Watching the Door

A Memoir 1971-1978

By: Kevin Myers

Publication Date: October 2006

(12 customer reviews)


Watching the Door: A Memoir 1971-1978 by Kevin Myers

As an Irish Catholic raised in Leicester, fresh from University College Dublin with a first in History, Kevin Myers is sent north to work for the Belfast bureau of RTE News. There he covers the increasingly vicious conflict erupting in the city as the IRA campaign begins. Reporting too for Dublin’s Hibernia, the London Observer and NBC Radio for North America, Kevin Myers becomes the eyes and ears for an uncomprehending world, chronicling the collapse of Northern Irish society, from internment to the La Mon bombing.

Raw, candid and courageous, Watching the Door documents the deeds of loyalist gangs, provos, paratroopers, politicians, British agents and an indomitable citizenry, forming a remarkable double portrait of a divided society and an emergent self – a witness to humanity, and inhumanity, on both sides of a sectarian faultline.

In his wonderfully vivid, trenchant, first-hand account of life on the streets of Belfast during the height of the Troubles, a young Kevin Myers witnesses the blood fueds and chaos of a people on the brink of civil war. His descriptions of violence, counter-violence and emotional free-fall, combine humour with reflection, eros with thanatos; they render history in the making.

By interweaving the political and the personal in a tale at once self-deprecating, poignant and sexually buoyant, Watching the Door is a coming-of-age story like no other. It is evocative and passionate, and it records a pivotal time in Ireland’s recent past, blending articulacy with savage indignation in a classic of modern reportage.

‘Kevin Myers is a journalist skilled in generating controversy, and in presenting his case with logic and finesse. He is a strong opponent of what he calls the “sanitised narrative”, particularly as it relates to Irish republicanism. Instead of viewing the murderous violence of the Troubles as a falling away from the high ideals of Easter 1916, he would place both within a spectrum of fanatacism and savagery.’ Patricia Craig, The Independent


KEVIN MYERS, writer, broadcaster and novelist (Banks of Green Willow, 2001), is author of the best-selling Kevin Myers (2001), a gathering of his celebrated and provocative Irishman’s Diary in The Irish Times, for whom he wrote for over twenty-five years (another collection will appear from The Lilliput Press in 2007). He is now a columnist with the Irish Independent. Read more here.

Also available as an ebook

12 reviews for Watching the Door

  1. Lilliput Press

    “I have read countless books which have used the events of this era as their focus and theme. Having grown up on the fringes of south Belfast myself during the early to late-seventies, I don’t think I have ever read such a balanced narrative on “the troubles” and the blinkered tribalism that fuelled them. Even though by the final chapter when Myers writes of “…the darkness of my time there” – and by then we know he means the despair of guilt at possible wrong decisions, a failed love affair which still haunts him, lost friends and general disillusionment at suddenly discovering your twenties are gone – this is nonetheless an uplifting narrative where the writer’s appetite for life remains strong. True, for every humorous encounter with, say, a Swedish prostitute (“…how I learnt the “Excuse me” is whorish for goodbye forever…”) there are several encounters with terrifying characters such as Rab Brown, the UVF psycopath, and the odious John McGuffin, the bar-room socialist and parasite. This is powerful writing. One gets the feeling that Myers has set out to exorcise his own ghosts. I hope he has succeeded.” W.H KEERY

  2. Lilliput Press

    “As a 70’s child living in England, the troubles in Ireland were something that you were aware of, but unless you were living in London, then they didnt seem to represent an intimate threat to your existence. It wasnt until i had visited my sister in Brighton and saw the damage done by the bombing there, that you kind of got a sense, that no where was perhaps untouchable by this group of people. Step forward to the present though, and thanks to catastrophic errors by this government, the threat of terroism has never been greater. The face of terror may have changed but never its personality.
    Reading Kevin Myers book provides an intimate portrayal of the effect that conflict has on individual lives. Lives that were often cut short too soon, leaving many families destroyed forever. Indeed, it is this sense of loss which makes his book for such compelling reading. Who was it that said, ‘the first casualty of war, is the loss of innocence’. This is so true, especially his accounts of a family that was wiped out by an IRA car crash.
    Like a lot of people i am sure, unless you were there, then the knowledge of what was happening across the shores was limited at best, though as Myers highlights from his own account, you could be there, but still not fully understand the complexity of the situation.
    As a novice to the troubles in Ireland, Myers book lends a hand to this lack of knowledge (Loyalists? Who were they?) and reminding you that on all sides of the conflict were there some decent people. Myers book though does have light hearted moments concerning his accounts of his sexual exploits, and some serious drinking in the process. One question though Kevin. How come your liver hasnt gone the way of George Best?
    It certainly made for a refreshing read away from some biography by a Z list celebrity, which are in no short supply of these days, and seem to pollute the book shelves at the moment.” CHRIS BALDAM

  3. Lilliput Press

    “I have read this book in 2 days and would recommend it for its humour, historical interest and, I believe, accuracy. Having grown up during the Troubles, I have resisted reading much of the material generated by it as, like so many people, I only wished to establish a life away from the Province. Nevertheless, having left Belfast 27 years ago, I found myself reading a review of this book and eventually buying a copy. The experience for the reader who grew up during that period is as cathartic as the experience must have been for the writer. I knew the areas of North Belfast he describes intimately, having attended a school nearby for most of the period he covers in the book. The memories of the bomb scares and the feeling of tension is captured with incredible accuracy; the weather, constant presence of alcohol and extreme reaction of each side to one tragedy after another are vividly portrayed.

    As a journalist, Kevin Myers applies a cold eye to the behaviour of each side and tries to explain, if not excuse, the moral parameters within which he worked at that time; clearly, as a young man, chasing women was high on his list of “to dos” but so too was retaining some semblance of humanity. This book offers a genuine glimpse into the life of a young man trying to report an increasingly chaotic situation, enjoy his youth and, most of all, stay alive. For anyone with an interest in Northern Ireland or involved with anyone from there, I would recommend this book for its vivacity and atmosphere, for those who are not familiar with the terrain or less involved emotionally, this is both entertaining and horrifying at the same time. Somehow, life carried on and a book like this relates how a non-native tried to make sense of the senseless.” MARTHA BLOUNT

  4. Lilliput Press

    “If any proof were needed as to the validity of the adage that “the older one gets the more right-wing one becomes”, then “Watching the Door” must surely be exhibit A.

    The young Myers appears to have been quite the ‘Trot’ in his early journalistic career. He was one of the few staff RTE journalists to resign on principal after the section 31 debacle of the 1970’s, despite the huff and puff of colleagues at the time who went on to draw-down full staff pensions.

    Compare and contrast to the Myers of more recent times, whose Irish broadsheet Op-Ed work has oft been described as being a shade to the right of Genghis Khan.

    In “Watching the Door” Myers documents the heady mix of carnage and carnality that surrounded him when he worked in Belfast as an independent journalist in the early 1970’s.

    It’s a surprisingly entertaining, engaging and darkly funny read.” MARK SEAN TYNAN

  5. Lilliput Press

    “This is a frank memoir from an Irishman who as a young reporter was sent to Northern Ireland where he was to cover the Troubles. There are other aspects to this book but this is what the reader will take away from it.

    Myers met Loyalist terrorists who saw nothing unusual in going fishing with well-connected forces of law and order, given that they were friends; he met Nationalist terrorists who agreed, sitting in the pub, that execution style killings were deplorable, then sent someone for a gun to kill him and he barely escaped after a warning. He says at the same time all the people he met would invite him to partake of hospitality in their home, including ham sandwiches which he later found would have made the family’s own dinner. When Myers was a witness to an issue, the security forces set him up with a false drinking and driving charge and his own solicitor refused to fight it.

    Life was confusing, dangerous and active. We can be glad it’s different today. Myers went on to an extended career in journalism, mainly in the Irish Times, and has never hesitated to be outspoken.” CLARE O’BEARA

  6. Lilliput Press

    “This is a really interesting book. Over the years I have read quite a lot about the Northern Irish troubles. I was also born and raised in Northern Ireland at the time they were happening so witnessed the tensions and have a fairly good understanding of the politics and mind set that existed at the time – something most books go to lengths to try to explain. What grabbed my attention with this book was that it didn’t seem to be setting out to explain it, but yet managed to do so better than many that do. Kevin was simply sharing his experiences and explaining his view point at the time and now and how it has impacted his life. What is also interested is that it manages to be quite one sided and yet completely neutral at the same time. Kevin in his youth clearly supported one side over the other but somehow managed to keep a grasp of the complete lunacy that was involved with the whole thing. He believed the view point of one side but would happily mingle with both – something almost completely unthinkable at the time, especially for someone like him with the connections he had, the information he knew and the things he had seen and done – how he is alive and well today to tell his tale is something of a miracle. People were killed for far less than the things this man claims he was getting up to! And yet, years have passed since his time living and working here and with time has come perspective and understanding. He looks back at his younger self and is able to see the flaws in some of the beliefs he once had. He has been able to step back and see that the side he was once against suffered horribly too and that there were no winners in this struggle, only loss on the most cruel and tragic of levels – and not just of life but of youth, and freedom and hope! He has no political agenda now. It feels like his only agenda with this book is to purge himself of guilt that has followed him since his time here. I’d love to speak to him and know if it helped him to tell this story.

    I only have one criticism of the book really and that it felt that Kevin, who came across as having a rather high opinion of himself at points, tarred us all with the same brush, and there was quite a lot of stereotyping going on at parts. I can accept that easier when he is talking about the 70’s where it might have been more justifiable, if still a little exaggerated – but this also extended into him speaking about current day Northern Ireland. We still have our problems here and there is still division and people who are still hurt and angry. What happened here was beyond horrendous and it went on for the best part of 30 years and had been brewing for decades even before that. The things that people here witnessed, the loss that individuals and communities alike felt then – they still carry that with them now. Those things don’t vanish with the signing of an agreement and an American switching on a Christmas tree. But Northern Ireland IS NOT the place it was in the 70’s. I have lived through both the troubles and peace and I KNOW it is different. When I was five I ran up stairs at night to bed in a mad panic that a terrorist in a balaclava was watching me though the window in my hall ready to shoot! My five year old Godchildren don’t have that fear – they are scared of the bogey men and fictional beasts which we can promise them sincerely do not exist – this was not something our parents could do for us!! Now we have something we didn’t have back then – we have hope!” NICOLA MCFALL

  7. Lilliput Press

    “Heart full account of the horror of northern Ireland’s descent into murder mayhem and hate. Amazing tale of survival and desperation.” B LYNCH

  8. Lilliput Press

    “I thought I knew something about what happened during the troubles in Northern Ireland. This book showed me that I had no idea of the scale and depths of suffering that country endured. A well written and truly disturbing account of life in Belfast during the late 1970s.” F JONNY

  9. Lilliput Press

    “I had started to forget this era (of my youth). It was a mild pleasure to realise that progress has been made. Strangely though, despite the graphic horror of it all, I found myself comparing the stark harsh reality with today’s slightly effete culture and wondering if something has not been lost along the way. Sharply written, this story held my attention from beginning to end. I suspect there is something in it for everyone. For me, A cracking good read.” NICK

  10. Lilliput Press

    “Excellent. You can feel and breathe what Belfast was like in the early 1970’s. Unquestionably one of the best books on the recent “troubles” in Northern Ireland.” GEOFFREY WILKINSON

  11. Lilliput Press

    “A very brave/foolhardy young man who sought out danger in order to report on the “Troubles”. Accounts of the vile and idiotic crimes committed by all sides are given frequently interpersed by his hilarious sexual encounters. This book was featured on Radio 4’s “A good read”.” ANDREW POWSEY

  12. Lilliput Press

    “Very readable harrowing tale of the horror of the Ireland situation. Pain and hatred. Wonderful turn of phrase. Shows the butterfly effect of a dew stupid decisions by out of touch British Governors here in 1916 and in almost every conflict they perpetuated.” ROY OMAHONY

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Weight 0.5 kg
Dimensions 220 × 140 mm
Publication Date

October 2006


Hardbac, 300pp