I read Malachi O’Doherty’s account of The Telling Year (Belfast 1972) nearly three years ago. At the time I realised how little I knew about what happened in Northern Ireland the year before I was born, unaware of the sheer level of violence, scale of bombings, and the number of people and families affected in those days.
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.
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.
The good news is that The Telling Year is now available for the Kindle … a bargain at £3.50!
Those familiar with Malachi’s voice off the radio - or his interviews as BBC Louis MacNeice Writer in Residence at QUB - 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.