The Bloody Red Hand: A Journey through Truth, Myth and Terror in Northern Ireland
Derek Lundy (Random House:2006), 22 September 2008
“…a Viking war party in a lean, dragon-headed longboat closes with the coast of northern Ireland… The leader of the fierce Northmen urges on his warriors: the first man to touch the sweet Gaelic strand with his hand or foot takes possession of it… O’Neill, the man from Ireland … severs his hand with one swift sword blow and throws it ashore onto the sand before anyone else can make the leap. His Viking chief keeps his word. He gives that part of Ulster to his mutilated mercenary, and O’Neill takes the bloody hand as his crest and symbol.”
When a family’s history leaves a legacy that is deep, complicated ,and larger than life, its members have a number of options. They can continue the legacy, as fantastic or dysfunctional, enlightening or painful as it may be. Alternatively, they can opt out and disassociate themselves from the story, melting into their chosen society to start a narrative that is their own.
Every once in awhile however, a special person will step back, turn around and after much careful, painstaking deliberation, they will turn to the rest of the world and attempt to explain where they came from. At worst, the attempt is met with incredulity by not only the general public, but also the people depicted. At best, the people described in the work see themselves in it and the rest of world is effectively transported to another time and place. They come out with meaningful insight about another reality of life. It is a tricky feat, but in his book, which in Britain and Ireland boasts the painfully apt title of The Men that God Made Mad, Derek Lundy succeeded in doing just that.
Derek Lundy was Belfast-born and grew up in Toronto, Canada. His last name has a history that spans centuries and, at least in Londonderry, it inspires the burning of effigies. Much like many families from the region, Mr. Lundy’s has heroes and villains - which one falls into which category depends on one’s perspective of things. His family exists in the complicated reality that is Northern Ireland, a special place that produces both the best and worst of humanity.
The book is accurate when it needs to be and where the facts are unclear, the author explains why, contributing to a better understanding of the context. It is not an unbiased book, nor even particularly politically correct. It is simply a book about Derek Lundy’s understanding of his family’s legacy, and his understanding is sophisticated and well thought-out. The book isn’t an easy read for the bystander unfamiliar with the passion of Northern Ireland’s ethnic conflict but The Bloody Red Hand: A Journey through Truth, Myth and Terror in Northern Ireland is well worth the effort.
Vanessa Gordon is the Coordinator of the Youth Internships Program at Alternatives International.