While modesty might cause him to resile from the description, how Richard English described Ernie O'Malley is appropriate for Crawley - an IRA intellectual. When he writes or speaks in either a formal or informal setting, the eyes focus or the ears prick up to catch what is being transmitted.
When in the IRA he loathed being referred to as The Yank so it might seem odd that the title of his autobiography would be just that. But there is a purpose to it. Unlike an unwieldy title such as We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, it is the distillation of brevity. More than two decades on from reading Philip Gourevitch's stellar work on the Rwandan genocide, I still have to check if I have the title correct. That will not happen with The Yank. Moreover, the name John Crawley might not have resonated with every republican, the nom de guerre The Yank, if not the person, was known to all. His trajectory, commitment, prowess, gloves on philosophy and willingness to sustain deprivation and risk death conferred on him an iconic status within the republican activist community.
When along with my wife, I attended the launch in Monaghan in September of last year, the turnout was enormous. If I was ever part of a larger gathering for a book launch, I no longer remember it. Such was the seriousness with which the thinking of John Crawley was received. While I would not share his views on the centrality to republicanism of nationalism, he is no reactionary. I find myself hesitant to embrace the passion with which he articulates the case. Yet, from within the republican constituency - that which dissents from the joint constitutional nationalist-British conceived Good Friday Agreement - there is no finer advocate. Because John Crawley is a craftsman at work, it is either genuinely impossible or parsimoniously churlish to deny the dexterity with which he applies himself to the task.
What makes this book such a seminal work is that for decades republicans were subject to self congratulatory leadership waffle, basically pissing down the scarred backs of those who were whipped mercilessly for the cause while fraudulently claiming they were administering a balm. The Yank does to the false narrative of a superlative military leadership what Blanketmen by Richard O'Rawe did to the self-serving leadership narrative of the hunger strike - upended it. Combined, both works have compelled perfidy and dissembling to walk the plank. Now, The Wank has been shunted offstage by The Yank, and public understanding is immeasurably enhanced as a result.
Unbeknown to ourselves, languishing on the blanket protest and bored out of our tree, at the end of May 1979 John Crawley had parted company with the US Marines, with whom his relationship was purely instrumental, and was travelling to Ireland to join the ranks of the IRA to whom he wanted to be genuinely betrothed. His marriage to the Marines was one of convenience. His love affair with the IRA was not some fleeting dalliance. Expecting to find a jet engine powering the armed struggle he found Icarus. The engine was available but the chief pilots preferred wings made of wax. When things got too hot . . .
At almost three hundred pages in length, the book's central thesis is the leadership-led incompetence of the Provisional IRA. Crawley is unrelenting in his dissection of leadership. Martin McGuinness who was characterised by the British and republicans alike as some exalted military entity emerges from the book much in the manner once described by Warren Buffet: only when the tide goes out do you discover who's been swimming naked.
The careerist cartel, now firmly in control of Sinn Fein, is not spared the wrath of Crawley. The reader can detect an anguish born out of authentic sensitivity, not self pity, at how so much investment was siphoned off and into the deep career pockets of ambitious politicians who are now willing to see prosecuted in British no-jury courts activists of the Bobby Sands generation if career enhancement is the reward for doing so.
Part of John Crawley's story is about travelling to Ireland in the Valhalla where he was subsequently captured close to the coastline, spending the following ten years in prison before going on to top up his incarceration with a few more years in English and Irish jails. While we can be certain that there is no such thing as an afterlife, if the Valhalla of the Vikings existed, this IRA warrior would feast at the banquet of the gods.
John Crawley, 2022, The Yank: My Life as a Former US Marine in the IRA. Merrion Press. ISBN-13: 978-1785374234
|⏩Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.|