Insider: Lurking Misgivings

Book Review: Insider: Gerry Bradley’s Life in the IRA, by Gerry Bradley & Brian Feeney

There must have been a fair measure of creative chemistry between Brian Feeney and Gerry Bradley which propelled this most welcome book onto the shelves. It is easily one one of the most absorbing literary works yet produced on the Provisional IRA, its appeal enhanced by a refreshing lack of drudgery or academic turgidity.

Brian Feeney, an academic and historian, is an experienced writer and analyst. Gerry Bradley has wielded many things in his gloved hands during the decades he spent in the IRA, but a pen seemed not to feature amongst them. As IRA commander of the organisation’s 3rd Belfast Battalion in the early 1970s, his patience was paper thin when it came to paperwork. Yet the fusion between Bradley and Feeney has resulted in a great read – Insider: Gerry Bradley’s Life in the IRA. There is not much from the voluminous output on the IRA that I have not read. This features among the best.

From its opening pages the flowing narrative of Insider has the ring of authenticity to it. Virtually everything Bradley conveyed to Feeney can be independently verified including IRA plots to kill Brian Faulkner. Bradley, like many others relaying their own account, may have shaded some things his own way but not a lot. In Feeney he would have faced a tight filter equipped with a historian’s feel for narratives.

Bradley was a Provisional IRA member from the organisation’s fledgling days when it found itself evolving out of the local defence committees in Belfast. He journeyed with the organisation right through its republican phase but found himself at odds with the Provisional exit from the republican orbit for pastures newer but hardly greener. He was well placed to bring to the light of day some of the IRA’s more shrouded activities.

His scathing criticism of the IRA’s internal security department as pub-anchored torturers is merely putting into the public record what many volunteers have said in private. Equally so his scathing characterisation of some senior IRA figures involved in directing operations as grossly incompetent.

It was awkward reading Bradley’s disdain for Charlie McKiernan. Yes McKiernan, a comrade of Bradley, during the supergrass phenomenon of the 1980s did provide information which led to the book’s co-author spending a period on remand in Crumlin Road Prison. He was so devastated by McKiernan’s ‘treachery’ as he termed it that upon release he took time out from the IRA and went to the US where he ended up getting shot after a pub dispute with somebody the worse for wear. But for the skill of a New York surgeon he would have died.

McKiernan quickly withdrew his offer to testify and Bradley was freed but scarred. He carries the McKiernan let down heavily. Yet those of us who know Charlie McKiernan and spent a long time in prison with him came to see human frailty rather than treachery as the moving spirit behind his decision to cooperate with the RUC. Like so many other IRA volunteers he found the road too rocky to travel.

Contemplating today’s armed republicans Bradley makes a powerful observation. It is a statement that will cause more republicans to reflect than any amount of screaming ‘traitors’ at them:

"The war is over and there is little support for starting it again. Guys who want to start it again – what are they going to do different from what we did and why do they think they’ll do it any better?"

Gerry Bradley came under pressure when this book was released. He was openly accused of being a ‘tout’ for having written it. The allegation was rubbish. The book is in fact a very pro-IRA book written from the perspective of an IRA volunteer. It is critical of neither the IRA campaign nor the volunteers involved. It poses the question of what the campaign was for when so little was achieved at the end of it.

The real reason Insider drew the ire of some former associates down on Bradley’s head was not because he ‘broke the IRA code’ as those who have broke it most are fond of lecturing us. In fact he revealed very little about those he worked with and quite a bit about himself. It is due to Bradley’s ability to discern the massive strategic failure that befell the IRA, something his critics lack, preferring, as they do, to amble alongside the myth that the effort expended produced a result worthy of it. His speaking out forces them to face awkward truths they would prefer stay buried.

As the post war years extend, and with little to show for it in terms of the North becoming less British, the failure of the IRA campaign is likely to become a common sense assumption, prompting more former volunteers to take the path walked by Gerry Bradley and vent lurking misgivings that have never been satisfactorily addressed.

Gerry Bradley & Brian Feeney. Insider: Gerry Bradley’s Life in the IRA. O’Brien: Dublin. ISBN 978-1-84717-075-0

Review first published in Fortnight, under the title Lurking Misgivings July/August 2010


  1. I read this book when it first came out a few years ago Anthony,I dont have any lasting memories of it,other than comments from friends and republicans from the New lodge area,some people who know Gerry say he should have consulted with the families of people mentioned in the book,it probably would have been the decent thing to do,I think in the upcoming years we are going to be seeing a lot more of these books.I wasnt that impressed if truth and memory be told Anthony.

  2. Marty,

    I am never sure what can be achieved by consulting the families. It seems to give families a certain veto which defeats the purpose of the book and which can also be manipulated by elements who do not want their role questioned. I understand the sensitivities but feel it is something that little can be done about if people are intent on writing. In this book it is hard to see what Gerry Bradley actually did that harmed the families.

  3. I actually really liked the book and feel it was much needed. I always wanted to read a book about a little known volunteer and about the on the ground operations, cells, ASUs etc. Nothing worse for an outsider like me to read a book on the war and have to go through endless details on framework documents, hume-adams talks, mitchell principles, downing st declarations and all that other sleep inducing crap. This book had great action, operations and the like. Definitely a must read for anyone looking to get an understanding of the Belfast IRA.

  4. reading means a lot to me, i can not go against anyone putting a book togeather- no mean feat, if
    people are opposed for some reason then they should not buy or read the book, but the book should be wrote, a book is about life and how ones cope with there life, i
    some times think that know all's
    buy certain books just to be offended, know all's know fcuk all.

    take your point on familys am, i don't know any family that agrees
    100% on anything, be it football
    teams, politics or what X factor
    person to support,
    when volunteers died some family members wanted a military funeral
    others did not, their was one fellow who said that there would be no flag on his brothers coffin
    in case it offended his work mates,
    his parents went ahead with the military funeral.
    so if 2 family members were for the book and 3 were against it, who
    does the author follow, always write, the more to read the better,
    reading the associate by john crisham, back now for another couple of chapters.

  5. There has to be sufficient material out there at this stage for a researcher to compile a solid work on life in the 'RA. Not the sanitised we believe our own propoganda type of thing that masks the rubbish going on at Stormont at present.

  6. I agree, I enjoyed this book too, it stood on my book shelf for some months unread, as I had prejudged it as not being up to much. I was wrong about that and both Gerry Bradley and Brian Feeney deserve much credit for this, they must have built a good relationship.

    I understand Marty's point about not remembering much of what was in the book, but could this be because what the book got across so well, was the hours of sheer boredom of life in the IRA. Endless hours of hanging about and then being stood down. Sitting for days in a safe house, or often only escaping the clutches of a British patrol, by some quirk of fate. The minutes of exhilaration when a job goes well seem a very poor return.

    I feel we would all benefit from more of this type of book, for the first time in history you have a generation of working class republicans who fought a long war. We need, no history demands their experiences are published for all to read and placed in the public record.

    All history is subjective, sadly to date the history of the fighting men and women of the PIRA has mainly been propaganda slanted to the leaderships advantage, or it has been used as a weapon to expose that leaderships perceived treachery.

    It is time for the simply truth and Bradley and Feeney's book falls into that category.

    (By the way, it is a scandal the Adams leadership have not published the fine detail of all the negotiations the Provo leaderships had with the representatives of the UK State during the long war.)

  7. No probs Mick I happen to have a copy ,here it is quoted in verbatim,Army council of pira,"Can I have a holiday home and loadsa dosh?"" "me to""me to""and me to""mise fosta""aye me as well""here boys me to"Govt negotiator"I must say you chaps really do put up a united front in pushing for what you want,I shall foward your demands to the cabinet ,and I,d be hopefull we can accomidate you gentlemen"P O Neill then breaks out the jammy dodgers biscuits and passes them out.

  8. I know Mick but thats how it ended up, those connected and loyal to Adams got either elected as mla,s or cushy community jobs, those whoe spoke out or walked away were/are demonised,and no help forthcoming from ex prisoners groups whatsoever,it really is a rerun of Animal farm.P.S good to hear from you again hope your well a cara.

  9. Ryan,

    I think its lack of pretentiousness adds to its quality.


    some good points there on the type of mosaic that is a family make up. Like you I love to read. 'Means a lot' is a good way to put it.

  10. Mick

    'I feel we would all benefit from more of this type of book, for the first time in history you have a generation of working class republicans who fought a long war. We need, no history demands their
    experiences are published for all to read and placed in the public record.'

    I think this frames the issue very well. What sort of history would be recorded if it was left to the official historians? If for no other reason, an understanding of the past might help people do things differently in the future.

  11. As a former Combatant and POW myself, I found Whitey's book interesting and it helped shine a light on life as a Volunteer in Belfast.

    The only issue I had with the book, was the naming and identifying a New Lodge Republican without his Clann's knowledge was very hurtful to them. After all, they'd lost their Dad violently and in my opinion deserved better chara.

    Although in saying that, I hope to see more books about the War from former Oglaigh.

  12. Ardoyne Republican,

    I don't see how Gerry Bradley can be criticised on this point and I appreciate that you are making it in the most observational of tones nad not with any rancour.

    If we are talking about the same republican he was a well known acitvist from the 1970s, had escaped from custody and was high on the wanted list. I know when he was killed there was a lof of republican anguish because of his past. The New Lodge activists were under no illusions and the RUC gave some of them abuse about the UVF killiing a former comrade.

    Gerry Bradley did not name the guy in a way that anybody would be ashamed of. He identified him as a former IRA volunteer now deceased. What better could Gerry Bradley have gave the clan?

    I know there is no one right way to handle these issues. I think Michaelhenry pointed out some of the complexities and nuances involved. For me Gerry Bradley was not at fault.

  13. I just picked this book up at IrishFest in Milwaukee! Nearly fainted when I looked at some of the photographs! Great to see something coming out of North Belfast, in particular Unity Flats and the New Lodge. So much of the "History" is focused on the Falls and the Adamistas. Some days the Falls Rd felt like a different planet to what was happening on the New Lodge/Unity Flats. Interesting point Gerry made about the internal prejudice that North Belfast volunteers were "too sectarian". You don't say Jamesy...Great read.

  14. why shouldnt whitey write a book,adams has written plenty of books and named quite a few people,does this mean adams is a tout.whitey is no tout and thats a fact.he was simply trying to portray how life was for a combatant on the ground and i think he portrayed that day to day existence quite well.

  15. Brendan

    ‘he was simply trying to portray how life was for
    a combatant on the ground and i think he portrayed that day to day
    existence quite well’

    Portrayed it brilliantly

  16. Brendan

    ‘he was simply trying to portray how life was for
    a combatant on the ground and i think he portrayed that day to day
    existence quite well’

    Portrayed it brilliantly

  17. I am that much out of the loop that I had only glimpsed Gerry's book on my few and far between ventures onto Amazon to actually buy topical books.

    I earned my first $30 from Helium for writing some dross about Chin-up bars, so hopefully it will be enough to purchase a copy of Gerry's book tonight. All being well I will have it in my possession by this time next week and I will know more of Gerry Bradley's story.

  18. I've just finished Gerrys (whitey's)book, could'nt put it down.
    Always on my mind while reading it, was the fact that whitey was no longer with us, and the circumstances of his death. One thing that struck me about the book was its sense of total honesty, and in someway a window into whiteys soul...the naked person. Every thing good and bad stripped bare. This,for me, kind of showed where whitey was in his life, at the time of writting...exasperated,dejected, sold out, let down. His life was the republican movement, and in the end..he couldnt have been farther removed from it. Its a personal journey, told without airs or graces. He walked the walk, and in the end left us with a book, that in years to come, will be seen as an important historical contribution. RIP Gerry Bradley..

  19. Feargal,

    I was talking with a guy yesterday who is doing a re-read of the book and said it has even more meaning for him this time around. It is a very readable book. It was a disgrace that he was hounded for it by people who decided to go Stick.

    'exasperated, dejected, sold out, let down.'

    That to me was palpable throughout. And it is that sentiment that the powers that be do not want out. They will keep suppressing it if they can at every turn.

    'He walked the walk, and in the end left us with a book, that in years to come, will be seen as an important historical contribution.'

    Sums up how many feel.