Making Sense of the Troubles: The Story of
Conflict in Northern Ireland, David McKittrick
and David McVea embark on a sojourn into the 20th
Century politics of Northern Ireland, analyzing the
formative historical events that shaped the violent
conflict and the ensuing peace process.
and McVea write from a framework that while the 1998
Good Friday Peace Agreement is not yet fully rooted,
it nevertheless marks a transition away from the more
tumultuous Troubles of the late 1960s
through to the end of the 1990s.
chronologically, Making Sense of the Troubles
guides the reader through the 1920s to the present
day, buoyed through complex periods of time by distilling
key concepts and players, such as the naming of the
three most important figures in Northern Ireland
and the three types of Unionists.
their chapter entitled The Static Society, 1921-1963,
McKittrick and McVea contend that the seeds of the
conflict were imbedded in the formation of the Northern
Ireland constitution that only exacerbated existing
fault lines in Northern Ireland society.
Their discussion of the absolution of the proportional
representation and the arming of the security forces
of the Ulster Special Constabulary (the B Specials)
and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) is particularly
extraordinary thing is that the system lasted for
so long, the authors ultimately conclude about
this systemic consolidation of control:
and McVeas discussion of the relationship between
the British government and the Unionist leaders, corroborated
with historical documents, is the strongest analysis
of the book. They chronicle a century of strife wrought
with difficulties, suspicions and distrust.
is striking, from a series of comments in various
memoirs and elsewhere, is the nervousness and even
fear displayed by the British politicians when considering
McKittrick and McVeas write as if they are reaching
revelations while writing and, consequently, they
engage the more casual reader.
Sense of the Troubles most laudable
achievements are the comprehensive chronology, sizable
statistical tables and impressive glossary of key
terms which are invaluable tools for anyone trying
to piece the conundrum of events in Northern Ireland
book for scholars Making Sense of the Troubles
is not. In reality, McKittrick and McVea do not provide
new, earth shattering analysis, but instead they are
at their best when they pinpoint important, complex
events simply and palpably.
Making Sense of the Troubles does
occasionally fall into the acrid trap of oversimplifying
matters on a few, important accounts.
of their over sweeping conclusions are presumptuous,
if not, dangerous. For instance, they recount, One
reason for its [the Unionist states] durability
was the degree of disadvantage suffered by Catholics,
which was less severe than that experienced by minorities
in other countries. The Unionist state did not organize
massacres of Catholics or their expulsion from its
frontiers: it cannot be said to have engaged in active
persecution or savage repression.
in these instances, McKittrick and McVea draw incredulous
conclusions in pursuit of wanting to appear even-handedan
elusive chase in the politics of Northern Ireland.
Making Sense of the Troubles is
a find, since it presupposes no base knowledge, as
many other books on Irish politics do, but yet still
provides a thorough account which reads like a long
end of Making Sense of the Troubles
is really the beginning of the future of Northern
Ireland, but McKittrick and McVea fill in some of
the gaps and give you the resources to better translate
the complexity of the notoriously encrypted Troubles
of Northern Ireland.
well-known writers to Northern Irish Politics, McKittrick
and McVea have co-authored books on Northern Ireland
and the most recent Lost Lives. McKittrick
writes a politics column in the Independent newspaper).
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