Essays and Criticism
Involvement of Women in the IRA During Conflict in Northern Ireland
In her article, ‘‘Women, War and Madness,’’ Elizabeth Doyle states that ‘‘Ambiguity about identity is a constant preoccupation in [Devlin’s] work.’’ The question of identity is particularly apparent in ‘‘Naming the Names.’’ In a time of civil unrest, Finn, the protagonist, is a confused young woman, pulled in different directions by sexual, romantic, familial, political, and religious pressures that disturb her deeply and eventually lead her astray.
The odds are stacked against Finn from the beginning. For some reason that she never satisfactorily explains, she was raised by her grandmother, even when her parents were still alive. This may in part have been due to that fact that her grandmother and her father were involved in a feud over her father’s choice of wife. But this also is unexplained.
Whatever the circumstances of her early life, at the age of about fifteen or sixteen, Finn was clearly unhappy. She sought security and love in sexual relationships. Until she met her boyfriend Jack, she was, as she puts it, ‘‘screwing around like there was no tomorrow.’’ She left school at the age of sixteen, when she might have been expected to stay on for two more years. The fact that she received six ‘‘Olevel’’ passes suggests her intelligence. (O-levels, an abbreviation for Ordinary Levels, were the exams taken by all British schoolchildren of that era at the end of the equivalent of tenth grade in an American school.)
Perhaps the most significant thing about Finn’s childhood was the fact that her grandmother had strong connections to Irish nationalist history. She passed this on to her granddaughter, awakening in Finn a strong interest in Irish history. Her grandmother told her of how she met Eamon de Valera, one of Ireland’s greatest freedom fighters, and she passed on stories of the hated British Black and Tans. After her grandmother’s death, Finn retained in her house a framed photograph of Countess Markievicz. Markievicz was one of the leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916, and she served several prison terms for her involvement in the nationalist cause. Finn’s grandmother visited Markievicz in prison.
Thus is the link created between Finn and Irish history. She herself gets a reputation at the bookstore for her knowledge of the subject. But the burden of it, the weight of the accumulated past, proves too much for her to carry. She feels the enclosing, stifling pressure of living in a city that is so beholden to the past, a city that nurses such ancient grievances. Much of this comes out in an unconscious way. Most significant is her nightmare, in which her grandmother grabs her hands and tries to pull her out of her bed. Finn resists fiercely and there is a desperate struggle between them. It is as if she is wanting to escape the world in which she was born and raised, and yet she cannot acknowledge this in her conscious mind. Later, when she is left alone in the police cell, she remembers the dream, and even the memory of it is powerful enough to cause her to faint.
This is clearly a young woman who is pulled between two worlds. The other world that tugs at her is the one that might be expected. Like any young person, Finn wants romance and love; she responds like any girl would when her lover says things like, ‘‘Your soul has just smiled in your eyes at me—I’ve never seen it there before.’’ But what Finn failed to realize when she first took up with this young Protestant man from England was that her two worlds would soon, inevitably, be on a collision course. She was already assisting the IRA, but what that organization would eventually ask her to do (or perhaps it was even she who instigated the plot) was not then within the bounds of her imagination. Indeed, she thought she was safe in other ways too. Since both she and the young man had lovers, she thought there would be no complications in their relationship.
Given the stifling and dangerous world in which Finn lives, it is clear that she does not have the maturity to navigate her way through it successfully. Much of the time, Finn is closed in on herself, emotionally speaking. She does not confide much in others, or say a great...
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In some ways, Anne Devlin has created her short story ‘‘Naming the Names’’ in the form of a murder mystery, inviting the reader to take on the role of the detective. She throws hints along the way, enticing readers to answer all the questions. These clues, however, are not easily detected even during a careful first reading. Most readers will have to make their way to the end of the story before the clues to the final outcome become fully comprehensible, thus making a second reading even more deeply appreciated.
The foreshadowing commences with the first line of the story. If the reader is to believe the protagonist, Finn McQuillen, the list of names presented represents the names of streets. This may be true. However, there is hidden meaning in the street names. Whether this is a coincidence or a conscious plan by Devlin is not clear; but by choosing these specific streets, a certain complex shadow casts itself on the reader’s mind, providing clues as to the state of Finn’s mind even before her clandestine activities are disclosed.
For instance, the first group of names includes Abyssinia, Belgrade, and Bombay, three names that bring to mind British colonial rule. Alma and Balaclava are names of British military regiments. Bosnia, of course, brings images of ethnic cleans ing. Later names include Gibson, Granville, Garnet, and Grosvenor, which one character mentions as being names of people involved with British foreign policy. The name Theodore could refer to the Abyssinian king who fought against the British army.
Names are very significant and very prominent in this story, but there are also more subtle clues and references throughout this story. For instance, Finn mentions that the used bookshop had at one time been an old cinema and that the only movie she remembers seeing there was A Town like Alice. This movie is about a British woman who becomes a prisoner of war during World War II. It is also a love story, a love torn apart because of the war, thus possibly referring to Finn’s own love affair. The message of the film is that one woman discovers that she can make a difference in the world, a theme that Finn might use to justify her involvement in the rebellion.
Another subtle foreshadowing involves the young girl who comes into the bookstore in search of murder mysteries. ‘‘I want three murders for my granny,’’ the girl states. Since Finn mentions her own grandmother several times in this story, there is an association between this young customer and Finn. When the girl chooses the book Murder in the Cathedral, she is told that it is not, in fact, a murder mystery but rather a book about martyrdom. How else would Finn describe her own role in the IRA other than to use the term ‘‘martyrdom’’?
One more subtle clue, cited in the same part of the story, is a statement by Miss Macken, the manager of the bookstore. She yells out to Finn, ‘‘Finnula, the Irish section’s like a holocaust! Would you like to do something about it.’’ Of course, Miss Macken is referring to the book section on Ireland. The books are probably out of order. However, her statement is right on target with Finn’s life. Finn probably believes that the British involvement in Ireland is like a holocaust, and she is determined to do something about it. This is not known by the reader at this point of the story; but it is as if, through incidents such as these, that Devlin projects Finn’s most inner thoughts onto the external reality, allowing the other characters to fill in the void created by Finn’s silence about what she is doing.
Finn’s political involvement is also foreshadowed with the mention of two books on orangeism, a movement throughout the United Kingdom that promotes Protestantism and an adherence to British rule. Orangeism is at the heart of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland. Finn’s first contacts with the young man, with whom she will become most intimate in this story, involves his search for two classic works on orangeism. Finn volunteers to hunt down these books.
It is during this same part of the narrative that Finn makes a curious statement, a statement that makes no sense until later on, closer to the end of the story. As she and the young man are negotiating the purchase of these books, she says, ‘‘I looked at the name and address [of the young man] again to make sure.’’ On first reading, one might either miss this statement or might ask what she meant by ‘‘I looked at the name and address again to make sure.’’ What is she making sure of? The young man’s name and address have nothing to do with the books, except that she might have to mail them to him. However, why would she have to make sure of his address to send books there? She’s not asking him to repeat his address...
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