Martin Doyle on Northern Ireland's 'Dirty Linen' and the long tail of trauma

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The area of west Co Down where Martin Doyle was born and raised was known in the 19th century as the Linen Triangle, the heartland of a textile industry that was the foundation of the economic prosperity and industrial growth of the north-eastern part of Ireland in the early years of the industrial revolution. But in the 1970s and 1980s it became known as the Murder Triangle, a killing ground for the murderous activities of the loyalist Glennane gang and the location for numerous other atrocities.

Doyle, the Books Editor of The Irish Times, speaks to Hugh Linehan in today’s Inside Politics podcast about how his interest in the consequences of one particular murder impelled him to explore the stories of the many other victims of the Troubles and their surviving families in Tullylish, the small parish where he grew up, where more than 20 people died violently during the Troubles. His journey of discovery reaches back into a history of sectarian violence that began in the 1640s and runs right up to the present day, when memories are still vivid of loved ones who died at the hands of gunmen and bombers.

Doyle says he wanted to tell the stories “not just of what happened, but of the before times and the after times. In other words, painting a proper, detailed picture of who these people were. How they lived, not just how they dies.”

Doyle says there’s limited interest south of the Border in what happened in the North during the Troubles. *I have family in Wexford and Galway so we crossed the Border all the time when I was growing up,” he says. “My southern relatives were quite frank. My uncle in Galway would say ‘look people down here just really aren’t interested’. To a degree I understood that because of the horror of the violence. And yet my uncle in Gorey told me a different story, of an active IRA organisation in Co Wexford.”

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As these events recede into the history books, attitudes towards them can change. A majority of Northern nationalists now think the republican campaign of violence was justified by the circumstances, which was not the case during the conflict itself. “I can kind of see how people looking back at that history, at Bloody Sunday and the Ballymurphy massacre, they could well have that perception that this was a legitimate campaign,” says Doyle. “What I’m trying to do in this book is home in and show the realities of what the IRA campaign of violence actually involved.”

Along the way, Doyle talks to the families of Catholics and Protestants, unionists and nationalists. He quotes a line from his book: “For me the greatest divide is between those who practise or endorse violence and those who suffer it or have to endure it.”