Falls Memories

FALLS MEMORIES, subtitled “A Belfast Life,” is something of a paradox. Gerry Adams, the leading spokesman for Sinn Fein, the political arm of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and frequently accused of being a terrorist himself, has written a book which is both surprising and predictable. Surprising because politicians rarely write so engagingly about their childhood and predictable because FALLS MEMORIES is also a brief for the radical nationalist cause in Northern Ireland.

First published in the British Isles in 1982, FALLS MEMORIES combines history and autobiography with a definite point of view. Organized chronologically, Adams relates the story of the Falls Road neighborhood of West Belfast from its earliest days, focusing particularly upon the era of industrialization and the struggle between labor and capital and the often endemic violence between nationalist and unionists. His own early life takes up about half the volume.

Although Sinn Fein and the IRA deny any religious bias or affiliation, nationalists in Northern Ireland of the 1990’s are largely Catholic, though that was not always true. FALLS MEMORIES gives considerable insight into what it was like for a young Catholic boy to grow up in a lower- working-class neighborhood in a society dominated by a Protestant majority. Yet what most impresses the reader is not the political commitments of the author—which are readily apparent—or even the uniqueness of growing up in Belfast with its historic, religious, and class divisions, but the universal experiences of youth.

Readers will find FALLS MEMORIES rewarding. The truce proclaimed by the IRA in the late summer of 1994 has raised the hopes for peace for the first time in twenty-five years, and Adams has thus come into public prominence on both sides of the Atlantic. As a portrait of a young boy and man in mid-twentieth century Ireland, the story also has an intrinsic interest of its own.