On the street in West Belfast


The Street and other stories
By Gerry Adams
Brandon Books, Co. Kerry. 1992. 159pp.
Reviewed by Sean Healy

Until now, the books of Gerry Adams, the president of the Republican party Sinn Fein, have focused on one aspect or another of the struggle for Irish independence. Pathway to Peace, for instance, looks at a few realistic scenarios for a peaceful British withdrawal from Ireland. The Politics of Irish Freedom examines a number of questions (British economic domination, the role and nature of the loyalist community in the north, the links between republicanism and socialism) from an overall political and theoretical framework. Others writings, such as Cage Eleven, have focused on Adams' own experience in the struggle.

This collection seems completely different: a series of short stories about daily life in Northern Ireland, and more particularly in nationalist West Belfast. The stories are not autobiographical. Many are not overtly political, either in what they address or by implication. Nor does there seem to be any real thematic link between them, other than their setting.

What Adams has done is to put together a series of very fine and human glimpses of life in occupied Ireland. What most impressed me was how well Adams seems to understand people — as individuals, not just in a general sense. Here is someone who knows who he's talking about.

"Does he take sugar?" looks at the life of a boy with Downs syndrome. "Just a game" tells the story of the St Patrick's under 14 hurling club, "Exiles" that of an elderly Irishman wanting to return to his birthplace. "Says she to me" recounts a conversation about a woman long dead.

Some of the stories are funny — like "How Paddy McGlade entered into a state of Grace". Some are sentimental — "Shane", about a dog taken from his master. Others are very real: "Monday Morning" reminds me of my own local

dole office.

My favourite is "The Rebel", which describes the politicisation of a woman in her 50s after the arrest and beating of her 20-year-old son, and how that process transforms her self-image and relations with her family and gives her a sense of purpose.

The stories deal with issues on a down-to-earth, human level, and it do it very well. This book is well worth a read: it reminds you what politics is all about.