There are few books these days that I can find myself lost in, most suffer from feeling derivative, asinine, or just plain boring. Everyone thinks they can be a writer. So I was pleasantly surprised when I sat down to read The Yank and didn’t  stick my nose up again until I had finished it some hours later. 

An Irishman born in America, and US Marine turned IRA volunteer, Crawley’s account deftly balances the philosophical underpinning that drove a great many Irishmen to take up arms, weighed against the material necessities of waging guerrilla war against a major Western power, in more than just a historical recounting. It provides many lessons we can draw upon that remain true today.

Most of the attention in the media focuses on the eye-catching headlines, that he was part of an operation intending to destroy parts of the English power grid, or that he was told to set up a network to acquire arms with only £9000 – but in my view the more interesting take away from the book is the constant arguments on the need for professionalisation. No matter whether you’re fighting a war, running a political party, or starting a business, the need to constantly self-appraise, and the dissevering of the ego from proper administration, is critical to success.

Crawley’s book, while touching on the relationship between Britain’s intelligence agencies and loyalist death squads, focuses largely on the internal problems of the IRA, in a refreshingly unsentimental lens. It is neither boastful, apologetic, or anything other than one man’s experience.

Through Crawley’s testimony we see the disaster of the ego on proper organisation, most noticeably in  the reluctance of members of the Army Council refusing out of hand proper advice on the functioning of logistics and procurement, training and operating. 

Crawley notes on several times meeting with Martin McGuinness and coming away with a less-than-awestruck impression. Having sent Crawley to acquire M60s, McGuinness balks at the prices. ‘Accessories’ to fighting a war like radios, night vision, scopes, are all ignored in favor of a mismatched armoury of firearms and ammunition.

The failure to adopt proper methods is what holds back any nationalist movement in my estimation. A failure to promulgate rules and regulations, failure to provide standard methods and practices, failure to delineate clear areas of responsibilities and competencies, is what holds back the emergence of a successful organisational entity. And for that reason alone I would recommend reading Crawley’s book to see clear examples of why standardised modes, methods and practices need to be adopted.

Crawley touches on the republican/‘constitutional nationalist’ split but I think his analysis is wrong here. The author does correctly identify the strict difference between nationalism and republicanism in their original contexts but John does a disservice to Irish nationalism by pairing it off with Castle Catholics and rentiers as a stop-gap to the establishment of the Irish Republic declared in 1916. 

In its original guise, the United Irishmen did perhaps want to achieve a secular egalitarian Republic like the French (which is itself an area under dispute by some – given that the leadership were Protestant and most turned informant for the British but the ones pitched and burned were Catholics who received no quarter – the sacrifice of a relative handful of Protestants aside), but one must consider in context the developments before and since. Irish nationalism traces its lineage of separatism and resistance to the foreigners much, much earlier than 1798.

Crawley’s distinction makes sense if one classifies the Irish Parliamentary Party, Daniel O’Connell and the rest of the ‘moderates’ as nationalists – but this is an error in classification. Crawley (unintentionally) alludes to this when making reference to what republicanism’s defining characteristics are, and the misclassification in the public mind which places ‘militant nationalism’ as being a prerequisite to being a Republican. 

One cannot be a Nationalist and accept any less than the establishment of a whole and sovereign Gaelic Ireland, regardless of what you call yourself. No more than you can think 1+1=7 and consider yourself literate. 

While Crawley, and other courageous Republicans no doubt, may indeed have been motivated by the belief that the Republic is the superior form of government – there is the simple question, would you rather be ruled by a British republic or an Irish monarchy? 
I would go out on a limb and say that for most of us, we would instinctively prefer the latter to the former, and I would ascribe such beliefs to those who fought in 1916 and 1919 and 1594 and 1640 and ever unto the beginning of foreigners landing on the island. This does not and would not make us Monarchists, but rather highlights that the driving force behind the motivation, regardless of the adjectives used, is fundamentally nationalism

Posted by Gearóid Ó Briain


  1. Declan Hayes 09/09/2022 at 7:06 pm

    This is a review of two halves, with the first citing Crawley’s criticisms that PIRA were not as professional as they should have been and the second extrapolating from this book as to what is need for success in various fields.
    1. Maybe those who now run Sinn Fein from a West Belfast sheebeen got exactly what they wanted and they were fighting a different war than Crawley et al were. A lot of their erstwhile colleagues would so believe and would cite attacks on prisoners’ relatives (for having other sons in the INLA) and pilfering from them and setting them up for execution and beating others within an inch of their lives as evidence of that. They would also cite the mass infiltration of Sinn Fein after the H Block hunger strikes by Trotskyists, Revolutionary Struggle and similar types as evidence of that.
    2. Brendan Hughes’ Up Like a Bird cites two high profile escapes Crawley was central to: the helicopter escape of three wasters from the Joy and the Portlaoise bomb prison escape of 19 or so, where Hughes was one of the escapers. Hughes and others did homers, robbing for their own ends and, though some were punished for that, others did well, as their big North Dublin mansions can attest.
    3. Looking back, it is that a group of West Belfast punks, social climbers with guns, hijacked the civil rights’ struggle and did well by playing into the British hands of controlled chaos, where the Brits, who knew all about their sexual fetishes, controlled the outcome. Crawley and thousands of others were mere vehicles to power and fortune for them and any criticisms Crawley and others may level at them are put down to Eoghan Harris type sour grapes, which is quite amazing.
    4. The problem is with the Irish, most of whom have been bought off. When the European Commission stops printing money and using it to bribe the rabble, then the shtt will hit the fan when hard choices and patriotism, rather than Sinn Fein feathering their own nest, is needed.
    5. Property is one such area. Dublin is flooded with all types and the government and opposition want more to come in. TCDSU and the ICTU have no problem with that, even though their members lose out. Printing more money only creates jobs for ik and paper companies. Interest rates are going up. How will Sinn Fein handle that? Print more money?
    6. Crawley and others were betrayed,. It is how gombeen Ireland works in the shebeens of West Belfast as much as anywhere else in our green and indebted land.


  2. PatrickJKelly 10/09/2022 at 12:37 pm

    There is nothing brave about disabling a nations power supply . Think of the thousands of deaths it would cause . Does Crawley approve of American global imperialism ? Were the 9 / 11 hijackers ” brave ” ?
    The Open Border 26 counties are no more a nation than the 6 counties are .


  3. Ivaus@thetricolour 12/09/2022 at 6:08 pm

    This is your/our Ireland of 2022. A Failed State, North and South.
    A failed Republican, A failed Union and absolute failure politically.
    A total sellout to foreign influence and interests it will fail continually to
    establish any identity as it has proved throughout it’s past history.
    Stoking old coals will never ignite a flame and it’s because of this practice
    it’s youths have been duped with progressive liberalism,multiculturalism,
    globalism and communism…anything but the desire of a Nation and its
    There is only one game of play on the table that has any opportunity for
    a successful outcome, and if the youth of today cannot grasp what Pride
    in a Sovereign Nation means, it will mean the absolute destruction of
    Irish culture throughout the entire Island of Ireland…a homeless nation.
    The old boys game is up,they achieved nothing between them all and now
    is the time to move on from sad history and sad songs.
    Imagine waking up tomorrow,as many people do already in small towns,
    and be confronted in startling reality,that you are a stranger in your own
    Homelands, YOU ARE THE MINORITY, this was never an ideal for any
    Republican Unionist or Nationalist…it’s time now to work together for
    all,yourselves and families and the future legacy of Irish Generations.


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