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She was chatty, charming... and deeply troubled

(Liam Clarke, Belfast Telegraph)

Political editor Liam Clarke looks back at the life of an unlikely IRA woman who was haunted by her past

Dolours Price once told me: "You know, I don't think I was really cut out for the IRA." She was discussing her plans for a book about her life story during an afternoon's conversation in her suburban home at Malahide, north Dublin.

It took me aback. She was a bomber and hunger striker who had driven IRA victims – the Disappeared – to be murdered and buried in unmarked graves. She talked about it, veering between regret and pride as she spoke.

Yet I could see what she meant. She was more like a fading diva, a retired actress or singer than a terrorist.

She was chatty, charming and flamboyant, as well as tortured by the darker secrets of her life.

She was uncomfortable in her skin. She had been in and out of mental institutions, she had been treated for substance and alcohol abuse. She was a very troubled soul and she had lost the inclination to keep quiet about it. Dolours explained her feelings of being out of place in her life by telling of her aunt, Bridie Dolan, her mother's sister, who died in 1975.

Dolan's own IRA career was cut short when a package of grenades detonated as she moved them from one arms dump to another. Both her hands were blown off, she was blinded and her features were destroyed.

The invalid smoked heavily and Dolours was given the job of holding cigarettes up to what was left of her mouth. Even in her mid-50s, Dolours was ashamed to have felt disgusted and frightened by the task, despite her evident love and admiration for her aunt.

It created a feeling that she should atone by following in Ms Dolan's footsteps. One of her tasks was driving. She drove Joe Lynskey, a former Capuchin monk, to be murdered and secretly buried for allegedly having an affair with a prisoner's wife. She took Jean McConville, a mother-of-10, across the border to be killed; and she knew where Seamus Wright and Seamus McKee, two alleged informants, were buried.

It haunted her. She tried to justify it, but was never entirely satisfied with her own arguments.

There were moments of dark humour. She told me how, when she decided to join the British bombing campaign for which she was jailed, a group of would be volunteers were brought into the front room of a house to have the dangers explained to them.

"Anyone who doesn't want to take part can go into the kitchen, I will think no worse of them," the IRA commanding officer said. "There was quite a rush, the room emptied", she recalled, feigning amazement. Caught in the midst of their bombing campaigns, she and her sister Marian staged a 200-day prison hunger strike, prolonged by force-feeding. She had wanted to abandon it but her resolve was stiffened by her sister, and it continued until they were sent back to Ireland.

She struggled with her demons. Her marriage with the actor Stephen Rea broke up, though she was proud of her two sons, Danny and Oscar.

She suffered from eating disorders after the hunger strike and was later convicted of stealing a prescription pad. She was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Dolours reserved her deepest resentment for those who commanded her in the IRA, before washing their hands of it to build political careers. She claimed Gerry Adams was amongst them, but he firmly denies it.

"So your life could have taken a different course?" I asked her. "I suppose everyone's life could," she said with a shrug.

January 28, 2013

This article appeared in the January 25, 2013 edition of the Belfast Telegraph.



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