New book shines a light on the emotional legacy of the Troubles

Irish Times books editor Martin Doyle’s Dirty Linen focuses on the trauma in his home parish

The Irish Times books editor Martin Doyle has called to attention the scale of deaths during the Troubles by focusing on his own parish.

More than 20 people in Tullyish, Co Down died in an area that used to be known as part of the Linen triangle. Among those murdered were three members of the O’Dowd family killed by the UVF in January 1976 and three British soldiers killed in June 1972.

Mr Doyle paid tribute to Noel O’Dowd, the brother of Declan and Barry and their uncle Joe, who were murdered.

“He became my ferryman, escorting me across and along the river Bann to the underworld of the Troubles, pointing out where our neighbours had been murdered and where they now lay buried,” he said.


“He, more than anyone, opened my eyes to the extent of the trauma in my home place.”

Mr Doyle said he was motivated by the death of his wife, Nikki, 10 years ago to write the book. He said her death had given him the understanding of how grief could affect people and change their lives. The book is dedicated to her.

“By focusing on one parish, I have sought to convey the trauma and the texture of those times through the eyes and the words of my neighbours,” he said.

“To those who might say, why reopen old wounds, I say some wounds have never been allowed to heal. Instead, they have been contaminated at every turn.”

The book was launched at Hodges Figgis in Dublin by the actor and author Ardal O’Hanlon. Mr O’Hanlon said the brook brought out “stories of tremendous pain. The emotion is so raw. You really honoured the memory of the dead”.

Dirty Linen was unflinching and unsentimental, he said.

Mr O’Hanlon drew attention to the “glaring injustice” of victims of loyalist and British state collusion in the book. One of those who feature is the trade unionist Pat Campbell who was shot dead by the notorious loyalist terrorist Robin “The Jackal” Jackson, who was a serving UDR soldier at the time of the killing in October 1973.

Mr Doyle said there is no willingness on the part of the British government to revisit the extent of state collusion during the Troubles. There were “countless opportunities” for Jackson to have been put away, but the investigation was consistently botched.

He said the IRA was responsible for “atrocity after atrocity” and the Troubles were like “murder on the Orient Express. There are several culprits responsible”.

It was important, he said, that people from both communities feature in the book.

Northern Ireland's 'Dirty Linen' and the long tail of trauma

Listen | 50:56
From Banbridge, County Down, Irish Times Books Editor Martin Doyle grew up in the heart of the 'Linen Triangle', home of Northern Ireland's biggest industry, and also within the 'Murder Triangle', a region blighted by sectarian violence during The Troubles. Martin has written a book, Dirty Linen, that explores that time through the stories of the people he grew up amongst. He talks to Hugh Linehan.
Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times