1975: A young Irish-American man joins an elite US Marine unit to get the most intensive military training possible — then joins the Irish Republican Army, during the days of some of the bloodiest fighting ever in the Irish-British conflict . . .
The Irish "Troubles" were at a murderous fever pitch when John Crawley volunteered for the IRA. Bloody Friday, Bloody Sunday, the bombing of the British Houses of Parliament, and other deadly incidents had recently unfolded or were about to ... Civilian casualties were common as British soldiers, Republican militants (who wanted the UK out of Northern Ireland) and Unionist police and militants (who wanted to remain in the UK), engaged in gun battles and car bombing throughout Northern Ireland. The death toll numbered over 1,000.
The IRA split over how to react between the old-line IRA, and the new Provisional IRA — the Provos, mostly impassioned young men who were not hesitant to resort to violence.
In a powerful, brutally honest, no-holds-barred recounting of his experience, John Crawley details, first, the grueling challenges of his Marine Corps training, then how he put his hard-earned munitions and demolitions skills to use back in Ireland in service of the Provos. It is a story that will see him running guns with notorious American mobster — and secret IRA fundraiser — Whitey Bulger; running, under cover of night, from safe house to safe house in the Irish countryside, one step ahead of British troops; being captured, imprisoned, and being part of a mass escape attempt; fending off a recruitment offer from the CIA; and being one of the masterminds behind a campaign to take out London's electrical system.
Along the way, Crawley is blisteringly candid about the memorable people he worked with, including behind-the-scenes portrayals of revered IRA leader Martin McGuinness, and of the psychopathic Whitey Bulger, as well as others in the Boston IRA support network. There are vivid portraits of colleagues and enemies, and Crawley is unflinching in his commentary on IRA leadership and their tactics, both military and political.
Through it all comes the steadfast voice of a man on a mission, providing an evocative, detailed, and passionate recounting of where that mission led him and why — as well as why, to this day, he remains ready to serve.
Crawley delivers a full-throated and unrepentant call for a united Ireland in this lucid chronicle of his service in the IRA. Born in 1957 to Irish immigrants in Long Island, N.Y., Crawley moved to Ireland at age 14 and, galvanized by the IRA's opposition to British rule in Northern Ireland, made it his goal to join the group. He took an unusual path to membership, heading back to the U.S. to become a member of the U.S. Marines' elite Recon unit before returning to Ireland in 1979 to fight for "Irish freedom." As an IRA member, Crawley was involved in raising funds and getting access to firearms; the latter assignment brought him into contact with notorious Boston gangster Whitey Bulger. Crawley also plotted major attacks on the English, including one on the London electrical grid in the 1990s that led to his second stint in prison. While it's difficult not to be swept up in the titillating details, readers may struggle to fully appreciate Crawley's story, knowing that his actions contributed to the loss of hundreds of innocent lives—a fact that he addresses almost as an afterthought: "Civilians would unintentionally be killed. As inexcusable as that is, it was never deliberate." Still, this is a clear-eyed look, from the inside, at a group willing to risk it all for a cause.