EACH new book by Donald McRae is cause for anticipation. In Sunshine or in Shadow is his 12th – and fourth about boxing. Like the previous three, it explores themes that go far beyond the sweet science. In Sunshine Or In Shadow focuses on a 13-year period during the time when Northern Ireland was torn apart by sectarian violence spawned by hate that claimed thousands of lives.
McRae’s telling begins on January 30, 1972 (a day known as “Bloody Sunday”), when 14 unarmed demonstrators were shot to death by British soldiers during a civil rights march in Northern Ireland. The march had been organized by Derry MP Ivan Cooper to protest a policy of internment without trial that the British government had introduced on August 9, 1971. Thereafter, “Loyalists” and “Republicans” unleashed random violence – often against innocent civilians -for political ends. McRae tracks the saga up until the night of June 8, 1985, when Barry McGuigan (a symbol of unity throughout Ireland) defeated Eusebio Pedroza in London to claim the WBA featherweight crown.
“These were the very worst years of the Troubles,” McRae writes. “The IRA were emphatic there should be a complete withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland. This demand was dismissed by the British government, and hopes of reconciliation had been replaced by increased intransigence on both sides. The Provisional wing of the IRA resolved to unleash an unprecedented campaign of terror. Yet I was drawn to them because, in this period, boxing saved lives and steered countless young men away from joining paramilitary groups.”