J. Bowyer Bell
J. Bowyer Bell
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The Irish Troubles: A Generation of Violence 1967-1992
ISBN: 0312088272
The Irish Troubles: A Generation of Violence 1967-1992
Mr. Bell, author of The Irish Troubles: A Generation of Violence, 1967-1992, published by St. Martin's Press, described his research for the book. He said he conducted over 10,000 hours of interviews for the nearly 1,000 pages of text in the book, which focuses on the conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland and the United Kingdom.
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The Irish Troubles: A Generation of Violence 1967-1992
Program Air Date: June 6, 1993

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Bowyer Bell, author of "The Irish Troubles," why do you think a book on this subject will sell in the United States?
J. BOWYER BELL, AUTHOR, "THE IRISH TROUBLES": Well, it's been a premier problem for 25 years, a spectacular one in some cases. And people, even if they're not going to get through all the thousand pages, are going to be able to say that they have the final word on it on their shelf.
LAMB: How did you get interested in it?
BELL: By mistake. I was interested in political violence and was looking for an organization who spoke English and was dedicated to the gun. And 30 years ago I went to Ireland and discovered the IRA and I, in a sense, never got of out of Ireland since then. And it's an unusual book in modern history that -- I lived through most of it and attended many of the events without knowing, of course, I was going to write about them later on.
LAMB: In the back, you say you had 10,000 hours of conversation.
BELL: Yes. Many of the conversations were different, but it's an enormous length of time to spend on something. But my intimacy with an underground movement was unique and I felt it was an opportunity not to be missed. And besides, the Irish talk a great deal.
LAMB: How much of that is on tape?
BELL: Oh, you don't tape illegal people. It makes them nervous.
LAMB: How many of the people in those 10,000 hours were illegal?
BELL: Well, I never ask anybody if they're in the IRA or the UDA or anyplace else, I just assume that they are -- but a substantial amount.
LAMB: Let's start with a couple of definitions. What is the Irish Republican Army?
BELL: Well, it depends, of course, who's doing the defining, but it's the armed aspect of the Irish Republican movement, which evolved way back in the 18th century and has sought a united Ireland, free Gaelic independence with a republican government since the 1840s. And organizationally, the IRA is made up of an army council and of a general staff and probably 400 active and several thousand inactive members.
LAMB: Where is its headquarters?
BELL: Wherever the army council meets, which is usually, oh, every three weeks in somebody's kitchen near the border in Northern Ireland.
LAMB: But it is in Northern Ireland.
BELL: Well, sometimes south, sometimes north. As far as the Republicans are concerned, there's just one Ireland.
LAMB: How many Americans have Irish descent in their families?
BELL: I haven't a clue. Sometimes you think that nearly everybody does on St. Patrick's Day. By the 1960s, most of the Irish Americans had become more American than Irish. They were like, say President Reagan was, that they had almost forgotten that they were Irish. But because of the Troubles, there's been a greater intensive interest in Americans of Irish descent. And, of course, with the immigration from Ireland there's a whole new generation of Irish people in America who will turn out to be Americans in the end.
LAMB: You named this "The Irish Troubles: A Generation of Violence" the last 25 years, 1967 to 1992. Why the word "troubles?" What's that supposed to mean?
BELL: Originally, the Troubles were the period in Ireland between really 1916, when there was the Irish rising to get rid of the British that failed, and then the Pan War, the first armed liberation struggle in Western Europe, the original invention of the national liberation struggle, and then an Irish civil war. And the Irish, having a gift for understatement, called them the Troubled Times or the Troubles.
LAMB: Nine hundred to 1,000 pages of actual prose. How come such a long book?
BELL: Because they're very troubled and very spectacular. The Irish have managed not only just to invent everything but to show us nearly all the world's problems in one small island and the difficulties of solving them. And in the course of the 25 years, you've had nearly the entire English Cabinet was wiped out in an explosion, you had two years of hunger strikes so that the most famous Irish gunman of all time never used a gun. His name is Bobby Sands. He died on hunger strike. You've had endless elections and various kinds of political activity. You've had peace marches. You've had the good, the bad and the indifferent, and I thought I was doing remarkably well to get it in 900 pages.
LAMB: Who do you think will read it? What kind of a person wants all the -- and by the way, I want to show the audience how this is -- you're talking about lots of words. Do you have any idea how many words in this thing?
BELL: Well, many of them are different. The people who will read it, other than those who like a good story, are those concerned with politics, concerned with Ireland and concerned with the kind of events that take place in the world, whether it's Bosnia or Africa or someplace else. But basically, when you write contemporary history you are trying to write it to be as exciting as possible. And so I can remember a daughter being devastated to discover that there was no more Sherlock Holmes. I hope that when you finish 990 pages, although you'll be disappointed that it's no more of my prose, you will have felt that you know exactly why the Troubles are troublesome.
LAMB: When was the first time you went to Ireland?
BELL: When I went to discover the IRA in 1965, I think it was.
LAMB: Where did you go?
BELL: Well, I was very shrewd by mistake. Most of my Irish career has been by mistake. Instead of going to Dublin, I went to a little tiny village called St. Mullins on the Barrow River. And as you move away from Dublin, you move back in time, and so I was living without the center of life and likeness in Dublin. I was living back in time and I knew what -- found out what a village was like and what Ireland was like. I also found out that the only way you would get to know the IRA is to go meet them. You couldn't find them in libraries or books.
LAMB: Your dedication is, "Again and still, this troublesome text is dedicated to my Kerry"-- capital K-E-R-R-Y-- "Kerry wife Nora Browne, who has made my troubles few and my delights many." What's that mean?
BELL: Well, I had no Irish connection when I went to Ireland. Most people who are interested in Ireland are Irish-Americans. And I've spent so long in Ireland that I ended up with a wife from County Kerry, and that's who that is. And it says in Irish down in the left-hand corner, so that she can follow this if we re-tape it, is "I love you."
LAMB: And where do you two live now?
BELL: In New York.
LAMB: Where's home for you originally?
BELL: New York. I'm one of the rare people who's actually born there.
LAMB: Where did you go to school?
BELL: Well, my family was from Virginia, so I was dispatched back to Washington and Lee University. And then I went to Duke, where I got my Ph.D. And I have spent much of the time in and out of academic institutions -- Harvard and MIT and, for a very long time, at Columbia. And at the moment I run a consulting firm and I'm president of the International Analysis Center that deals with problems of violence --terrorism, small wars, coups and these wonderful things that the 20th century has brought us.
LAMB: Was this book published in Ireland?
BELL: It will be. It's published approximately now in Ireland.
LAMB: Both North and South? Or both North and in the republic?
BELL: Yes.
LAMB: What's the word Republican mean?
BELL: Well, I was quite shattered to discover it doesn't mean what it means here. Republicans here are quite conservative and occasionally win elections. In Ireland the word Republican really means those people who support the IRA and the militant view of achieving an Irish republic by use of force. Now the fact is that the 26 counties -- the Irish government, the legitimate government is the Republic of Ireland, but even those gentlemen when they talk among themselves refer to Republicans as those people who are in Sinn Fein or the IRA.
LAMB: What's Sinn Fein?
BELL: Sinn Fein is the political arm of the Irish Republican movement. It's legal and runs in elections and gets almost no votes -- 2 percent or 3 percent in the republic and about 10 percent in northern Ireland, which is not quite 40 percent of the nationalist or Catholic vote.
LAMB: Why do the British not allow the Sinn Fein to be heard over the British television networks or their radio stations?
BELL: Margaret Thatcher felt that giving any publicity to the Republican movement was not in her best interests, and so she prevented them from speaking directly. But the result is that if you are a spokesman for Sinn Fein's -- the president of Sinn Fein is Gerry Adams from Belfast -- and you speak on BBC 1, instead of subtitles, they dub it in, which has become a farce. All of the most effective reactions and movements against the IRA sometimes turn out to be a mistake.
LAMB: Explain what you mean by dubbing it in.
BELL: He moves his lips and an English -- he says his thing, you turn the sound down and an English actor's voice comes up and says his words simultaneously, as they do in the United Nations.
LAMB: Now why is that?
BELL: Because he's not allowed to speak personally on English television. He can appear, but he can't say anything.
LAMB: Who is Gerry Adams?
BELL: Gerry Adams is president of the provisional Sinn Fein, which is the political arm of the Irish Republican movement.
LAMB: What do you mean by provisional?
BELL: Well, in the olden days there was only one IRA, and when the IRA split there was an official IRA and then there was the new group that was provisionally waiting to have an army council meeting before they became the real IRA. And they waited so long that the provisionals became the dominant factor and they're still called the provisionals or the provos. It's the IRA that most people refer to.
LAMB: How many people live in Ireland?
BELL: Well, three million in the South and a million and a half in the North.
LAMB: What's the difference between the North -- actually, let me hold this up because I've got a map here and you can explain. You mentioned 26 counties. When you're talking about 26 counties, what are you talking about?
BELL: Well, classically Ireland has 32 counties, and in 1921, during the midst of the original struggle, the British imposed partition, dividing it into two parts. And the northeast corner up there has six counties. They are known to Republicans as the six counties. To most of the people in the South they're known as the North. And to the British it's the Province of Northern Ireland. The remaining 26 counties with the capital in Dublin are the Republic of Ireland. Although parts of the Republic of Ireland, just to make it a very Irish event, are further north than parts of Northern Ireland.
LAMB: Belfast is right there on that map that we were looking at. What's that like?
BELL: Belfast was a splendid 19th-century industrial city that has gone downhill for the last 90 years. And sometimes, if you squint, it looks like a traditional industry city -- provincial city in the midlands of England if you don't see the British patrols or the bombed-out damages. Sometimes it has good years when things are looking up, and sometimes it has bad years. But it's a special place unto itself.
LAMB: When you go to Ireland now, if you were going there for a place that you enjoy the most, where would you go?
BELL: Well, I tend to be a city person -- I find trees rather suspicious -- and so I go to Dublin rather than where everyone else goes, which is the countryside.
LAMB: What do people think of you? I mean, do you have a point of view that they -- immediately when they see you coming?
BELL: Well, having spent 30 years associated with the IRA, they don't know quite what to make of me because, technically, I'm an academic. I associate with gunmen. No one is sure whether I'm smuggling arms, representing the IRA or what I say I am, which is an author.
LAMB: And do you like one side or the other or what do you think of what the IRA does?
BELL: You try to be as little judgmental as possible. I would prefer that no one get killed. If you're going to kill people, I would prefer that you be efficient. Like all Americans, I would like there to be an accommodation or a solution to all of these problems. I don't like people who lie, cheat or steal, just as anybody else.

The thing about dealing with, let's say, what most Americans would call terrorists, is that, after you know them a long time, they become people with wives and jobs and they go home and they wait around between shooting people and talk to me. They are not quite as easy to define as a cardboard character if you've known them for 20 or 30 years and you know their children and even their grandchildren in some cases. But to a degree I've spent my adult life in Ireland talking to people who possess the absolute truth and smell of cordite.
LAMB: All right, let's say people listening to this say it sounds like it's a difficult place to go. If you're a tourist and you're going to Ireland, either in the North or the South, what kind of risk do you have right now?
BELL: In the South you wouldn't notice anything at all. It's a splendid, gentle country. People are very unlikely to talk about things in the North because they're quite tired of them and disgusted with them one way or another. You'll have a gorgeous time. People will have to be nice to you because you could easily be their cousin. In the six counties you will probably notice very little. If you go into downtown Belfast, the Americans are generally shocked by the presence of armored cars and armed troops on the street. In the countryside you would seldom notice: beautiful golf courses, trout streams, the same lovely people with a slightly different accent. Now and again an army patrol will appear out of a green field, which is quite a shock. But basically Ireland is safe, delightful and the Irish Tourist Board will be delighted to hear me urge you to go.
LAMB: If you live in Belfast, a citizen of what country are you?
BELL: The United Kingdom.
LAMB: If you live in Dublin, you're a citizen of ...
BELL: Of the Republic of Ireland.
LAMB: What kind of rights do you have if you have either one of those passports as it relates to one another, the North and the South?
BELL: There is a border and there are border crossings, but if you got on the train in Dublin and take it to Belfast, nobody bothers you and you get off and you're in a different country. If you're Irish and go to England, you can vote in elections and collect the welfare and live perfectly normally. It's an arrangement. So the border can be very strict if you're on the run or trying to smuggle pigs north or south, but it can also be very porous if you're just an everyday person.
LAMB: If you're Irish and have an Irish passport, you can go to England and vote?
BELL: Yes.
LAMB: Why?
BELL: Because that's the way it's been arranged. The Irish situation is sort of an anomaly and the Irish go back and forth all the time. And they have contributed enormously to Britain, if nothing else than producing a whole series of poets. And so when they come to Britain they are regarded as Irish, but as long as they act like anybody else, they're treated as British.
LAMB: If you're British and come to Ireland, can you vote in the Irish elections?
BELL: No.
LAMB: Why?
BELL: Because that's the republic. For 800 years the Irish have defined themselves by being different from the British. However, if you live in the six counties and apply for an Irish Republican passport in Dublin, they'll give you one because you've been born in Ireland.
LAMB: How many British troops are there in Northern Ireland?
BELL: It tends to vary with how difficult the problems are, so that if there is a series of bombings and shootings, more troops will come over or more will go back. The number of police have increased considerably to ulcerize the problem, take the pressure off the British army. But usually it runs between 12,000 and 20,000.
LAMB: What do the British in London think of the Irish and the Irish problems in the North?
BELL: Basically they don't want to think about them at all. Neither in Dublin nor in London do they want to think about the problems or the Troubles. And as long as there is an acceptable level of violence, they don't have to. And the only time the Irish come up, generally, is when there is some atrocity -- a bomb in London or a killing someplace -- and then there is outraged indignation. But after 200 years of Irish bombs, the indignation doesn't really last terribly long.
LAMB: Do you think the Troubles will ever go away?
BELL: Well, when the Troubles first began and the violence began using guns, which is the stage that analytically interested me, my feeling was that by the end of the century we should get rid of this. However, as you'll notice, the end of the century is sneaking up on us and we're no closer and we may be further away than we were 20 years ago. So I'm not very optimistic. That's being pragmatic or practical. And your best bet always is that tomorrow is going to be like yesterday; however, if tomorrow were always like yesterday, we would both be in the Garden of Eden. So there are changes and changes that you can't anticipate. No one really anticipated the collapse of the Soviet Union or some of the things that have happened, but at the moment tomorrow looks like it's going to be yesterday.
LAMB: When we started televising the British House of Commons, on the first day of televising it, there was a member of the British House of Commons by the name of Ian Gow who stood up on the floor and gave a very funny speech and anybody that saw it will remember it. But here in your book, you have a picture of a car outside of his house that's blown up. Why?
BELL: Well, Ian Gow was considered far more important in Ireland than he was in England, where he was a junior minister in Thatcher's government, and he was extremely critical of the Anglo-Irish agreement that was an effort by London and Dublin to defuse the problem. He felt it was selling out the Loyalists and the Unionists in Northern Ireland and resigned from Thatcher's Cabinet and criticized the Irish. And to the Irish Republicans, who are not always intimate with the details of English politics, he became an enemy of the republic and they generally focus on such enemies and they put a bomb in his car.

The English establishment was horrified because here was a man who'd expressed his own political opinions, had resigned on what he felt was a moral issue, was, to be perfectly frank, a rather obscure member of Parliament and retired to the countryside and was blown away. So the Irish Troubles come even to the English countryside.
LAMB: There's another picture here. You've got a lot of pictures in the book, but there's another picture here of a van. And this was around the attempt to bomb John Major?
BELL: Well, the intention was to bomb Margaret Thatcher, but unfortunately for the Irish, Margaret Thatcher lost her job as prime minister and they decided that one prime minister is much like another. And they had put together a mortar that is as accurate as the British mortars are. And they had hidden it in a van and parked it in the middle of London and set it off on a timer. And the mortar shells dropped all around Downing Street, to the consternation of Major and the British Cabinet that were in a meeting at the time.

There have been several attempts on the British prime minister. The closest run was in Brighton when they placed a bomb several months before Margaret Thatcher came to the hotel for the Conservative convention, and it went off as scheduled three months later in the hotel and very nearly killed the entire English Cabinet along with the prime minister. The result has been, among other things that no British Cabinet minister ever slams a hotel door these days without thinking twice.
LAMB: How many -- is that true?
BELL: More or less. You're always vulnerable now. But what the IRA want is that the British realize that it's a British problem as well as an Irish problem. And by having operations in London, by targeting the establishment, whether its clubs or Parliament, they bring this home.
LAMB: How many members are there of the IRA?
BELL: It's a question that I am repeatedly asked, and in a sense, it's not an appropriate question because what you want to know is what they can do and how effective they are. The operations that are required--there are always sufficient people. The British army will say that 400 people are regularly active, but if you remove those 400 people, within two or three weeks you would have the same level of operations and there would be another 400 people. So it's how many people they can use and how many you can operate. And it's difficult to tell the exact size of the universe that they draw from, but there are -- it's, for example, an army that has more guns than soldiers.
LAMB: And have you talked to a lot of these people?
BELL: The IRA?
LAMB: Yes.
BELL: Practically everybody. Well, there are thousands of people now. I used to know everybody, but I would say that I've talked to 1,000 members over the last 20 years.
LAMB: A thousand. In what setting?
BELL: Well, it varies, but if you're talking for any length of time, it's usually in a very cold front room with a cup of very undesirable tea, if you're an American, in a rather -- what we would call a formal setting. If you go back regularly, you may get promoted to the kitchen.
LAMB: How do you get to them?
BELL: You're passed from hand to hand. And, of course, I've been at it so long that I tend to know who everybody is and whose sons are still in the movement and who has come in and who has not. To a degree, those people who are very active -- that is, the people who smell like cordite -- I would prefer not to know exactly who you are, if I need to know something.
LAMB: Why?
BELL: Then I can't tell anybody who asks me.
LAMB: Do they trust you?
BELL: To a degree. I've been there so long and I've written the book on the IRA that they have to look up, if they have any questions, that it's sort of too late to keep anything much from me.
LAMB: And you have had other books. How many other books have you written?
BELL: About a dozen. They're on the same kinds of subjects. Either like the Irgun Zvai Leumi in Israel, which was Mr. Begin's organization, national liberation movements in Africa, or the response of, say, democratic societies to this kind of violence.
LAMB: Is there anything unusual about the IRA and its terrorist movement compared to the others you've covered?
BELL: Well, all such movements are the same and all of them are different. The IRA is different in that it's the dream of all intellectuals. It's the working-class movement, which has advantages in that people of no property are very difficult to corrupt, since they tend to find in the dream the ideal, great rewards. It's also a disadvantage in that they don't have middle-class skills that are necessary in a post-industrial national liberation movement. You need chemical engineers and import-export bankers, computer experts. So they are limited in that sense.
LAMB: Any members of the IRA public?
BELL: Well, publicly a lot of people know who's in the IRA. The British, as I say, have their list of 400. If they wanted to arrest the army council, they could probably get -- would probably know four or five that were in the army council and four or five that would be there by mistake, and since there are only seven members, they would arrest mostly the wrong ones.
LAMB: When you see pictures like Brighton, where Mrs. Thatcher was, and you see Ian Gows murdered, do they catch any of these people?
BELL: Yes. One of the great problems in a revolution like this is: What do you do with old gunmen? And the British solved the problem because there are several thousand of them in jail at most times. The people who did Margaret Thatcher -- well, the most specific ones -- were caught. Sometimes they're not. They last for a very long time and retire. Being an active gunman or a guerilla is a young man's business, and if you join the IRA now, it's not for many romantic reasons because you can almost be assured that you will end up in jail or dead. Certainly your life, your car--a normal career will be ruined. You join up because you're driven by this ideal that they have.
LAMB: This is being taped, around the 1st of May, and it won't be aired for a while. But when's the last time you heard of a bomb going off over in that part of the world that had something to do directly with the IRA?
BELL: Well...
LAMB: And do you follow it today?
BELL: Well, the last significant bomb went off in the city of London and has caused about $1 billion worth of damage. Broke ...
LAMB: A billion.
BELL: That's a lot of money. It broke all the windows in one section of the city. It disrupted all the computers. It upset the financial markets. The first one that went off a year ago that did the -- nearly this much, 800 million pounds -- or dollars; I can't remember -- required that the British government step into the insurance business. So every once in a while they cause really severe damage.
LAMB: Do they try to kill people?
BELL: Actually, they try and kill a list of targets, which Peter Gow was on -- the British army, the security forces, the significant politicians. But, like all revolutionary organizations, they tend to be incompetent, as secrecy and underground movements always are. And they kill a lot of people by mistake, which doesn't make it any nicer. In fact, it may make it worse. So their warnings on bombs are inadequate. They are not so much malicious as slovenly. In fact, the incompetence of the movement over the last 25 years is probably the most damaging thing that's happened to it. So innocent people -- terrorist bombs that are put in cafes or put on the main street, they always have a rationalization. The warning wasn't taken, they made a mistake, they're sorry about it. So they do kill innocent people, but in theory it's a mistake.
LAMB: Are you interested enough in this to keep pursuing the story?
BELL: I have another book that I'm working on, specifically on the provisional IRA, and then, because I will be old enough so that they can't get at me, I'm going to write a book on what the Irish are really like and reveal it for all time.
LAMB: Why?
BELL: Well, the Irish, of course, after this length of time, fascinate me. They're a very strange people -- the fact is that they speak English and that hides it from everybody. They're quite different. Their method of thought, their approach to problems, their agenda, the way they go about doing things is quite unlike most else that you find in the Western world. For example, my friends in the IRA or in the army council have been meeting every month for 25 years, and they make decisions. And in those 25 years they have voted on a decision, "yes, yes, no, no," three times. They make a decision by consensus. Everybody sits around and they decide, and you have to watch them and you don't quite know how it's done. Here in America, we have "yes, yes, no, no" and you know it's three to two. Not in Ireland.
LAMB: When was the Irish Republic created...
BELL: The ...
LAMB: ... as it exists today?
BELL: In 1949.
LAMB: And out of what? What was the...
BELL: Well, there was a change in the political parties that were running Ireland and at the time and it was thought by a former dedicated Republican, Sean MacBride, that if they declared a republic, it would eliminate one of the attractions of the IRA, so they declared a republic and the Republicans said, "Of course, this is not the real republic. This is just 26 counties and doesn't count at all." And none were converted.
LAMB: Was the country ever whole?
BELL: In a sense, not really. It at one time had a Parliament that was closed down in 1800, but when there were no English there and when there were no Normans, it was not united under a single king. And then you had the arrival of the English, and they gradually extended their control over the entire area so that it was ruled as one by the English differently from Britain. But in a sense, was there ever a 32-county government that ran things? The answer's no.
LAMB: The dates 1916, 1921.
BELL: Well, 1916 was the rising, an Irish tradition. It was an attempt to, in effect, run a coup d’état in Dublin, seize the city during the midst of the First World War and negotiate from a position of strength, and they had bad luck and it didn't work and everybody connected with it was either killed or sent off to prison, and everyone thought that would be that. But instead it inspired a new generation that established the rules, regulations, agendas and institutions for a national liberation struggle, where you have a secret army and you have Cabinet ministers meeting in the attic, and you have judges that take over the regular courts and propaganda and appeals to the United Nations and smuggling and all the varieties of things that we're so familiar with these days.

That led to an agreement with the British that divided the country, gave the Irish free state control, more or less, in the South and a Northern Ireland Parliament at Stormont in the north. And that lasted until 1972, when the Northern Ireland Parliament was closed under pressure because the majority party, the Unionists, who are all Protestant, had imposed a variety of undemocratic means and methods over the years and lost faith with the British government.
LAMB: Éamon de Valera was born in New York City?
BELL: Brooklyn, actually. And...
LAMB: Who is he? Who was he?
BELL: Well, Éamon de Valera had a Clare mother and was born in Brooklyn and returned to Ireland, became a mathematics teacher and was in that 1916 rising. He was one of the few commanders to survive, perhaps because he was an American, and became the first president of the declared Irish Republic that didn't last because the country was divided, led the Republican movement until he decided that the gun was not an appropriate means, and entered the Irish Parliament and proceeded to dominate Irish politics until his death soon after he left as president of the republic in the 1960s-- '70s.
LAMB: The outgoing president of Israel, Chaim Herzog, as I understand, is an Irishman?
BELL: Yes. He speaks Irish as well. His father was chief rabbi in Dublin. And, actually, he was born in Belfast and came south to Dublin, the president of Israel, and learned Irish and then went to Israel and became president there. There's a small Jewish community, both in southern Ireland and in Northern Ireland, and in Northern Ireland you have a problem because of the sectarian violence and the tribal difficulties, you have to belong to one tribe or the other. One is called Catholics, and one are Protestants. I belong to the Episcopal church, but because I associate so much with the Republican movement, I'm sort of a Catholic Protestant. And the Jews in Northern Ireland are Protestant Jews.
LAMB: How many Jews in Ireland?
BELL: A few thousand now.
LAMB: Are there any African-Americans that live in Ireland?
BELL: Not...
LAMB: Or any Africans, basically? Any people of color live in Ireland?
BELL: Yes, most of them are foreign students that come to Irish universities, northward and south, but there are very few that are residents.
LAMB: Is there a difference between the English and the Irish?
BELL: Very much so. That is one of the great causes of the Troubles, is the difference between the English and the Irish.
LAMB: What are the major differences?
BELL: Since we only have an hour, that probably is not an appropriate question.
LAMB: Oh, go ahead. Try it just for the fun of it.
BELL: Well, the Irish live on an island off England, and when they come to England, the English want them to be English and those who do disappear without a trace, and they can end up prime minister, like Callaghan, and forget that they were Irish at all. And those who do not retain what they perceive as their Irishness: their accent and their religion and their national symbols and their refusal to line up in lines just the way the English ask them to.
LAMB: Other differences.
BELL: I'm not going to go through all of the other differences, because I'm saving it up for the book at the end. You have to deal with this book. Wait till I write the other book for that.
LAMB: Why is it that you say you're going to wait till the last book? Why is it that sensitive?
BELL: It's not sensitive in the sense that -- some of the things I write, if I write the wrong thing, I get myself shot. But the Irish have a tendency when foreigners come into the country that, if they're praised, the foreigner is a fool, and if they're criticized, they're a knave. And so I've been willing to be foolish for a while, but in my old age I think I shall turn into a knave and say the critical things.
LAMB: How much of all this difference is surrounded around religion?
BELL: It's a substantial difference because religion was the institution that was not British. And in many ways it shaped the Irish attitude towards themselves and towards the world and towards the British. They didn't have governing institutions. Many were poor. They didn't have middle-class institutions in the 19th century in many cases, and so the church became dominant and became associated with Irish nationalism. Again, this is a contemporary problem because it's seen as a religious issue, where, say, the Irish Republican movement, which is non-sectarian and the church hates, since it's an alternative faith, would contend that they have nothing --that they do not want Irish nationalism to be associated with religion.
LAMB: With so much religion in Ireland and -- the republic is how much percentage Catholic?
BELL: About 95 percent.
LAMB: And how many religious are there in the IRA movement at all?
BELL: There are a few Protestants in the IRA, but they keep it very quiet, and I would say that there are very few indeed. And you can't -- whatever the individual member may think that he is in a political movement without a religious context, much of his life is Catholic in context and there is no way to simply call this person a nationalist when they're also a Catholic at the same time. So when you shoot an opponent who is, let's say, a policeman, and you pull the trigger, you're shooting a member of the British occupying forces, you're shooting a policeman, you're shooting a neighbor, you're shooting a Protestant, all at the same time.
LAMB: You have a whole section here about American involvement. How much American dollars were raised and sent to the IRA?
BELL: Relatively speaking, not much. Hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in a good year sounds like a lot, but it's not much. Most of the efficient Zionists I know, on a good Sunday morning on the telephone, can raise what the Irish Republicans raise in this country in a whole year or two years. It was the idea of the money coming in and the money sent by NORAID, which is the group that sent it to Ireland, to the Irish Republican movement, was used as it was supposed to be used, which is for the benefits of widows, orphans and the family of people on the run, which are really more important than guns. An equal amount sent illegally was used on guns. Most of that was quite often wasted because of the lack of these middle-class skills that I mentioned.

But it eliminated a sense of isolation in Ireland. It made them feel that the diaspora was supporting them. And there are a certain number of people in America, tens of thousands, actually, who still support the Republican movement despite the difficulties, despite the errors and killings of innocents, despite the pleas of the Irish government, because they know better.
LAMB: What do you mean by diaspora?
BELL: The Irish diaspora is the Irish that live abroad, and for hundreds of years a substantial proportion of the population, for economic or political reasons or simply out of adventure, have simply gone out and become either everyday normal citizens elsewhere and forgotten their Irishness or have remained hyphenated or have triumphed in one style or another -- become president of the United States or simply the insurance salesman on the corner.
LAMB: Of all the members of the IRA, or at least the ones that you know about, that you write about by name, which one the most intriguing to you?
BELL: I can't say that any particular single individual comes to mind as outstanding or unusual or worthy of being most intriguing. I hadn't ever given it much thought.
LAMB: Who's Bobby Sands?
BELL: Bobby Sands I never knew. He was a young man from Belfast who was in the movement off and on, was arrested once and spent time in prison, released, re-arrested. And when the British tried to make Irish Republican prisoners criminals by wearing uniforms and obeying prison rules, it ultimately led to a confrontation between prisoners who had nothing -- no visible, tangible assets -- and the British authorities, and they went on a hunger strike.
LAMB: By the way, what's this picture right here?
BELL: This is a color party at a funeral of one of the hunger strikers who died. And it's public. There are helicopters overhead taking pictures. The British army and the police are surrounded out of sight 200 yards away, and that's why they wear hoods, so you can't theoretically tell who they are.
LAMB: I interrupted you. You were talking about Bobby Sands.
BELL: In any case, with no assets at all, the Irish went on hunger strike inside the prisons and 10 of them died in the process. The British never quite understood what had happened, how these mad-dog killers had suddenly turned the tables on them. As Margaret Thatcher said, they were criminals and deserved what they got. They were killers and deserved what they got. But in Irish terms, a hunger strike shames the person -- you sit outside the castle and starve yourself to death, then it's the person in the castle that's shamed. It caused an enormous impact in Ireland where the fact that, if these people were criminals or mad dogs, they certainly must believe in whatever they were doing to go through a hunger strike, which is an extremely painful experience -- not having been through one, I can only report what I've seen -- and to do so day after day after day, slowly starving yourself to death.
LAMB: Who's Joseph Doherty (pronounced DOEerty)?
BELL: Well, Joseph Doherty was a...
LAMB: Is that the way you pronounce it, by...
BELL: Doherty (pronounced DOGHerty).
LAMB: Doherty.
BELL: Was a successful IRA gunman who escaped from prison and came to America on the run, more or less retired, got a job as a bartender and...
LAMB: Where?
BELL: In New York. And he had moved around a bit and was arrested, and the British wanted him back as an escaped criminal. And his contention was that he was, in fact, a soldier in the Irish Republican Army, a volunteer, a guerilla, a freedom fighter and, therefore, he shouldn't be sent back. It proceeded to -- he was kept in confinement, and year after year you had this legal case struggling through the United States courts. The result, as far as the IRA was concerned, was that Doherty in jail was far more valuable than Doherty out, and Doherty in an American jail was even more valuable than he would have been in a British jail. Ultimately, he has ended up back where he started 10 years later.
LAMB: He's in jail now.
BELL: Yes.
LAMB: When did he go back?
BELL: About a year and a half ago he was flown back in a British airplane and put back in jail.
LAMB: During the campaign for the presidential election of the United States, Bill Clinton referred to the fact that he thought he'd send an emissary over there to help solve this problem. What was your reaction when you heard him say that?
BELL: Well, it won't do any good, but it probably wouldn't do any harm, and he's decided it might do some harm and so ... at the moment doesn't seem likely to send one. There is very little that the United States government in any form can do. It can encourage accommodation, it can encourage talks. It can offer money and development funds, but basically it's an Irish and British problem. And, with all our power and wealth and goodwill, it still--we're not going to be able to help. It's something of a lesson for the fact that with all our power and goodwill we can't always help everybody out in the world who needs help.
LAMB: Do you live better in Belfast or in Dublin?
BELL: It's changed over the 25 years back and forth. It's not that different these days. The government benefits in the North are probably a little better, but this is important because so many people are unemployed in the North.
LAMB: The Republic of Ireland, the 26 counties in the South -- and I assume they don't even say that, do they -- like, the South? Are they referred to as the South?
BELL: In the North. In the North they are referred to as the free state of the South or the republic.
LAMB: Who does the republic align themselves with in the world?
BELL: They see themselves as a member of Europe, as a non-aligned country, as a neutral. They're the only member of the European common market who has no contact with NATO. They tend to identify with small countries. They have a very intimate relationship with the United States because of the historical Irish immigration. They think that they have, for a tiny little country, a special role in that they are one of the few Western countries who have -- they feel understood -colonialism and who have citizens scattered worldwide. It doesn't matter where you go. It tends to be that the person around the corner was from County Kerry.
LAMB: Now you wrote about the Israeli Irgun and other ...
BELL: Yes.
LAMB: ... I don't know, I'm sure I'm assigning the word terrorist and you would probably just as soon I'd not. But why are countries like Israel, with only about five million people, and the same thing with Ireland, about five million people, so prominent in world affairs?
BELL: No one is quite sure. Both of them have very large diasporas and it might be the case of the sand in the oyster. The difficulties of establishing a nation, the problems that the Jews have had for 2,000 years in Western society, the problems the Irish have had in being Irish, has produced a very creative response. It's creative not only in politics but in literature and art and other ways as well, and the Israelis have much the same sort of response.
LAMB: How about the interest in America in the problems in Ireland vs. the problems in Israel in the press?
BELL: Well, the problems in Israel have been more acute. They're more related to American strategic interests. The Zionist community in America has been more effective and more concerned and the fate of world Jewry more or less has been seemed to depend upon the fate of Israel. And this is not the same kind of situation that exists in Ireland.
LAMB: There was an election in Ireland recently -- we covered it rather extensively -- and there's a new politician -- although you show him in a picture here, if I can find it--Dick Spring, who is now the foreign minister, and recently he has made some comments about this situation that seem to be a change of heart?
BELL: I don't think so really. The southern government has been able, as the years pass, to be more articulate about the undesirability of a forced union, about the problems of absorbing a different tradition. Mr. Spring, who is a very tall politician, was also a barman in New York and went to NYU, so...
LAMB: In this picture you might explain ...
BELL: This was the signing between Margaret Thatcher and Fitzgerald of the Anglo-Irish agreement. It simply is an indication that basically London and Dublin have the same views on Northern Ireland: that it's a distressful problem; that it should be ameliorated in some means. A local government of some sort would be an assistance. If there is ever going to be a united Ireland, which Margaret Thatcher doesn't believe in and many of the British do not and certainly all of the Loyalists and Protestants do not, it will be a long time down the road. This has become to be Dublin's problem.
LAMB: This is Dick Spring here and Mr. Fitzgerald there, Mrs. Thatcher. Is that Tom King there talking to Jeffrey Howe?
BELL: Directly in back, yes.
LAMB: The reason I just ask you to identify all those people, Tom King at that time was the...
BELL: He was the northern secretary then. He became minister of defense.
LAMB: What do they think of the northern secretary in England -- I mean, that job?
BELL: Well, for a long time any promotion to Ireland was, in fact, dropping you off at the deep end. No one tended to make a reputation in Northern Ireland. It was where you sent politicians who weren't doing well or you wanted to get out of your sight. But they have varied as to their careers subsequently. Some have done well and some have disappeared without a trace. It really doesn't depend on how well you do in Northern Ireland as to whether you go back into British politics or not. It's a very curious appointment. You have to spend a lot of time in Belfast, a lot of time in London, a lot of time in your own district to keep up your political ties. After this length of time, no one has been a remarkable success at it because we still have the Irish Troubles going on. Only a few people have ever wanted the job.
LAMB: Couple of years ago, when we were at the European Parliament, there was a member of the European Parliament, Ian Paisley, that we were allowed to interview. He also shows up on the floor of the British House of Commons. You write a lot about him. Here's a picture of him down here. You write about him in a whole different context, though, in this book. Who is he?
BELL: Well, Ian Paisley was an extremely famous divine who saw as a threat to the Protestant way of life the Catholic Church and the pope and, before the Troubles started, was extremely suspicious of any compromise with Catholicism and any kind of ecumenical movement. When the Troubles began in Northern Ireland, he became a spokesman for the more radical and fundamentalist Loyalists and Protestants and has remained so ever since. He is a shrewd and cunning politician. He has contacts worldwide because of his fundamentalist views. He has an honorary degree from a university in South Carolina. I've always contended that he's what we call in America Scotch-Irish, and I've contended that he could run for governor of Alabama if we could just understand his accent. And he has not changed his views over the 25 years. Basically he sees the troubles in Northern Ireland as an effort of Catholic nationalism to displace the Protestant Loyalists.
LAMB: When did you start writing this book?
BELL: The pages in that book were about five years ago. I've been at it, collecting the material to go in it, for longer than the Troubles.
LAMB: When did you finish writing it?
BELL: Snuck in some little things in December of '92.
LAMB: Because...
BELL: Well, because it's never-ending and I was told that I wasn't even supposed to sneak those in, but now that we have computer-generated pages, you can add little bits to it. And, of course, in the five months now there are several more things to add. But as long as the Troubles do not find an accommodation, basically what I say in the last chapter is just etc.
LAMB: And it's published by St. Martin's.
BELL: In New York, yes.
LAMB: What was their interest in it?
BELL: Well, I'm not exactly a house author at St. Martin's, but I've published several books by them. They originally published the Irgun book. And so I went to my editor there and said that there was a big book -- he had no idea how big the book was going to be, nor did I -- that I thought would be interesting. And every time his attention would flag, we would either have an atrocity or an election or an event and he became reinspired that perhaps it was going to be a very good book. And, of course, there you have it in your lap: a massive book, perhaps even a masterpiece by this time.
LAMB: It sells for $35. Did that ever bother you?
BELL: Well, it did when it started out, but nowadays for $35 you -- novels cost $30 and academic books cost $70, and for $35 it's going to keep you busy a long time and you can always use it as a doorstop after you're finished.
LAMB: What did you use as the start of the Troubles in 1967?
BELL: Well, most people start it in '67. I started it in '67, not with the sit-in that began civil disobedience, but with the first act of civil disobedience, which was a meeting of a banned Republicans club in Belfast. And the reason I started it then was because I attended that meeting, and so, unknowing to me, I was there in the prologue of my history of the Troubles without knowing that there was going to be a Troubles or that I was in the prologue. So that's where it began.
LAMB: When you show up at these meetings today, does everybody know who you are?
BELL: Mostly yes. It's a small country.
LAMB: B-O-W-Y-E-R is pronounced Bowyer (pronounced BOOer)?
BELL: Bowyer (pronounced BOYer).
LAMB: Boy--I try--I just...
BELL: Well...
LAMB: I did it again.
BELL: My fa...
LAMB: Where's it come from?
BELL: My family has always been cunning. When they came to this country in 1607 they decided that it didn't look good and they went back with the ships and John Smith and waited 20 years. When the Normans came to England, they came over as Boyer (pronounced BoYAY), and like many people they changed their name to get along in the country and they added a W so it would become English and became Bowyer.
LAMB: Back to the American connection. When you write about the Americans, the names of Senator Ed Kennedy, Edward Kennedy, Senator Pat Moynihan, Mario Biaggi, former congressman. You also mention Ronald Reagan. You mention Jimmy Carter. I'm sure I'm leaving those out. Who of all these had the biggest connection with the Irish Republican Army?
BELL: Several of the American politicians, either because they actually felt that way or because they had Irish constituents, took a deep interest in the civil rights movement. That was the period in which people who were in the civil rights movement wore white hats, and therefore this movement was opposed to the Loyalists and the Unionists and, to a degree, to the British. That was a person like Mario Biaggi.

It wasn't long after the shooting started that even those people who were--innately tended to oppose the British and favor Irish nationalism, Irish senators like Kennedy and Moynihan with an Irish background, that realized that for American purposes, a united Ireland imposed by an IRA gun was undesirable; that the Irish government didn't want it; that it was undemocratic, and that a simple-minded opposition to Britain and support of Irish nationalism had to become more complex. And there has been no individual American politician that supports the position of the IRA in 20 years.
LAMB: How's the unemployment rate in Ireland these days?
BELL: It's awful.
LAMB: Why?
BELL: Well, there's short answers and long answers. The long answer is that the Irish have never been able to find a means to keep all the Irish at home, and just exactly why this is is uncertain. But there has been regular immigration since the 18th century, and it's continued now. Every once in a while it slows down. In the North it's a particular problem of a decaying industrial society that really has nothing to do with the Troubles, and a great deal of time and effort and money has been invested and there is hope that things will improve. But there is still a very high unemployment rate.
LAMB: Is there a difference between the Irish that live in the North and the Irish that live in the South?
BELL: Certainly the people involved think so. To someone coming into Ireland they all look the same and gradually you realize some are boys and some are girls and some are tall and some are short. But to the Irish there are enormous differences, so that if you live 50 miles away you speak differently, you have different friends, you're practically--and I've heard them referred to as foreigners. So the difference between Cork and Kerry, between north and south or between east and west seems to be very great to the Irish.

As you move north from Dublin you can begin to hear the accent changed. When you get to 100 miles north, up in Belfast, it almost sounds as if you're in Scotland. So to the Irish, they're very severe differences. To anybody else, they're all Irish. It's quite a shock to an Irish Protestant from Belfast and an Irish Catholic from Kerry to arrive in London and be considered Paddies by the British.
LAMB: Is there a difference in their work ethic?
BELL: Yes. To a degree, time runs slower in the South. It has always been an easier society. The fundamentalist Protestants in the North are very closely related to Scotch-Irish work ethic Americans that you will find here. And the Northern Irish tend to think of themselves as more efficient and less lazy. The Southern Irish tend to find them harsher and not so comfortable.
LAMB: Have you gotten any feedback yet on the reaction of the IRA to your book?
BELL: No. My hope is that the book will be so substantial that they will put it off until tomorrow rather than read it in detail. When you write about people, even if you take down dictations to what they said, as you know, they're never too happy with it. If they see themselves on television, they believe that they didn't really say that anyway. So there will always be a degree of people who are written about of disappointment. They tell you the truth and then you write, pointing out the things that you think are not quite the same as what they told you.
LAMB: When you went about putting this together over the 25 years, did you take notes?
BELL: I take notes after conversations, usually. Particularly if you're dealing with illegal people, you don't want tapes or notes. It inhibits them. And I've learned to listen to you for an hour and go home and write it all down. But direct quotes are very difficult.
LAMB: How did you decide whether to name names?
BELL: It was difficult. I don't put your name in if it's going to end you in jail or get me killed.
LAMB: How do you know that, though? How do you know which is which?
BELL: Practice makes perfect, and here I am.
LAMB: Have you ever been under any kind of threat?
BELL: Well, you almost always inevitably end up in this problem. Threats aren't so much a problem as actually when people start shooting at you or you end up where you don't belong and you have this sort of uh-oh feeling. I decided, oh, about six or eight years ago that for situations that I shouldn't have gotten out of, I keep an elephant's hair bracelet on my wrists.
LAMB: Hold it up just a little so we can see it on camera.
BELL: And they run up my wrists because there are nine of them, and there I was, getting to be late middle-aged, and I counted that there were nine of them, and I said, "That's the same lives as a cat has. I think I'll give up gunmen."
LAMB: Now again, why do you wear those?
BELL: Well, if I get out of a place that I shouldn't have been in in the first place, if I get shot at close up and personal or I arrive in the middle of a war when I should have been someplace else or when a bomb goes off when I didn't expect it, then I give myself a bracelet. Since I only work for myself, you see, there are no awards, pensions or uniforms in secret armies and secret wars.
LAMB: So there are nine of those.
BELL: There are nine of them.
LAMB: Can you tell us what some of them stand for? What incidences?
BELL: Well, since we're on the Irish one, this one is a car bomb. I find being around car bombs deserve bracelets, just in any case.
LAMB: Just hold it up a little bit so our camera can see what it look...
BELL: Right.
LAMB: No, keep your arm this way so that -- just ... go ahead. That's it.
BELL: And, say this one -- there was an ambush in Andersonstown outside Belfast. It was very early in the morning. And the lads fired two or three times and foolishly enough I had gone along. It would have been much simpler just to ask them what had happened after it was over. And of course, they knew which way to run and I didn't. And once you get shot at, several things happen. You gain 800 pounds and move very slowly. Time sort of stops and you can't understand why they're still shooting at you and you're not running at all. And then you get around the corner and time changes again -- it speeds up. So that's one of the difficulties of doing research in the field, as they say.
LAMB: Were you ever involved the planning of an IRA bombing?
BELL: I've known about them before they happened, but not in the sense that, "Well, he knows about them and is walking around and innocent people are going to get killed." I've known in a situation where I couldn't have done anything if I had been of a mind to do so. And I would prefer not to know.
LAMB: Based on what you know, do you have any ideas on how to change what's going on over there and solve the problem?
BELL: No. If I knew how to solve the problem, I would not be sitting here but there and getting my Nobel Peace Prize. An enormous amount of effort by a great many very talented and dedicated people for 25 years has gone into solving the problem, and they have tried all varieties of ways, so far without success. Essentially, it seems to me that either every day in every way everybody has to change a little, and most people don't like that. They like to buy the diet book, lose all the weight on Tuesday and go back to doing what they were doing. So unless you will stop doing what you're doing every day, if you change your lifestyle and your ambitions and your agenda, we still have the same kind of problem.

On the other hand, if you change your mind, which happens -- and the people most likely to be in a position to change their mind and have, in effect, are the British. And at the moment the British aren't bothering about the Irish.
LAMB: There’s a lot – as we’ve been talking here, a lot of words in this book. About a thousand pages. Bowyer Bell is the author. It’s called “The Irish Troubles” and this is “A generation of violence 1967 – 1992.” Thank you very much, sir.


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