Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

(A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Island)

‘Who should be held accountable for a shared history of violence?  It was a question that was dogging Northern Island as a whole.’

In December 1972, Jean McConville, a thirty-eight-year-old widowed mother of ten was abducted from her home in Belfast.  Her children never saw her again.  Everyone in the neighbourhood knew the IRA was responsible, but no-one would speak out.

Nearly 4,000 people were killed in The Troubles in Northern Ireland between the late 1960s and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. The violence was largely between the mostly Catholic republicans, who wanted Northern Ireland unified with the Republic of Ireland, and the mixture of Protestant paramilitaries, police and British Army against them.  People were shot, died in riots and bombings.  People were killed while going about their everyday lives.

A small number, fewer than twenty, were ‘disappeared’.  Jean McConville was one of them.  As they took her, from her home, in front of her children, the kidnappers told them she would be back soon.  She was not.

In 2003, Mrs McConville’s bones were discovered on a beach.  Her children knew the bones were hers: a blue safety pin attached to her dress was the badge she always wore.

This is a sad but fascinating account.  Patrick Radden Keefe had access to an unusual source: an archive of oral histories created by Boston College after the Good Friday Agreement.  Two of the interviewees were former IRA members Brendan Hughes and Dolours Price.   

Who killed Jean McConville, and why?  Mr Keefe writes that Brendan Hughes ordered Mrs McConville’s arrest on the basis that she was an informer.  She was driven across the border into the Republic of Ireland, murdered and then buried.

But Mrs McConville’s story is only part of this book.  I finished the book, wondering about Gerry Adam’s role and about the various influences on Dolours Price and her sister.  There are no heroes in this story, just sadness. 

‘This is not a history book but a work of narrative non-fiction.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith