We are unlikely to uncover many instances in our recent history of volunteering to join the US Army and later the IRA, so the bifurcation of military experience alone gives this memoir value.
Anyone who might be offended by The Yank’s politics probably won’t grasp it to begin with and thus be spared terminology such as “sniper operations with real value” while pondering the morality of those -this. But then Crawley writes like a military man – he makes no apologies for it, there are a lot of ‘operational details’ – and whatever your political view of Ireland’s past, sometimes we need to at least take a step towards the “light under a door that I can never open”, to use the expression of Eudora Welty.
Born in New York City, Crawley describes his life with a clean, one-clip style. The reader cannot help but be carried away. Crawley left Ireland in the 1970s to enlist in the Marine Corps with the idea of returning to join the IRA, with the story finding its course with his enrollment in 1979. The Yank gives us an inside account of the guerrilla realities, with none of the romanticism attached. The small circumstantial details of such a life stay with you: a fleeting existence, but often made up of expectations and frustrations, while the “action” comes quickly, fleetingly.
Crawley never asks for our sympathy or tries to cast him as a revolutionary hero. He has his political beliefs, yes, and describes them throughout, often setting sparks against his associates. It provides insight into the IRA hierarchy and its leadership during The Troubles and paints an ambiguous portrait of Martin McGuinness.
The guns section gives another nuance to Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger and the bubble of Irish America who sympathized with the IRA. Next we have the arrest of Crawley on the Marita Ann with weapons off the Kerry coast; 10 years in prison and release; his role in a 1996 London operation to cut off power to the city and south-east England, and a 35-year sentence before being released under the Belfast Accord; a hectic life. What remains fixed in the end is that Crawley feels that his dream of a 32-county Republic seems no closer. He ends on a restless and frustrated note, but with no apparent regret.