Brandon Sullivan 🔖 with his take on a book previously reviewed on TPQ.


Christopher Owens did an excellent review which pointed out the books comparative short length. When I first read Up Like A Bird, I felt it would have made an excellent extended Sunday newspaper article rather than a book. Perhaps this was because I’d paid twenty euros for it in Dublin …

But anyway, the book has many good points, not least adding detail and personality to important figures in the recent conflict who have not received much attention.

When the LVF opened fire on doormen outside the Glengannon Hotel following the INLA killing of Billy Wright, they killed Seamus Dillon, who as the book details, was a useful and important member of the IRA, although it seems he had cut his ties with the Provisionals at the time of his death. Jim Monaghan also pops up, long before he became associated with FARC and Colombia. An Irish “Blue shirt” also appears, in a fascinating vignette of the tragedy of Irish history.

One of the more tragic parts of the book for me was the author’s esteem for Kevin Mallon and how it was that Mallon’s for him was ultimately revoked in the most petty, but hurtful, of ways (and in other, more tangible, actions).

The author’s attitudes towards the Gardai and prison staff was generally fairly positive, with some exceptions. The treatment of him and Mallon in Monaghan Garda stations might raise some eyebrows.

The first two thirds of the book deal with the IRA’s more palatable escapades: prison escapes, and the final chapters deal with the author’s life having left the IRA. As Christopher pointed out, they were in many ways ordinary people doing extraordinary things. IRA GHQ facilitates and IRA operations, and the author’s unit seems well supported by them. In return, the author provided solid results, and significant finances via bank robberies. This apparently mutually beneficial relationship is perhaps is what led to the author later falling out of favour with the leadership and his former comrades. The author requested financial support from GHQ, and it was not forthcoming in a way that was acceptable to him. For this of us familiar with the social background of many Belfast IRA volunteers, what GHQ offered may have seemed quite reasonable. But for a seasoned bank robber who had provided GHQ with several thousand times what was offered, it was not.

The author’s decision to go freelance was met with steely militaristic disapproval. That which had made Brendan Hughes an effective volunteer made him unacceptable as a rogue man on a mission to enrich himself. His reasons for leaving the Provisional fold are not convincingly conveyed in this book. The personal cost he paid in terms of jail time and social rejection, most certainly are.

A signification flaw in the book is what isn’t explored in more details. Sean O’Callaghan’s accusations of the author don’t merit much attention, but the accusations made against Kevin Mallon don’t feature at all. And the book contains photos taken by an embedded photo-journalist and were previously banned in the UK. This is told almost as an afterthought.

Until a revised, updated, and expanded version of this book is released, I highly recommend reading it. But for those on a budget, borrow rather than buy your copy.

⏩ Brandon Sullivan is a middle aged, middle management, centre-left Belfast man. Would prefer people focused on the actual bad guys.

Up Like A Bird

Brandon Sullivan 🔖 with his take on a book previously reviewed on TPQ.


Christopher Owens did an excellent review which pointed out the books comparative short length. When I first read Up Like A Bird, I felt it would have made an excellent extended Sunday newspaper article rather than a book. Perhaps this was because I’d paid twenty euros for it in Dublin …

But anyway, the book has many good points, not least adding detail and personality to important figures in the recent conflict who have not received much attention.

When the LVF opened fire on doormen outside the Glengannon Hotel following the INLA killing of Billy Wright, they killed Seamus Dillon, who as the book details, was a useful and important member of the IRA, although it seems he had cut his ties with the Provisionals at the time of his death. Jim Monaghan also pops up, long before he became associated with FARC and Colombia. An Irish “Blue shirt” also appears, in a fascinating vignette of the tragedy of Irish history.

One of the more tragic parts of the book for me was the author’s esteem for Kevin Mallon and how it was that Mallon’s for him was ultimately revoked in the most petty, but hurtful, of ways (and in other, more tangible, actions).

The author’s attitudes towards the Gardai and prison staff was generally fairly positive, with some exceptions. The treatment of him and Mallon in Monaghan Garda stations might raise some eyebrows.

The first two thirds of the book deal with the IRA’s more palatable escapades: prison escapes, and the final chapters deal with the author’s life having left the IRA. As Christopher pointed out, they were in many ways ordinary people doing extraordinary things. IRA GHQ facilitates and IRA operations, and the author’s unit seems well supported by them. In return, the author provided solid results, and significant finances via bank robberies. This apparently mutually beneficial relationship is perhaps is what led to the author later falling out of favour with the leadership and his former comrades. The author requested financial support from GHQ, and it was not forthcoming in a way that was acceptable to him. For this of us familiar with the social background of many Belfast IRA volunteers, what GHQ offered may have seemed quite reasonable. But for a seasoned bank robber who had provided GHQ with several thousand times what was offered, it was not.

The author’s decision to go freelance was met with steely militaristic disapproval. That which had made Brendan Hughes an effective volunteer made him unacceptable as a rogue man on a mission to enrich himself. His reasons for leaving the Provisional fold are not convincingly conveyed in this book. The personal cost he paid in terms of jail time and social rejection, most certainly are.

A signification flaw in the book is what isn’t explored in more details. Sean O’Callaghan’s accusations of the author don’t merit much attention, but the accusations made against Kevin Mallon don’t feature at all. And the book contains photos taken by an embedded photo-journalist and were previously banned in the UK. This is told almost as an afterthought.

Until a revised, updated, and expanded version of this book is released, I highly recommend reading it. But for those on a budget, borrow rather than buy your copy.

⏩ Brandon Sullivan is a middle aged, middle management, centre-left Belfast man. Would prefer people focused on the actual bad guys.

8 comments:

  1. Maybe there could be a bit more on the "mutually beneficial relationship"?

    " The author requested financial support from GHQ, and it was not forthcoming in a way that was acceptable to him. For this of us familiar with the social background of many Belfast IRA volunteers, what GHQ offered may have seemed quite reasonable. But for a seasoned bank robber who had provided GHQ with several thousand times what was offered, it was not."


    Sounds like a lot of greasing of palms and a fallout over the cut up of the booty. I suppose the regular foot soldiers in ASUS etc who never saw a penny obviously were not doing anything mutually beneficial, nudge, nudge. Sounds sleazy and self-serving.

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    1. Just in case my comments are misinterpreted as any sort of criticism of the reviewers, its not. Or that the book is anything other than how interesting the reviewers have portrayed it.

      I just find it distasteful to read of how money stolen for a cause was being skimmed by those who were understood to be volunteers who were not profiting from the armed struggle. Effectively, this person called Kevin Mallon comes across as a racketeer... something all those involved were labeled by opponents.







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  2. Thanks Brandon - from what you and Christopher both say it seems a worthwhile read. Hopefully you continue in the reviewing groove. It can seem daunting when setting out but quickly becomes so easy. There is no one way of doing it, just your own way.

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  3. Two excellent reviews. I ordered my copy when I read Christopher's review but was daunted by the price also when ordering online. The more stories like the one in this book the better our understanding.

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  4. @ Christy Walsh

    "Sounds like a lot of greasing of palms and a fallout over the cut up of the booty. I suppose the regular foot soldiers in ASUS etc who never saw a penny obviously were not doing anything mutually beneficial, nudge, nudge. Sounds sleazy and self-serving."

    It wasn't that - it was more a case of a volunteer reaching a personal breaking point where they respite and being offered (what he felt were) modest resources, despite providing huge resources for GHQ.

    With hindsight, I didn't make two points that add context to the author's predicament. The first is that he was wanted in the North and the South, and the second was that he was 29 years old - a mature age for an active volunteer, and married with a family.

    The book vividly illustrates the claustrophobia of men wanted across the whole Island of Ireland being hunted after an escape.

    What is interesting about the book is how it hasn't really left me. Some of the issues raised have posed intriguing questions, a bit like The Wind that Shakes the Barley.

    For example, could/should GHQ have felt obligated to financially reward volunteers who excelled in robberies for the cause? How could GHQ manage the competing personal and paramilitary requirements of a broad range of personalities whilst maintaining discipline and unity?

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    1. Brandon

      I would imagine if other IRA members knew they could get paid for carrying out robberies I would imagine there would have been a lot more taking place... and less focus on taking greater risks like attacking the security forces. It changes everything if certain IRA activities had greater or lesser financial rewards and back up or ancillary operators were valued more than front line troops so to speak? It also brings into question motivation, such as, using politics to sanitize criminal activity? Regardless of how nominal any payments might have been, the appearance of falling out over money, gives credence to Brit claims of profiteering and racketeering.

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  5. @ Christy Walsh

    "I just find it distasteful to read of how money stolen for a cause was being skimmed by those who were understood to be volunteers who were not profiting from the armed struggle. Effectively, this person called Kevin Mallon comes across as a racketeer"

    I perhaps wasn't clear enough. It was a case of a volunteer pulling off numerous successful robberies for the cause, and then feel aggrieved when his request for financial support to relocate was not what he expected.

    Mallon comes across as a capable, ruthless, but uncorrupted personality. The author comes across differently - but I think it's fair to say that he didn't skim from robberies committed on behalf of the IRA.

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    1. I've heard of a Fermanagh Vol. whose country cottage was destroyed when the Brits denotated a large bomb in an adjacent outhouse and who came up against similar challenges.
      Though the Vol. had lots of collateral in his land holding and had been approved for 'bridging finance' by JJ McGirl the arrangement was challenged and eventually overruled on Mallon's intervention. He (Mallon) argued that relocation finance couldn't be given to everyone therefore it ought not be given to anyone.

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