Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby michaelcarragher on Sun Apr 03, 2011 1:27 pm

Bannerman writes:
“Michael I think you were a bit harsh on Niall Meehan in your comments on his review given the exceptionally poor quality of Murphys research and the consensus reached by an overwhelming majority of his reviewers that the claims in his book cannot be taken seriously”


Padraig, reading my review over, I can see that I was a little intemperate, and might have phrased myself slightly differently had I taken a few deep breaths and held off writing for a while. I was annoyed at Mr Meehan, not for his criticism of Mr Murphy’s book per se, but for his conflating work by other historians with Mr Murphy’s, and other unfair rhetorical ploys. I have read another review by him since which is much more professional and fair comment, while being no less critical of Mr Murphy’s book.

But I doubt that I’d have done more than tone down my remarks, because whatever “the consensus reached by [any] overwhelming majority” I form my own conclusions, and these remain much as they were when I read the book—even before I’d finished it, as I see:

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 [for instance] 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).


Perhaps your own initial evaluation of the book as “conspiracist” remains more accurate than “revisionist”, for Mr Murphy’s reach overwhelms his grasp, and his style is more suited to fiction. Now the book is labelled as “revisionist” (as I anticipated), and indeed has become a focus for “anti-revisionists”, and …

It seems to me that the revisionist school of history cannot produce sound work based on 'cause and effect history' and accepted research methodology to prove their sectarian thesis.


What is this “revisionist school”? Who does it comprise? What exactly is a “revisionist”, and the significance of the divide between him and a “real” historian?

Until perhaps a couple of decades ago there was a bitter split in the German historical community, the historikerstreit. This “historians’ quarrel” goes back to the turn of the Sixties when Fritz Fischer, working from Second Reich archives, revealed that Germany had engineered not just the Second but the First World War. The unfortunate Germans, recently bombed back to the stone age and then “denazified”, now found the one thing in their recent history they could be proud of—or at least not ashamed—taken from them too, and by one of their own! Many of Fischer’s colleagues had fought, like him, in the recent war, others in the First, some in both, and they perceived his claim as outrageous. Fischer was accused of being anti-German, suffered physical violence and had his office firebombed. As his former student Hartmut Pogge von Strandmann wrote in his mentor’s obituary, “It is difficult to imagine today how strongly the reaction in the public was against Fischer's challenge of a deeply entrenched national myth”.

Does this seem familiar?

For many years now the once-controversial “Fischer hypothesis” has been accepted as mainstream history and Fischer is usually regarded as the most important German historian of the twentieth history. Of course his work is debated still, on points of detail, and unreconstructed heel-clickers still might insist that Germany was the victim in 1914, but Fischer’s work was so professional and thorough that these are now few.

Am I implying that eventually “revisionism” is going to be accepted in the same way here?

I don’t think there can be quite such an outcome from our own clampracht na staraí (ceart? Níl ach cúpla focail agam anois). The difference between the two “camps” here is on points of detail and it always has been there under the surface. The essential points of our history are fairly transparent, it’s just that now more people feel confident to question points of detail, or to express views that up to the not-too-distant past might have attracted sneers of “West Brit!”—which they still will—if not requests for clarification from large, intimidating men, possibly wearing sunglasses and black berets.

In Germany, by contrast, a long propaganda campaign had succeeded in convincing a nation that they had been the victims of a policy of encirclement by enemies, one engineered by Britain; that the proposed empires of Mitteleuropa and Mittelafrika were purely defensive measures against future encirclement; that we are the victims here. Now they’re told, “No volks, it was our fault”.

We Irish will always be arguing on matters of opinion and points of detail. But with luck and greater maturity we’ll be judging works of history on merit alone; and perhaps we won’t continue to hold our heroes to impossible standards for very much longer, or feel guilt at criticising them.

As for the “sectarian thesis”: is there any such thing beyond individuals’ claims? Hart says that sectarianism was a factor in Cork, and so does Murphy (and I’ll have more to say soon on Niamh Sammon and her team’s Hidden History programme), but “revisionist” seems to be a derogatory term that includes not just these, but anyone who would question “traditional history”. Martin Mansergh, back in 1987, defined “revisionism” as

a work that sets out to upset the established version of events in a thoroughgoing and often iconoclastic way … sometimes purely for reasons of sensationalism, but often there is an ideological motive, that desires to challenge what is perceived as the ideology underlying the established version of events.


So what does it take “to upset the established version of events”? Is “perceived … ideology” to be sacred, as under Nazi and Marxist dictatorships? Is Sinead Joy, for instance, a “revisionist”, as well as Mr Murphy? Who decides? Is there any justification for reading past her introduction where Ms Joy acknowledges that she proposes to “scrutinise” the “traditional view” of the Revolutionary years in Kerry, to even get as far as her “research methodology”?

Was Father Shaw’s 1966 essay “revisionist” because it was critical of the Easter Rising? Is a “real historian” not allowed to criticise the Rising? What else is he not allowed to criticise?

Is it “revisionist” to say that individual events within an essentially non-sectarian campaign were sectarian (Altnaveigh, for instance)?

Is it “revisionist” to claim that the Castle Document was a forgery? (Grace Gifford did claim to have seen Plunkett deciphering it, don’t forget.) If so, is every mainstream historian therefore “revisionist”?

Reductio ad absurdum? Of course. But is there not something ad absurdum about the entire “revisionist” concept?

For if Mr Murphy is a “revisionist”, what about that decent man he cites, that genuine republican who refused to identify Protestant homes to his superiors, and instead mounted guard on them against possible attack by rogue elements within his own IRA (Murphy, p. 195)? Is that good man, too, a “revisionist”? Or, given that he—obviously—antedates the term, perhaps a “premature anti-anti-revisionist”?

At what point do we end up having history determined by ideology, and people’s worth and work evaluated by the labels we stick on them? Ad absurdum?

We need to be sensible in our judgement rather than doctrinaire; to eschew any ideology (insofar as this is humanly possible), burn all labels and judge each work by its own merit—i.e., by the support it offers its thesis, rather than how it conforms to any definition.

So, does Mr Murphy offer supporting evidence for his claims? Yes, but hardly enough to sustain them. He does, however, present enough evidence to warrant further investigation, which it seems is underway. At present he has no more than an hypothesis, as Fritz Fischer had fifty years ago; not a credible thesis.

Far more dangerous than Mr Murphy, whose claim lacks sufficient evidence, is the person who puts forward a claim and insists that by its nature it somehow doesn’t require evidence. One might argue that Peter Hart fits into this category, if as it seems he insisted to the end on his “eyewitness” accounts of Kilmichael. But—though I’m open to correction on this point—is the “list of helpful citizens” of Dunmanway not almost as apocryphal as Hart’s witnesses? (As I say, I’m open to correction here, but was that list not something that someone saw and told about, rather than a document that’s actually in the public domain and may be independently verified? Apologies if I’m wrong, and gratitude for any correction.)

A variation on this latter fallacy is where, rather than evidence being expected to provide support for the claim, the claim is presented as the yardstick whereby the admissibility of evidence is measured. This is a feature of totalitarian regimes, hence Nazi history and biology and Soviet Lysenkoism; but political correctness has slithered something like it under our radar here, and the hallowed halls of academe foster PC and may confer respectability on any fashionable nonsense. Calls for supportive evidence may elicit abstruse jargon, tautologous rephrasing and reiteration of the claim itself, appeals to arcane authority, such as some political scholar or dead hero, or, perhaps, an “established version of events”), and when all else fails, ad hominem attacks.

I’d be far more afraid of those who deploy such devices than a man who candidly admits that his book “is the best I could do with what I uncovered, and some conclusions may turn out to be incorrect when more evidence becomes available”, and wishes “good luck” to anyone who can improve on or disprove his theories.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby thepremier on Sun Apr 03, 2011 2:40 pm

michaelcarragher wrote:A variation on this latter fallacy is where, rather than evidence being expected to provide support for the claim, the claim is presented as the yardstick whereby the admissibility of evidence is measured. This is a feature of totalitarian regimes, hence Nazi history and biology and Soviet Lysenkoism; but political correctness has slithered something like it under our radar here, and the hallowed halls of academe foster PC and may confer respectability on any fashionable nonsense. Calls for supportive evidence may elicit abstruse jargon, tautologous rephrasing and reiteration of the claim itself, appeals to arcane authority, such as some political scholar or dead hero, or, perhaps, an “established version of events”), and when all else fails, ad hominem attacks.


I must really have hit a nerve with my last post. Comparing me to Nazi apologists - again! Really? I suggest stepping way from the computer for a while.

There's a whole lot of projection going on in that post.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby michaelcarragher on Sun Apr 03, 2011 5:26 pm

Ah turn it off! Think you're the only one out there the cap fits? D'you want me to censor any postings that might offend your sensibilities?
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby thepremier on Sun Apr 03, 2011 8:45 pm

Just lose the Nazi comparisons, thanks. See the passage I quoted.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby Garry O Brien on Mon Apr 04, 2011 11:31 pm

Hi,I think you need to cool off lads. I have often found that the written word can be misunderstood easily in the emotional sense, and people can lay emphasis on the words incorrectly in the reading of sentences.
But, it makes for good reading, good debate.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby thepremier on Tue Apr 05, 2011 12:41 am

Apologies, Garry. I don't think I was overreacting as such, as it's not the first time it's happened, but I shouldn't have responded.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby Garry O Brien on Tue Apr 05, 2011 8:59 am

Hi , no apologies necessary, I was not referring to you actually. I have followed the thread and actually agree that the nazi comparison caper is a bit over the top.
The Nazis themselves used this ploy a lot in the early days of the NSDAP,, ie, accusing others of been Nazis. When they acquired power this tool was discarded. The Neo- Nazis of today use it frequently.
At the end of the day I suppose revisionism is what it says on the tin, to revise history, nothing bad in that, only when its used as a tool to twist the truth.


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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby bannerman on Wed Apr 06, 2011 11:20 am

Michael,
Padraig, reading my review over, I can see that I was a little intemperate, and might have phrased myself slightly differently had I taken a few deep breaths and held off writing for a while.


No problem Michael - weve all been guilty of that at some time.

I was annoyed at Mr Meehan, not for his criticism of Mr Murphy’s book per se, but for his conflating work by other historians with Mr Murphy’s, and other unfair rhetorical ploys.


I dont think Niall Meehan unfairly conflated work by other historians with Gerard Murphys nor did he use unfair rhetorical ploys. Again given the exceptionally poor, sloppy and inaccurate quality of Murphy's work I feel Nial Meehan's review was justified. But perhaps we will have to agree to disagree on that.

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 [for instance] 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”.


Firstly no one is denying that in a war the Irish can be as brutal in war as any one else - the question is one of context. Murphy claims that the IRA in Cork city were far more brutal in their treatment of suspected spies than the British Army were during WW1 - this claim is simply not accurate.
Secondly - the majority of Gerard Murphy's claims about allaged sectarian killings and campaigns against Protestants in Cork are based on unfounded conspiracy theories, anonymous information and coincendental happenings. He presents little or no factual evidence to prove his theories - what evidence he does present is seriously flawed. Quite simply many of the killings described in gerard murphys book never happened.
Thirdly - On the basis that most of these killings never happened there simply cant have been a conspiracy to keep them quiet. Imagined killings = imiganary conspiracy It is interesting to note that Murphy proposes a conspiracy involving Cork Protestants - The Church of Ireland, The British Army, some IRA leaders and the Free State army who supposedly covered up these supposed killings. Why would they want to do this? Could I ask Michael do you believe that such a conspiracy interested in keeping people from exploring "a dark part of Irish History" exists?

I’d be far more afraid of those who deploy such devices than a man who candidly admits that his book “is the best I could do with what I uncovered, and some conclusions may turn out to be incorrect when more evidence becomes available”, and wishes “good luck” to anyone who can improve on or disprove his theories.


Murphys claim that he wishes good luck to those who can disprove his conspiracy theories - is simply nonsense. He has written responses to four of his six critics Ni Dabheid, Borgonovo, Gambini and Me - he is completely dismissive in these and fails to address the specific points raised about the accuracy of his work and his abilities as a historian. In some correspondence he has become bitter and personal. (On that note we should stick to the topic here and not descend to such a level.)

Although his book states that it was “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." Murphy claims that his book is completely factual at times (See his letter to the Irish Times concerning Ni Dabheids review) at other times when it suits him he states that his book is a book of conclusions and not a book of evidence (see his letter to History Ireland regarding Borgonovos review) and that all the conclusions he has reached in the book have been presented on the basis that they could be "falsifiable."

The majority of Murphy's book has no basis in fact - it should never have been presented or marketed as a work historical fact. It is astonishing that Gill & Macmillan were willing to publish a book of such a staggeringly poor quality. (Then again this is not the first time G&M have presented a book as fact that may have been at least partially fictional anyone remember "High Society"?) I can only wonder what unfounded conspiracy theories were cut from Murphy's book by his editors at G&M.

I think I and many others have already expended enough time and energy proving that most of the claims in Gerard Murphy's book are completely without any basis in fact. Those who give any credence to his wild conspiracy theories would want to think carefully about what is and is not historical fact and about the difference between fantasy and reality.

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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby michaelcarragher on Thu Apr 07, 2011 6:03 am

I feel Nial Meehan's review was justified. But perhaps we will have to agree to disagree on that.

Gentlemen can always agree to differ, Padraig.

In some correspondence [Gerard Murphy] has become bitter and personal

I haven’t been following the controversy closely. I saw the reply to your own criticism but did not take time to consider it in depth. It struck me as a little pedantic but no more so than we can get when examining evidence at a forensic level. It would be understandable if any author became too closely identified with his argument, though that does not make it right. I carry no sort of torch for Mr Murphy and there’s little more I can say on this point.

The majority of Murphy's book has no basis in fact - it should never have been presented or marketed as a work historical fact


I agree with you. Mr Murphy's lack of training in the methodologies of historical investigation and presentation is limpidly clear. 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.)

This is not to say that the book is worthless. It’s been some months since I read it, and I read it only once, so I’m open to correction, but I recall that Mr Murphy wrote it to try to account for dark stories that he’d heard growing up, and the mass exodus of Protestants from Cork during the Munster Republic. Fine and well, he uses inductive reasoning to draw conclusions from his observations, and he acknowledges the tentative nature of these conclusions.

The problem is he then overstates his thesis, offering insufficient evidence to justify his claims—always a great mistake if only because it makes bullets for your opponents. The fact that his thesis gives offence to a great number of people makes certain these bullets will be fired at him hard.

Could I ask Michael do you believe that such a conspiracy interested in keeping people from exploring "a dark part of Irish History" exists?


I have a particular problem with conspiracies because they are the perfect refuge for the scoundrel or fool who would discount evidence in order to advance a political (or other) agenda. “Evidence? This is a conspiracy! They’ve destroyed the evidence”; or, “Evidence? Call that evidence? This is a conspiracy! They planted that evidence.” So of course I don’t believe in such a conspiracy.

Indeed, I would have dismissed Mr Murphy’s book as you and many others have done were it not for a few intriguing or disquieting factors. One is his instigating observation: the mass exodus of Protestants. This happened. There may be a relatively innocent explanation—hysteria, unjustified panic, whatever. Or there may be a more sinister explanation, as Mr Murphy claims.

Another is the concern of a decent republican, referred to above, about the safety of his Protestant neighbours from IRA attack. (There were a couple more, but as I say it’s a while since I read the book.)

Eventually Mr Murphy’s hypothesis will stand or fall on the basis of such evidence as may or may not emerge. For the great intellectual antidote to conspiracies and other unscientific and ahistorical nonsense is over 3,000 years old and has never been improved on:

CLAIM + SUPPORTIVE EVIDENCE + INDUCTIVE AND/OR DEDUCTIVE REASONING = SOUND ARGUMENTATION

With sound argumentation intellectual enquiry may advance, and claims may be abandoned or accepted on the basis of reason and commonsense; or, as is more likely, they may be modified and further pursued.

And gentlemen may agree to differ.

On that note we should stick to the topic here and not descend to [a bitter and personal] level

This is always good advice. I have no quarrel with Premier, though I take issue with many of the points he raises, and his method of argumentation I can find sometimes irritating. I accept, however, that in our recent exchanges I may have overstepped a line, and for that Premier has my apologies.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby michaelcarragher on Tue Apr 12, 2011 7:21 am

Bannerman writes: “The Coolacrease documentary on RTE has caused great controversy 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”

Padraig:

At last I’ve got round to reading Coolacrease.

This book persuades me that there is a political agenda being pursued by elements on both sides of the “revisionist” divide, to the understandable anger and distress of those upset by what may seem, or be presented as, gratuitous attacks on the integrity of their parents and grandparents, and other activists of the revolutionary years—and the contempt of those who can see through the camouflage.

Though much of the book bears only tangential relevance to the Coolacrease killings, some of the authors seem to be in command of their subject matter, and they make a strong case that the RTE Hidden History programme was a shabby job of work. The team failed to consider the findings of the British Military Court of Enquiry into the killings, to which it appears they were directed, so their failure indicates at best incompetence, and possibly political bias.

Initially impressive is Philip O’Connor’s Chapter 4, “Land Grab”—more devastating than impressive, it might seem. Yet Mr O’Connor doesn’t quite eliminate suspicion that land hunger may have been a factor in the Coolacrease attack, for his emphasis is post hoc; and while the Land Commission was scrupulous in discharging its responsibilities, the hope of land in advance of the Commission’s involvement may have been a factor for some people who were hostile to the Pearsons. The recent “Ranch War” had extended from Galway and Meath to touch on Offaly, so land hunger cannot be discounted as a contributing factor.

In his rationale Mr O’Connor overlooks the fact that no one could have foreseen the high cost eventually charged by the Commission for the Pearsons’ land. Yet another complication to his argument is that the IRA accepted that in some cases it might “seem desirable” that offenders “Have their lands confiscated” (p. 298); a cousin of the Pearsons was “temporarily ejected”, but reinstated by the Free State (p. 108).

On top of this, of course, the work of David Fitzpatrick, Charles Townshend and many others hasn’t gone away, you know. Land was a factor in other parts of Ireland. Dr Sheehan, MO to the Kerry IRA, was disgusted by local land-grabbing, calling the “republicans” concerned “blackguards”; and as you will know, Padraig, Michael Brennan frankly admitted that the promise of land was used to entice young Clare men into the IRA. Brennan himself seems to have been a very decent, honourable man, a genuine republican with no greed for land himself; and as you say in an earlier posting, there was “huge local variation” across the country. While it is not quite as strong as it might appear, Mr O’Connor does make a case.

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. The family must have realised the risks they were taking in a land so polarised by the bitter years since 1916. However and by whomever the possibility of peaceable separation had been destroyed, by the tail-end of the Tan War the fence was down, the forces of law and order had been replaced by, for the most part, thugs in uniform, and the Pearsons’ Protestant neighbours seem to have been as disgusted by these as everyone else. Coolacrease provides ample evidence that the Pearsons backed the Loyalist horse, and fell with their cause; 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; 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: the IRA had been fighting for years and if a decision had been taken to put the Pearsons to death in the name of the Republic there was an onus not to send boys to do a man’s job. If they were short of ammunition why waste bullets on a firing squad when one to each brain from a Webley would suffice?

If the killers merely were inexperienced they would have shot high, not low. This appears to be an instinctual reaction against the taboo on taking human life and the tendency is exacerbated by guns’ recoil. Useful works on this phenomenon are Lt-Col David Grossman’s On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, and Professor Joanna Bourke’s An Intimate History of Killing: Face-to-Face Killing in 20th Century Warfare. These and other
studies of cruelty all show how men and women ‘like us’ are capable of grotesque acts of violence against fellow human beings
(Bourke, p. xvii).

The Pearsons were done to death with deliberate cruelty, either as a warning to others or in the vindictiveness that emerges out of war. This is something that their Loyalism cannot excuse, as Brian Murphy, one of the contributors to Coolacrease, seems to acknowledge:
The manner of the killings was unforgivable
(p. 181). And there were many other such shameful slaughters in the revolutionary period. RIC man Patrick Foley was found with 26 bullet wounds, at least seven of which would have proved fatal, despite the fact that, as at Coolacrease,
ammunition was not all that plentiful. Whoever killed Foley was intent on sending a message to the wider community. It is clear that the brutality was meant to underline a warning against all IRA enemies
(Sinead Joy, The IRA in Kerry 1916-1921, p. 65). Tim Vigors of the RAF once forced a timid ground sergeant to refuel his Spitfire—the man was nerve-broken after a German raid—at gunpoint and with the threat,
I’m an Irishman and an old friend of mine in the IRA once told me that if I ever had to shoot an Englishman I should aim at his balls and I’d hit him in the stomach.
(Vigors was speaking of John Bell from Kenmare, who had taught him how to shoot—see Richard Doherty, In the Ranks of Death: The Irish in the Second World War, pp. 41 and 97).

Coolacrease is comprehensive though repetitious. It’s clearly a polemical work and its conclusions often are not well supported. In one way this is fair enough, given that the Hidden History programme also seems to have been a polemic whose conclusions weren’t well supported.

Far more annoying than repetitiousness and polemicism is the sophistry employed to repack slanted Republican versions of history. To a good extent, indeed, the Coolacrease controversy is used as a Trojan Horse for a broader assault on so-called revisionism.

Philip O’Connor claims that the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries were “mobilised … to prevent implementation of the 1918 Election results” (p. 86). Not exactly: they were recruited to fill the ranks of the RIC after these were depleted by an IRA campaign that was not endorsed in advance by the electorate, or by Dail Eireann, or even post facto by many members of Sinn Fein. That “terrorism … was not supplied by the Irish side” (p. 87) will come as news to descendants of the Altnaveigh victims, and to those of the woman killed outside Jacob’s when she accosted Martin Walton (almost certainly shot by a Mauser dumdum, this woman: “Her face and head disappeared”, Volunteer Walton described her death). “As elsewhere in Ireland, there was no antagonism whatsoever to men who had joined [the British Army in the Great War]” (p. 89); this is rubbish. Michael Ahern was so shunned in his native Tralee that but for his brother-in-law he could not have found a job—his sister married the local IRA commandant! Sergeant Thomas Holligan was stoned as he disembarked in Dublin. And then there were those who were killed.

Brendan Clifford continues in like vein. Most of Chapter 8, “Academic Evasions: Revisionists and the War of Independence”, is plausible nonsense—exactly the sort of “verisimilitude” that Basil Clarke and his Dublin Castle propagandists would have been proud to produce. It’s plausible—here, anyway—to say that Britain made war on France “because the French Revolution had proclaimed the legitimacy of democratic government” (p. 183). This forum is hardly the place for analysis of the French Revolution, but many in Britain initially were sympathetic to that development, looking forward to the transfer of executive power from king to parliament as in their own “Glorious” Revolution, and the secularist revolutionaries’ effective removal of Continental Catholicism as a political threat to Protestant Britain. But the outcome—as in most revolutions, our own not excluded—was tragedy and horror. Instead of growth in parliamentary democracy came the Terror and dictatorship, and it was Revolutionary France who opened hostilities in the Great French Wars, which attempted to impose French hegemony on Europe, along with Bonaparte nepotism later. The “democratic government” advocated by Mr Clifford would necessitate the sort of corruption of language you’d find in Pravda or Der Stürmer, and the abandonment of commonsense as well as of real democracy.

Mr Clifford’s claim that war was Britain’s “primary business for centuries” (p. 184) distorts the priorities of “a nation of shopkeepers”. Britain certainly was ready to go to war in defence of her trade or other interests—often in no way to her credit, as we well know—but the notion that her “populace was highly adapted to the waging of war” (p. 188) is the sort of thing that “everybody knows” in the way that “everybody knows” Ned Carson prosecuted Oscar Wilde—i.e. everybody but those who know what they’re talking about. A few thousand Boers put Britain to the pin of her imperial collar, and though her army was professional, and man-for-man the best in the world after Haldane’s reforms, it was pitifully small and miserably equipped, and so lamentably ill-adapted was Britain’s populace to waging war that it was largely luck that prevented their defeat in 1914 and 1940—indeed, in 1915, 1916, 1917 and 1918 too.

But it’s all good old-fashioned Brit bashing, which will always get you lusty cheers, and camouflage a corps of crackpot notions, and Mr Clifford gets another cheer for infiltrating a new approach to conferring electoral endorsement on the Easter Rising (it’s a new approach to me, anyway); clever, but as spurious as such sophistry always is.

Mr Clifford goes on to warn against how academic historians may be subverted by authority, a warning that might be worrisome had he not so comprehensively demolished the credibility of such alternative “historians” as himself. Academic historians are professionals who know what they’re talking about; Mr Clifford gives regrettable substance to David Adams’ slur:
The amateur historian in Ireland is often little more than a propagandist masquerading as an expert
(Coolacrease, p. 398).

This is truer than I’d realised. Just after drafting this response I learned that Brendan Clifford is leader of the British and Irish Communist Organisation. This explains the creative writing. Since the Velvet Revolution overthrew Marxist dictatorship every other Marxist I meet assures me, “Marxism has never been tried”. Of course not—and the German Democratic Republic was a democracy. It’s not that Marxists don’t do history: it’s that some of them still do it with an airbrush.

Nick Folley overstates his case (Chapter 10: “RTE and the Holy Grail of Revisionism”) but he does make valid points. The pious faux-liberalism espoused by many in RTE and the Irish Times can be hard to take, and epitomises the “Dublin Four mentality” that indeed “can produce lots of shallow condescension and witty sneering” (people with mums looking down on people with mammies). It’s offensive and unfair to imply that all Irishmen and -women of the Revolutionary period were thugs and villains; far more offensive than to pretend that they all were lilywhite heroines and heroes—that is merely tiresome and foolish (unless that claim also is politically motivated, when it too becomes potentially sinister).

George Orwell once observed: “In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution … at patriotism and physical courage”; such an attitude is no less self-destructive here, and despite all I find wrong with the book, Coolacrease leaves me more than half persuaded that it was such a diseased mentality that largely “informed” Niamh Sammon’s programme.
michaelcarragher
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