Cover image for A secret history of the IRA
A secret history of the IRA
Moloney, Ed, 1948-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton, [2002]

Physical Description:
xxi, 600 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Format :


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DA959 .M65 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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For decades, the British and Irish had 'got used to' a situation without parallel in Europe: a cold, ferocious, persistent campaign of bombing and terror of extraordinary duration and inventiveness. At the heart of that campaign lies one man: Gerry Adams. From the outbreak of the troubles to the present day, he has been an immensely influential figure. The most compelling question about the IRA is: how did a man who condoned atrocities that resulted in huge numbers of civilian deaths also become the guiding light behind the peace process? Moloney's book is now updated to encompass the anxious and uneasy peace that has prevailed to 2007.

Author Notes

Ed Moloney has been Northern Editor of The Irish Times and The Sunday Tribune.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Most of this sure-to-be controversial narrative centers on the activities of Gerry Adams, who, over the course of his long IRA career, moved the organization away from the gun and toward a negotiated settlement with its British and Loyalist enemies. Moloney, an award-winning Irish journalist, begins with the crucial 1969 split between the Provisional IRA (PIRA), which championed armed struggle, and the socialist-leaning Official IRA. As a youth in Belfast, Adams joined the PIRA, and worked his way up through the ranks. As leader, he revamped the PIRA, starting in the 1980s, by altering its military structure while moving it into the political arena. Adams's strategy of utilizing both the bullet and the ballot, as Moloney repeatedly argues, led to inherent contradictions. Military operations, especially if they resulted in dead civilians, weakened Sinn Fein, the PIRA's political wing. In 1982, according to Moloney (years earlier than previously reported), Adams further eroded the militarists' influence by entering into secret peace negotiations with the Irish and British governments. Over the course of 16 years, Adams did the unthinkable and demilitarized Irish politics, but Moloney seems less than appreciative of Adams's achievements. His Adams is a Machiavellian figure who outmaneuvered and sold out the militarists within the PIRA. Some readers might conclude though Moloney never states it outright that Adams was the unnamed high-level IRA informer who, Moloney reports, tipped off the British to some IRA military operations. Whether Moloney is right or wrong about Adams, he's written an exhaustive and highly provocative account of the inner workings of the Provisionals. 16 pages of photos, 5 maps. (Nov.) Forecast: The U.S. embargo on this will be lifted the first week of October and will be coordinated with international publication. With potentially explosive revelations, this should receive major media attention and big sales. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Noted Irish journalist Moloney goes behind the scenes to trace the background to the northern Irish "peace process" and the resultant 1998 Good Friday Agreement that provides for a power sharing Protestant-Unionist and Catholic-nationalist government in Northern Ireland. Readers will be fascinated by his accounts of Irish Republican Army organization and operations. Gerry Adams is the central figure in Moloney's account, and a Machiavellian one at that, often speaking out of both sides of his mouth to manipulate groups with conflicting views. Catholic Father Alec Reid is featured as a secret go-between in hidden negotiations, which, over many years, oriented the Catholic nationalist movements toward a peaceful negotiation process and away from military activities and violence to achieve their goal of a united Ireland. Moloney's extensive access to confidential statements by republican activists provides considerable zest to his story. The author may prove to be overly optimistic regarding the reality of the IRA's decommissioning of their weapons stashes and the stability that actually results from the Good Friday Agreement, but the decline in violence is a remarkable development. Appendixes help with chronology, terms, people, and sources. Graduate students and faculty will find this to be high-quality investigative journalism. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. J. W. Auld emeritus, California State University, Dominguez Hills

Booklist Review

Although to Americans this epic undertaking may appear as coming out of the blue, in Northern Ireland its publication is anticipated with trepidation by some of its subjects. But although his book definitely unearths some buried information--including details on Libyan arms deals and clandestine diplomacy between the IRA and Margaret Thatcher, the Catholic Church, and even the Clinton administration--the author's real focus is not so much the crimes of war as the foundations of peace. Concentrating primarily on the modern IRA and the events of the past 35 years, he treads carefully across dangerous ground, steadily building his thesis that Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader and IRA Army Council member, was the dominant force in the Irish peace process from inception to conclusion. Moloney, a former editor and reporter who in 1999 was named Irish Journalist of the Year, provides considerable historical background and demonstrates a clear understanding of the often-byzantine machinations of the revolutionary group. The endless names and minute level of detail, however, mean this is not the best work for those seeking an introduction to the Troubles. Nor is the author a stylist; few of his passages convey the maelstrom of shootings and bombings in human terms. But in amassing and reinterpreting such a wealth of information, he does a great service to those who struggle to learn the facts so that they might figure out what it all meant. --Keir Graff

Library Journal Review

An award-winning journalist and former Northern Editor of the Irish Times and Sunday Tribune, Moloney describes the delicate political maneuvering of Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams, which compelled the Provisional Irish Republican Army ultimately to accept what their constitution explicity forbade: a cease-fire in the fight to unify Ireland. Airing details of IRA political infighting for the first time, Moloney grants the lion's share of credit for the growing peace to Adams. Adams is the master insider, politician, and statesman who manipulated violence and the promise of peace in negotiations with England, Ireland, Ulster, and, to a lesser degree, America. By creating an internal bureaucracy that produced volumes of reports, more than the Army Council could digest, Adams kept control of the laborious negotiations. His greatest challenge, and success, was keeping the rank-and-file IRA in the dark about precisely what he was doing and how, working toward the cease-fire. The final push was the 9/11 attack, when the IRA dumped its weapons for fear of being lumped politically with al Qaeda by the Bush administration. Historians may ultimately apportion the credit differently, but Moloney does capture an important part of the process. For academic libraries and larger public collections.-Robert Moore, Bristol-Myers Squibb Medical Imaging, Billerica, MA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Within minutes the Eksund was surrounded and boarded by armed French customs men. Within hours a shocked and disbelieving public in Ireland and Britain would hear the news of the failure of this extraordinary smuggling venture. A few weeks later and the full scope of the IRA's operations would be made public; everyone would know that the organization now had some 150 tons of explosives and modern weaponry, delivered earlier and safely stored away in secret dumps throughout Ireland. But the greatest secret of them all, that the Eksund had been betrayed, was to remain sealed. There was no time to repair the timing unit. The spotter plane had again flown overhead, and in the distance the crew could see motor launches speeding toward them. The net was obviously closing, Cleary watched the scene with a sense of grim satisfaction; his instincts had been right. Cleary knew that the TPU must have been tampered with after the Eksund had left Tripoli harbor and not before. The IRA man had made up the mechanism himself before sailing and had linked it to detonators fixed into slabs of Semtex not long after leaving the dock. The TPU had been in perfect working order. He had double-checked to make sure. Cleary never got as far as even connecting the device. Instead the realization of treachery forced a number of thoughts to flash through his head, as he later told IRA colleagues. The British must have known about their plans all along, and soon the media would know as well. But the question that brought a cold sweat to his brow concerned the identity of the traitor. There was certainly a collaborator on board, but was there another one, someone back in Ireland who had betrayed the Eksund and its precious cargo? A cursory glance at the bomb mechanism told Cleary that the plan would have to be scrapped; the firing unit for the explosives had been sabotaged, its wiring damaged beyond repair. The device, known as a timing power unit (TPU), was simple to operate and safe enough for a child to use, but it was just as easy to put out of commission. Whoever had neutralized Cleary's bombs would not have needed much training. The IRA man had chosen a hole known as Deep Hurd in which to scuttle the Eksund . The plan was to sink the vessel and then head in the dinghy for the Brittany coast, after which the crew would catch a ferry back to Ireland without the authorities' ever knowing about the IRA's audacious plan. That was when he discovered that a traitor had wrecked his plan. The Eksund 's ballast tanks had already been filled with water in preparation for scuttling. Cleary had crafted Semtex bombs that were just large enough to make holes in the vessel's skin but not so large that the noise of the explosions would attract attention. French forensic experts later calculated that the Eksund would have sunk within seconds. Cleary had spent most of his adult life in the Provisional IRA and had become one of the organization's most skilled bomb makers. From the Tallaght area of Dublin, a vast sprawling working-class housing estate on the southwest edge of the city, he rose in the IRA engineering department, that part of the IRA which had the job of manufacturing homemade explosives and devising the organization's impressive range of improvised and home-made weaponry. Although well known to the Irish Special Branch, he had managed to avoid imprisonment. Only once had the authorities come near to pinning him, and that was eight years earlier, in 1977, when he beat a charge of making bombs in Kildare. By the time he was appointed to oversee the Eksund voyage, Cleary had advanced to the top of the IRA's military elite and was in charge of its vital engineering department. He was a natural choice to head the Eksund operation. The colorful Dublin businessman Adrian Hopkins, who had found and purchased the Eksund , captained the vessel as he had the two other ships used by the IRA to facilitate the Libyan venture. The IRA had provided two sailors to assist him, James Coll and James Doherty, both of them County Donegal trawler men. Hopkins's friend and sometime business partner Henry Cairns, the man suspected of having introduced Hopkins to the IRA, was along for the ride. As he assembled the crew on the top deck to prepare the inflatable dinghy that would take them ashore, Cleary started the process of triggering the timing device that would set off the bombs and slowly sink the Eksund . This was the job Cleary had been chosen for.     The steering problem struck again on October 27. The crew tried to make repairs but with no success, and the Eksund drifted closer and closer to the French coast. The next day Cleary realized the mission was doomed and took the fateful decision to scuttle the ship and sink its precious freight before it ran aground. His orders had been precise: on no account must the British learn of the IRA's arms-smuggling operation; the very outcome of the war depended on secrecy being preserved. As the Eksund passed the Brittany coast and veered left for Ireland, the boat ran into a different sort of trouble. The fifty-year-old vessel, which had shipped grain most of her life, had endured a difficult journey out to Malta. At one stage the vessel had to dock in England for engine repairs, and at another point the steering failed. Within hours of setting sail, however, the IRA commander's doubts returned. A plane flew directly over the Eksund , and Cleary suspected it was an RAF spotter aircraft. Every day of the voyage thereafter a similar aircraft would perform the same maneuver. There seemed little doubt that someone was keeping a very close eye on the Eksund's progress. Off Gibraltar the plane swooped down so low that the pilot was visible. Cleary grew more and more nervous. The Libyans took precautions. The Eksund was loaded at nighttime to reduce the chances of being spotted, and the boat was moored in the military section of the dockside for added security. But even so, Cleary was glad when the Eksund finally weighed anchor. Although the nearby British embassy was closed, emptied of its staff following a major diplomatic row with Qaddafi, everyone, IRA and Libyans alike, assumed that the British had left their spies behind. Some could easily be mingling with the crowds down at the harbor or at the nearby souk where traders bought and sold gold and silver and exchanged gossip. The Libyan harbor was a dangerous place for IRA men on a mission to smuggle weapons. The Tripoli docks were regularly jammed with ships unloading consumer goods, as a result of a massive oil-financed consumer boom; the bustling labor force was a mixture of Arabs drawn from nearly every country in North Africa and European expatriates lured by the high salaries offered in this former Italian colony. This operation had to be handled differently. The Eksund 's cargo was as large as the four other shipments put together. The sheer size and bulk of weaponry involved meant that the loading process would be lengthy, and that made an operation at sea simply out of the question. With the CIA and other Western intelligence agencies taking an ever-greater interest in Libyan affairs, the chances of being spotted by satellite surveillance were too great. The Eksund 's manifest was breathtaking: 1,000 Romanian-made AK-47 automatic rifles, a million rounds of ammunition, 430 grenades, 12 rocket-propelled grenade launchers with ample supplies of grenades and rockets, 12 heavy Russian DHSK machine guns, over 50 SAM-7 ground-to-air missiles capable of downing British army helicopters, 2,000 electric detonators and 4,700 fuses, 106 millimeter cannons, general-purpose machine guns, anti-tank missile launchers, flame throwers, and two tons of the powerful Czech-made explosive Semtex. With a cargo like that to load there was no option; the work had to be done in Tripoli itself. Cleary's fears had been growing ever since the Eksund had left the Libyan capital, Tripoli, some two weeks earlier, as he later told an IRA inquiry in messages smuggled from a French prison. The Panamanian-registered vessel had been loaded with some 150 tons of modern, sophisticated weaponry at Tripoli dockside by sailors from Colonel Qaddafi's small naval service on October 13 and 14, 1987. Although that part of the operation had gone smoothly, Cleary was uneasy. This was the fifth trip since August 1985, but the four earlier cargoes, amounting in total to another 150 tons of weapons and explosives, had been safely and secretly transferred to IRA boats from a Libyan vessel off Malta, well out at sea and far from the sight of hostile, prying eyes. There was only one thought in Gabriel Cleary's mind, and it chilled him. As he checked the firing unit linked to the twelve explosive charges placed beneath the Eksund 's waterline, the signs of sabotage were unmistakable. With a growing sense of horror the IRA's director of engineering realized that the most ambitious gunrunning plot ever in the IRA's long war with Britain had been betrayed. Excerpted from A Secret History of the IRA by Ed Moloney All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

List of Mapsp. ix
Prefacep. xiii
Acknowledgmentsp. xix
Prologuep. 3
Part 1 The Dogs of War
1 Rootsp. 37
2 The Defendersp. 74
3 "The Big Lad"p. 93
Part 2 Taking On the Old Guard
4 Cage 11p. 133
5 "Our Dreyfus"p. 163
6 A Long, Hot Summerp. 196
Part 3 A Secret Process
7 "Behind the Scenes"p. 219
8 Dealing with the Britsp. 246
9 "Stepping Stones"p. 261
10 "No Idle Boast"p. 287
11 Death in Tyronep. 304
12 "The War of the Twilight"p. 326
13 The Derry Experimentp. 350
Part 4 Ending the War
14 Seven Men in a Roomp. 375
15 Cease-Firep. 392
16 The Sosp. 428
17 The Point of No Returnp. 455
Epiloguep. 480
Appendix 1 Special Sinn Fein Ard Comhairle Meeting, April 12, 1980p. 493
Appendix 2 TUAS Document--Summer 1994p. 498
Appendix 3 Post-1996 Convention IRA Constitutionp. 502
Appendix 4 IRA Executive Chairman Sean McGrane's Speech at the 1997 Conventionp. 509
Appendix 5 IRA Chiefs of Staffp. 513
Appendix 6 The Mitchell Principlesp. 514
Notesp. 515
Chronology of Eventsp. 537
Dramatis Personaep. 550
Glossary of Terms and Abbreviationsp. 562
Chart of IRA Structurep. 573
Bibliographyp. 575
Indexp. 581