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The Patriot Game

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Coronet, London, 1974
(first published by Hodder & Stoughton, 1974)
price: 45p; 256 pages

dedication: For Besfy and Cassiopeia

The blurb on the back:

Disillusioned with IRA policies, sick of squabbling factions, appalled by the senseless slaughter of innocent civilians James Grogan decided finally to do things his own way.
A lone wolf who had been trained as a commando in the British Army he chose his target, made his preparations and set off for Britain to wreak his personal brand of havoc.
Which made life sheer hell for the British security people. They heard of the plan early in the game. But only Grogan knew the target to be hit....
'A story-telling skill that hurtles the reader through the book to the very last page... Grogan does his thing and what that thing is is a shocker that will blow your mind .' - Newsday

opening lines:
The afternoon dragged slowly by for the three men sitting in the small front room in a terraced house in Ballymena.

It’s all in the timing. This was written at perhaps the most fascinating point of the Troubles, just after the first bomb attack in England (on the Aldershot Barracks in retaliation for Bloody Sunday), when the fear of the war widening to the mainland was becoming very real indeed, when internment was in operation, when the split between the Official and Provisional IRA was still a live issue, and when the IRA fighters were still ill-trained and ill-equipped.

Into this volatile situation comes an Irish ex-squaddie from the British Army, an SAS-trained soldier who offers his services to the IRA, but finds that they’re not properly receptive to his ideas. So he strikes out alone, pursued by the IRA, the security services and the police.

It’s a neat scenario (though I reckon the ending’s a bit of a cop-out) and allows for plenty of exploration of tactics and strategy in the political/military struggle for a united Ireland. Here’s our rogue commando reflecting on why violence is necessary:

’The Stormont Government was saying a little while ago 'no negotiations with the murdering IRA.' But we already have direct rule. And why? Because violence pays and because the British are not fanatics. Unlike the OAS in Algeria or the Portuguese in Africa, the Brits do not believe in the ultimate logic of violence, which is self-destruction. They always call a halt and talk.’ (p.187)

More than that, however, we get to see all sides in the conflict, which allows for some exploration of the psyche of, for example, a senior Protestant police officer fearful of being sold down the river:

The Ulsterman had more than once cast an envious eye in the direction of that successful secessionist, Rhodesia. But the real agony for Christie was that he belonged to an establishment which, with the situation steadily deteriorating, was being brought increasingly under the control of London. And there was no way out even though, in common with many Ulster Protestants, he disagreed almost as much with Whitehall as he did with the declared enemies in the IRA and Republic. His job, his wife and three children, his whole life-style ultimately depended on a government he neither liked nor trusted. (p.84)

What could so easily have been a piece of crass exploitation is in fact a very decent, thoughtful book, determined to examine a wide range of issues arising from the civil war, and it's still pertinent and interesting. And there are some nice ironic touches about the mundane reality of both terrorism and counter-terrorism: ‘When he first joined the Service code names were allotted by an old lady in Records, but she had finally run out of words.’ (p.137)

And finally, I’d just like to say that I do like the cover design – very neatly done, and I wish these books would give a credit for the artist.


More Irish terrorism? Why not?

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