I’ve spent the last year tracking down the real Mary Lou McDonald. But all good things come to an end, and the mission is accomplished.
ye biography of the Sinn Féin leader – currently hot favorite for the post of Taoiseach after the next elections – was finalized last week.
The book will be out early next month. The first excerpts appear in the Sunday independent.
It has been a difficult but fascinating task to write what I hope is a fair and balanced and independent biography of Mary Lou.
It was a little awkward as I have known her personally for many years.
I’ve always been very fond of her, but find her politics unappealing – and despise her party’s ties to figures who have committed unspeakable acts of violence.
Little is known about Mary Lou before she turned 30
The book attempts to reconcile the questionable political society she maintains with her undisputed personal qualities.
Curiously, little is known about Mary Lou, 53, before she turns 30. Her sudden political “enlightenment” emerged mysteriously late.
Before that, there was a political void in her life. Suddenly, around 1998/1999, Republican Mary Lou was born.
The accepted narrative was sanitized well after her conversion to the Sinn Féin cause. Sinn Féin would love to have full control over their favorite daughter’s political history.
The story of Mary Lou must be told in its entirety—not just limited to the official post-2000 Sinn Féin version.
The research for this biography has brought to light the detailed stories of Mary Lou’s childhood, her private school education, her tertiary education at Trinity College Dublin, University of Limerick and Dublin City University, her marriage, her early jobs followed by her entry into life brought sense fine.
To understand Mary Lou, it is important to be aware of her roots.
Much of her early life is hidden in shadow. The title of the first chapter of the biography, “The Skeleton in the Closet”, reflects the existence of hitherto little-known influences in her upbringing.
She was a committed kid, a normal teenager
Some members of Mary Lou’s family refused to talk to me about daily life in the McDonald household. But fortunately other relatives spoke remarkably freely about the character and demeanor of the girl who grew to be the island of Ireland’s most convincing Republican politician.
She was a committed kid, a normal teenager. Her formative years demonstrate a lack of interest in politics that confuses many political commentators.
In searching for her early history, I found myself talking to her teachers, family, contemporaries, and university professors.
I traveled to the four corners of Ireland to explore what clues some might have as to the origins—or even the authenticity—of their republican beliefs.
I visited Limerick where she was getting a Masters degree and Tipperary where she and her siblings spent so many summer holidays as a young child with her mother’s family in the Glen of Aherlow.
Obstacles to a full biography were first erected by Sinn Féin.
As the party emerges from the paranoia of the past, it still clings to the culture of secrecy. Some TDs were initially pressured by hidden hands not to cooperate with a book that was described to me as “not a party project” by a Sinn Féin leader.
But gradually members and former party members came forward to provide much of the information needed to paint a revealing picture of their enigmatic leader.
The biography fills in blanks about the mysterious men in Mary Lou’s life for the first time.
In my travels I met former IRA prisoners
It fully delves into her watertight political relationship with Gerry Adams. It describes the untold story of her husband Martin Lanigan, a member of a family of market gardeners who almost never appears in public with her and prefers to stay in the Twilight Zone.
It tells about her father Paddy, who separated from her mother Joan when Mary Lou was only 10 years old. It shows the strong influence of Joan, who was a constant source of strength for her siblings and for herself, inside or outside of politics.
It recognizes the influence of formidable local Republicans that took her from Fianna Fáil to Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin.
To unravel the paramilitary mystery, to answer the question of their relationships with IRA veterans, I have made numerous visits to the former war zones of Belfast, Derry and Tyrone, even the battlefields of South Armagh.
I spent a Sunday morning this summer searching the farms of Crossmaglen for the well-known but much-feared Republican “Slab” Murphy — to find out if the man was once called a “good Republican” by Adams and Mary Lou was, in turn, a Fan of his new female leader.
“Slab” wasn’t available, but I managed to track down his brother Frank, with whom I spoke for over an hour, discussing border smuggling and the current political situation.
In my travels I met many former IRA prisoners – including a former member of the IRA Army Council in a country pub – to ask them about the chemistry between the supposedly dour Republicans from north of Falls Road and Mary Lou, the fun-loving younger one interview woman from the trendy Dublin suburb of Rathgar.
The biography explores how former paramilitaries could accept someone of such a different ancestry as their leader.
How Mary Lou rose to the top of Sinn Féin is a fascinating tale of ambition fulfilled. How it achieved this is a lesson in disciplined politics that would put even the most professional politicians to shame.
Now she is on the verge of an extraordinary achievement. Today she is poised for power in Stormont and at the same time destined for political office at Leinster House.
The biography provides the evidence for others to answer the fundamental question: Is Mary Lou McDonald, the island’s most important figure in politics, a true supporter of the Republican cause – or an opportunist who jumped at the chance, the one political one party offers? looking for a savior.
Mary Lou McDonald: A Republican Riddle is out October 6 through Atlantic Books
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/mary-lou-mcdonald-in-pursuit-of-an-enigmatic-leader-41959475.html Mary Lou McDonald: in search of an enigmatic leader