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IRA: The Bombs and the Bullets: A History of Deadly Ingenuity

By A.R. Oppenheimer; Reviewed by Paul D. Barnard, CPP, CISM

August 2009

An exhaustive look at the Irish Republican Army’s use of weaponry in its fight to end British rule in Northern Ireland.

***** IRA: The Bombs and The Bullets: A History of Deadly Ingenuity. By A.R. Oppenheimer; published by Irish Academic Press, http://www.iap.ie/ (Web); 387 pages.

In this text, author A. R. Oppenheimer examines the technical evolution of weapons used by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) during its 28-year campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland. The book’s intent is not to add to the many sources already focusing on political aims or strategies but to illuminate the importance of terrorist weapons, in particular bombs, and the IRA’s resourcefulness in adapting materiel and tactics to its operational environment.

The IRA may not have invented the improvised explosive device (IED), but it played a role in its development and deployment. The group is blamed for more than 1,300 bombings in 1972 alone.

Sophistication of the IEDs was paramount to the IRA for a variety of reasons. The IRA wanted the perpetrator to survive and not commit suicide. This required consideration of timing, choosing specific institutional-type targets, and preferably causing minimal collateral damage. Oppenheimer’s sources describe the devices as quite innovative and a “result of sheer genius.”

The book’s true value lies in the nuances of situational factors and outcomes presented and the way in which it highlights lessons learned. An open-minded reader will gain context in which to ponder the challenges of today and tomorrow in a fresh and unprecedented manner. This may help prevent unfortunate repetitions of history through informed situation management and countermeasure development.

Oppenheimer is well-qualified to write this book. He has consulted for defense institutes on both sides of the Atlantic and was privileged to view the Reference Collection of IRA weapons kept by the Garda Síochána, the police force of the Republic of Ireland. It is one of the most comprehensive sets of insurgent weaponry ever assembled. Due to the sensitivity of some of the subject matter, Oppenheimer acknowledges that certain details of design, operation, and vulnerabilities have been withheld.

The visual presentation of the book is professional. Informative tables are provided to enhance presentation of data. Extensive endnotes are found after each chapter, and there is a good bibliography, as expected from an academic press. American readers may, however, not be familiar with some of the book’s British and Irish vernacular.

This book is highly recommended for the protection professional with interests in homeland security, safeguarding critical infrastructure, or analysis of terrorist groups. The book would also make an excellent textbook for undergraduate and graduate courses exploring the technical evolution and impact of terrorist groups or methods.

Reviewer: Paul D. Barnard, CPP, CISM (Certified Information Security Manager), is a security manager for the Department of Defense. He is a member of ASIS International. The opinion expressed is solely that of the reviewer, and does not imply a view of the U.S. government or any other organization.


A.R. Oppenheimer; Reviewed by Paul D. Barnard, CPP, CISM

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