The idea was tantalizing: a firsthand account of the Northern Ireland conflict from the front lines. Through confidential interviews, the Boston College oral history project would safeguard stories that might otherwise go to the grave, shedding light on a dark time.
But in many ways, the Belfast Project was mismanaged from the start, critics say, a victim of careless legal vetting and lax oversight, and was kept secret for years from the BC historians who should have supervised it.
In the end, when British authorities took advantage of an obscure treaty to gain access to the trove of interviews, a move that ultimately led to the stunning arrest of Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams in an infamous 42-year-old killing, the project fell victim to the same sectarian divide it sought to chronicle.
Adams would be released without charges, after five days of questioning, but the fact of his brief detention stirred the old hatreds and made some worry anew about the durability of the hard-won peace.
For Boston College, the episode has left deep scars. The college recently announced it would relinquish the interviews, bringing the protracted dispute to a likely end. But the controversy has left a trail of recrimination and blame, and many scholars on and off the campus say it carries a painful legacy that discourages confidential research and undercuts academic freedoms.
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