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An Interview with Richard O’Rawe: Author of Goering’s Gold

May 25, 2022

Goering’s Gold is the latest novel by Richard O’Rawe, and the second novel to feature O’Rawe’s protagonist Ructions O’Hare. Ructions is a former IRA operative turned adventurer. When a piece of Nazi memorabilia leads Ructions to suspect that Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering may have hidden his looted booty in Ireland towards the end of World War Two, Ructions can’t resist the temptation of going on a treasure hunt. But when Ructions goes hunting for gold, he soon finds himself in the cross hairs of vengeful former comrades in the IRA, fanatical Neo-Nazis and dogged Security Services. It all amounts to a terrific romp, entertaining and hilarious in equal measure. I would put Goering’s Gold straight onto your Summer reading list.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Ricky O’Rawe about the novel… at least the conversation was supposed to be about Goering’s Gold. Ricky is a natural raconteur and has had such a fascinating life that we got a bit sidetracked. Like Ructions, Ricky is a former IRA operative. But I won’t say anymore here. I’ll let him describe his life in his own words:

Interviewer: Is there a touch of you in Ructions?

O’Rawe: Ructions has a wee touch of my personality. I always think that when you’re writing these things, there’s always a bit of you in the protagonist. Having said that, I wouldn’t be as clever as Ructions right. But I know people from my time in the Republican movement. People who were very, very smart, who would have been able to think on their feet, who would have a touch of the Ructions guy about them. Probably an amalgamation of three or four different guys who I met along my journey. There is a touch of me in him, I have to be honest. I like his humour. Sometimes he comes off with wee bits of humour, and that’s definitely me.

Interviewer: For the benefit of my readers, will you tell me a little bit about your background. It’s interesting that Ructions has fallen out a bit with the IRA leadership which is somewhat similar to you.

O’Rawe: My whole family is very republican. I’m one of these guys who come from a fairly pristine republican background. My father was one of the OC’s of the IRA in Belfast during the 1940s campaign, and he was interned and escaped out of prison. Tunnelled his way out of Derry jail and escaped with others. And he was interned again during the IRA 50’s campaign – the IRA has a campaign virtually every ten years. They never go anywhere! I was brought up in this republican culture, or ethos, call it what you may. When The Troubles broke out in ‘69, I was a student. I was doing A Levels. I’d just finished my O Levels, and the next thing was that The Troubles broke out and I joined the IRA and in no time at all I was on the run. And I ended up on the prison ship Maidstone in February 1972 and that was my studies. I couldn’t go to school because I would have been arrested and interned a lot earlier. So that was the sort of place my life was in for the next fifteen years. It was dedicated to the Republican struggle in the IRA and struggle for Irish freedom and, as I say, some of the people I’ve met along the way were Ructions type guys. Highly intelligent people. You would look at them and say, he looks a bit of a dodo but in actual fact there’s a great brain behind this guy’s bland facade. But I was in and out of prison four times. I was interned without trial twice. I was in for a kidnapping, which I beat in court, and then I got eight years in 1977 for a bank robbery. And I spent three and a half of those eight years on what was called the Blanket protest.

Interviewer: And that was the start of your drift away from the IRA?

O’Rawe: Well it was some ways. I ended up, during the second hunger strike in 1981, in the leadership position being PR of the Republican prisoners and de facto I was number two in the prison behind a guy called Brendan McFarlane. And four of the guys had died  – Bobby Sands, Frank Hughes, Raymond McCreeesh and Patsy O’Hara – they had already died on hunger strike, and we were coming up to the critical point with the fifth guy, a friend of mine called Joe McDonnell. And the British Government, I put out a statement on the fourth of July, which was very conciliatory which broke down the five demands. And broke them down in a conciliatory way because we needed to reach out to the British to give them a way out. You can’t expect outright victory. And the British did respond. They responded with an offer which me and McFarlane accepted. They were gonna give all prisoners their own clothes, which is what we asked for. And they were gonna give us letters and stuff. The big one was the clothes, that was the one that defined whether you were a political prisoner or not, and they had broken that. So we accepted that offer, and sent a communication to the outside leadership. A call came in from Gerry Adams saying that they were surprised we accepted the offer. And they didn’t think that it justified the deaths of the first four men. So as a result of that, the hunger strike continued and another six men died. I was in an awful state. Truth be told, it was the most traumatic time of my whole life. And there’s nothing I could do to stop this thing, and it ended on October 3, 1981 with ten men dead. I got out two years later and I go back to the Republican Movement because I was still a Republican. I wasn’t one of these midnight guys who come in, have a wee look and nipped out again. I was there for the fight. I came out and Gerry Adams came to the house and grabbed me to do PR for the Republican Movement during the 1982 elections. I stayed until 1986 when my wife gave me an ultimatum. I was doing fifteen hour days down in the press centre. She says look, here’s the choice: you either stay with the Republican Movement or you come with me and your daughter, but you can’t have the two. So I picked my wife and my daughter. And that was when I left the Republican Movement – blackmailed out of it (laughs)!

By the way, (it was) the best decision I was ever forced to take in my life. She and I were only married six months and I was away for six years. And I come out of jail and I am right back in the business, knocking out 15 hour days, not earning any money for the house. Senior Republicans got £30 a week, a lot of guys only got a tenner. And I was getting thirty quid a week and my whole family, my daughter, my wife were suffering. And she was right, she just took the attitude – you’re shiteing on us again and I’m not having it.

Interviewer: You’re still quite involved in politics and you’re working a little with the SDLP.

O’Rawe: The SDLP invited me on to what they call their experts committee. It’s a very broad committee of environmentalists and ex-government ministers and people from the various political parties down south etc. And they said to me, would you like to come on and give some sort of republican perspective? I said, why not, of course, so I do work with the SDLP in that sense. I’m far too busy to be involved in party politics because I’m always writing. I’ve always got something in the pipeline. So I don’t have time to start immersing myself in party politics, and I never would anyway. I could never again commit to the discipline that comes from being in a political party. If somebody told me to believe something that I didn’t believe in it would be chaos. I would never be political again, but I do have opinions and I do express them if I’m asked, and I wouldn’t be behind the door criticising the SDLP, Sinn Fein, DUP, whoever. If they deserve criticism and I’m asked, they’ll get it.

Interviewer: While we’re on the subject of nonfiction, I’m very intrigued by the Gerry Conlon biography that you’ve written. How did that come about?

O’Rawe: Me and Gerry were lifelong friends. We lived beside each other, We were born and reared together in Peel Street in the Lower Falls. We lived in 6 Peel Street and the Conlons lived in No.7. There was three months between us in terms of age. So he and I virtually grew up together. I lived in his house, he lived in my house, and we grew up together and we were always great friends. And Gerry was different from me. Gerry was a crazy sort of a child right, one of these wee fuckers that was breaking into houses when he was about 10 or 12 you know. Whereas, I had a very strict upbringing and I wasn’t into any of that. Gerry was the sort of a kid that was just wild but I loved him. He was like a brother to me, truly. After he got out of the Old Bailey in 1989 I met him again in Belfast, and he and a guy called Brendan ‘Darkie’ Hughes, a very famous Republican, we all got drunk. Darkie Hughes was actually the guy who said to his (Gerry’s) father back in 1973 ‘get him out Giuseppe or he’s gonna get shot.’ So the three of us had a drink and got mad drunk. but then he went away to England and he had his tribulations in England. He ended up on crack cocaine. He ended up in Plymouth, moving down from London, trying to break the habit. He lived like a hermit in Plymouth. Very lucky to have a psychiatric nurse called Baz who talked him through it and walked him through it and he got clean. He came back in 2006. The minute he came home he phoned me up and said, come on out for a drink. So we met a lot of old friends, but it was about me and him. So we started going out for breakfast every week, sometimes twice a week and it was one of those situations where you could tell him anything. There’s very few people in life that you’ll meet like that. You can say whatever you want to say and it’s not going to be carried, and he and I had that sort of relationship.

I released Blanketmen, my first book, in 2005 and he loved it, absolutely loved it. And we were walking up Royal Avenue in 2006 and he said to me, I want you to write my biography. I said, Jesus Christ they made a film about you. Daniel Day Lewis portrayed you, and you’ve already written your own book, Proved Innocent, you’re well covered Gerry. He said, you’re talking balls. My life didn’t start until the day I got out of jail. That’s when the Gerry Conlon story begins. 

And I had other commitments at the time. I had a screenplay with Northern Ireland Screen with a producer guy in Dublin and we were talking about running it as a film. It didn’t work out. He (Gerry) says, are you gonna do it? I says, well… He says, are you gonna do it, I want a commitment? I says, I’ll do it but it won’t be in a day. It won’t be tomorrow. So I gave it no more thought. Neither did he push me for it, because he knew eventually we’ll get round to it. I get a call from his sister Ann. She says, Gerry wants to see you. He’s in hospital. I says, what’s he doing there? She says, it’s not good. She told me he had two or three weeks to live at the most. He has cancer. It’s such a shock. So I went down to see him. It was very emotional for the two of us, because I knew I wouldn’t be seeing him again. He said to me, are you doing the story? You said you would and you haven’t done it yet. So I said, I’m gonna do it. Believe me, I will do it. So we had a very emotional farewell, and he died within about a week.

I had another book, I had Northern Heist lined up to do next. I had to set it aside and get whacked into the Gerry Conlon book, and started doing all the interviews. Had to travel down to Devon, had to go to London, had to go to Glasgow, Derry, down to Tipperary. It was one of those books you had to get on your bike and go and actually talk with people about him. It was one of those books which was very funny in places because Gerry was one of those characters, some of his stories were funny. I mean the antics of him and Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp was fantastic for me. Johnny Depp wrote the foreword. That’s a story on its own. I didn’t think he was gonna do it. It was actually Siobhan MacGowan (Shane MacGowan’s sister). She was a lovely wee girl and we were down interviewing her, down in Tipperary, myself and my daughter. We were walking away, she said to me ‘why don’t you ask Johnny Depp to do the foreword. Ask him, I think he’ll do it. He loved Gerry.’ So she gave me his email address. I bounce away an email, Johnny would you be up for it? I heard nothing for two weeks, I thought let’s get someone else to do it, and then word came through from Johnny Depp, ‘Ricky, I would love to write the foreword to Gerry Conlon’s biography. That is such an honour, and thank you so much for asking me.’

Interviewer: That is an extraordinary story.

O’Rawe: They’d (Depp and Gerry) been on this crazy drinking binge down in southern Ireland and they’d drunk the place dry, all around Cork and Killarney and all. They’d been to all these places and had a great time with the chicks, just real guys going let’s go mad. And he says ‘I remember going into a bookshop in Dublin and Gerry bought a book on The Beatles and I bought Brendan Behan’s Borstal Boy. I have it in my hands as I’m writing this.’

The story itself is fantastic. It’s now a screenplay. We released it in the Lyric Theatre in Belfast and it sold out every night. It’s actually in the biggest theatre in Belfast, 1100 seater, the Grand Opera House at the end of July and it leaves there to go the way over the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for a month. And it’s called In the Name of the Son. If I say so myself, it’s fucking brilliant! Humour, pathos, everything that’s lovely and hard times and funny times. You couldn’t really go wrong because his life was such a rollercoaster. He got through a million quid in under a year, and he ended up rifling through bins because every penny went to drugs. Went to cocaine.

Interviewer: I heard he had PTSD.

O’Rawe: But he fought it. He fought it like a champion and he beat it. I talked to his mate. His mate was also a crack cocaine addict, and he said he went on heroin to get off crack cocaine. He said he couldn’t beat it, but Gerry beat it.

Ricky O’Rawe Credit: O’Rawe Family

Interviewer: What made you turn your hand to fiction with Northern Heist?

O’Rawe: I don’t like to be pigeonholed. I will write whatever takes my fancy, and Northern Heist came about… actually these things always come about with one single thought, and usually it’s a ‘what if’. Me and my daughter was sitting in a pub down in Belfast at Christmas. She doesn’t drink. She was having a coke and I’m having a pint of Guinness and we’re talking about the Northern Bank robbery. They got away with twenty-six and a half million quid. It’s all over the papers. The government down south, the government in London, in Belfast, all the political parties are saying that the Provos, the IRA done it right, carried the robbery out and truth be told, there’s no one else in Ireland who could have pulled it off, other than the IRA. It was such an intricate job, brilliant job. It was one of those jobs you’d give your right arm to be on (laughs).

Interviewer: Yeah? (laughs, a little nervously)

O’Rawe: So we were sitting talking about it, and she said to me ‘but what if the IRA didn’t do it?’ I said ‘Who would do it?’ And then we started talking and we came up with this genius of a criminal. This was a hell of a bank robbery. I mean, whoever thought of this was extremely alert, well tuned in and the genius of it was two parts. The first thing, it was a tiger kidnapping where they held the two families. They send the two bank employees in, and one of them brings in a big Manchester United kitbag, and they say to him, ‘fill that up with money, bring it up to the end of the street’ which he does. He goes up to the end of the street, sits at the bus stop. A guy comes up beside him, takes the bag and walks away and in that instance they got away with a million quid. But they also realised this bank is ours for the taking. There’s no cops, there’s no security. We can take this out, and not just take it out, take every fucking penny out of it. And then a big lorry lined up with two guys. They bring down the lorry. In the meantime, the organiser phones the two boys in the bank and says, start filling up the big trolleys. Fill them up with money, seal them up and bring them out to the loading bay. Which is exactly what they do, they throw some rubbish on it, and in the first haul they get away with 16 million quid. They send the lorry back again and take another 10 million pound out of it. And the genius of the thing was the IRA had to phone the cops up and tell them the place was robbed. From a writer’s point of view, it was fantastic. From a dramatic point of view it was potentially a great story, great novel. But it couldn’t be a great novel if it was the IRA who done it, so I invented this guy Ructions who, as I say, I knew the type of man that he was. I’ve met this type of guy right, on two or three different occasions, not often. These guys don’t grow on trees, but I met this type of guy and I amalgamated three or four different personalities and there’s a touch of me in him as well. So he then becomes the driving force behind it, and it works, but like in all novels you’re problem solving all the time. Number one: how does he get to know who’s working what, when and where, the intelligence on the bank? So I have to solve that. But I loved writing about this guy Ructions.

Goering’s Gold was challenging. Walking Ructions into a scenario where he’s chasing Nazi Gold belonging to Hermann Goering was challenging. You have to sit down and say how would this happen. You make it work because it’s human experience.

Interviewer: Have you always been interested in World War Two?

O’Rawe: I love Modern European History. I was actually studying in prison, before I came out. I love Modern European History and I love World War Two. I don’t love Hermann Goering. He was an absolute monster. But out of all the Nazis he was, far and away, the most gregarious right. He’s a total hedonist, and if he had had his way, there wouldn’t have been a Second World War. He advises Hitler not to invade Poland. He advises him not to invade Russia. Hitler, of course, ignored him. But all I think Hermann Goering wanted to be was the Minister of the Hunt and the Minister of Good Wine and the Minister of Champagne and the Minister of the Party. Even when you look at the Nuremberg trials, he was by far and away the most coherent and intelligent Nazi there. The rest of them were dour. He was laughing and he was almost enjoying it. They’re not sure, for definite, how he got the cyanide tablet. And in that wee mystery lies the nucleus of your book. 

Interviewer: Have you had any feedback from old comrades who say, ‘I don’t like what you’re writing about us’?

O’Rawe: They all want to be Ructions! I don’t hang around with the lads anymore. I just don’t do it. After Blanketmen I was ostracised, but I went to a funeral not long after Northern Heist was released and not one but about twenty came up to me and said, ‘Am I Ructions? Was Ructions based on me?’ They all want to be this maverick, this genius who can pull this stuff off. They love the thought of it.

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