By Kevin O’Sullivan
Last night as I left the launch of Brian Hanley and Scott Millar’s The Lost Revolution: The Story of the Official IRA and the Workers’ Party at the Teachers’ Club on Parnell Square in Dublin, making my way past the queue of autograph hunters and photographers, I caught the eye of an academic colleague near the door. ‘There’s a smell of revolution in that room’, she said. The speeches had ended, the free bar had run its course (no, that’s not why I left), and South Dublin Union was gearing up to provide the heart-rousing tunes. ‘A typical academic book launch’, another colleague remarked, tongue firmly in cheek, as he pointed to the backs of former party activists and ‘lost’ revolutionaries. ‘You see that bald man in the blue jumper in the second row? He was…’
I recognised a handful of faces, half-remembered the names of others. The rest passed me by, but they all knew each other. ‘I can see a number of left wing groups represented here’, Millar told the audience, ‘my family, my friends…’ Tomás Mac Giolla was plagued for photos and autographs beside the door, Mick Ryan’s face was hidden somewhere in the crowd, and Roy Johnston sat in the front row. In his opening remarks, Diarmaid Ferriter described the atmosphere in the packed hall as something akin to an election rally. The crowd warmed to his comments about a well-written book, an evolving movement, opportunities lost, mistakes made, wrong and right turns taken, and the importance of this story to the country’s modern political history. (Ferriter’s own new book, Occasions of Sin: Sex and Society in Modern Ireland, was set aside, but only after he had batted away the witty remarks from the floor. ‘Yes, it is a hardback.’ ‘No, there are no pictures.’)
In these (insert clichéd adjective here) times, a grasping attempt to re-capture something lost and translate it into some tangible success hung in the air. No ordinary book launch, but a book rally. I couldn’t stay long enough to find out if they will be successful.
And that book, what Hanley called an ‘eighteen month project we started five years ago’? In the midst of the babble, was that not what everyone had gathered for? Ferriter spoke glowingly of its importance and, above all, its ‘cool, dispassionate’ readability. Hanley singled out Conor McCabe’s review on Dublin Opinion as the book’s first, and, he said, what might end up being the best, assessment, and the people at Cedar Lounge Revolution have also had a few words to say. There are others, including someone I spoke to last night, who have been less complimentary, but in their own comments on the book’s narrative and analytical structure, Hanley and Millar appeared ready to meet any criticism head on.
And me? In true academic style I waited until the launch to pick up my copy, so, save for a thumb through on the way home, I’ll have to reserve judgement. In the meantime, you might want to catch the authors discussing the book with Pat Kenny on his Today show on RTÉ Radio 1 last Wednesday, 2 September. Listen at the RTÉ site or, if they still haven’t put up the podcast, turn over to The Irish Left Review, which has the interview available for download.