Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

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Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby bannerman on Tue Nov 02, 2010 11:22 am

Theres a very interesting article by Niall Meehan on Spinwatch which analyses the work of the late Peter Hart on the Kilmichael Ambush 28 -11 -1920. I think its well worth a read for anyone interested in the War of Independence.

See here: http://spinwatch.org/-articles-by-category-mainmenu-8/52-northern-ireland/5394-distorting-irish-history-the-stubborn-facts-of-the-kilmichael-incident

Padraig
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby michaelcarragher on Thu Nov 04, 2010 9:22 pm

Yes,

It’s an impressive article, Padraig. But Hart’s analysis of Kilmichael and the Dunmanaway killings effectively has been discredited for a long time. It’s sad to see any historian undermine or even destroy his own reputation by pursuit of an agenda. Denis Winter did the same in the 1990s with Haig’s Command.

In Winter’s case, however, his colleagues quickly spotted what he had done and he’s been an academically spent force ever since; it’s rather worrisome that Hart’s colleagues are so far silent (for the most part). Possibly they’re carrying out forensic examinations of the disputed evidence, but it’s hard to see how anyone could square the circles of Kilmichael and Dunmanaway.

What’s worse than the personal loss of reputation is the discrediting of the rest of Hart’s work, which remains of value, but can never now be referred to without inviting attacks on the basis of credibility or bias. Indeed, by overstating his case—to put it kindly—Hart has played into the hands of those who advance the “authorised version” of Irish history as Holy Writ, and dismiss anyone who would question it as heretics or traitors. He has given ammunition to those who portray revisionists as politically motivated, as he would seem to have been, rather than explorers of the complexity of our history.

For Hart’s criticisms cannot be dismissed entirely. It’s true to say that the IRA were not sectarian in the same way that the UVF and Special Constabularies were in Northern Ireland, but it’s hard to sustain the argument that there was no sectarianism at all within IRA ranks, then any more than in the more recent troubles. Some of the beauties thrown up by the latter can leave us in no doubt about that, as La Mon, Enniskillen, Darkley Hall, Kingsmill, etc prove; and human nature does not change.

Furthermore, as Lionel Curtis and other contemporaries observed, it was far more difficult to identify sectarianism in the Free State, difficult to separate it out from political and agrarian factors, with which it was often conflated. Coolacrease would seem to be a case in point. The Pearsons were Protestant, Unionist, possibly militarily active, but also “alien” farmers whose land was coveted by their neighbours. They seem to have been done to death with deliberate cruelty. (The reason given for the wounds to their lower bodies—that their killers were inexperienced—flies in the face of work done by Joanna Bourke, Dave Grossman and others: reluctant or inexperienced killers fire high, not low, and guns’ recoil exacerbates this tendency.) Agrarian crime was widespread in the first decade of the 20th century, and it re-emerged in the Revolutionary years, which even some rebels admitted.

Was Kilteragh House burned because Sir Horace Plunkett was a Free State senator, or because he was a former Unionist, or a Protestant? Probably Plunkett had done more than any other man to improve the condition of Irish farmers and the overall prosperity of the country, yet he was clearly a Landed Ascendancy figure, and it’s hard to think this was not a factor in the destruction of his home, and the driving of him from his country.

And why did Frank Aiken murder nine Protestants at Altnaveigh, a woman among them? Revenge for the sectarian murder of a couple of Catholics was at least part of the reason.

Though Hart’s reputation must for the moment—and likely for all time—remain suspect, we all owe him a debt for revitalising debate and promoting scholarship on the Revolutionary period.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby bannerman on Fri Nov 12, 2010 11:52 am

Hello Michael,

Hart’s analysis of Kilmichael and the Dunmanaway killings effectively has been discredited for a long time.


Unfortunately Harts work is still quoted and used in other works in an uncritical manner by other authors. For example have a look at how Peter Cottrell used Harts work to reach sweeping conclusions on the issue of the execution of suspected spies. You can read it here:

http://www.livinghistory.ie/viewtopic.php?f=18&t=1527

Harts interview with an anonymous IRA Volunteer in Macroom (Who may have been a fraud as Meehans article shows!) has been used verbatum in a book published this year about the British Forces.

The use of anonymous "sources" has unfourtunately not ended with Hart either - Ive just finished reading a recently published book about the War of Independence that quotes anonymous sources from Cork in reaching its conclusions

Coolacrease would seem to be a case in point. The Pearsons were Protestant, Unionist, possibly militarily active, but also “alien” farmers whose land was coveted by their neighbours. They seem to have been done to death with deliberate cruelty. (The reason given for the wounds to their lower bodies—that their killers were inexperienced—flies in the face of work done by Joanna Bourke, Dave Grossman and others: reluctant or inexperienced killers fire high, not low, and guns’ recoil exacerbates this tendency.)


The Coolacrease documentary on RTE has caused great contraversy and contained some claims which have been proven to be completely invented and to have absolutely no basis in fact - for example the claim made that the Pearson brothers were deliberately shot in the genitals. Anyone interested in this case should read: "Coolacrease: The True Story of the Pearson Executions" By Paddy Heaney, Pat Muldowney, Philip O’Connor, Dr Brian P Murphy, and others

I dont deny that secterianism existed during the War of Independence - for exaple I regard the killing by the IRA of of Draper Holmes in Newry in July 1921 as being secterian but I tend to agree with District Inspector Regan of The R.I.C. who stated: “the further one gets from Belfast the less sectarianism there is generally”.

I just posted an article I wrote on Sectarianism in Clare During the War of Independence here:

http://www.livinghistory.ie/viewtopic.php?f=18&t=1627

It has just been published in the Shannon Archaeological and Historical Society's annual journal "The Other Clare"
It has sections on attacks on Loyalist premesis in Clare, the burning of large Estate houses and the shooting of spies - It might be of interest.Since Harts findings on Cork cant be applied to Clare I think the article shows the dangers of assuming that the experience of one county during the war was reflective of the country as a whole.

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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby michaelcarragher on Sat Nov 13, 2010 7:36 pm

Well done, Padraig—

That’s a fine piece, “Sectarianism in Clare”; intelligently argued and well supported by impressive research and the evidence that follows out of that.

In no way to undercut your work, but I’m not surprised by some of your findings. The fact that there were so few Protestants in Clare would militate against sectarianism. The old adage that one alien is a curiosity, two are guests, but three begin to be seen as a threat, is relevant here. In the more recent Troubles South Armagh was “the IRA capital of the world”, as someone put it, yet the “real” South Armagh—Crossmaglen and environs—was untroubled by sectarianism per se.

This was because there were few Protestants, and those few saw themselves as, and indeed were, an integral part of the community, and took their place within it. One local Protestant was an official in the GAA; others were involved in fund-raising for the dependants of Harry Thornton after Harry was killed by the British Army in 1970. Inspector Regan’s conclusion—that the “the further one gets from Belfast the less sectarianism there is generally”—could apply on a provincial as well as on a national scale (though only to a point).

I rather doubt that many people would claim that the IRA was a sectarian organisation in the way that Loyalist paramilitary gangs were, even in the recent Troubles—and there were too many Protestants in it in the older Troubles, to defend such an accusation back than. Even people who are impressed with much of Hart’s work (and I am one, though with obvious reservations on his claims over Bandon and Kilmichael) would believe that most of the IRA would have fought for Tone’s vision of a non-sectarian republic.

That there were sectarian murders, back then and more recently, is undeniable, and to dismiss them as exceptions that test the rule is no consolation to the bereaved. And though you make a strong case for your claims in “Sectarianism in Clare”, there undoubtedly were horrible events back then, as indeed you agree. The IRA General Order forbidding the burning of houses other than of those who were “the most active enemies of Ireland” was clearly breached in Horace Plunkett’s case. How many others were burned out for sectarian or economic reasons? I remain to be convinced that there were no “paraffin patriots” or land grabbers who used the Troubles to their own advantage.

Yet for Hart’s disputed claims to be cited in ostensibly serious works of history is also troubling.

If Hart truly was trying to be deceptive, his reputation is, or will be, destroyed in the way that Denis Winters’ was: for honesty always will out, if only because our innate curiosity drives us toward discovering the truth (however this might embarrass our forebears and indeed ourselves betimes). Finding the truth is what drives anyone who aspires to be an historian, whether officially accredited or not.

The readiness to cite Hart’s contested conclusions may indicate prejudice on the part of those who do so—but it also might reflect mere laziness. That might be worse in a way—for I suspect that it may be harder to spot an innocent mistake than a distortion born of idealism. Some excellent historians have been prejudiced, but we still can learn much from them. Basil Liddell-Hart’s conclusions about the Great War must be filtered through the trauma that he had suffered in that conflict; AJP Taylor’s Marxism inevitably clouded his judgements. Tom Barry, Ernie O’Malley, Dan Breen, all wrote accounts of the Irish Revolution that simply could not be objective, given that they were actors in the drama.

Yet all those men remain significant figures, and their work retains value to the historian. Once we become aware of them, their prejudices almost can seem to stand out on the page, and may be judged for what they are, as we glean the truth the writers tell.

But if a writer is merely propagating a mistake or falsehood without malice, no prejudice might protrude to warn the reader. (That Lloyd George's lies were propagated by generations of Great War historians might seem to disprove this theory, but LG's infamous glibness camouflaged his agenda.)

I’ll try and read Coolacrease: The True Story, for I’m less than fully informed on the matter and I suspect the book exposes the sort of “scholarship” that betrays agenda-driven “historians”, as well as discussing agrarian crime at the time. But I won’t read it for a while, for I’ve just opened Gerard Murphy’s The Year of Disappearances: Political Killings in Cork 1921-1922. It promises to make for grim reading, and to spark the sort of controversy in History Ireland (and indeed on this forum) that Hart’s work did.

So far, it appears that Murphy is not agenda-driven—though it’s a certainty that he’ll be reviled as a “revisionist” by those who would deny that “when it comes to brutality, the Irish can mete it out as well as anyone else” (pp. 15-16). Rather, he seems to be concerned with exploring “a dark part of Irish history [that] it has suited various interests to keep quiet about”, and he’s self-effacing in his preface: “It is the best I could do with what I uncovered, and some conclusions may turn out to be incorrect when more evidence becomes available. It is at best a theory or, rather, a series of interrelated theories. These may be refuted by future scholars. If so, good luck to them” (p. xi).

Has anyone else read this book? Should we open a new thread of discussion?
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby bannerman on Mon Nov 15, 2010 1:22 pm

Hello again Michael,
Thanks for the long and detailed response and the compliments on the article. Unfortunately I have no internet access at home at the moment so my answers have to be shorter and less detailed than I would like since I cant bring my library to the nearest internet cafe!

The fact that there were so few Protestants in Clare would militate against sectarianism.


It could also be argued that since there were so few Protestants in Clare they made an easier target, or that since there were so many Protestants as a percentage of the population in west Cork the number of Protestants who acted as spies was also likely to have been higher as a percentage.

In no way to undercut your work, but I’m not surprised by some of your findings. The fact that there were so few Protestants in Clare would militate against sectarianism.

Recent books published by Dr. John O Callaghan and Tom Toomey on Limerick during the War of Independence have also concluded that there was little if any sectarianism in the county and that no Protestant civilians were executed there as suspected spies. Work on Galway is ongoing. Those who promote Harts work, and that of other Revisionist historians in the media, namely Kevin Myers and Eoghan Harris have claimed that anti Protestant sectarianism was a defining feature of the War Of Independence in all other counties as well as Cork but that Hart was the only one to have carried out the research to prove it using Cork as a case study. When the work of others in other counties shows that there was little or no sectarianism is produced it is ignored because it does not fit the "Sectarian Thesis" that is being promoted. This is done in the same way Meehan has shown that Hart ignored any factual information from sources he used that didnt fit his theory. Basically they appear to be shaping the evidence to suit their theory and not changing their theory to fit the evidence.

The IRA General Order forbidding the burning of houses other than of those who were “the most active enemies of Ireland” was clearly breached in Horace Plunkett’s case.


Im afraid im not familiar with the case. In your earlier post you described Plunket as "a Free State senator". What date was his house burned? Was it burned during the Civil War? If so then I dont think it should be linked with the IRA General Order issued in the War of Independence. While I believe there was very little sectarianism in the south and west during the War of Independence there does appear to have been a marked increase in sectarian feeling from a very low level nationally during the Civil War. But I dont believe that we have to be carefull when we look at one "IRA" during the whole 1916 to 1923 period since there was huge local variation from county to county and brigade area to brigade area based on leadersghip. Also as the political and military situation changed from 1916 to 1923 the leadership, personalities, tactics, politics and military necessaties changed. The fepublicans who fought under Patrick pearse and James Connolly in the G.P.O. in 1916, were a very different body of men to those who fought in Tom Barry's Flying Column in 1920 -1921, to whose who were in the IRA in Belfast from 1920-1923. Recently I read that British military historians regard there being at least three different "British armies" in the First World War since the the leadership, personalities tactics and military necessaties faced by "The Old Contemptables" - Regular 1914 British troops, Kiticheneers Volunteers and those conscripted into the British Army in the later half of WW1 also changed

I’ve just opened Gerard Murphy’s The Year of Disappearances: Political Killings in Cork 1921-1922. It promises to make for grim reading, and to spark the sort of controversy in History Ireland (and indeed on this forum) that Hart’s work did.

So far, it appears that Murphy is not agenda-driven—though it’s a certainty that he’ll be reviled as a “revisionist” by those who would deny that “when it comes to brutality, the Irish can mete it out as well as anyone else” (pp. 15-16). Rather, he seems to be concerned with exploring “a dark part of Irish history [that] it has suited various interests to keep quiet about”, and he’s self-effacing in his preface: “It is the best I could do with what I uncovered, and some conclusions may turn out to be incorrect when more evidence becomes available. It is at best a theory or, rather, a series of interrelated theories. These may be refuted by future scholars. If so, good luck to them” (p. xi).
Has anyone else read this book?


I have read Murphy's book and am currently re-reading it. I would not class Murphy as revisionist since he engages in "cause and effect" history he looks at what activities people were involved or at least suspected of being involved it - and he treats each case individually. Murphy also states in the book his belief that in the War of Independence in Cork City the IRA were not motivated by sectarianiam but that this may have been subject to change later. Murphy has done some excellent work on the shooting of suspected spies during the War of Independence for example his examination of the shooting of Major G.B. O Connor on 10th July 1921 and his work on the war of Independence is very detailed. However in my opinion Murphy loses momentum, quality and clarity towards the end of the book - since your reading it I wont give away his final conclusion but I will say I regard it as being "conspiratorial" rather than revisionist.

In my initial reply above I stated:
The use of anonymous "sources" has unfourtunately not ended with Hart either - Ive just finished reading a recently published book about the War of Independence that quotes anonymous sources from Cork in reaching its conclusions


It was Murphy's book I was referring to. Murphy describes the killing of three Protestant Boy scouts by an IRA Volunteer in Cork city between the 11th and 15th of July 1921. Murphy's documentary evidence for this is patchy and circumstantial at best. Not only do the "three Protestant teenagers" remain anonymous - so does Murphys main source of information. Murphy claims to have recieved detailed information on these unsubstiantiated killings from an anonymous 89 year old Corkman who was the son of an unidentified IRA Veteran. Murphy's source in turn recieved this information from another anonymous IRA Veteran who "waited untill all those who knew the story were dead" before telling it. Murphy's source of information is never named except as "my man" and "my source" Anonymous chinese whispers! Is this any basis for writing about such an important and sensative period of Irish history?
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby bannerman on Thu Nov 18, 2010 10:42 pm

http://www.warofindependence.net/

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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby michaelcarragher on Sat Nov 20, 2010 1:49 pm

Padraig,

Thanks again for your attention.

I think we both accept that sectarianism was not a defining feature of the Irish Volunteers/IRA, through the revolutionary years. However, instances of sectarianism did occur, some of them appalling—as at, say, Altnaveigh.

It would have been miraculous if there had been no sectarianism, given the conflation of religion, politics and economics at the time. On the evidence I’ve seen, it was more likely to have been prompted by economic—i.e. agrarian—factors, and the ITGWU may have been worse offenders than the IRA.

Part of the problem, a good part I suspect, was the problem of central control, the ad hoc management of affairs on a local basis, and the confusion this engendered, which perhaps gave opportunity to ruthless villains as well as cover to pay petty quarrels off. Gerard Murphy illustrates this confusion and—to use a military term—“blurred command”, e.g. in the conflict between Dick Mulcahy and Sean O’Hegarty over the shooting of the Blemenses (p. 131)—which is not to say that those were sectarian killings, as Murphy agrees (though he finds them appalling).

Where we seem to differ is the significance we place on those however-exceptional instances of sectarianism. Sectarianism indicts all of those who would claim authority over those who committed such acts, whether they be Hamar Greenwood, General Tudor or Lloyd George—or Michael Collins, Martin Corry or Sean O’Hegarty.

Yet I don’t say that, given the circumstances of the time, all or indeed any of the last three men need have been sectarian (I’m still reading Murphy); and perhaps I overstate my meaning by implying that Collins, at any rate, must bear personal responsibility given problems of communication and blurred command of the time. (All the evidence that I’ve seen indicates that sectarianism would have been alien to Collins’ mentality; even in his planned campaign against the North.)

But if the campaign toward our independence was not sectarian, to pretend that sectarianism did not occur under cover of independence’s name ultimately does disservice to anyone who calls himself a nationalist.

I suspect Murphy’s book is destined to be picked over for long—and to make its author a good few quid along the way. The man deserves all he makes, for he surely put a labour of haunted love into his work. I yet have to finish it, but so far I agree with your evaluation of it as “conspiratorial”—though in the sense that it brilliantly explores what its author frankly admits is “only a theory” that there has been a conspiracy, by both sides, to cover up a lot of appalling events. Murphy’s research is impressive, and his speculations are not unreasonable and always (well, so far) intelligent.

So far, what seems the most intriguing passage is on p 195, where Murphy relates how an IRA company declined to inform Brigade HQ of any loyalists in its area, and then went on to set a guard on local loyalists. In this gesture, Murphy rightly credits “the basic decency of much of the Sinn Fein movement at that time”.

But the dreadful obverse of this “basic decency” can be discerned in the reason for the company’s refusal to inform IRA HQ of any loyalists, as well as posting guard on them: “if we give the names of our neighbours as loyalists, then there is a chance that the next orders we’ll get will be to shoot them.” And setting a guard confirms that there were villains all too ready to kill people, if not for religion, for political allegiance, under cover of “patriotism”—or men who eagerly would prostitute patriotism to add another field to their hungry acres.

The most depressing thing about this implicit admission is that, while it might not be men at the top like Collins who were sectarian, “middle managers” like Sean O’Hegarty and Martin Corry, well may have been exactly that.

This passage, the full significance of which seems to elude even Murphy, strikes me as encompassing all the complexity that defies the sort of simplistic, binary reduction into which partisans of both sides would slot our history.

I’ll probably post a review of Murphy’s book on the forum as soon as I finish reading it; after you’ve finished your re-reading, you might care to respond (or indeed to anticipate my own posting)?

But onto other matters:

Horace Plunkett’s house indeed was burned in the Civil War and of course you’re right: as a senator of the Free State he could by then “legitimately” be accounted “an active enemy of Ireland” by those who took it on themselves to define what Ireland constituted and who her enemies were (in the best extra-parliamentary fashion).

Another point you make: indeed, there were three British Armies through the Great War—and if Murphy’s right, the worst elements of all were drawn to Ireland. For this man is no partisan: if the tales he tells about the IRA would curl your hair, British murder gangs are no better: they “tortured, maimed and murdered mercilessly” (pp 220-21).

What surprises, though, in this regard is that the latter murder gangs seem to have been composed primarily of well-off ex-officers—well, it surprised me, given the limpidly corner-boy appearance of the Cairo Gang. Frank Crozier calls these assassins “foul men”, and they managed to “horrify” even the incorrigibly Unionist Henry Wilson (pp 217-21).

(Does anyone know much about Crozier, by the way? I know I ought to read his books but there’s so little time. A colourful creature, to be sure. Is it true that he ended up “living in sin” with one of James Connolly’s secretaries? If so, the pair of them in bed, after half-throttling each other in a screaming lovers’ tiff, would constitute some sort of metaphor for our wonderful, tragic, daft wee country.)

I’ve just checked into the forum and seen your more recent posting. I’ll check it out. I’ll sign off for the moment, but before I do so (and addressing your previous posting) let me point out that there’s a huge difference between using hearsay testimony to bolster evidence already assembled (though as I’ve yet to reach that section of Murphy’s book I may be misinterpreting your point?), and building a thesis in large part around testimony that—so far, anyway—cannot be verified (in Hart’s case about the false surrender).
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby michaelcarragher on Mon Nov 29, 2010 8:32 pm

Heres a review of Murphy's book by Niall Meehan:
It makes interesting reading:

http://www.spinwatch.org.uk/reviews-mai ... ppearances



Padraig,

On your suggestion, I have read Niall Meehan’s review of Gerard Murphy’s book, and frankly I’m disappointed. In fact, his review has quite put me off the man, and the close examination of his work, demanded by actually studying this review in depth, leads me to revalue the worth of all his writing.

Until now I’d been impressed by this—for Meehan is impressive on first blush. He makes an intelligent argument, marshals his points well, and musters a large amount of evidence that purports to support those points. However, close examination reveals that much—much: I do not say all—of his argument is more sophistry than substance. (Certainly in this instance.)

Meehan outlines his position at the outset, and this apparently frank and reasonable introduction cleverly establishes a false premise, for it camouflages Meehan’s presentation as “fact” that “republicans … were politically anti-sectarian”. This makes it appear that Murphy is effectively telling lies, or at best wasting his own and his readers’ time, by exploring any possibility that republicans might have been sectarian. This is underhand, for Murphy makes clear—many times—that republicans, by and large, indeed were “politically anti-sectarian”: his concern is that some republicans were not; and that some within this group carried out sectarian murders.

Having cunningly cast Murphy’s thesis in an unfavourable light, Meehan then undermines his scholarship: “Unfortunately, though referenced in notes, the book contains no list of primary sources”. This might be true, yet the book provides a wealth of primary sources in almost fifty pages of endnotes. That some of these notes have unpaginated references in an inconvenience, an irritation to a researcher, perhaps indicative of poor professional protocol; but none of this need compromise the work itself. Stephen O’Donnell’s book, The Royal Irish Constabulary and The Black and Tans in County Louth is even less professional in these regards, but it remains a valuable source of information. I’m sure we all could think of similar works.

For Meehan to undermine Murphy’s work in such ways strikes me as sly and underhand. What also strikes me is, why would anyone use sly and underhand tricks, and what does such use say of both the person who would employ such tricks, and the true value of his substantial argument? Also, what exactly is that person trying to do? Is Meehan seeking to put people off reading Murphy’s book? If so, what is he afraid they might learn from it?

For if, as Meehan rightly claims, “History is what the evidence compels us to believe”, new evidence equally may compel us to review, or at any rate revisit, what we’ve believed to this point; and though a lot in Murphy’s book is speculative, a great deal is supported by evidence. That often this evidence is inconclusive, that it does not compel us to believe anything specific, is something with which Murphy would agree—indeed, one senses from the tone of his introduction that he would be relieved if his own tentative conclusions could be disproved.

Meehan becomes even more underhand when he brings into his review articles by Kevin Myers, Eoghan Harris and John Paul McCarthy. Whatever the quality of their articles, that these people use Murphy’s work to support arguments of their own is utterly beside the point of a review of Murphy’s book, and besides, is something beyond Murphy’s control. Dragging in these articles constitutes an “association fallacy”, or “damning by association”. “Poisoning the well” is a pithier way of putting it.

It was this cheap shot that convinced me that Meehan is as partisan as Myers or Harris—he’s merely on the other side, and his “review” is just a hatchet job.

But as any good liar builds his case on half-truths, any partisan reviewer concentrates on “facts”. Murphy, by contrast, acknowledges: “truth is … more elusive than what can be reconstructed from mere facts” (xii). And I am not calling Niall Meehan a liar here, merely drawing an analogy—though I do say that he is grossly unfair in this review—for in truth much of his criticisms are valid and indeed valuable on occasion. But Murphy, I suspect, would agree—for he is not so much offering answers as asking questions. Certainly, he proposes tentative answers—and indeed sometimes he is less tentative than his evidence warrants—but from the outset he acknowledges that these may be wrong and wishes, with all apparent sincerity, “good luck” to anyone who comes up with better answers.

What Niall Meehan claims is “the nub of Gerard Murphy’s argument” will come as a surprise to many who have read Murphy’s book. The “nub” of this rather seems to be that there was an “Anti-Sinn Fein Society”, which Murphy quite plausibly suspects was a cover name for murder gangs drawn from the Black and Tans and undercover British soldiers; that many of these men used the YMCA as a base and probably subverted impressionable young Protestant boys there into becoming informers; that closely associated with the YMCA were Methodists; that there was close association between Methodists and Freemasonry; that there also was close association between Methodists, a proselytising sect, and army garrisons; that there was deep suspicion of Freemasonry on the part of many (indeed most) Catholics, and on the part of several Cork IRA men in particular; and—finally and fatally—that these associations, coupled with confusion, paranoia and suspicion resulted in many innocent Protestants being murdered by sectarian bigots within the non-sectarian IRA.

Murphy makes a persuasive case that this is what may have happened—may have. He does not pretend to know what did happen—and his tentative thesis is repeatedly acknowledged to be vulnerable through reliance on circumstantial evidence. Not only does he constantly reminds his reader of these circumstantialities, he acknowledges that many if not most of the Protestant “disappeared” were “legitimate targets” (to borrow a more recent IRA euphemism). He accepts that they were loyalists and that at least some of them likely informed on the IRA.

In this regard especially he is far more intelligent and nuanced than Meehan’s “review” would lead one to expect: “These men [Methodists] felt compelled because of their Christian beliefs to pass on any information they may have had on what they saw as a campaign of murder…. If that duty entailed passing on information on IRA activities then it is easy to see the dilemma in which Cork Methodists found themselves” (p. 237).

Furthermore, Meehan is just wrong in claiming that Murphy has to “establish who organised the disappearing and shooting of uninvolved Protestants”; to make such a claim is to invert logic, or at any rate sequentiality: Murphy’s concern is to establish that uninvolved Protestants were “disappeared” and murdered, not who commissioned or committed the crimes. He frankly speculates on the identities of the guilty and, though no court would convict any of his suspects, he builds a case persuasive enough for any justice to issue a warrant for the arrest of at least some of those suspects.

So, though Meehan accurately highlights the many weaknesses in Murphy’s book, his accuracy is that of the “sharpshooter” who shoots trawled-up fish in a barrel of his own construction. For all its superficial plausibility, his review is biased to the point where, for all his subtle sophistry, he betrays that he has an agenda of his own and that this agenda is far more blatant than any he pretends that Gerard Murphy has.

For Murphy is as condemnatory of the British murder squads as he is of the IRA’s, and open-handedly credits the good offices of Tom Barry and other non-sectarian republicans in their defence of beleaguered Protestants against bigoted murderers under whatever banner.

Nor does he overstate such case as he does make that sectarian blackguards murdered or drove out Protestants from Cork: rather, he acknowledges both that Home Rule Catholics as well as Protestants were expelled from the “Cork republic” by republican blackguards, and that Protestants as well as Catholics were terrorised by the Black and Tans. Blackguards of whichever stripe, Murphy points a fearless finger.

So why do I find Niall Meehan’s opinions so at odds with my own evaluation of the book Meehan purports to review? We both seem to be reasonably intelligent men, so how could one of us have got it so wrong?

Well, it’s possible that there’s been some massive misunderstanding—or misreading—on my part. If this is so, I would welcome clarification from Niall Meehan (or perhaps yourself, Padraig, or any other forum member). If I have misread or misunderstood Mr Meehan, he has my apologies.

But I doubt that I have. I suspect that Mr Meehan, clever man, has divided his eggs between the baskets of “poisoned association” and the “package-deal”—the latter fallacy being that because things always have been grouped thus, they constitute an ineluctable, eternal package.

So, if you’re proud of your Irish birth, your Irish heritage, your culture, your history, your song—in short, all that makes you Irish—you must be proud of all that has been done in your Irish name, by whomever, and however shameful those deeds. For if they were done in the sacred name of Ireland, how could those deeds possibly be shameful? (Yet more fallacies: “appeal to tradition”; “composition fallacy”.)

So who is pushing an agenda here? Meehan effectively brands Murphy a revisionist (in the disparaging sense of that word); but Murphy makes it clear from the outset that his concern is with questions, and that any answers he gives are provisional.

Niall Meehan and Gerard Murphy take polar opposite views on almost all matters with which they deal. Whatever the details of either’s conclusions, my support is for the honest man who isn’t afraid to ask questions.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby anchorman on Mon Jan 17, 2011 3:53 pm

Gerard Murphy's book has been given a pasting in other reviews. He disliked the Irish Times review of his book by Caoimhe Nic Dháibhéid so much, he wrote in to attack it. In History Ireland (Jan Feb 2011) John Borgonovo said the book cannot be taken seriously as research and wrote that its arguments were 'specious'. In addition, this appeared in the Sunday Tribune yesterday:

http://www.tribune.ie/news/home-news/ar ... /1...book/

Author owns up to errors in IRA Cork deaths book
John Downes, News Investigations Correspondent, Sunday Tribune, January 16, 2011

The author of a controversial book into sectarian killings in Cork has acknowledged that there are flaws in his research, including the incorrect transcription of at least one original document cited in the work.
However, Gerard Murphy, author of The Year of Disappearances: Political Killings in Cork 1921-1922, has strongly defended the accuracy of his conclusions, including his claim that members of the "old" IRA in the city killed three Protestant teenagers in July 1921.
This is identified by him as a key event which prompted the subsequent murder by the IRA of dozens of Protestant and unionist Cork citizens, in effect leading to a "land grab" and the collapse of the Protestant population of the city. The killings ended with the entrance of the Free State army into Cork in August 1922.
However, responding to an analysis of the original source material conducted by historian and author Pádraig Ó Ruairc, Murphy accepted that he had incorrectly transcribed a section of an intelligence report from the IRA's Cork No 1 Brigade which Ó Ruairc claimed "completely changed the meaning of the sentence".
Murphy said this was "merely a genuine error on my part. I just misread the sentence and it was not part of some conspiracy to denigrate the Republic." He also acknowledged he had incorrectly described four British soldiers killed the night before the truce as "teenagers" when in fact they were all in their 20s.


All in all, it looks as if Meehan was merely the first to hit the nail on the head.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby thepremier on Mon Jan 17, 2011 10:57 pm

I'm surprised he was so hostile to Nic Dháibhéid's review. I thought she gave the book more credit than it deserved. Borgonovo's review pretty much reflects what I think about it, and is pretty balanced. There may be interesting details, but the overall thesis is completely flawed and misguided.
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