Christopher Owens ✒ What a great idea for a book.


One of the more obscure facts about the conflict is that the Provisionals did attack British bases in Europe. Although nowhere near as frequent as some would have liked, they certainly generated publicity for the Republican Movement and demonstrated the ability of the Provisionals to move the war beyond bombing London.

So, a tome dedicated to this particular angle has potential to shed some new light, not only on the Provisionals but also on the various intelligence services involved. What could go wrong?

Well, things get off to a bad start with this clunker:

For a long time, but more intensively since late 1968, the Catholic community, led by the Derry-based Civil Rights Association, had been protesting against institutional suppression of and discrimination against Catholics…with the ultimate aim of seeing the 32 counties of the Republic of Ireland be reunited with the six counties of Ulster to form a united Ireland.

Firstly, Ireland does not have a total of 38 counties. Secondly, NICRA did NOT aim for unification. It’s aims were:

1. One man, one vote.

2. An end to gerrymandering.

3. Prevention of discrimination in the allocation of government jobs.

4. Prevention of discrimination in the allocation of council housing.

5. The removal of the Special Powers Act.

6. The disbandment of the B Specials.

As Eamon McCann has repeatedly expressed, the demands were intentionally framed as British rights: the notion that the people of Belfast deserve the same rights enjoyed by the people of Birmingham. This was done in order to sidestep the usual ‘orange/green’ narrative and make it akin to the civil rights marches in America at the time. Admittedly, NICRA did later adopt a more nationalist tone in the wake of internment and Bloody Sunday (for obvious reasons). However, it is factually incorrect to say that it began with such intentions and, by doing so, Farr inadvertently reveals himself to subscribe to the baloney claim about the movement being controlled by the IRA.

Here’s how Farr deals with August 1969 (while sprouting the same cliches about I Ran Away and no mention of how ex-members were fighting alongside current members):

After three days of sustained rioting in the Catholic Bogside district of Derry and the death of a Belfast man, Herbert Roy, at the hands of an IRA gunman, British Army troops were sent to Northern Ireland… 

Such a bald statement, alongside the previous NICRA claim, is designed to imply to the reader that the IRA were largely responsible for August 1969. Hence there is no mention of the fact that Herbert Roy was involved in the rioting. And no mention of the likes of Patrick Rooney, Hugh McCabe, John Gallagher, Samuel McLarnon, Michael Lynch, Gerard McAuley (all Catholic) or even David Linton (Protestant)? Now why would that be?

Unbelievably, that’s not all.

Farr also claims that: “…the first ever IRA General Army Convention was held…in December 1969.” Yet, according to Des Dalton, two had already been held in 1965 and 1968 respectively. Oh, and Farr describes Bloody Sunday as an event where “…the Parachute Regiment…opened fire on a mixture of innocent protestors and IRA volunteers…killing twelve Catholics”. It was actually thirteen, with one dying later on. 

All of these occur within the first four pages of the introduction. Combined with various other stupid mistakes throughout (Frizzells was a fish shop and not a butchers, the FBI video of Gerry McGeough purchasing missiles shows another IRA man made the claim about representing the Provisional and not McGeough, quoting Sean O’Callaghan), leading me to severely question the main narrative which, considering the subject matter, is written in a laborious style and the reader finds themselves feeling incredibly bored when reading about Gibraltar as well as attacks in Germany and Holland

Curiously, in the acknowledgement section, he writes that “…Ed Moloney…provided valuable insights into the political and strategic issues that drove the IRA’s campaign in Europe…” Yet Moloney posted the following to the Irish Republican Education Forum: 


And, with Farr depicting Adams as realising, by the late eighties, that the war could not be won, one wonders if Farr actually bothered reading the entirety of A Secret History of the IRA.

Flirting between partisanship and neutrality, littered with mistakes that would make any semi-serious student of the conflict wince and shabbily written/edited, this should be approached with extreme caution.

Steven J Farr, 2021, The Overseas Department: The Provisional IRA on Active Service in Europe, Self-published, ISBN-13: 979-8572196658.

⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist. 

The Overseas Department

Christopher Owens ✒ What a great idea for a book.


One of the more obscure facts about the conflict is that the Provisionals did attack British bases in Europe. Although nowhere near as frequent as some would have liked, they certainly generated publicity for the Republican Movement and demonstrated the ability of the Provisionals to move the war beyond bombing London.

So, a tome dedicated to this particular angle has potential to shed some new light, not only on the Provisionals but also on the various intelligence services involved. What could go wrong?

Well, things get off to a bad start with this clunker:

For a long time, but more intensively since late 1968, the Catholic community, led by the Derry-based Civil Rights Association, had been protesting against institutional suppression of and discrimination against Catholics…with the ultimate aim of seeing the 32 counties of the Republic of Ireland be reunited with the six counties of Ulster to form a united Ireland.

Firstly, Ireland does not have a total of 38 counties. Secondly, NICRA did NOT aim for unification. It’s aims were:

1. One man, one vote.

2. An end to gerrymandering.

3. Prevention of discrimination in the allocation of government jobs.

4. Prevention of discrimination in the allocation of council housing.

5. The removal of the Special Powers Act.

6. The disbandment of the B Specials.

As Eamon McCann has repeatedly expressed, the demands were intentionally framed as British rights: the notion that the people of Belfast deserve the same rights enjoyed by the people of Birmingham. This was done in order to sidestep the usual ‘orange/green’ narrative and make it akin to the civil rights marches in America at the time. Admittedly, NICRA did later adopt a more nationalist tone in the wake of internment and Bloody Sunday (for obvious reasons). However, it is factually incorrect to say that it began with such intentions and, by doing so, Farr inadvertently reveals himself to subscribe to the baloney claim about the movement being controlled by the IRA.

Here’s how Farr deals with August 1969 (while sprouting the same cliches about I Ran Away and no mention of how ex-members were fighting alongside current members):

After three days of sustained rioting in the Catholic Bogside district of Derry and the death of a Belfast man, Herbert Roy, at the hands of an IRA gunman, British Army troops were sent to Northern Ireland… 

Such a bald statement, alongside the previous NICRA claim, is designed to imply to the reader that the IRA were largely responsible for August 1969. Hence there is no mention of the fact that Herbert Roy was involved in the rioting. And no mention of the likes of Patrick Rooney, Hugh McCabe, John Gallagher, Samuel McLarnon, Michael Lynch, Gerard McAuley (all Catholic) or even David Linton (Protestant)? Now why would that be?

Unbelievably, that’s not all.

Farr also claims that: “…the first ever IRA General Army Convention was held…in December 1969.” Yet, according to Des Dalton, two had already been held in 1965 and 1968 respectively. Oh, and Farr describes Bloody Sunday as an event where “…the Parachute Regiment…opened fire on a mixture of innocent protestors and IRA volunteers…killing twelve Catholics”. It was actually thirteen, with one dying later on. 

All of these occur within the first four pages of the introduction. Combined with various other stupid mistakes throughout (Frizzells was a fish shop and not a butchers, the FBI video of Gerry McGeough purchasing missiles shows another IRA man made the claim about representing the Provisional and not McGeough, quoting Sean O’Callaghan), leading me to severely question the main narrative which, considering the subject matter, is written in a laborious style and the reader finds themselves feeling incredibly bored when reading about Gibraltar as well as attacks in Germany and Holland

Curiously, in the acknowledgement section, he writes that “…Ed Moloney…provided valuable insights into the political and strategic issues that drove the IRA’s campaign in Europe…” Yet Moloney posted the following to the Irish Republican Education Forum: 


And, with Farr depicting Adams as realising, by the late eighties, that the war could not be won, one wonders if Farr actually bothered reading the entirety of A Secret History of the IRA.

Flirting between partisanship and neutrality, littered with mistakes that would make any semi-serious student of the conflict wince and shabbily written/edited, this should be approached with extreme caution.

Steven J Farr, 2021, The Overseas Department: The Provisional IRA on Active Service in Europe, Self-published, ISBN-13: 979-8572196658.

⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist. 

8 comments:

  1. Def a must avoid at all costs , has Farr ever heard of Paisley , Gusty Spence ,Peter Ward , Silent Valley reservoir, or Ballyshannon power station,my advice to Farr would be a few honest facts ,a bit of research would be nice , otherwise stick that rubbish as you name says up your arse ,

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  2. I know they say never judge a book by its cover but this one is hardly inspiring ... now that Christopher has done over what's beneath the cover there will be no rush to add this one to the collection.

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  3. Dunno, by Christopher Owen's high standard's while I wouldn't say it was a "clunker" I will say it was a very poorly written review....He quotes Farr ....

    with the ultimate aim of seeing the 32 counties of the Republic of Ireland be reunited with the six counties of Ulster to form a united Ireland.

    Unless there was a glitch in the matrix, he wrongly claims Farr say's Ireland had 38 counties...

    Firstly, Ireland does not have a total of 38 counties.

    Then he goes to question what Farr said about Adams school of thought in the late 80's...

    And, with Farr depicting Adams as realising, by the late eighties, that the war could not be won, one wonders if Farr actually bothered reading the entirety of A Secret History of the IRA.

    If you fast forward Endgame In Ireland 1 - Bomb And Ballot Box, until 48mins 8 seconds, Gerry Adams admits in the late 80's his line of thought was the war couldn't be won....

    I wont go as far as saying this review was a clunker but it is very poor by Christopher's standard. I take on board it is a book with a lot od flaw's, badly worded etc...but it wasn't a great review.

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  4. Apologies to Christopher on my first point (I played a clunker by not reading it correctly)...

    But the 2nd point about Adams school of thought...That was his line of thought

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    Replies
    1. always good to see somebody cede on principle rather than stand on vanity. Good stuff Frankie

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  5. Frankie,

    considering Adams was talking to Alec Reid from 1982 and openly espoused the 'Long War' concept in 1983, I think he had already concluded that the war was impossible to win long before the late 80’s. That was the main point of ‘A Secret History…’

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  6. If Adams who no doubt was on the Army Council was of the opinion in say the mid 1980 s that the war could not be won then why needlessly send Volunteers out on missions that were obviously compromised by informers that ended in tragedy like Loughall and Clonoe, In this instance was it that the East Tyrone Brigade under Jim Lynagh and Paddy Kelly were going to break away because of the political path that Adams and Sinn Fein were obviously heading down. If so it is a repeat of the treachery leading up to the death of Joe Mc Donnell that is so well documented in 55 Hours

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    Replies
    1. That's the school of thought plus East Tyrone got sloppy. It was obvious to the Spooks that Loughall was to be hit after a house was bugged and one of them was seen in the Village. The real question then becomes one of legality in UK actions which is then very murky.

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