This new book
Just over a year ago, I wrote an article in this paper on a lecture I had attended in Athlone by Dr Michael Heney, which was about the book he was writing on the Arms Crisis. Twelve months later, the book has been printed: The Arms Crisis of 1970: The Plot that Never Was.
Heney conducted six years of research from 2010 to 2016 on the 2001 State Papers. He has concentrated on the Arms Trial, and on the many myths and misconceptions which have arisen from those events. Readers may well say: what is the point of dwelling on "old, unhappy, far-off things, and battles long ago" (William Wordsworth, The Solitary Reaper). Well, reading this book will certainly show you how productive and fruitful it is to look into those long-ago battles. After all, that is what history is all about.
The dramatis personae of the 1970 crisis will stir many memories: Jack Lynch, Charles Haughey, Neil Blaney, Captain James Kelly, Colonel Michael Heffernan, James Gibbons were all household names.
I was not in active politics at the time, but I knew many of the players - if not in person, certainly by repute. I entered local politics in 1974, and national politics eight years later. But I can still remember my huge interest in the Arms Crisis, the subsequent court cases, and all of the attendant writings and gossip.
This book is 400 pages long, and I can strongly recommend it to anyone who is interested in politics at any level. It is packed with astonishing detail and absorbing observations, interpreted anew through study of the State Papers of 2001.
Heney was an investigative journalist with RTE, and has written for The Irish Times and many other papers. He earned his PhD in 2018, following six years of work under Diarmaid Ferriter in UCD.
The book will surely change many people's long-held beliefs about the events of 1970. The author presents all the material he has unearthed and ties it in with the so-called findings and beliefs of the time. It will leave you gasping with interest as you turn the pages. Certainly, the book shows clearly that Jack Lynch was not the innocent victim in 1970, and debunks many of the myths which surround the main players in the whole drama.
It all goes back to the autumn of 1969, when there was huge unrest in the North. Oppressed Catholic families had been burnt out of their homes in Belfast and thousands of refugees had streamed across the border. There were widespread concerns in Dublin that further pogroms against nationalists might be imminent. There was widespread fear that we would be drawn into a bloody conflict.
That is the background against which events played out. Charles Haughey was Minister for Finance, Neil Blaney was Minister for Agriculture, James Gibbons was Minister for Defence, and Jack Lynch was Taoiseach.
All this was brought to a head on May 5, 1970, when the leader of the opposition, Liam Cosgrove, arrived by appointment at the Taoiseach's office in Government Buildings with startling information.
From then on, events escalated; there were Dail debates and there were the Arms Trials, the first of which fell through, and the second, under Judge Seamus Henchy, which brought forth the verdict that all of the accused were innocent. In between, of course, were all of the huge details of State Papers and cabinet decisions (formal and informal).
Heney's study of the papers of 2001 brings out clearly all of the contradictions inherent in Gibbons's evidence.
Caught in the skein of evidence, reputations were shredded, and earlier blameworthy actions totally discredited.
This is a brilliant book.
I ended up with two copies. I have two sons, one in Dublin and one in Athlone, and both of them, having read a review of the book, decided independently that they would buy it for me. And so, An Post came one day with two copies. It was in the middle of the lockdown, and I could not move from the house but I filled my time reading, pondering and reflecting, and deciding that this should be the book of 2020. It deserves to be on the bestseller lists for weeks.
My mind has been wholly engaged, and I have read and re-read so many sections of it.
Read it, reflect on it, and think again what should have been, what could have been, had all this evidence come out sooner. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
Mary O'Rourke is an author and a former government minister
The Arms Crisis of 1970: The Plot that Never Was, by Dr Michael Heney, Head of Zeus, €16.49