The Heavy Hand of the Harpist

Peppa’s dangerous quest to prevent further use of the lethal Compound T leads her to Ireland, where she joins an IRA splinter-group, harp-1861189_1920“The Heavy Hand of the Harpist.” The genesis of the name is the alleged British historic practice of persecuting harp players in the seventeenth century.

“The Heavy Hand of the Harpist” never existed, but many other paramilitary groups did. Irish rebellion wasn’t just about the carnage of the IRA. There were antecedents.

And of course there were Protestant paramilitary groups, as well as Catholic ones.Red Hand of

Paramilitary groups went by a variety of names at different times in Irish history. In Ulster, the north of Ireland, the Peep O’Day Boys were an early precursor to the B Specials, the dreaded Protestants that volunteered to guard Northern Ireland in the 20th century. In the nineteenth century, Catholic agitators were known as the Irish Republican Brotherhood; later that group turned into the political party Sinn Féin, and the associated military group, the IRA.  (For a more comprehensive list visit here.)

The Irish Nationalists, mostly Catholic, agitated for Home Rule from 1870 onwards. Various legislative efforts were proposed, but failed, the last one due to the onset of World War I. Ireland finally won its independence from British rule in the war of 1919 to 1921, which began with the Easter Rebellion. Though Ireland now had independence, the six counties of Northern Ireland were still part of the United Kingdom, and the IRA continued to fight to unite the island. However, once the Irish government was established in Dublin, it began cracking down on IRA activities. The Offences Against the State Act, Section 30, forbade the carrying of arms in Ireland, something that rankled Brian, the psychopathic former IRA member in The Falcon Strikes.

There really was a Border Campaign in the year of Peppa’s visit, in 1958. Until the beginning of the Troubles in 1968, 1957 was the most active year of the IRA’s campaign after the establishment of the Republic, with 341 incidents of terrorist activity recorded, according to the book Soldiers of Folly. As mentioned in my novel, The Border Campaign, also known as Campaign Orchard, really did spare Belfast from terrorist attacks. It’s theorised that either the IRA was aware of infiltrators, known in the vernacular as touts, or they feared being unable to protect local Catholics from retaliation. There were also groups that splintered off from the IRA during that time, the best known of which was Saor Uladh, founded by Liam Kelley.

In the troubled late sixties, splinter groups proliferated on both war-2282455__340sides. Though British Army troops stationed in Northern Ireland were battling the various IRA groups who wanted them gone, they had a dim view of the extreme Protestant factions as well. Occasionally, those were imprisoned along with their Republicans enemies, though naturally they were kept in different areas.

For paramilitary groups, the fighting was not just about idealism, justice and revenge.


The struggle for identity through unity often draws men to such groups. Neglected, poor, uneducated, maybe one of many children, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. The illegality, secrecy, and danger form a bond between those who join.  Even Peppa, my rational fictional heroine, develops a soft spot for Donal, the young man who inducts her into the “Heavy Hand of the Harpist.”

I also find the Irish conflict deeply affecting. The You Tube music video by the Irish group Pox Men brings tears to my eyes, though the music is rough, the dialect incomprehensible, and the scenes jumbled. Something about it…maybe it’s the old man with the mustache who sleeps through the secret meeting, and then, shaken awake, grabs a gun like a lynx pouncing on a rabbit.

But despite the rousing theme, the music video ends with a funeral. Just like The Falcon Strikes.