Carrie Twomey got off a train at South Station yesterday and walked down the platform of Track 5 enjoying, just for the moment, something she’d give anything to have permanently: total anonymity.
Her grandfather was from Lynn and her relatives worked at General Electric and the shoe factories. She grew up in California and married an Irishman named Anthony McIntyre and they made a life together in Ireland, first in the North, now in the South. She came to Boston because she believes the only way that life will be secure is if a bunch of tape recordings remain secured at the Burns Library at Boston College, and not turned over to the British government.
The fate of those tapes, in which former Irish Republican Army members discuss what they and others did during the war in Northern Ireland, has been cast as a legal drama, a precedent-setting case with potentially chilling effects on oral history and the peace process. But it is also very much about a family, about Carrie Twomey, her husband, and their two kids, a 10-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy.
Anthony McIntyre, who served 18 years in prison for IRA activity before getting his doctorate in history, was the researcher hired by Boston College to interview former IRA volunteers for an ambitious oral history project. He did this after BC guaranteed him and those he interviewed that those tape recordings would remain sealed until their deaths.
But last year, police in Northern Ireland started fishing for details in the BC archives about the IRA’s 1972 abduction, killing, and secret burial of Jean McConville, a Belfast mother of 10 accused of being an informer.
US prosecutors, acting on a British government request, demanded BC turn over the tapes. At first, BC said it wouldn’t. Then its lawyers claimed it had to, at least those of Dolours Price, a former IRA volunteer who told a newspaper that she had told BC that Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams ordered McConville’s slaying.
Adams has denied this, and whatever Price or anybody else told McIntyre for an academic project will not stand up in court, but that’s not what this is about anyway. It’s not about justice, it’s about revenge, and Carrie Twomey’s family is caught in the middle of pure politics masquerading as a search for truth.
US District Court Judge William Young occasionally holds motion hearings at local law schools, so students can get a sense of the real world. By sheer coincidence, today’s hearings, which include one on the BC tapes, will be held at BC Law School, and Carrie Twomey will be there.
She hopes part of that real world experience will include acceptance of the real possibility that her family is in danger if these tapes make it into the hands of British authorities and lead to either public disclosures or public prosecutions. For carrying out research for an American university that has been cynically turned into an intelligence-gathering operation for a foreign police force, her husband has been branded an informer by some in a culture where that can get you killed.
“Anthony’s been made into a hate figure,’’ she said. “Someone with a grudge, someone who wants to make a name for themselves, someone who’s unstable, that’s who we have to worry about.’’
She is not here to testify as a witness but to bear witness, to let the lawyers know there are real people involved. She says BC is too busy worrying about its institutional concerns to advocate for her family.
“I’m here to show that this isn’t just dusty old legal papers,’’ she said. “This is a real family.’’
Beyond the danger to her family, Carrie Twomey worries about the prospect of truth and reconciliation in a country where truth has become a political football, that Seamus Heaney’s poem about Northern Ireland will become self-fulfilling: Whatever you say, say nothing.