Malachi O’Doherty’s Adams Book Reviewed

I was going to review this book myself but then I read John Manley’s article in The Irish News yesterday and realised my readers – at least those who cannot afford to penetrate that newspaper’s paywall – might enjoy a different though no less incisive view of Malachi O’Doherty’s world of Gerry Adams.

And when life is getting shorter there are always much better things to do.

Here’s my favorite bit:

…….there are plenty of O’Doherty’s peers happy to be quoted on the jacket, telling us how significant its contents are. “Illuminating”, “judicious” and even “Conradian” are among the adjectives applied. At times I was forced to ask myself whether we’d read the same book.

This Fintan O’Toole comment jumped out at me:

‘It’s much the best thing to be written about Adams.’

Maybe it’s time Fintan got out a bit more.

I read in The Belfast Telegraph this morning that O’Doherty had talked at his launch about how Gerry Adams had stopped the IRA from opening fire at British troops during rioting in Ballymurphy in 1970.

Somehow this was illustrative of his ambivalence towards violence. In fact it was a clever ploy to radicalise the ordinary five-eighth’s in Ballymurphy on the basis that nothing generates hatred for the State more effectively than the thwack of a baton. The story first appeared in A Secret History of the IRA nearly fifteen years ago.

I got the Kindle version, the main benefit from which is that I paid £6.00 less than the cost of the hardback.


Gerry Adams and friends…..

Book review: Lack of revelations means Gerry Adams biography ultimately disappoints

07 September, 2017 01:00

Gerry Adams: An Unauthorised Life by Malachi O’Doherty is out now, published by Faber and Faber

Book of the Week

GERRY ADAMS: AN UNAUTHORISED LIFE by Malachi O’Doherty, published in paperback by Faber and Faber, priced £14.99

THE name Gerry Adams provokes varied responses. At one extreme he’s seen as the driver of a long and bloody campaign of violence, while at the other he’s regarded in almost messianic terms, a freedom fighter turned peacemaker.

Whatever your take on the Sinn Féin president of 34 years and counting, it’s hard not to acknowledge that he’s an intriguing individual, a man of contrasts and contradictions. Depending on the occasion, the audience or the context, he can be warm and disarming or sinister and intimidating. His political career and personality warrant deep scrutiny, though too often the authors of such pieces are clouded by bias and a predetermined agenda.

In Gerry Adams An Unauthorised Life, Belfast-based writer/journalist Malachi O’Doherty explores his subject’s multifaceted character, charting the life of the former West Belfast MP from his childhood in Ballymurphy through to his quasi-statesman-like status.

It’s unfair to suggest O’Doherty has made a career critiquing Adams and the republican movement but it’s a regular theme in his writing, its cachet helped greatly by his Catholic, west Belfast background.

This book isn’t a polemic though the author’s obvious contempt for and resentment of the republican movement and its methods are never far from the surface.

And while it’s non-fiction, the early chapters rely heavily on O’Doherty’s imaginings and recollections of 1970s Belfast, alongside many of Gerry Adams’s own experiences, as recalled in his memoirs.

The effect is to give the narrative a rather twee, concocted tone that jars, given that the expectation is for something much more sober and factual.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of O’Doherty’s peers happy to be quoted on the jacket, telling us how significant its contents are. “Illuminating”, “judicious” and even “Conradian” are among the adjectives applied. At times I was forced to ask myself whether we’d read the same book.

An Unauthorised Life follows a chronological trajectory through the Troubles, Sinn Féin’s emergence as a political force and the development of the peace process. It improves as its subject’s life becomes more public and therefore there’s less reliance on conjecture but ultimately it disappoints.

A key theme is using interviews and secondary sources to help highlight the flaws in Adams’s personality and his inconsistent accounts of certain episodes. It draws on the experiences of a familiar bunch of justifiably aggrieved IRA victims and disgruntled former Provos, all of whose stories we have heard at least once before. The other main contributor is Gerry Adams himself, whose various books are cited in the notes scores of times.

Collectively, however, they offer no fresh insights into the Sinn Féin president’s psyche or conclusively answer whether he is/was in the IRA – though certainly the evidence presented here and elsewhere suggests yes. If new facts are unearthed, the author disguises them well or fails to substantiate them. His assertion that Adams is a millionaire, for instance, is dropped in casually without a single qualification.

Arguably many may regard the book’s most startling revelation to be the author’s claim that “Gregory Campbell is both intelligent and funny”.

John Manley

(John Manley is political correspondent of The Irish News

5 responses to “Malachi O’Doherty’s Adams Book Reviewed

  1. Knowing Malachi’s views of Gerry I could probably have written the book myself, admittedly not as well as he writes. However as to the review, I loved this bit, “or conclusively answer whether he is/was in the IRA”. Ah, visiting Cheyne Walk in 72 , wearing a black beret etc in mid 60s, need I go on? Gerry might be a lot of things but a fucking idiot he is not, he is never going to rain all hell upon his head by saying he was in the IRA, nor should he.

  2. Pingback: Malachi O’Doherty’s Adams Book Reviewed | voiceoftreasonandthat

  3. Insipid reading, with a tendency to simplify events in order to shift the blame onto Adams and co (his take that the army were heavy handed at times, but ultimately manipulated by the embryonic Provos conveniently overlooks the fact that the army were under the control of the Stormont government, giving proceeding a different dimension).

    Of course, there’s no denying that Adams deserves a chunk of the blame for what happened during the Troubles, but a bit of perspective from O’Doherty would have been nice.

    Curiously, there’s also no mention of Adams being a founding member of NICRA, which I thought a biography would have thought to include.

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