Is Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams an evil warlord or a boy who did not grow up?
Gerry Adams’ just-published My Little Book of Tweets finds plenty of space for twee recollections of the past, though strangely no room for Jean McConville, Bloody Friday or Mairia Cahill’s allegation that she was raped by a senior republican. Malachi O’Doherty reports
What are we to make of Gerry Adams from his tweets? First, that there is something remarkably childlike about him. Let's waive the theory that this is all cynically constructed by a team of advisers and strategists. The fact is that he wants us to visualise him languishing in his bath, playing with his rubber ducks.
He is happy in that bath; we may believe it. Martin McGuinness would not consent to being presented in such a way. He would rather we saw him in his wellies, casting flies over breeze-ruffled waters.
Gerry wants us to see the simpler, gentle side of himself. So he is out on his bike, if he's not in the bath. He is playing with children or his dogs, or both. He depicts his close work colleagues as big children, like himself.
RG is Richard McAuley, his perpetual sidekick and chief Press officer. The tweeting started when McAuley took the car with Gerry's keys: "I feel an adventure coming on."
Once asked by Anthony Clare, the broadcasting psychiatrist, what he had read as a child, Adams recalled Just William and Jennings and Darbishire, which is set in an English public school. It would not be surprising if Adams wrote his own Just Gerry, or Adams and RG, glorying in simple boyhood antics.
One wonders if a man recaps on childhood like this when it isn't over yet, when the chance to make the most of it first time round has not been fully explored. He says himself: "I was born with a beard, I stopped shaving when I was 3."
He loves going out on his bike and, in one tweet, recycles the start of the old joke "look mammy no hands".
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Again, one may wonder if this window into the continuing boyhood of Gerry Adams is contrived to counter the image in many minds of the man as a vicious warlord. But I would grant that he is the person he is showing us and that he is eager to share that side of himself. He's not making it up. He may have been a vicious warlord, but he has forgotten about it.
Where he recalls the Troubles, it is usually implausibly and sentimentally. The claim that he and Tom Hartley sang together in prison and got thrown out for it is quaint and funny, but not actually believable. Had it been possible to get thrown out of prison for singing, they'd all have been at it.
There is no mention in his Little Book of Tweets of the time in May 2014 when he was arrested and held for four days on suspicion of conspiring to murder Jean McConville. There is nostalgia for prison days; no hint of the carnage of the past.
Those who have read all his books will recognise that the tone is not new. He never came out of prison without commenting on the food and, once at least, to marvel at how wonderful the food was. That was in reference to the last meal he got on the Maidstone prison ship, on which he was interned in 1972.
That meal after a week-long hunger strike was "marvellous food", "a whole side of ham glazed with honey", "wonderful desserts". Others who were on the Maidstone at the time say this is pure fantasy.
He similarly describes in several places his pleasure at enjoying a cigar with Dicky Glenholmes in the ruins of the Long Kesh camp, which they had just burnt down in 1974.
But that description of blithely smoking with his comrade while the watchtowers tipped over in flames and the Kosangas bottles exploded round them fits badly with other accounts of the fire.
UVF man "Plum" Smith, writes in his book, Inside Man, that he saw the republicans being beaten and abused so badly that he took pity on them.
We have long known that Gerry Adams has a selective memory. It works so well that it recalls some of the most painful periods in his own life as if they were just the best of craic.
Adams indulges his senses, at least with good food and the odd cigar. Jonathan Powell, who was Tony Blair's negotiator during the late peace process, wrote that Gerry Adams was a nuisance because he always insisted on being well fed.
Gerry tweets about his love of dark chocolate, of olive oil, sends pictures of buns and cakes.
He clearly also loves solitude. He cycles before dawn, frequently climbs Errigal, or strides out across Black Mountain.
And, though he is a sensualist, there is nothing lewd, or remotely sexual, in his tweets, apart from a deniably bawdy picture of a carrot.
But, generally, Adams does not seem to have a dirty mind, or a lascivious streak to his character. He is physical in that he enjoys his own body. He has tweeted a picture of himself lying on his back, spreadeagled in the snow.
In recent television documentaries he has similarly ended up on his back laughing, rolling on the ground, or crawling through caves. He is not constrained by any sense of what is ungainly.
And he is strangely unreflective. He should know not to tweet his dreams. The one about finding himself facing a smiling Ryan Tubridy, while wearing one boot and one shoe, probably means no more than that he feels gauche before the elegant broadcaster, but perhaps also expresses a fear that he can't trust his footwork, will be off-balance when up against him. But it's obvious that he does not enjoy interviews.
The period covered by My Little Book of Tweets was turbulent and difficult for Gerry Adams. It included his arrest on suspicion of conspiring to murder Jean McConville in 1972. He was also investigated on suspicion of having failed to protect children from his paedophile brother, Liam. He fought elections and he was vilified in the media.
He had his most humiliating drubbing in the Dail when challenged on the abuse of Mairia Cahill and the IRA procedures for interrogating her about her alleged rape and the cover up following it. You get no hint of any of this in the book of tweets.
What we find here is a soft and gentle sweet soul of a man who loves children and dogs, who enjoys rich food - and pays for it occasionally with discomfort, a fit and energetic man who loves his country and is always surrounded by people who love him.
You could read this and be lulled by its humour into thinking you know this man better than you did before. And maybe you do. Maybe he is just a big child.
Some of the time.
- Malachi O'Doherty's unauthorised biography of Gerry Adams will be published by Faber & Faber later this year