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Bandit Country: The IRA and South Armagh

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Author Toby Harnden

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A terrifying and intimate portrait of the IRA's heartland
I have attempted to strip away the myth and propaganda of both sides to produce what I hope will be recognised as one of the most compelling and important books of the Troubles. During four years as a journalist working in Northern Ireland, I carried out interviews with members of the IRA, RUC, Irish police and British Army (including SAS), building up an intimate picture of the IRA in South Armagh from the protagonists themselves. I also had access to secret Army and RUC documents which contained previously-undisclosed details of undercover operations. The book links the IRA's success during the Troubles to the history of lawlessness and rebellion in the area - which is referred to by republican's as "God's Country". The reader will find out the identities of the IRA men who bombed England in the 1990s (the Docklands, Baltic Exchange, Bishopsgate and Manchester bombs were all mixed in barns in South Armagh before being transported across the Irish Sea on ferries of by freight). My aim was to provide answers to a series of questions: Why is South Armagh such a place apart? What sort of people have joined the IRA and how do they live their lives? What has driven these men to the point where the end will justify any means? What has it been like for the outsider to be pitted against such men? Why has the South Armagh Brigade been consistently more effective than the IRA in any other area? What has been the human cost of this fight for Irish freedom? Very few books about the Troubles focus on an area and bring the conflict down to the level of families, farmhouses and fields. I have not spared the reader the horrors of what has happened and there are pictures of bodies and the aftermath of incidents that some people might find distressing.The full story of the death of Captain Robert Nairac, an undercover Army officer, is told. There is also an account of how the SAS captured the IRA's elite sniper unit in April 1997. There are chapters on arms buying in America, the interrogations of informers, sniper attacks, bombs in England, Thomas 'Slab' Murphy. Among the important new stories contained in the book is the tale of how an Irish police officer working for the IRA betrayed the most senior RUC officer to be killed during the Troubles. But there are also details of how loyalist paramilitaries were assisted by RUC members - I want this book to be read by both 'sides' in the conflict rather than seen as a polemical work pushing a particular political agenda. I believe that on of its overall strengths is the amount of new detail contained throughout - the book is not just a collection of what is already in the public domain. It is also written in an accessible way, aimed not just at the Northern Ireland aficionado but also at the general reader who wants to find out what the IRA is about.

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