Robert Adam’s new novel ‘On the Green Hill of Tara’ explores the beginning of Ireland’s formal relationship with the EEC. The backdrop to Ireland’s final accession application on 30 June 1970 was the second year of the Northern Ireland Troubles and in May of that year, the ‘Dublin Arms Crisis.’ This was the political scandal when members of Jack Lynch’s cabinet, no less, were caught running guns to the IRA in the North. You can purchase it here. Country Squire Magazine’s Alexia James interviews Robert.
AJ: What drove you to write the book?
RA: 1969-71 was a time when the final pattern that the Troubles would take was still unformed. The IRA and Sinn Fein both split over New Year 1969-70 following the breakaway of the arguably more militant and more nationalist Provisional wing. The Irish government got caught up in events north and south of the border too. They had to be seen to be doing something in the North, but were conflicted by their official opposition to the IRA, having been repressing them for fifty years.
AJ: I thought the IRA were a Northern Irish terror group?
RA: The IRA were part of the Irish independence struggle against Britain over 1916-21. Then they split and a more militant, more nationalist faction fought the new Irish Government between 1922-3 … because the terms of Ireland’s exit from the Union were too soft in their eyes. The withdrawal treaty in question didn’t provide for a clean break. No-one should say history doesn’t repeat itself …
Even after the end of the vicious civil war (they’re always vicious), the IRA didn’t go away, remaining as a low level threat to the Free State in the south. Foreshadowing future events, they conducted a bombing campaign in England (1939) and bomb, gun and arson attacks in Northern Ireland (1956-62).
AJ: So how did the Irish government get sucked into arming the IRA at the start of the Troubles?
RA: In summer 1969, when the riots in Northern Ireland kicked off, the Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, made noises about intervention. He signalled to Northern Catholics that the South would ‘no longer stand by.’ The Irish Army even did a military planning exercise, ‘Exercise Armageddon’, for a limited invasion of Northern Ireland.
On a more practical level, members of Lynch’s cabinet diverted Irish government aid money to buy arms on the Continent to supply to the insurgents in the North, careless as to which of the militant factions there received them.
However, the plan leaked and two of the cabinet ministers concerned, Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney, were arrested in May 1970 and put on trial.
AJ: How does the EEC come into it?
RA: As soon as the UK signalled in 1961 it wanted to join the EEC, Ireland was desperate to join too. Especially when the outline of the Common Agricultural Policy became clearer, including the height of the tariff wall which the EEC intended to build around itself, limiting agricultural imports from the outside.
Ireland was afraid of being cut off from their main export markets in UK and Germany. Eight hundred years’ of struggle for independence went by the wayside in less than fifty. The irony of course, is that New Zealand and Australia were ‘cut off’ from the UK too when we joined … but thrived anyway.
The Irish accession timetable was indirectly dictated by Edward Heath. Accordingly, the accession application of the UK, Ireland, Denmark and Norway was deposited in Brussels on 30 June 1970 – four weeks after the arrest of the ministers responsible for the Arms Crisis.
That was probably too close in time for the comfort of the Irish government. The plot of the novel makes use of that suggestion.
AJ: How is a book about Ireland in 1970 relevant now?
RA: In the Irish election that just took place on 8 February 2020, Sinn Féin made a historic breakthrough in the Irish Republic. The existing two party system, where Fianna Fail and Fianna alternated power, was shaken. For decades, both parties had looked down upon the IRA, seeing them as principally a Northern Irish problem (and one which it could be said they didn’t try too hard to solve). Now the two establishment parties have the prospect of one of them ending up in coalition with Sinn Féin.
On 21 February the EU budget meeting of the European Council ended without agreement. The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar stated that Ireland was ‘willing to contribute … but not if that meant payments to Irish farmers … were cut back.’
Support for the EU within Ireland remains higher than in almost any other EU member state. But the dilemma faced by the Irish in 1970 (and 1921) has returned with Brexit. How close a relationship should Ireland have with the UK and what does independence actually mean in that regard? Membership of the EU doesn’t answer that national question, for the very purpose of the organisation is the erasure of the idea of nationhood.
‘On the Green Hill of Tara’ touches on all of these questions, as they might have been asked back then, to show how attitudes have changed – and sometimes not.
I wrote it from the perspective of an outsider looking in (the West German main character from ‘At the Court of Charlemagne’). I tried hard to be balanced to all sides, researching extensively around the subject. My early test readers represented diverse opinions too, from Ireland and Northern Ireland, and including one person with a close family connection to one of the main players in the Arms Crisis.
AJ: Where can I get a copy of the book?
RA: ‘On the Green Hill of Tara’ is available on Amazon, in Kindle edition and in paperback. It’s in eBook form on the other usual sites too.
AJ: What else have you written?
RA: Last year I wrote a satirical history of the EU in the allegorical style of George Orwell, ‘Animal Co-operative,’ also reviewed by Country Squire Magazine.
A long while ago I fell in love with the Bernie Gunther series by Philip Kerr (sadly no longer with us). I’ve devoured everything by Robert Harris and been captivated by the writing of Forsyth.
My offering in that broad genre of historical political fiction is called ‘At the Court of Charlemagne’ (also on Amazon) – it explores the technocratic origins of the EU, stretching back well before 1952 and the launch of the ECSC, the EEC’s predecessor organisation. The story is told through the eyes of a fictional EEC internal investigator and aims to provide a reflective look at its development from a safe distance of time.
AJ: What’s next on your to do list?
RA: I’m aiming to take the main character to every country which joined the EEC up to 1986, exploring each of their developing relationships with the Community. Book Three will be set in Italy and Book Four will cover the run-up to the UK’s accession in 1973.
AJ: Many thanks for the interview, Robert.
If you’d like to ask any questions about Robert’s books so far, or make suggestions for future titles in the series, please contact Robert via his Goodreads.com author page or on Twitter @RobertAdam1969