Rebel Hearts by Kevin Toolis (Non-Fiction)

Toolis’ chronicle of grim defiance is a perfect book. I didn’t say THE perfect, and I’m not calling it flawless, but, for me, a text that deepens my experience of familiar stories and songs, fills me with the desire to learn more, and, at the same time, also forces me to question my most fundamental values, that’s the essence of what I want when I read.

Now that Toolis has filled the ocean of gaps in my schema about the IRA and Ireland’s Troubles, I want to re-watch The Wind that Shakes the Barley, Michael Collins, and Hunger. I’m ready to re-read Adrian McKinty’s, Hidden River, and his Dead Well I May Be series, not to mention Stuart Neville’s, Ghosts of Belfast.  I’d get the nuances now–at least some of them.

I’ve already listened with new ears to The Tossers,’ Long Dim Road, and songs like “A Night on Earth (which uses the chorus from “The Fields of Athenry”), “Wedding,” and “Ciara” have gained a harrowing resonance.

Rebel Hearts, published in 1995, at the dawn of the current cease-fire and Good Friday Agreement,  has filled me with questions. I want to know what’s changed. How much did Northern Ireland benefit in the Celtic Tiger boom years? Has there been a resurgence in  tensions since the Tiger’s collapse?  I wonder if lifelong prejudices have died, and if so, what has replaced them. I see many more Northern Ireland books in my future.

I’m a pacifist; I know that we cannot do violence to another without doing violence to ourselves, and I know that’s true no matter how noble our ideals.

Yet, I grew up poor. I’ve seen people twisted by frustration and despair into lives they never wanted. I can’t remember the moment I realized that I had control over my life’s course, but I remember my determination to never feel the suffocating sense of  powerlessness I’d known before it.

When I put myself back into that memory,  a mad panicking bird starts beating itself to death on my ribcage. If I had to feel that all the time–with no hope of legal recourse against institutional violence, harassment, and discrimination–while watching those I love wither from futility and desperation–all the philosophies that I’ve had the luxury of time and education to develop, would fragment and burn.

Under those conditions, who knows what I would do?


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