Firstly, it was scary how little I knew about what the Troubles had been like in 1972. Born the following year, only the occasional event has made it onto my timeline. To be unaware of the sheer level of violence, scale of bombings, and the number of people and families affected in those days troubled me.
The second scary aspect involved the details of what Malachi personally witnessed and experienced as he lived in his family home, and as he started work as a journalist on The Sunday News alongside colleagues Jim, Stephen, Paddy, Rick and Eddie.
It’s a dark book about a dark time in Northern Ireland’s history. As Malachi looked back at the paper’s output from that year with the benefit of hindsight, he found analysis that was surprisingly accurate alongside stories that failed to get to the truth of situations and events. And then there were the stories that titillated the normally conservative NI readers as they pored over their Sunday paper.
While its daily stable mate, The Newsletter, can still be safely described as a unionist paper, The Sunday News was less easily characterised, employed a mixed staff and reported a wider range of opinions and stories.
For Malachi, normality meant living cheek by jowl with IRA volunteers who sometimes wanted to spend the night hiding in his front room to throw off the scent of the army. It meant being able to drink in republican establishments. It meant hearing things and seeing people that somehow didn’t feel right to bring up in conversation or stories in his working life at the paper. The moral dilemma was real, and Malachi doesn’t shy away from examining it in the book.
Those familiar with Malachi’s voice off the radio (or his occasional podcast) will hear his tongue in cheek tone each through the pages of the book. It’s a fascinating – if disturbing – read, with enough levity to dilute the more traumatic passages and keep you reading to the giggle at the very end.