Radio Free Éireann
WBAI 99.5FM Pacifica Radio
New York City
John McDonagh speaks to award-winning journalist, author and historian, Ed Moloney, via telephone from Toronto, where Ed’s new documentary on the life of Dolours Price, I, Dolours, will make its world premiere tonight at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival. (begins time stamp ~ 17:31)
John: Well Radio Free Éireann over the years have interviewed many people, many Republicans over in Ireland – one of them particularly, at one stage there we had her on every week, was Marian Price and the trials and tribulations that were going on with her. But her sister, Dolours Price, was interviewed at some stage by Ed Moloney and they’ve done a documentary about her life, I guess, in the Republican Movement – it’s been made into a documentary, it’s up at a film festival. Ed Moloney, author – used to write for the Irish Tribune, the Irish Times. He has a book, A Secret History of the IRA, and I would recommend – I can’t recommend it enough – that people should read that book and Ed, you have this documentary that already the Belfast Telegraph has been writing about and it’s just going to air at six o’clock tonight up in Toronto. What’s the documentary about?
Ed: Well it’s about Dolours Price’s life – growing up in Belfast all the way through to her final years and embracing her progress towards the IRA and her career in the IRA but also a lot about her family life. It’s a complete picture of Dolours Price’s life that was put together in this documentary which I think people will find interesting and unusual.
John: Well Ed, you would think in certain circles, particularly in Irish Republican circles, things like this should be praised. Martin interviewed last week Cormac O’Malley, he was talking about his father, Ernie O’Malley, who had a book out They Will Talk to Me. You’ve been involved with the Boston tapes and trying to gather up what people, what they did during the past thirty years within the Republican Movement. Now it seems that some people are allowed to tell their stories but some people are not. And the main reaction they’re getting right now is that she tells the story about what happened with Jean McConville, who’s become notoriously involved with what’s known as ‘the disappeared’. Maybe you could tell about this is what’s getting the most reaction about out of Dolours’ life.
Ed: Yeah, inevitably that’s going to be the case given the high profile of the Jean McConville killing but you know there were lots of other people killed in The Troubles and Dolours was involved in ‘disappearing’ more than Jean McConville and was involved in more IRA activity than that. I mean I think the one ‘disappearance’ that really affected her and pushed her over the edge and which led, in a very complicated way, to this documentary – and the background to that, incidentally, I have explained on my blog, The Broken Elbow dot com, and it’s a piece called I, Dolours – The Back Story which explains why and how this particular interview happened which was never planned – it happened because of events made it necessary to do this interview.
The ‘disappearance’ that really affected her most of all, and I think actually pushed her over a psychological edge, was the disappearance of Joe Lynskey, who was Belfast IRA Intelligence Chief who, without going into all the details (it’s a long story), he was sentenced to death by an IRA court martial and she was given the job of taking him across the border where he was going to be killed and ‘disappeared’ – and incidentally, his is one of the bodies that has never, ever been recovered. And Joe Lynskey was one of these guys who really believed in the IRA and believed in its ethos and its rules and he went willingly to his death – an extraordinary story.
I mean, it was just her and him in the car and he was quite, you know, quite a strong man. He wasn’t a big man but he was strong enough – he could easily have over-powered her and she talks about how, driving him down, you know – she kept on thinking, you know, would he please like hit me and knock me out of the car or should I drive him to the ferry and tell him to get the hell out of the country but at the end of the day her loyalty to the IRA, like his, was just too strong and she completed the journey. I don’t think she ever recovered from that particular episode. And when it emerged that Joe Lynskey’s name had been left off the list that the IRA had given the two governments of the ‘disappeared’ victims and it was publicised that he was one of of the other ‘disappeared’ who’d never, never been mentioned at all I think that had a profound impact on her.
So you know, there’s the story of her extraordinary ordeal on hunger strike and forced feeding which, there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind, caused the psychological problems that she had. And indeed, if you go back and you read the history of forced feeding in Irish jails you’ll find that an awful lot of the people who went through that experience never recovered psychologically from it and I think it really, really pushed her over the edge as well. So it’s an extraordinarily sad story about her – a lot of people will be outraged at that things that she did, of course, you know, but – it’s a story of the times. And you know, she went through the same experience that a lot of her contemporaries went through – the civil rights movement was regarded as a hopeful venture which could, perhaps, reach out to ordinary Protestant working-class people and you could make common cause with them over issues like bad housing and jobs and stuff like that. That disappeared in her mind, and indeed in a lot of minds, at Burntollet, and that led her, eventually I think, to join the IRA. So it’s a story of her life. And it’s a story of The Troubles. And it’s more than about Jean McConville.
John: Yes, but the one thing they keep bringing about Jean McConville is who ordered her to bring Jean McConville down South to be executed and that was Gerry Adams. Now, you often had Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness going on TV stating that anybody that had any information on any part of The Troubles that they should go to the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) and tell them about it. And now that this is happening – everybody: Oh! Well, why is she doing that? And you know, Anthony McIntyre having graffiti put up in Belfast that he’s a tout and you being hammered in some of the papers for: How dare you do something like this! But there is a hierarchy of what stories can be told and what stories can’t be told.
Ed: And also how they are told – that some stories are not truthful. Some stories are embroidered. Some stories are covered in cosmetics and the truth is just not getting out. There’s a control-freakery involved in all of this which is why I think it was necessary to do something like the Boston College archive – to do it independently of these people. Independently of the state – because you can’t trust the state, either, to do this job in an objective way because they have their own dirty secrets to hide and you can’t trust the organisations themselves, really, to tell the story truthfully and honestly – they’ve got too many dark secrets to hide, perhaps. And it’s necessary for ‘outsiders’, in a sense, to do that as objectively as you can. And what the police did when they moved against Boston College archive was to destroy that possibility altogether and it does make you wonder about their motives in all of this, you know?
John: And didn’t they get these tapes, too, off Dolours? Did the PSNI get the?…
Ed: …Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Because once – they weren’t part of the Boston archive – this is the important aspect about these tapes but I had told her that the tapes would be, they would be put away – the master tapes, which is like the film and stuff like that – that was different. That was kept in a secret place in Ireland and I never knew where it was until we came round to actually doing the documentary but copies of those tapes were lodged at Boston College as part of the guarantee that I gave her that it would remain secret until she died. And this was, really, just basically an attempt to stop her talking about this stuff. She had given one interview to the Irish News and she was threatening to give other interviews including one to The Guardian and if she was not stopped then goodness knows where it would have all ended up. So the deal, essentially, that I made with her was that we would do, we would make theses tapes, we would then put them away and she would have the guarantee that her story would be told. But you know, she would be dead at that stage – but her story would get out. And I also made a personal promise to her that if I was alive and if I was capable, physically and mentally, of doing it I would get her story out. So that was the, that was, essentially, the basis of the interviews taking place.
John: So what is the festival today and will it be making its way to the United States and over to Ireland – so what is the process now?
Well what is happening now: It’s appearing at three documentary festivals: One in North America, in Toronto, at the Hot Docs today so that would be the sort of world premiere, if you like, of the film. And next it goes to Sheffield, which is another big, prestigious, apparently prestigious, documentary festival although I must confess I don’t know much about these things. And then it’s going to the Galway festival, the Galway Fleadh, the film fleadh, in July and what happens thereafter I don’t know. I imagine it’s going to go on general release in Ireland and whether it’s shown in America depends on whether there’s any interest by anyone to screen it – we shall see. Hopefully people will get the opportunity to see the film. You now, obviously I’m biased – I helped to make the thing – I’m very proud of it but I think it’s an extremely important film. People who have seen it have been blown away by it, they really have been impressed by it, so I hope that’s an accurate reflection of the reality.
John: Well thank you and Ed Moloney – if you want to read more about this documentary, which hopefully makes its rounds around down here, go to The Broken Elbow dot com, that’s one word: thebrokenelbow, and you’ll see Ed Moloney’s latest writings about the documentary, I, Dolours. Thank you, Ed.
Ed: No problem. Bye-bye. (ends time stamp ~ 28:50)