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...
(The entire section is 1724 words.)