Ed Moloney RFÉ 28 April 2018

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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.

Photos of the 3 remaining ‘disappeared’ as of 28 April 2018.
(L-R) Robert Nairac, Joe Lynskey and Columba McVeigh
Photo: Irish News

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.

Marian & Dolours
Armagh Gaol

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?


Poster for the film, I Dolours

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)

Maurice Sweeney Irish Radio Canada 1 April 2018

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Irish Radio Canada
Ottawa, Ontario

Austin Comerton speaks to documentary film maker Maurice Sweeney about his latest film, I, Dolours, which opens at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto later this month.

Where’s the audio?  It can’t be uploaded here. You can download it from the Irish Radio Canada site.  Click on ‘Maurice Sweeney’ on 1 April 2018 here.


Austin:   And we have been chatting the past few weeks with some of the people behind and involved in the Hot Docs Festival that’s coming up in Toronto towards the end of April/the beginning of May and one of the movies that is being screened is I, Dolours, which is the documentary on Dolours Price.

Poster for the film I, Dolours

And Dolours was a militant IRA activist, a hunger striker, a dissident Republican and, two years before she died, gave a filmed interview on condition that it would not be broadcast in her lifetime. And now for the first time her story can be told in full and entirely in her own words. And Maurice Sweeney is the director of the documentary, I, Dolours. Maurice, thanks a million for agreeing to have a chat.

Maurice:  Good to be here. Thanks.

Austin:   So that gives a little bit of the background. You had the opportunity to meet Dolours before she died. Tell us a bit about what, first of all, your own background in the movie industry and what got you into it and what appealed to you about documentaries?

Maurice:   I always, I’ve been filming documentaries now for the last fifteen-sixteen years. I love the format because you start off pretty much with an empty page and you’re still working with an empty page by the time you get to the edit. You feel your way through the subject. It’s very different drama in that respect. A documentary can go anywhere and you have to deal with certain things that come up and it’s a constantly changing thing and it’s an exciting format in that respect and actually going to Hot Docs is great because I think the format of documentaries really has become hugely popular, especially in Ireland I suppose, there’s been huge success in documentaries over the last few years with Irish film makers and it’s great to see them being shown abroad now.

Austin:   So, like there’s a reality about it that might not necessarily there that you connect instantly because of reality.

Maurice:   Absolutely. I think with documentary it offers a different angle on life, on people, on situations, on politics, on culture. It allows the film maker to kind of show an audience different ways of looking at stuff that you know that doesn’t often have to be the status quo or what we’re told to think, you know? Nothing’s ever simple you know and I think when I was approaching the documentary, I, Dolours, I remember hearing a quote and I can’t remember who said. It said: Monstrous acts aren’t committed by monstrous people. They’re committed by human beings like you and I, you know, who are radicalised (or whatever) and I think that angle really kind of fascinated me for taking on the documentary.

Austin:   Now some of your previous work would have been more historical in a way. I notice that you had a series, Barbarians Rising, and Saving the Titanic and The Forgotten Irish. In one sense would I, Dolours be then, you could say, far more contemporary?

Maurice:   It was. I mean I think The Forgotten Irish is probably quite close in a lot of ways because it tells the story that – not always the obvious story of people just emigrating to Britain – there were other reasons for them being forgotten. It was, I mean I’ve done stuff, a lot of cultural stuff like Yeats and Flann O’Brien and modern writers like John Connolly as well, so I’ve always been interested in the person and how they viewed the world and how they acted in it when they were alive and Dolours is another example of that. But I mean, we’re still dealing with history with Dolours at a very contentious time and it’s funny – it’s only I think in the last few years that documentaries have been able to tackle The Troubles in a more stand-off point in a way and that’s what can really get underneath the skin of it. I mean I think of the Bobby Sands documentary last year that did very well, Hot Docs as well, and I’d be interesting in seeing the reaction to I, Dolours, you know so?

Austin:   And on that point: When you said allow you to get under the skin – you know we approach I suppose, all of us approach, incidents or people that are in our lifetime with preconceived attitudes – when you mention Bobby Sands or Dolours Price or be it an Ian Paisley or whatever – we’re going to approach a subject like that or a person like that based on some of the background that we’ve grown up with so when you confront something or a person like this that may or may not been aligned to your leanings does that present a challenge and then, when you come away from that having felt: You know, I’ve really learned and grown from this?

Maurice:   Oh, absolutely! I mean I think it’s incumbent upon a film maker to be open. I think it’s incumbent on a film maker to ask questions to open the mind to possibilities of things. Dolours Price’s actions – I wouldn’t personally have agreed with. I can understand her reasons which, I think understanding sometimes is a lot more important than agreeing with things, and I think that’s something that could be applied to all parts of life – you know, from your relationship to your wife or your husband, to friends, brothers, family, to politics – and I think documentary gives us that chance to kind of step back and say: Well, hold on. Why did this happen? Why did she do these things? Why did she react in that particular way? A very intelligent woman. Went down a certain road. And at the end of the day I think it’s a lot about circumstances and it’s where we grow up and it’s very hard to walk in other people’s shoes but I think if we can try to understand what it was like for them and why they did things it gives us a better over-all picture, I think, of The Troubles and why people do things. I mean, it’s interesting – she took a very different stance later in life, you know, about the peace process (which I again wouldn’t probably go along with) but I can understand where she was coming from, you know?

Austin:   And when you say that, where you can understand, I suppose the whole benefit of the documentary is that it gives us a window into that element of an individual that we wouldn’t otherwise get.

Maurice:   Absolutely. And actually you know, the process of making this was very hard. It was – Look, when you’re dealing with The North and you’re dealing with the years, especially the early ’70’s, in The North of Ireland it’s very contentious and when we approached people in the initial days of filming most people didn’t want to be interviewed and the people we really wanted to talk to definitely didn’t want to be interviewed and we made the decision:

Dolours Price
Photo Credit: Joe Graham, Rushlight Magazine

Well, it’s just her. We have the interview. We have radio recordings with her as well. We had writings that she had committed to paper and published and we just decided this is one woman’s version of events. It’s her own version of events but it’s a very honest one I think and I think that comes across in the film. So it was difficult in that respect but because I think it became a much simpler documentary in that respect I think it became a much more of an emotional – had more of an emotional impact – when it was finished.

Austin:   Then she agreed to sit down and enter into quite a long interview I take it and that she didn’t want it then to be released until after her death. How did – that in itself must have been, I suppose, quite an emotional experience to be sitting across from somebody in that scenario.

Maurice:   Well it was actually Ed Moloney, the journalist, who had done the interviews and I know there was a lot of controversy around the Boston Tapes at the time – which is still ongoing and these are part of the Boston Tapes – I came in after the interviews but these were a separate thing that she wanted to talk to us again – they wouldn’t be shown, could be shown posthumously, so I think there was a lot on her mind at the end of her life and I mean I sat down with Ed for hours and hours and hours – we talked about the interviews and what she was like and what state of mind she was in and she was very clear in what she wanted to do: giving the interviews.

Dolours Price
Photo Credit: Joe Graham, Rushlight Magazine

There’s certain areas she didn’t want to go to and there’s certain areas in the documentary I didn’t want to go to, for instance, but it was dealing with radicalisation, a lot of it, and her coming to terms with the actions she had done in her life, how she had felt betrayed as an activist, as a radical, as a militant – whatever people, what label, to put on her – but she had felt she had done it for nothing and that – I mean at the end of the day the principle of the film is: Violence costs – it costs the victim and it also costs the perpetrator and I think that comes across and I think that she wore that very heavily on her mind, you know? And you know in a way, we were very much, we didn’t want to be sympathetic either. It’s her telling her story. It’s Dolours’ words. But we don’t shy away from the things she did, either, and we don’t take a side, if you know what I mean.

Austin:   And given that you mention her like it covers, it deals with, her reaction to or her feelings relating to what was the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement and of course we’re around the twenty year anniversary of it being signed. Based on the interviews and based on what you were able to garner from the experience how does that leave you feeling about the future for peace, long term peace, reconciliation of communities, people working together and things improving in The North of Ireland – long term?

Maurice:   Yeah look, things are a lot better. I think, it’s twenty years since the (inaudible) and fifty years since the start of The Troubles – if you take 1968 as really the kicking-off point. I mean I’ve been up The North a lot. I mean I definitely remember spending a week with David Ervine in his community for a documentary years ago and you know, he showed me East Belfast and what became clear to me was that how Northern Ireland had been ghettoised – east and west, north and south. It was a working class problem in a lot of ways – people kind of went down paths that they didn’t want to and you know what? You still see that in Northern Ireland. That’s still prevalent. There might not be paramilitaries in a very obvious way anymore but there are divisions. And look, you have an Assembly that isn’t working at the moment. You know, it’s felt that the Good Friday Agreement was great – but you know, there isn’t a government there working at the moment – it’s in limbo. I still think there’s a long way to go; it’s a generational thing and I think it’ll be another generation or two before that really kind of gets rid of a lot of the old hurt. There’s a lot of talk about, kind of reconciliation – and truth and reconciliation – I don’t know. It’s like I mean if you see it as as a civil war, whatever it was – It was deep. It scarred a lot of individuals. And it scarred society I think quite deep but look, you have to admit, that it is in a better place but I wouldn’t be overly optimistic but I think we’ve got be realistic at the same time.

Austin:  And how would you say Dolours felt about the long term future for The North of Ireland?

Maurice:   I felt she felt, in her own words, she felt cheated. She contended that she and others carried out acts that was against their nature, that was against their human sensibility but they did it because they were ordered, because it was a war, because that’s what they led themselves to believe and were led to believe, she would argue, that was necessary to fight for Irish independence. She did her time. She served. And I think when the Good Friday Agreement came about she felt that any struggle had been ignored. That her argument would be that the Nationalist politics of the day capitulated too easily. You know, I don’t fully agree with it. I think most people in Ireland would rather see peace but there was a kind of a runt of Republicans in North and South that felt you know this wasn’t right – you know, obviously felt – we obviously had the terrible atrocity of Omagh later on – but these are the feelings that are deep-rooted in politics in Ireland and Republicanism hasn’t gone away you know and it has to be talked about and dealt with. I mean, in a sense it’s a story about a woman being radicalised. There’s never been a better time to talk about radicalisation. It’s the same across the world in different circumstances – it’s about people growing up and being inculcated with beliefs and idioms that you and I might not necessarily agree with but you can understand why people carry out certain things in certain situations.

Austin:   And it’s one of the ways, where I’m coming at in a way is that, you know, when you mention radicalisation and how we change – like I know I’m sure your views were different when you were eighteen or nineteen or seventeen than they are today – as are mine. And you know, the School of Hard Knocks does take the corners off you as life goes on so for Dolours, when she got close to the end of her life, the radicalisation that you describe that had happened – was she able to look back at that, that she had been radicalised, and that it had, that some of her corners had been knocked off and her views had changed? Or, did she still believe that the fight was a glorious fight?

Maurice:   I don’t know if she thought it was a glorious fight. She saw it as a fight. I think she had the maturity, she had the internal maturity and wisdom to find out you know that: Okay, life had changed and it wasn’t what she had signed up for and I think the struggle had changed as she saw it. She was committed to her original beliefs all along. But I think she felt robbed of something – absolutely. I mean I wouldn’t speak on her behalf and say she came round and she said that we did terrible things for wrong reasons – that’s not how she felt. She was a committed Republican. She was committed to her ideas. She was inculcated with these ideas from her parents and her grand- you know, generations of Republicans in Northern Ireland, Belfast particularly, but she was aware of the pain she had caused. She was aware of the pain that had been caused to her and I think she found that very hard to handle and I think she had a very sad last years of her life – kind of struggled with her own emotions and you know her own demons and you know I wouldn’t say she totally denied her beliefs but whatever was done there it was a maturity of some sort. A reckoning.

Austin:   Are we getting a world premiere on this?

Maurice:   You are, yep – world premiere in Toronto – it’s great. And actually I was very – I remember going to a Bobby Sands, the reason we wanted to show it abroad, to be honest with you, is I remember going to the documentary Bobby Sands when it was premiered in Galway two years ago I think and it was very contentious and there was a lot of people out there afterwards with different agendas and it didn’t make for a comfortable sitting to be honest with you – there was a lot of politics going on so I was adamant that I wanted to have this shown abroad first because I do think it’s an international story – it’s not just an Irish story and I think it’ll be good to get reactions in Toronto to that and get a Canadian perspective on that. We’re going to Sheffield as well and hopefully show it in Galway for the first time in July but it’s a world premiere in Toronto.

Austin:   And Toronto opens on April 26th and runs until May 6th. And I know that there’s I think three, at least three screenings, spread over the period of that time.

Maurice:  Correct.

Austin:   And there’s a few locations but certainly it’s worth looking at the website. It’s: hotdocs.ca for tickets and full information on the screening locations and times. Are you going to get over yourself, Maurice, to be able to attend?

Maurice:   I am. I’m going to be there from the first, too, so I think it’s Saturday night the 28th at six o’clock in the Bell House Theatre, I think, and then the following day at one o’clock which is Sunday so I’ll be there for two or three days – so looking forward to it.

Austin:   And then it’s on the following weekend as well because I know we’re looking at catching it on the second weekend.

Maurice:   Brilliant! Great! Brilliant, brilliant…

Austin:   So Maurice, I want to thank you for taking the time. It’s been fantastic and I look forward to being challenged by the documentary because as I said earlier – you know, we approach these things with attitudes that are ingrained in ourselves and as you said earlier you know that you might not agree but you come to understand and I’ve always felt that when I watched The Wind That Shakes the Barley it helped me understand why the Republican Movement may have evolved in the way that it did.

Maurice:   Yeah, I mean I think let’s always be open to stuff you know and keep your beliefs but be open to the other side – that’s a secret of life I found that makes it a bit easier.

Austin:   Maurice Sweeney, director, I Dolours. Thanks a million for taking the time.

Maurice:   It’s been a pleasure. Thank you. (ends)