Preface to Voices From the Grave


This book represents the inaugural volume of a planned series of publications drawn from the Boston College Oral History Archive on the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The transcripts of interviews with Irish Republican Army and Ulster Volunteer Force veterans, most of whom were operationally active, are housed at the University’s Burns Library and are subject to prescriptive limitations governing access. Boston College is contractually committed to sequestering the taped transcriptions unless otherwise given a full release, in writing, by the interviewees, or until the demise of the latter.

With the production of this initial book in the projected series, the General Editors wish to acknowledge the tireless and fruitful work of the project coordinator, Ed Moloney, whose personal contacts, professional skills, and established reputation as an accomplished journalist and historian were an incalculable asset in this undertaking. Profound thanks are also owed to Anthony McIntyre and Wilson McArthur, formerly activists from opposing sides who each took degrees at Queen’s University, Belfast, and whose contacts among IRA and UVF paramilitary veterans helped make this oral history a reality.

Paul Bew, politics professor and senior political adviser to a Northern Ireland first minister, together with two historians who remain anonymous, assisted in an assessment of the information contained in the recorded interviews. Lord Bew strongly encouraged Boston College to document and archive the stories of paramilitaries who fought on both sides of that sectarian divide, known more popularly as the Troubles, because it was such a natural fit. Boston College has had a long interest in Ireland and offered a welcoming and neutral venue in which participants felt a sense of security and confidentiality that made it possible for them to be candid and forthcoming. What Bew perceived as the real value of the IRA/UVF accounts was in what they revealed about the motives and mind sets of participants in the conflict, a resource of inestimable value for future studies attempting better to understand the phenomenology of societal violence.

Ed Moloney’s succinct and instructive introduction further underscores the scope and significance of the extraordinary archive on which this seminal account is based. What may not be as readily apparent to many people is why Boston College was seen as a familiar and trusted institution by all parties participating in this programme. Not only has the Irish Studies Faculty participated in faculty exchanges and appointments at Ulster universities over the past two decades, with professors from those institutions also serving as visiting scholars at Boston College; the University awarded an honorary degree to Irish nationalist leader John Flume of the Social Democratic Labour Party in t995 and to British Unionist David Trimble of the Ulster Unionist Party in 1999.

Moreover, for a period of some twelve years the Irish Institute at Boston College has provided educational seminars for public officials, business leaders, policing authorities, etc., under a pro-gramme sponsored by the United States Congress, as a part of its effort to promote peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. Under the aegis of the Department of State, the Irish Institute has hosted seminars both at Boston College and at best-practice professional counterparts throughout the United States. The Irish participants come from the Republic and Northern Ireland, including some from both sectarian communities in the North. More than eight hundred people from various professions in Ireland have participated to date, and the seminars, especially those on community policing, cultural diversity and local-government management, have nurtured networking contacts among formerly adversarial groups in Northern Ireland who now perceive Boston College as their enabler.

It is the Burns Library, however, arguably the crown jewel of the Boston College Centre for Irish Programmes, that provides the ideal repository for this unique archive. The extensive holdings of the Burns have long attracted researchers from all over the globe, including many of the most distinguished chair-holders through-out Britain and Ireland.

The John J. Burns Library of Boston College houses the largest, most comprehensive collection of Irish research materials in the United States, with more than 30,000 volumes, nearly 600,000 manuscript pieces, and significant holdings of photographs, art-works, recordings and ephemera documenting the history, life and culture of the Irish people. Material on Ireland since the Act of Union is particularly strong, including a superb collection of 138 late eighteenth-century pamphlets bound in nine volumes from the library of Daniel O’Connell dealing with the question of the Union; a rare collection of some 1,500 pamphlets bound in 105 volumes dating from the late 1700S to the mid-1800s, many dealing with the province of Ulster; the Canon Patrick Rogers Collection on the Troubles from 1916 to the I980s, featuring many rare pam-phlets and ephemeral pieces; the Thomas and Kathleen Clarke Papers; the Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland Collection; and the Bobbie Hanvey Photographic Archives, documenting many of the people, places and events in Northern Ireland in the time of the Troubles.

These collections were developed to further the academic mission of Boston College, founded in 1863 by the County Fermanagh-born Jesuit John McElroy to provide higher education to the children of refugees of the Irish Famine. Over the years Boston College has strengthened its ties with Ireland, North and South, establishing special relations through its various pro-grammes with various instil utions in Ireland and Northern Ireland. In 1999, for example, Boston College entered into an agreement of understanding with Linen Hall library to share resources, enhance access to each other’s library collections and promote knowledge and understanding. The Burns library was the opening venue in 2003 for a nine-city North American tour of the award-winning exhibition Troubled Images from the Linen Hall Library, Belfast.

This unique paramilitary archive finds a proper place among the Burns Library’s rich and diverse holdings of Irish books, collections of private papers, poetry, paintings and digitised music relating directly to Northern Ireland.

Thomas E. Hachey
University Professor of History
and Executive Director, Center for Irish Programs

Robert K. O’Neill
Director, John J. Burns Library,
and Part-Time Faculty Member, Department of Political Science