Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby bannerman on Fri Apr 15, 2011 10:54 am

Hello again Michael,

Though much of the book bears only tangential relevance to the Coolacrease killings


I would say that the book provides the context (the War of Independence in Offaly) in which the killings took place. It also provides the context to the claims made in the politically driven and historically revisionist TV documentry.

The recent “Ranch War” had extended from Galway and Meath to touch on Offaly, so land hunger cannot be discounted as a contributing factor.


To my recollection from reading the book - none of their neighbours were interefered with by the IRA, many of whom were also Protestant and some of whom owned bigger tracts of land. It seems far more likely that they were shot because they had fired on the IRA party felling trees as a roadblock near their home, or because of their close association to, and supected collaboration with, the British forces whom they frequently entertained at their home and were suspected of giving information to. These seem to be far more important factors in their death.

On top of this, of course, the work of David Fitzpatrick, Charles Townshend and many others hasn’t gone away, you know.


I know it hasnt and I never said it had. This of course would be the same David fitzpatrick who has an issue with Gerard Murphy using anonymous sources. "One story has a citation reminiscent of Tim Pat Coogan at his most secretively melodramatic: “I was told this by a very reliable source.” " This would also be the same David Fitzpatrick who had no issue with his former Ph D student Peter Hart using anonymous sources. Some of whom Hart later admitted may not have been IRA veterans after all (See Tom Barry - Bothar Na Saoirse Documentry) or whom many now suspected were completely invented by Hart who may have fabricated evidence to support his conclusions. (see Niall Meehans article on Spinwatch or 'Troubled History'.) Fitzpatrick pioneered the stastical approach used by hart and others however - this is far removed from "cause and effect" history. This approach often fails to examine killings in detail and instead trys to pidgeon hole deaths using a demographic statistic to explain their cause ie - "The Pearsons were killed because they were Protestants. End of story. Please disregard all other possible (and more likely) explanations. Now please refer to chart B Protestant deaths in Offaly 1919-1921"

I've read Townshends book on the British Campaign in Ireland - I dont remember him stating that there was a sectarian campaign in the south. What relevence is it to this debate / discussion?

Niamh Sammon’s claim that these were sectarian killings cannot be sustained.
Nor can the claim that the men were deliberately shot in the genitals


Yeah Eoghan Harris that great Historian of our day whom I have yet to see or hear of in an archive invented the claim about the genitals. The same Harris who is a leading supporter of Hart and Murphy's fantastic claims about the War.

but in all other regards, attempts to explain away the nature and location of the men’s wounds also fail. Most threadbare of all excuses here is that the firing squad was inexperienced


Offaly was hardly a leading county in the Republican military campaign during the war, the county only really seems to have gotten active between may and july 1921 when an IRA Staff Officer from Dubklin arrived. (This is another indicator that the Pearson killings were not due to local factors land etc.) Philip Mc Conway is writing a detailed account of the county's role in the war. I hope to see this in print in the next year or two.

"If they were short of ammunition why waste bullets on a firing squad when one to each brain from a Webley would suffice? ... RIC man Patrick Foley was found with 26 bullet wounds, at least seven of which would have proved fatal, "


Yes firing squads were used commonly by the IRA - Why well it seems to have been an imitation of British military practice of the period. There is not much difference between the IRA's attitude to suspected spies and the treatment given to those executed by the British as suspected spies in WW1. I am writing about this for my Ph D thesis so I wont go into more detail expending my efforts here. If you need any more information on this British attitude to spies I think you should look up the phrase "Short Shrift" or "Giving Spies Short Shrift" whivch was commonly used by the British during WW1. To put it bluntly the IRA operated by the military norms, standards and practices of the day when dealing with suspected spies and intelligence agents.

why waste bullets on a firing squad when one to each brain from a Webley would suffice?

Same thing could be asked about any British execution by firing squad, in WW1, 1916 or the WOI.

"The Pearsons were done to death with deliberate cruelty, "

Yes they undoubetedly were - those suspected of spying usually are done to death with deliberate cruelty by the army they oppose. Can you tell me is there a way of executing someone by firing squad, hanging, lethal injection etc that is not deliberately cruel? The very act of taking someones life - especially as a military punishment is designed to be deliberately cruel is it not? no matter how well trained the executioner(s) is (/are).

Michael you seem to be doing a lot of "hurling from the ditch" here - I trust that you are putting your considerable knowledge of military history to use and that you are completeing, and publishing, work of your own. Id be glad to take any relevent submissions for the website I administer.

Padraig
http://www.warofindependence.net/

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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby bannerman on Fri Apr 15, 2011 11:10 am

By publishing his book in its present form G&M did Mr Murphy’s reputation no favours (his bank account, and their own, might be a different story.)


Id say what ever money G & M made out of publishing Murphy's book the severe damage to their reputation wasnt worth it.
http://www.warofindependence.net/

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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby michaelcarragher on Sat Apr 16, 2011 10:02 am

Padraig,

It seems there have been misunderstandings.

For a start, let me make it absolutely clear that I am in no way associated with Eoghan Harris—I would regard Mr Harris as a man with an agenda (and I beg his pardon if I’m wrong, but I have to judge by what I know of him, which is only what he writes). I have no political agenda myself (so to that extent at any rate I suppose you’re right: I’m “hurling from the ditch”), but I’ve been fascinated by Irish history since childhood; it is this interest that drives me.

It seems far more likely that [the Pearsons] were shot because they had fired on the IRA party felling trees as a roadblock near their home, or because of their close association to, and supected collaboration with, the British forces whom they frequently entertained at their home and were suspected of giving information to. These seem to be far more important factors in their death.


I fully agree. In bringing up the issue of land, I was specifically responding to Philip O’Connor’s chapter in Coolacrease, and I don’t feel I was unfair in alluding to the background land war in evaluating Mr O’Connor’s argument. I agree that the Pearsons were “far more likely … shot” for their active collaboration with Crown forces:

The authors offer convincing evidence that the Coolacrease killings were not sectarian; that the Pearsons had committed themselves to repudiation of an Irish Republic, and enjoined themselves to armed action in their Loyalist cause.

Another apparent misunderstanding:

I've read Townshends book on the British Campaign in Ireland - I dont remember him stating that there was a sectarian campaign in the south. What relevence is it to this debate / discussion?

I had in mind Townshend’s observations on the land issue—you’re right, he doesn’t claim that there was a sectarian campaign outside the North. And up front I have to say that I didn’t have his book to hand when I referred to him. I’m pretty sure he deals with land as an issue, but even if I’m wrong there’s no shortage of evidence in other writers’ works (though the ITGWU seems to have been more active than the IRA in the land campaign).

Much the same goes for my reference to David Fitzpatrick. I’m aware that Mr Fitzpatrick is something of a bête noir to anti-“revisionists”, but again I had in mind his observations on the part played by land in the revolutionary period.

Also in relation to this comment/question of yours, I would again emphasise that I do not believe the Coolacrease killings were sectarian.

Quite another matter:

Yes firing squads were used commonly by the IRA - Why well it seems to have been an imitation of British military practice of the period…. To put it bluntly the IRA operated by the military norms, standards and practices of the day when dealing with suspected spies and intelligence agents…. Can you tell me is there a way of executing someone by firing squad, hanging, lethal injection etc that is not deliberately cruel?


We have significant points of contention here, Padraig. Putting anyone to death by the methods you enumerate is not deliberately cruel—not at all. Any cruelty is incidental, and rare. I reject your contention that “the very act of taking someones life - especially as a military punishment is designed to be deliberately cruel”.

The “drop” method of hanging means more-or-less instantaneous death. Albert Pierrepoint was disgusted by the way Master Sergeant John C Woods and MP Joseph Malta botched the hanging of Nazi war criminals, which led to some of these taking quite a long time to strangle to death; but the American hangmen weren’t deliberately cruel, just inept—indeed, Malta personally modified the gallows trapdoors so that they wouldn’t bounce back and strike the dropping men (which wasn’t the real problem: the traps were too small, impeding the doomed men’s drops—though some drops were badly calculated too). Similarly, half a dozen .303 bullets to the heart region usually means speedy death—at worst, the few seconds’ delay it takes the O/C firing squad to step to the victim’s head and put a .450 bullet point-blank through his brain.

So to shoot the Pearsons in the lower body and limbs, deliberately and with many bullets, and then leave them to die slowly, assuredly was not “operat[ing] by the military norms, standards and practices of the day”. Any British officer (or French, German, Russian, etc officer) so depraved as to have overseen such an execution as that of the Pearsons most certainly would have been court-martialled and very harshly dealt with—and proper order too.

We are in full agreement on the “short shrift” given to spies by the British in the First War. And by the French, of course, and the Belgians, and everyone else. “Spy mania” was a feature of the “Great Retreat” of August 1914 in particular, and there can be no question but that many innocent people were killed then. An Anglo-Frenchman, Paul Maze, working as interpreter for Hubert Gough’s cavalry, was actually being led out by the French to be shot when he recognised a passing British major, who vouched for him. Roger West was arrested by a Highland regiment as a spy, and hardly helped dispel his captors’ suspicions by engaging another prisoner in cordial conversation—in German. (Lieutenant West shortly afterward won the DSO for blowing up a bridge in the teeth of the German advance, while wearing a carpet slipper over an infected and swollen foot. Remarkable story, West’s.)

An aside: Blackadder fans may be interested to know that shooting a pigeon on the Western Front was indeed a court-martial offence. No British officer would have been shot for doing so, but a civilian found in possession of a pigeon more than likely would have been put to death as a spy. Enemy aliens in Britain were forbidden to own pigeons for the same reason.

I’ll be interested to read your thesis when it’s completed. I’m always engaged by how the Great War leaked over into our own War of Independence. Not so much by men like Childers, Barry and Dalton moving easily from one to the other—often out of the same motivation, as in Childers’ case—but by practises brought back: Sean Moylan (I think?) mentions despatch riders being instructed to swallow their despatches if captured, a tactic devised by British DRs very early on.

Very sincere thanks for your invitation to contribute to your website. I first visited Clare as a very young man and have loved the place ever since, and would feel honoured to make any engagement with it, but my “real” area of interest is in the Great War, and in particular the technological gap between 19th century communications and 20th century weaponry and scale of battle, and the tragic consequences of this gap, and the misunderstandings that emerged from these tragic consequences—often deliberately fomented by the likes of Lloyd George—and the historiography that followed, and…

But we very much are off topic by this stage.

Padraig, I hope I’ve addressed some misunderstandings. On some matters we may have to agree to disagree, but gentlemen can do that.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby Jd66 on Sat Apr 23, 2011 12:16 pm

This article is about how IRB ideology framed the Easter Rising, but the theme of sectarianism is touched on.

http://www.theirishstory.com/2011/04/23 ... er-rising/
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby michaelcarragher on Sun May 01, 2011 7:00 pm

Thanks for that link, John—

A thoughtful, intelligent and fair commentary on what remains the most significant event in our history since the Famine.

On the germane issue of sectarianism, Mr Dorney obviously is correct:

For the IRB, Irish nationality had nothing to do with religion and nationality superseded all sectarian divisions.

He also points out the simplicity of this position; the conundrum of reconciling IRB idealism with the contrary viewpoint of some 20 percent of the island’s population:

The Irish Parliamentary Party, the United Irish League and the Hibernians were all committed to Irish self-government. The unionists were so hostile, even to Home Rule, that they were prepared to fight to prevent it…. That some Irishmen were fundamentally loyal to Britain and not merely [un?]cowed but hostile to Irish independence, jarred badly with [the IRB’s] view of the world.


In this, the IRB’s—and indeed all Irish Nationalists’—arrogant dismissal of Irish Unionists, lies the great tragedy that the Easter Rising means for Irish Nationalism, the sort of tragedy that all but has to follow from such hubris. (Though of course any political or ideological tragedy pales against the thousand and thousands of human tragedies that followed from the Rising, directly and eventually, right up to that of Constable Kerr and those whose lives were devastated by his death last month.) For while the IRB were not sectarian, their actions at Easter 1916 confirmed all the sectarian prejudices of their enemies: Fenians were bloodthirsty murderers, and Taigs could never be trusted; for when they’d stab their own brothers in the back, side with their very own brothers’ enemy, what can we possibly do but resolve for all time to have no more to do with them than with the very devil?

And “brothers” is meant very literally, the best example being William Kent, killed by his brother Eamonn Ceannt’s “gallant allies”.

So the Rising ensured that partition of our island would be permanent. For what fair-minded person can blame Ulster’s survivors of the Germans’ best efforts at the Somme and Passchendaele, or those veterans’ descendants, for hostility toward a state that—to this very day—acknowledges as its Founding Fathers the men who took up arms on behalf of Unionists’ enemies? Enemies, indeed, of all democrats.

Which is not to imply that Fenians, for all their elitism, secrecy, and opposition to the IPP, were really anti-democratic. To borrow from Sean Lemass, probably they are most fairly described as “slightly constitutional”.

But how much of a compliment is this, really? Mr Dorney remarks:

There are serious moral questions about this [the unilateral raising of rebellion without democratic support, in what by then was an increasingly democratic climate]. Is it legitimate to expose other people to injury and death to preserve one’s own political identity? Is it manipulation to provoke the state into repression in order to move the people onto your side? Should they [the IRB], as Bulmer Hobson and Eoin MacNeil argued, have got the people onto their side first [as the IRB’s constitution insisted any IRB-led rebellion must]? Did the introduction of revolutionary violence in 1916 haunt the rest of the Irish 20th century? These are difficult and relevant questions and too broad to be tackled here.

Maybe this forum may tackle them?
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby Jd66 on Tue May 03, 2011 11:21 am

To be fair, whatever about failing to understand or deal with Ulster unionism on the IRB's part, I doubt the Easter Rising made one shred of difference to the partition of Ireland. Unionists were prepared to fight to avoid being included in Home Rule as early as 1912. Doubtless they were not impressed by the Easter Rising but to say it changed unionists' attitudes in any meangingful way is a bit of stretch.

Regarding the other question, I did argue in the article that there are serious moral issues over the Easter Rsing, but I think they are just confused by associating them with the likes of the killing of Ronan Kerr. There had been political assassinations before the Rising and the actual conduct of the Easter rebels was quite different from that of subsequent guerrillas in this respect - much more like a conventional military force.

A better ancestor for (for want of better word) terrorism is probably in the actual war of independence. Anne Dolan has a really interesting essay in a new book, 'Turning points in Irish history' on assassinations in 1919-23, which, she argues, by killing unarmed, selected victims, 'ended war in a sportsmanlike manner'. 'The decision to turn this killing into a basis for war, to use it repeatedly, to extend the reach of war and terror from conventional exchanges to homes, beds, fields and front rooms, was a point at which there was no turning back'. It's an interesting argument anyway.

Fearghal McGarry has soem thoughts on this here, http://www.theirishstory.com/2011/04/28 ... ii-combat/.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby michaelcarragher on Wed May 04, 2011 4:58 pm

John—

There’s no doubt that partition was going to come about; my point was that it might not have been permanent but for the Rising.

Of course we’re into counterfactual speculation here, but this can be legitimate in evaluating any historic event (up to a point, and as long as it’s sensible). The improvement in inter-community relations in the North in recent years has been due in part to each community actually encountering the other and realising their common humanity.

The building of the Irish Tower at Messines comes to mind, not because it was the most important such example, but because it was at Messines that the 16th and 36th Divisions fought side by side, and where Major Willie Redmond was mortally wounded. Major Redmond was rescued by stretcher-bearers from the 36th, his erstwhile UVF enemies, and these Protestants brought him to a Catholic hospital, where he died. His death was widely mourned. Edward Carson sent very sincere condolences and the 36th Division made a collection from their shilling-a-day wage.

The measure of Unionist intransigence at home remained such that Belfast City Council passed a motion of censure on their own troops for this very Christian gesture; but when General Nugent (of the 36th) got home he had much to say to the bigots of the city council, none of it nice to hear.

Fighting the common German foe together had enabled this remarkable transformation in former enemies. It would be foolish to overstate the extent of this, yet in our counterfactual consideration we can see how the opinions of men like Nugent might have held more sway in Ulster had there been no Rising, no subsequent British repression and Irish reaction, and no War of Independence but a negotiated separation of the two parts of the island, in an atmosphere that would better have permitted negotiated reintegration. I’m not sure that really is “a bit of a stretch”. It certainly would not have been painless or pretty, but it couldn’t possibly have been worse than what followed from the unilateral appeal to violence in 1916, and alliance with Ulster’s enemies.

I did argue in the article that there are serious moral issues over the Easter Rising, but I think they are just confused by associating them with the likes of the killing of Ronan Kerr…. A better ancestor for (for want of better word) terrorism is probably in the actual war of independence.


Agreed—to a point. Yet many in the War of Independence were decent men who only took up the gun because they’d been goaded beyond endurance by British repression or fired by Sinn Fein/IRB rhetoric, both of which followed from the Rising. By and large the Rebels of 1916 conducted themselves in a quite exemplary military fashion, as you say, and gained the respect of their opponents. I certainly do not mean to compare their actions with those of the murderers of Constable Kerr (the heroes of Stephens Green being, for obvious reasons, possible exceptions).

What I mean is that if we can justify, indeed celebrate, the undemocratic attempts to change a political system by force at a time when appeal to force was not necessary, then of course there’s a connection between the Easter Rising and the War of Independence, the Civil War, Omagh, Enniskillen and all the shameful list of deeds done in our name up to the killing of Constable Kerr, however those deeds would horrify many of the Men of 1916.

Not to equate these events with those of 1916; and Republicans have admitted that the massacres of Omagh and Enniskillen were wrong; but didn’t Pearse say, “We may make mistakes and kill the wrong people”? So the cause becomes the excuse; apologies are issued to those who were bereaved by mistake; and the opprobrium of today is compared to the opprobrium of Easter Week, which changed to hagiography. In this worldview, as Marion Price put it at Bodenstown, “1916 is unfinished business”.

Thanks for the Anne Dolan information; I’ll look forward to reading her—her argument certainly sounds “interesting”.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby Jd66 on Wed May 04, 2011 10:46 pm

Michael, its a good essay whether one agrees with her or not. I'll be reviewing this book shortly.

I'm not a big fan of the idea of reconciliation via the trenches to be honest. Dying in a war directed by others for a cause no one was very clear about does not strike me as very worthwhile. I'd have reservations about many of the thing that happened in the War of Independence but at least it was for an identifiable objective that people both understood and believed in. And the casualties were a fraction of those in even a week on the western front.

Re the morality of violence, I've been intending for while to write as essay about this. It seems to me we (myself included) have strange ideas about this. In 1916 the rebels behaved 'honourably' - they wore uniforms, they fought against other armed men, they treated prisoners well etc. On the other hand, 1916 was by far the bloodiest single event in 20th century Ireland as far as civilian casualties were concerned. In the War of Independence a lot of the actual operations of the IRA are quite hard to stomache - the shooting of informers particularly. On the other hand, couldn't it be argued that killing selected victims (even when alone and unarmed) is more humane that exposing thousands of non-combatants to artillery barrages?

And yes, the other contradiction is that in 1919-21, the IRA had a democratic mandate and the British were trying to sufocate a democratically backed 'counter-state', whereas the Easter rebels represented no one but themselves.

Re the use of 'vanguard violence', I agree you can draw a line in this regard, straight from 1916 to the dissidents of today. (Actually, contrary to how it's usually portrayed, I don't think the civil war fits this model, the anti-Treaty IRA took a defensive stance and were attacked by the Provisional Government) But on the other hand I think it's important to remember that conditions on the ground in NI have always been more important than historical legacies in determining republicans' actions. If there had been no republican revolution in 1916-22 would NI have been a 'warmer house' for Catholics. Maybe, but personally I doubt it. The record of the USC in that conflict is also rather unedifying.

PS, some more thoughts on the Rising's impact here http://www.theirishstory.com/2011/05/04 ... aftermath/
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby michaelcarragher on Thu May 05, 2011 5:49 am

Good, thoughtful stuff, John.

I'll look forward to your review, and your essay on the morality of violence. Yes, there are a lot of strange ideas on this, and it will always be a connundrum. The Catholic Church's definining conditions for "just war" remain good points of reference, recognised as such outside the Church, and Chomsky has interesting things to say, but, as I say, I'll look forward to your own thoughts.

In the meantime, I'll get on with your interviews.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby bemer12 on Wed May 11, 2011 8:21 pm

Thanks for mentioning my little note on AW Long and Tales of the RIC. It is, obviously, very incomplete: here in the wilds of upstate NY I didn't have access to the Irish primary sources an adequate discussion would require. Like you, I do wonder what Long was doing between the spring of 1919 when he left the Army as a Temp. Major and the spring of 1922 when he was employed by the Prison Service, in some capacity, as an administrator of the Belfast prison hulk Argenta. I think it is clear that he was not--at least officially--a member of the RIC: he doesn't appear in Herlihy's RIC Officers or in the official RIC rosters (copies of which are in the Police Museum in Belfast). He could, of course, have been seconded to the RIC in some sort of undercover or clandestine capacity, but I have seen no evidence suggesting that. As for being part of the intelligence service, his name isn't in Hart's British Intelligence or in online lists, such as cairogang.com. If anyone can solve this mystery please let me know.
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