The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Up the IRB, Down the Amazon

Seaghán Ó Murchú

Having just visited only to find that my newly posted review there of Ed Moloney’s A Secret History of the IRA had been censored, I mused again about (speaking of superlatives) David and Goliath, or The Blanket vs. the Corporate Giant. And my love/hate relationship with what allows us “little people” to accomplish as we enter into the marketplace of ideas. Francis Bacon (not the artist but the one way back when) at capitalism’s dawn would have approved; here all works have a chance to catch your virtual and real eye-not as seen but as searched. I only wish that would have been magnanimous enough to leave in my submitted suggestion, in my original reaction to Moloney’s work, to visit The Blanket’s cache of reviews on his book, often by real-live Irish and English readers who knew firsthand what Moloney’s book conveyed.

Of course,’s fine print tells any submitter that your blurb, once sent, lies beyond your powers of ownership or control. Still, after a few years of neglecting the behemoth, I decided to feed it a bit again; why not, my wife suggested, tell people if you liked a book or record which otherwise might receive little attention? Fair enough. Especially for deserving books and records which otherwise might not be noticed. When I had posted about Terry Golway’s biography of John Devoy, Irish Rebel, Mr Golway had kindly sent me a personal reply. Like many of you perhaps, I rely on Amazon’s posted reactions to guide my own purchases of music and print. (I usually won’t buy them there, but from a used and/or small-store seller or, if I’m lucky, I may find the desired book at the library.) I admire the remnants of West Coast meets Silicon Valley idealism allowing “average” critics to list their takes on what’s out there to consume. I also trust more the responses of consumers: that is, purchasers of items, not professional journalists or clueless flacks getting copies for free. Uneasily perched as so many “ordinary” readers and listeners are atop the web’s #1 success story, we admit by our unremunerated cheers and jeers that without, many of us would never hear much about many of the words and sounds dearest to us - and most likely not to be found at the local chainstore or mall.

The latest example? I had come across a mention of the late John McGuffin’s last book (with Joseph Mulheron), Charles ‘Nomad’ McGuinness: Being a true account of the amazing adventures of a Derryman. (ISBN 0-9539482-1-8; £9.99/€15.50/$US20; © 2002. Available from Irish Resistance Books, 4, Craft Village, Derry, BT48 6AR; Now, why did I have to insert all of this data? Why couldn’t I have just told you to log on to This encapsulates our struggle. McGuffin’s IRB (note the acronym) tells us on the last page of this book about its wish to publish what the big boys don’t when it comes to republican, socialist, Irish alternative histories, progressive, non-commercial viewpoints -- and, encouragingly to some of us, ‘rants’. That’s why I thought the IRB’s worth a blurb. I checked the British Amazon tributary and found both McGuffin’s latest book as well as the IRB’s Last Orders, Please (surely an odd text tailor-made for publishing via your own imprint) and In Praise of Poteen - one of those Appleton Press thin books often nestled near the register of a souvenir shop. Amazon listed no posted reviews for any of the McGuffins. On the American Amazon branch, no listings for McGuffins appear at all.

But, why am I telling you here about them? Shouldn’t I log on again to After all, wouldn’t the IRB benefit from this theoretically wider exposure? Well, I may do that, or you may, having read my own promptings. On the other hand, many most likely to read McGuffins’s work know about it already if they scour such Irish-oriented sites as The Blanket. Or even the blurbs collected and distributed by Yet we all wish that more readers could find such attention to republicanism and other Irish content beyond the limited shelfspace of our local seller or library. The tension between the David’s guerrilla stance propounded by the likes of the small-scale pundits like the Derry press and this Belfast project and Goliath’s swagger where nearly all of us on-line sally up to when searching for our media - to encounter beasts like Amazon - reveals the familiar battleground. We scatter out of our tiny barricades to face what we hold out against: the global arena in which we peep out to shoot our slingshots of hope against the monstrous creatures of hype. And we can’t opt out on pacifist grounds.

If not for the publicity given - beyond my own stifled cheer on - to Ed Moloney’s IRA publication, many would never have heard of it, if limited in its reviews to the pages of The Blanket - where other, more academically or arcane works on republicanism might have languished. Texts that the IRB might publish but not Penguin or W.W. Norton. Texts unstocked by Waterstones or Borders or your airport newsstand. Moloney, by contrast, aroused the attention of the giant publishing conglomerates and the major papers. Adams cowered against the Fourth Estate. AP/RN and the Irish Voice sputtered. The first printing sold out in the U.S. immediately. No copies to be found at the mall. Back to the McGuffin lack of exposure? No, just the contrary: its opposite.

Go to and you can read a variety of thoughtful reactions to Moloney, and link via “similar items” to other books on related topics. This use of shopping robots and cookies, the benign face of Big Brother we all greet in exchange for benefiting from the acquired wisdom and folly of Amazon’s idealised marketplace, presents again this intricate strategy of fighting the big boys with their own tools. It’s the constant warfare: is the WWW to turn out our liberator by our freely-exchanged ideas (that cyber-libertarian hippie ethos, those amateur reviews, this on-line journal) or our jailor (claiming universal access only by charging us all to gain access to its wares, thus limiting the marketplace to the totality of what we find on-line)? Where else might a proud anarchist like McGuffin writing about a blarney-driven 1920s/30s Indiana Jones-ish/globetrotter/gun-runner like McGuinness co-exist with the likes of Moloney’s big press, big title on the IRA? Ironically, while Penguin published McGuffin’s Internment and The Guinea Pigs in the early 70s, now the Troubles and their antecedent troublers like McGuinness are presumably another case of ‘who wants yesterday’s papers?’ Moloney or McGuffin, you or I can comment on either one, as long as we play by’s legal game. Which happens wherever we submit our writings to a third party - even The Blanket - before they emerge again in print or on-line. And we usually must pay somebody even to gain access on-line.

Here at The Blanket, the legalese may be minimised, but so is our impact. I can direct you to Amazon. But they do not need your business. The local IRB does. So that’s where I sent my cheque. Still, the tautology persists. If we only look at what provides without buying, their global store won’t long survive - or at least it wouldn’t let us only browse without some up-front admission fee. For’s ‘if you like this, try that’ suggestions substitute for the pal many of us lonely dissatisfied consumers never knew growing up - or afterwards. That all-too-often only imaginary friend who knows exactly what we like to read or hear. Whose tastes mirror, flirt with, and shock our own. Without such a guide, we’d be loafing at the mall at its miniscule bookseller, wishing for more in stock than the latest Tom Clancy thriller or tell-all celebrity exposé.

Our intellectual courtship continues: log on, check out what’s new for sale, go to a store to skim it, pick up another title there, go home, log on to read what others have said about it, on and on. Looking for Mr Moloney, we bump into Mr McGuffin, nudge McGuinness.





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.
- Hamilton Wright Mabie

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Index: Current Articles

2 January 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


From Pig to Man and Man to Pig
Tommy Gorman


Up the IRB, Down the Amazon

Seaghán Ó Murchú Gem of Exploitation
Liam O Ruairc


The Tyranny of Christmas
Anthony McIntyre


Eat, Drink, Be Merry
Brendan O'Neill


The Silence of the Left
Henry McDonald


When the Falls & Shankill Marched As One
Davy Carlin


19 December 2002


Take It With A Pinch Of Salt
Tom Luby


Victory 2016 plus 40 - Remember to Read the Small Print

Anthony McIntyre


The Men of No Property
Liam O Ruairc


Relatives of Republican Prisoners
Orlaith Dillion


Dirty Politics
Carrie Twomey


Henry McDonald, “Irish Anti-Semitism” and the Zionist Roadshow
Brian Kelly


Arrests in London of Turkish Hunger Strike supporters





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