Naming the Names by Anne Devlin

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(Short Stories for Students)

‘‘Naming the Names’’ appears in Irish writer Anne Devlin’s collection of short stories, The Way-Paver. Like much of Devlin’s work, the story is set during the recent conflict in Northern Ireland. In 1969, a civil rights campaign by Catholics, who are in the minority in Northern Ireland, led to riots in Derry and Belfast. The British Army was sent to both cities to keep the peace between Catholics and Protestants (who form the majority). The Irish Republican Army (IRA) began a terrorist campaign to force the British out of the province and unite the north of Ireland with the Republic of Ireland in the south. Nearly three decades of violence has ensued.

In ‘‘Naming the Names,’’ the protagonist is Finn, a young Catholic woman in Belfast who gets caught up in the sectarian conflict. When she forms a friendship with a young Englishman who is studying the history of Ireland, her romance tragically intersects with her commitment to the republican cause. ‘‘Naming the Names’’ is a story about love and betrayal and the complex web of history that draws so many people into murderous conflict. Ultimately, Finn is forced by her own conscience to face up to her own guilt and take responsibility for the death she caused.


(Short Stories for Students)

‘‘Naming the Names’’ begins on a late August day in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The narrator, Finn, arrives at her place of work, a used bookstore in the Falls, a Catholic area of the city. She is late and is thinking about the fact that a young man she knows has not called her in three weeks. Her supervisor Miss Macken gives her a job to do; it is just a routine day at the store.

A flashback follows, as the Catholic Finn recalls how she first met this young Protestant man. He was a graduate student at England’s Oxford University, and he was doing research in Irish history. Finn helped him to obtain the books he needed. They became friends and used to meet twice a week in a café. They eventually began a tentative love affair, even though Finn had a boyfriend, Jack, and the young man had a girlfriend, Susan, in Oxford.

Back in the bookstore in the present, Finn hears the latest gossip from her co-worker Chrissie, who gets it from Mrs. O’Hare, the cleaner, who appears to know everyone’s business. Mrs. O’Hare alludes to the sectarian troubles in the city when she tells them that a Protestant employee is being transferred from their area to somewhere else. Chrissie disapproves of this because she thinks it will start to create a Catholic ghetto.

On her own again, Finn reflects on her relationship with Jack, whom she has not seen for a long time. He is an English journalist and is currently visiting the United States.

Next, Finn hears that her young historian friend has called her and left a message with Chrissie. Finn calls him back. Then she recalls the first time she took him back to her house.

That evening, Finn meets her friend in the park. She is nervous and her stomach is in a knot. He explains why he did not call for a while. Because he lived in England, he thought their relationship was not very satisfactory and he did not want to be unfair to her. He tells her he is getting married at the end of the summer. Finn walks away from him and goes home, wishing she had ended the romance earlier.

The next morning at work, Miss Macken and Chrissie discuss the news that a man was murdered in the neighborhood the previous night. The victim was Finn’s young English friend. At lunch time the police arrive and question Finn. Finn tells them that on the afternoon of the previous day, she told a man she knew who came to the bookstore that she could ‘‘get him to the park.’’ The implication is that the person she refers to is the murdered man, her own friend. The police escort...

(The entire section is 1,022 words.)