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When they got to Seaforde Street

'Northern Divisions. The Old IRA and the Belfast Pogroms 1920-22'   by Jim McDermott
Beyond the Pale Publications 2001, £12.99 (Illustrated, 322 pages), ISBN 1-900960-11-7

The War of Independence. 1920-22 – there must be several hundred histories, memoirs, analyses and lies. The best died young and the old men became politicians and gave us Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. But these memorabilia concern the deep south – rebel days in Cork and Kerry or Dublin's fighting story or biographies of the 'leaders' and they are all concerning events in the soon to be fledgling 'Republic'. It is almost as if the pogroms in Belfast and the Northern IRA hadn't existed.

Until very recently apart from Michael Farrell's Arming the Protestants there was virtually nothing apart from the odd reference or two to the plight of 'the northerners'. And Farrell was dealing with politics and statistics mainly, not the IRA – moreover, he was denied many records from the PRONI.

Interest in the period has been revived with the republication of Fr. John Hassan's 'secret' accounts to Collins of the pogroms, but again this is often merely a collection of names and addresses taken from the papers and can only be found in obscure pamphlet form. Joe Baker and the researchers at Glenravel Publications have also added to the patina as has Raymond Quinn with his Lagan Enclave and the Short Strand's Republican story.

And then, suddenly, we have gone from famine to feast. First 2001 saw the publication of Denise Kleinrichert's excellent Republican Internment and the Prison Ship Argenta and now a gaping lacunae has been filled and filled admirably by Jim McDermott's Northern Divisions. This book, clearly a labour of love, is quite simply essential reading for any Republican and, in particular any Northern Republican. McDermott has created the benchmark against which any future research and books on this subject must be measured.

[Note: kudos should be given to Beyond the Pale Publications, too. Their recent output has been nothing short of stellar – Bill Rolston's Unfinished Business on State Killings, Lornie McKeown's Out of Time, Oistín Mac Bride's Family, Friends and Neighbours. And now Jim McDermott's Northern Divisions.]

Jim McDermott, like his family before him is a Belfast man. His father and uncle were old IRA men who were active in Belfast between 1920 and 1922 in the Lower Falls area. One took the Republican side while the other opted to follow the promises of Michael Collins that the Northern IRA men would receive guns and training and sent back to 'recapture' the North.

All the old forgotten, except by a dwindling few, names are here. McCorley, the Woods family, Joe McKelvey. The killing of MP Twadell which provided the excuse to introduce internment on the Argenta. The Raglan Street ambush – what really happened. The pogroms and the murder gangs. The murders of the McMahon family. Arnon Street. The bombing which killed the wee girls in Weaver Street. Names of the murder gangs, with Chief Inspector Harrison getting even more blame than the infamous DI Nixon. The reprisals for the killing of Swanzey who had killed MacCurtain, the Shinner Lord Mayor of Cork.

Civil war in Belfast – and, to a lesser extent throughout the province – details are given of the Beleek 'incidents' which no one seems to have recorded in any depth. The expulsions of the Catholic workers from the shipyards and the daily routine when one risked one's life to get on a bus, with snipers everywhere.

The bigotry and deceptions of the Tories and wellbred thugs like Spender and Sir Henry Wilson or 'adventurous bigots' like Fred Crawford, whose journal is quoted and the confused tangled web which Michael Collins tried to forge, splitting the Northern Division and in essence destroying the IRA in the North for many years (Collins' attitude is summed up as 'a tinker swapping donkeys at a fair; he was suspicious of what he was getting but contented himself that what he was giving was not an honest deal).

And there are extensive details of the organization of the Northern Division and its military activities, details which have not been published before. Essential for every Republican or historian's bookshelf. Again, encomia all round.

P.S. did you know that it was a priest from St. Peters, Fr. O'Neill who wrote 'The Foggy Dew?' I hadn't until I read Jim McDermott.

Ali La Pointe

Beyond the Pale can be contacted at Unit 2.1.2 Conway Mill, 5-7 Conway Street, Belfast BT132DE, Tel: +44 (028) 90 438630, Fax: +44 (028) 90 439707, Website:, e-mail:

Earlier reviews/ other favourites:

•   When Clowns Go Bad: 'Banks of Green Willow'   by Kevin Myers

•   Never forgive, never forget: 'Family, Friends and Neighbours'   by Oistín MacBride

•   Long Kesh memories: 'Out Of Time: ...'   by Laurence McKeown

•   Nationalist women: 'strong about it all ...'   edited by Helen Harris & Eileen Healey

•   Bog Days: 'Paddy Bogside'   by Paddy Doherty & Peter Hegarty

•   All about it: 'The Dublin & Monaghan Bombings'   by Don Mullan

•   30 Things You Didn't Know... : 'Orangeism – The Making of a Tradition'  by Kevin Haddick-Flynn

•   Civil Society?: 'The State and Community Action'  by Dr. Terry Robson

•   Opus Dei: 'Their Kingdom Come'  by Robert Hutchinson

•   Orange Heroes?: 'Northern Protestants – An Unsettled People'  by Susan McKay

•   'Unfinished Business: State Killings and the Quest for Truth'  by Bill Rolston

•   Local Boy Makes Bad: 'Mad Dog Coll – An Irish Gangster'  by Breandán Delap

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