Ireland’s Violent Frontier

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Ireland’s Violent Frontier
The Border and Anglo-Irish Relations During The Troubles
By Henry Patterson
Palgrave Macmillan – £66.00/£19.50

The Irish media did almost nothing but criticise the actions of British security forces and although Irish public opinion accepted the need for strong action against the IRA, old attitudes of nationalism came to the fore if such action demanded collaboration with the British.

Upon reading the very first paragraph of this book’s Introduction, one is made immediately aware of the fact that Henry Patterson most certainly knows his objective, Troubles induced, historical stuff (”The IRA’s assault on the Northern Irish state between 1956 and 1962 is generally known as the ‘Border Campaign.’ Most of its attacks and all of its fatalities occurred along the land frontier between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. In contrast the Provisional IRA’s campaign during the Troubles is most associated with the devastating attacks in Londonderry and Belfast. Yet from the earliest days of the Troubles the IRA campaign had a much broader territorial dimension. This was in part a reflection of the fact that the IRA itself was a 32-county organisation with its leadership based in the Irish Republic, and that right from the start of serious unrest in the North this unrest had serious reverberations in the Republic, both in the heart government and the security forces and in the increasing significance of the border counties for the sustenance of the campaign in the north”).

That such is the case ought hardly be surprising, as Patterson – who is Emeritus of Irish Politics at Ulster University – has already written a number of books and articles on Irish Republicanism, Ulster Unionism, the State in Northern Ireland and the Peace Process.

As such, one can approach Ireland’s Violent Frontier – The Border and Anglo-Irish Relations During The Troubles in the full knowledge (and dare I say, trust) that what one is about to read, has been thoroughly well-considered and assimilated by way of acute research/thorough analyses.

Much of the knowledgeable trajectory of the aforementioned books and articles notwithstanding. Obviously, there will undoubtedly be those who disagree, but given the high-octane complexity of the sometimes fraught and ferocious political subject matter at hand, this is only to be expected.

Either way, these 199 pages (excluding Preface, Acknowledgements, Notes, Bibliography and Index) are a thorough examination of the psychological as well as the sociological history of Ireland’s border conflict with the North. Or, Northern Ireland’s border conflict with the Republic – depending upon political point of view and/or loyalty.

Riddled with a number of pertinent examples nigh guaranteed to rattle the insinuation of many an argument and assumption, Ireland’s Violent Frontier examines many a controversial issue of cross-border security/cooperation against the IRA, both during and before the Good Friday Agreement.

In bringing the role of the Irish State into sharp focus at a time when dealing with the past has become an unnerving, central issue in Northern Irish Politics, the author establishes the crucial importance of the border to that of the IRA campaign; and further shows why successive British governments considered the Republic a ‘safe haven’ for the IRA.

The book further reveals the devastating effects of republican violence on Protestants in border areas, and contains new archival material that sheds light on the Kingsmill Massacre, the role of the SAS, the murder of Lord Mountbatten, not to mention Garda collusion.

It further highlights how Mrs Thatcher’s concern about the issue of border security led her to contemplate major concessions to the Irish government and how her Irish counterpart, Taoiseach Charles Haughey, sought to exploit said concern. For instance, in the fifth chapter, ‘Disarray on the Border and the Arrival of Thatcher,’ Patterson reminds the reader of the consistency with which the NIO viewed subliminal Irish thinking: ”The Irish deplore continued violence… but there is a certain ambivalence: with their heads the Irish see that because of terrorism there is a need for British troops but with their Irish patriot hearts they see an army of occupation. Emotionally it remains hard for a loyal peace-loving Irish man to betray a PIRA thug to the British. Irish history, Republican mythology, partition and economic weakness have left the Irish with something of a political inferiority complex – a sensitivity to slight, a readiness to take umbrage, a tendency to blame the British for everything.”

Thorough, comprehensive and very readable, Ireland’s Violent Frontier is a most worthy addition to the current spate of literature being written on what remains a most complex and inflammatory subject. In the words of Michael Burleigh, who is the author of Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism, this is: ”an absolutely fascinating and original work of history which deserves to be read not just by those interested in the Northern Ireland conflict, but by anyone concerned with frontier disputes in general. That it is so well written is an added bonus.”

David Marx


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