Suzanne Breen reports on the details of the hostage taking. Why do I find this detail hard to digest? It’s like when you read those reports of secretive meetings between politicians at restaurants, where they are purported to have discussed some matter of earth-shattering importance, and the reporter mentions that one of them wolfed down his plate of grilled red snapper and the other hardly touched his salade niçoise. The function of the extra detail is, among other things, to confer a sense of authenticity to the account of events. I was, like, totally there, I can even remember what it is they had to eat.
Now, I am not saying that Suzanne Breen is making this up. The most likely explanation is that she is reporting what she has been told. And it may even be true. But it strikes me as an anachronism. Swearing on a holy picture is like, soooo 1950s. Unless I am unacquainted with a particularly conservative strain of young militant Northern Irish Catholicism, the type of person to demand that you swear on a holy picture would have his hostages on their knees running through back-to-back decades of the rosary. And he wouldn’t be the best person to enlist for a hostage operation because he’d be like, 90.
Or, this may be some sort of arcane Provo tradition. But I happen to know people who have been taken hostage by the Provos, and I never heard them tell the bit about how they were made to swear by the picture of the Sacred Heart upon the wall. Normally the gun to the relative’s head, and your own, is enough to ensure that you comply with their wishes.