Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland

Patrick Radden Keefe

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland
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Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland

Patrick Radden Keefe

Winner of the 2019 NBCC prize in Nonfiction
Winner of the Orwell Prize for Political Writing 2019

One night in December 1972, Jean McConville, a mother of ten, was abducted from her home in Belfast and never seen alive again. Her disappearance would haunt her orphaned children, the perpetrators of the brutal crime and a whole society in Northern Ireland for decades.

Through the unsolved case of Jean McConville’s abduction, Patrick Radden Keefe tells the larger story of the Troubles, investigating Dolours Price, the first woman to join the IRA, who bombed the Old Bailey; Gerry Adams, the politician who helped end the fighting but denied his IRA past; and Brendan Hughes, an IRA commander who broke their code of silence. A gripping story forensically reported, Say Nothing explores the extremes people will go to for an ideal, and the way societies mend - or don’t - after long and bloody conflict.


Say Nothing, Patrick Radden Keefe’s examination of the Troubles in Northern Ireland from the late 1960s to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, won the 2019 Orwell Prize for Political Writing. Keefe, an Irish American, tries to understand how a small country could be so riven by violence. He uses one killing – of Jean McConville, a single mother in Belfast slain by the IRA as a suspected informant – to trace the conflict through the lives and deaths of two very different women: one the victim and the other, Dolours Price, one of the executioners.

Price was about twenty years old when she joined the IRA and she quickly became a member valued by the leadership. She robbed banks dressed as a nun and she planted bombs. Price was imprisoned for her part in the London bombings. McConville, by comparison, lived and died in obscurity. A widow and a mother of ten, McConville struggled in 1972 simply to keep her children clothed and fed. One night, a group of armed men and women came to her apartment and took her away over the protests of her children. She was never seen alive again. Her family still deny that she was an informant.

Keefe alleges that the abduction and murder of McConville was ordered by Irish politician Gerry Adams. For Price, the peace that came, in part brokered by Adams, delivered little return for what she gave to the IRA. The fate of these two women is a mirror of the tragedy of the Troubles. The prospect of Brexit and a ‘hard’ border raises the spectre of their potential return. Keefe’s book reads like a thriller and I challenge any reader not to be drawn into it.

Mark Rubbo is the managing director of Readings.

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