casks for a subtle sweetness in the nose and finish. This month, Teeling launched its single grain corn whiskey. It’s a gentle sipping spirit with a history as complex as the drink itself. And today’s as good a day as any to sit down with a native and talk shop over a tipple.

With a family legacy in Irish whiskey dating back to 1782, Stephen Teeling is something of an expert on the subject. “For centuries Ireland’s unique climate has given us a competitive advantage globally for whiskey production,” he notes. “It is a flavorsome yet approachable spirit that has a huge character but doesn’t offend.” This might be a slight gibe at popular single malts of the day, known for their aggressively smoky characteristics. Irish whiskey, by contrast, tends to be far more accessible to the masses.

“Key ingredients like cereals, quality water, and a consistent temperature for maturation impart a DNA that is uniquely Irish,” Teeling asserts with pride. When it comes to his new Single Grain, that key ingredient is corn — a delicate component that can be overpowered when not aged properly. “So it was important we used the correct wood to mature it in,” Teeling points out. He ultimately trusted Californian Cabernet Sauvignon barrels to impart subtle notes of red berry fruit and a tannic dryness without overbearing the mash bill.

Bottled at 92 proof, as opposed to the traditional Irish standard of 80, Teeling Single remains gracefully drinkable. It also bears striking similarities to straight bourbon, and so will be welcomed widely by a new generation of drinkers — or so Teeling hopes. “The demographic that is driving the dynamic growth of whiskey,” he says, “is a younger consumer with a palate for lighter and sweeter products. Irish whiskey, although a serious whiskey in terms of taste, wouldn’t be as formal in its approach as scotch and is closer to its American cousin rather than its Celtic one. It is inclusive and attractive for younger consumers.”

And now that it’s hit shelves and bottle shops here in the city, it’s also relatively easy to procure. This is something of a coup in whiskey production, as it’s traditionally been a rarer expression. “Our Single Grain is one of only a handful of bottlings in the world,” says Teeling. Rarer still, it’s an authentic craft whiskey from Dublin. That’s something worth celebrating.

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Imelda May

The rise of Imelda May has been a slow climb, but a steady one. The singer began to round the Dublin burlesque circuit at 16, and even then, her fundamental traits were in place: pop-noir glamour that takes the blues as its home base, and the kind of big, theatrical voice that you’d imagine spends its nights melting hardboiled hearts in the smoky back room of some velvet-decked joint somewhere in a seedy part of town. Though she’s on the front lines of the rockabilly revival, her songs range far and wide into soul, 60s pop, and even shades of goth. May layers bubblegum catchiness over a slightly evil — and addictive — underside.

Sun., Sept. 28, 8 p.m., 2014

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Imelda May

The rise of Imelda May has been a slow climb, but a steady one. The singer began to round the Dublin burlesque circuit at 16, and even then, her fundamental traits were in place: pop-noir glamour that takes the blues as its home base, and the kind of big, theatrical voice that you’d imagine spends its nights melting hardboiled hearts in the smoky back room of some velvet-decked joint somewhere in a seedy part of town. Though she’s on the front lines of the rockabilly revival, her songs range far and wide into soul, 60s pop, and even shades of goth. May layers bubblegum catchiness over a slightly evil — and addictive — underside.

Mon., Sept. 29, 7 p.m., 2014

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IN BLOOM

Who doesn’t have fond memories of those 24 hours in Dublin with Leopold? Walking, talking, brawling, philosophizing, and finally returning home to kiss Molly on the bum and call it a day. Nearly a century after the publication of Ulysses, book nerds around the world still remember James Joyce and his work around this time each June. This year, at the 33rd Annual Bloomsday on Broadway celebration focuses on another great achievement by the Irish author: Dubliners at 100 years ripe. Cynthia Nixon, Malachy McCourt, Marin Ireland, Column McCann and others read from the beloved story collection with soprano Lisa Flanagan performing songs from the stories between readings. For more Bloomsday revelry, grab a pint and listen to readings from the novel at Ulysses Folk House Pub on picturesque Stone Street, or, for a feminist take on the odyssey, follow Clarissa Dalloway as she leads an eight-hour multi-site reading of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway to various locations around Brooklyn.

Mon., June 16, 7 p.m., 2014

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Transport Turns a Real Life Tragedy Into The Love Boat

A musical about Irish women getting shipped off to Australian penal colonies? With a wedding and a happy ending? Behold Transport, a seafaring drama with music and lyrics by Larry Kirwan that seeks to uplift downtrodden souls with tales of hope.

The subject is ostensibly serious: In the 1830s and ’40s, British colonialists forcibly removed 4,000 female “undesirables” from Ireland. Some were expelled for stealing food to survive; others were chosen on the basis of moral suspicions or mental illness. In passage they endured intolerable conditions in the lower passenger holds; many died. Upon arriving in southern Australia, the survivors were sent to penal colonies to correct gender imbalances and bear children to other prisoners. Back home, famine and emigration began depleting Ireland’s populace.

You could imagine a rigorous play responding to the weight of this pain-infused history. But Transport chooses a trite form at odds with this gravity. Every character on this supposedly wretched vessel turns and pours out their vexed heart to us in I-will-go-on ballads. True, Thomas Keneally’s script gives brief hints of darkness: a storm, a quick rebellion, a death — not to mention a Cassandra-like character (Terry Donnelly) who keeps making the same prophesy of the blights soon to befall Ireland.

Overall, however, this one-dimensional crew and their passengers are so well-intentioned and morally upstanding that Transport feels more like a Sunday school pageant than theater for thinking adults. Two of the three-man crew fall ruefully into innocent love with lovely prisoners, winning affections and redeeming futures; bland romantic ballads are sung, and the deportation ship starts to look more and more like the Love Boat. Only the stern, judgmental Captain Winton (Mark Coffin) remains an obstinate baddie, though we can spot his inevitable conversion to goodness from far off, the way a watchman scans the horizon for landfall.

Unfortunately, the overweening awkwardness radiating from the stage is not simply a new musical’s birth pangs. The clunky dialogue and relentlessly sentimental songs prove too much for the cast to surmount in the Irish Rep’s tight quarters. (Tony Walton directs.) The convicts wish they were bound for America rather than undeveloped Australia; if only Transport, too, had set sail for fresher shores.

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The Rolling Stones: Charlie Is My Darling—Ireland 1965

Excruciating memories of those lizardy old guys croaking out “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” in Martin Scorsese’s Shine a Light (2008) will be banished from your brain while watching this lustrous restored chronicle (overseen by Mick Gochanour) of the Rolling Stones playing Dublin and Belfast in early September 1965, right before the band hit superstardom. Originally directed by Peter Whitehead, tapped by Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham to record the band’s Irish tour after being impressed by the filmmaker’s first doc, Charlie Is My Darling captures the quintet at their most impossibly vernal and beautiful. (Mick, Keith, Brian, and Charlie were 24 or younger; Bill was 28.) Onstage, peacocking Mick rebuttons his cuff while singing “Time Is on My Side”; for the next number, “It’s All Right,” the kids in the front rows go crazy, tackling their idols to the ground. In between concerts, each bandmate has a few turns expounding on fame and their future in front of the camera, but not as many as Jagger, whose plummy vowels and jokes about British Romantic poets remind you that he was a student at the London School of Economics only a few years prior. “There isn’t any secret—it’s all obvious,” the lead singer retorts to some offscreen query about the key to the group’s appeal. This film proves him right.

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The Lincoln Center Festival Mounts Three Tom Murphy Plays

For Irish playwright Tom Murphy, home is where the hurt is, an adage underscored in DruidMurphy, a marathon production at the Lincoln Center Festival of three of his plays: Conversations on a Homecoming, A Whistle in the Dark, and Famine. Murphy never intended these plays as a trilogy. They are set in various times and places (1970s County Galway, 1960s Coventry, 1840s County Mayo, respectively) and written a couple of decades apart (1985, 1961, 1968). Yet the scripts all center on the subject of emigration.

To see these plays in the course of an afternoon and evening (a little more than nine hours, including intermissions) as performed by the dynamic Druid ensemble is to understand why artistic director Garry Hynes has grouped them. It also suggests that while emigration draws them together, Murphy has concerns other and deeper than travel. Wherever his characters roam or linger, they carry their failure, rage, and regret with them, like so much battered luggage. The title character in an early Murphy play, A Crucial Week in the Life of a Grocer’s Assistant, articulates this. “It isn’t a case of staying or going,” he says. “We’re half-men here or half-men away, and how can we hope ever to do anything.”

In 2004, Murphy told an interviewer that the concept of home “used to appear in the plays in the literal, geographical way that we understand the term. Now, I see it more as a search for the self, for peace, for harmony.” Yet that internal and always unsuccessful search resonates even in Whistle, his first full-length. Whether he leaves or festers, a Murphy character will find himself miserable. More likely, he won’t find himself at all.

Although Murphy is renowned in his native Ireland and to a lesser extent in the U.K. too, America has never embraced him with the same fervor as his contemporary Brian Friel. DruidMurphy both argues persuasively for embracing Murphy and illustrates starkly the difficulty of doing so. (It would be a very spiky sort of hug.) Friel isn’t precisely a cheery playwright, but he does allow for the limited chance of love, hope, joy, transcendence. Murphy doesn’t. His is a poetry of disillusion—no dream goes unmolested, no succor untainted or untrammeled.

Hynes leads off with Conversations, a script that trades more in melancholy than in absolute despair. Michael (Marty Rea) has returned to County Galway after 10 years in New York as a jobbing actor for an evening’s drink and craic at the White House pub. But he finds his favorite shebeen dingy and failing, his friends old and stultifying, their youthful enthusiasm curdled and calcified.

Of course, Michael hasn’t fared much better. In the course of the evening, he tells the story of a man who stripped at a party, leaped onto a table, and began to cry: “No! No! This isn’t it at all! This kind of—life—isn’t it at all.” That man is Michael. In this painful, poignant drama, which plays out in real time, Murphy neatly balances desolation with comedy, and Hynes ensures the hard words and clanging glasses take on a kind of rough music. (The two-hour show, which requires actors to down myriad pints of liquid, is a paean to thespian bladder control.)

A bleaker tune animates A Whistle in the Dark, a tale of another Michael (Rea again), who has left Ireland for England. But three of his thug brothers have followed him, crowding the small house he shares with his English wife (Eileen Walsh). When his father (Niall Buggy) and youngest brother (Gavin Drea) come to visit, they goad Michael into abandoning his hard-won civility and joining in their brute games. “I don’t want to be what I am,” Michael says. He has fled County Mayo to shake off this savage inheritance. But even a country away, blood tells.

Written at the age of 25, Whistle displays a vigorous, confident structure and a wallop of tragic force. This is a vicious, malcontented world in which relations are a toxin, women a nuisance, morals an annoyance, and work a distraction. Even trees are a danger. “Gas. The trees give it out at night,” Dada says. These lethal family dynamics anticipate Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming even as the play follows The Birthday Party in its depiction of a celebration turned venomous.

In Famine, the longest, most complex, and yet least compelling offering in the cycle, Murphy takes a turn toward the epic, exploring the effects of the potato blight on a small community in West Ireland. With its wide scope and sickened vision of the inequities of power, you might have subbed in Howard Barker’s name on the title page with few the wiser. The play concerns John Connor (Brian Doherty), a village leader, who refuses to emigrate, though staying almost certainly means starvation. He is a man who makes the wrong choice, for all the best and noblest reasons.

While all of Murphy’s plays are talky, only this one feels it, with the political overwhelming the personal in many of the scenes. And here, Hynes, one of the theater’s greatest practitioners of rhythm and tone, submits to her taste for the heavy-handed gesture, as in a scene between priests, politicians, and landowners, in which the famine victims gradually drag themselves in from the wings to slump beneath the speechifying. Still, it’s a broad, brave, angry piece, though the cycle might have benefited from its placement first rather than last.

If Conversation, the most recent play, seems the most placid, don’t believe that age has mellowed Murphy. Judging from recent interviews and actions, the angry young man has merely become an angry old one. He made the papers in 2005 for hurling lamb curry at the director of the Gate Theater, and five years later he gave an interview in which he said: “There is a rage in me, which I think is a natural thing. It was in me when I was 24 or 25, scribbling with my stub of a pencil. And it’s still there in everything I do.” It’s there even in the antiseptic environs of the Gerald W. Lynch Theater. And it is a brutal, forceful, rousing thing to see.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Charles McNulty interviews Tom Murphy.