Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Two Books on Martin Cahill - aka The General

I wrote recently on people's attitudes to the human sides of criminals. This was prompted by Frances Cahill's appearance on the Late Late Show last month to talk about her new book Martin Cahill - My Father. I found myself subsequently buying and reading her book. Given that it was a daughter writing the book I felt it prudent to get an overall balanced view, so I simultaneously purchased and read the book The General by crime journalist Paul Williams.


Surprisingly to me, there was a reasonable amount of consistency about the human side of Martin Cahill in both books. I certainly came away with the view that the man was clever, imaginative, witty, full of ironies and indeed caring for family and friends. He wasn't involved in the drug business and although he certainly injured, terrorised and robbed many people, it clearly seems true that he didn't kill anyone (although there is much evidence on a few cases where it seems he may have tried). Oddly too perhaps for an underworld figure - Cahill neither drank alcohol nor smoked and was not a high social flyer or casual womaniser.


I found both books good reads but there was much more weight and substance in the Paul Williams book. Incidentally the Williams book also inspired the movie The General - in which actor Brendan Gleeson played a great part (and does have a good resemblance facially to photos of Martin Cahill). Having said that, Frances Cahill put together an interesting inside view of Martin Cahill the family man. It's possible by reading both books to unravel a little the areas which may be a daughter's natural tendency to glorify her father. One noticable feature was also Frances Cahill's bitterness to the authorities and the policing service. In spite on the many factual consistencies between the books, there is much left unsaid in Frances Cahill's book (she claims not to know about many things her father was allegedly up to) and there are also some differences. Frances, for instance, doesn't seem to like or accept the notion of her mother and her mother's sister both being lovers of her father. Williams treats this area quite sensitively, claiming that the sisters both loved him and shared him in full understanding with each other and that both had a number of children by him. A kind of happy ménage-a-trois. Williams claims that Martin Cahill was very respectful to women and was indeed very family oriented - as Frances claims too of course.


I've also spoken to a few of my friends who knew the General - one who was a neighbour in the middle-class Cowper Downs area of Rathgar and another who was a detective at the time. From all I've learned on the man my attitude to Cahill has weaved through all sorts of thoughts. My final overall impression is one of a fairly detestable and dangerous individual to most outside his circle of friends and family, but a nonetheless complex and interesting figure. He certainly was very different to other underworld people in his era and in spite of all the ugly activity there is much ironic humour and even warm humanity in evidence. I really would recommend reading the Paul Williams book. It's quite rivetting and actually seems to come across with a balanced treatment on The General's positive and negative traits. The Frances Cahill book does offer some additional internal family insight and certain other information - but it does not present anything like a full view of the General's alleged activities (and indeed to be fair it doesn't claim to). I would certainly only recommend it as a read after having read the Williams book.

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Anonymous said...

Appreciate your writeup as I just saw the General and have some mixed thoughts. Overall though, I feel Cahill is not a celebratory figure.