Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby thepremier on Wed May 11, 2011 10:13 pm

Thank you very much for weighing in, Bob. My hunch that he might have served a while with the Auxiliaries was purely joining the dots because as you say there is no indication that he was a member of the R.I.C. (I hope I didn't seem to imply that you hadn't checked all that). It's just as likely that the novel is based purely on newsaper and possibly military and police reports. It's also speculation based on circumstantial evidence (a Dublin Castle civil servant identifying him as the author of the novel) that he worked at Dublin Castle, but my reasoning was that many elements of the novel are identical to the output and methods of Dublin Castle propaganda of the time. I would be fairly confident that the novel is a production of Castle propaganda, but if so, it's not surprising that he wasn't identified given that his subsequent position would make him vulnerable were the truth known.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby bemer12 on Thu May 12, 2011 3:41 pm

One thing I forgot to mention: Long was quite friendly with Col. Fred Crawford. People with better access to the sources than I have might want to consider checking whether he was somehow involved with Crawford and the rather murky underworld of the revived UVF in the 1919-1921 period leading up to the establishment of the Ulster Special Constabulary (the forerunners of the (in)famous B Specials). Even if he wasn't officially in the RIC/RUC, he might have had some role in the semi-official special constabulary.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby thepremier on Mon May 16, 2011 4:36 pm

bemer12 wrote:One thing I forgot to mention: Long was quite friendly with Col. Fred Crawford. People with better access to the sources than I have might want to consider checking whether he was somehow involved with Crawford and the rather murky underworld of the revived UVF in the 1919-1921 period leading up to the establishment of the Ulster Special Constabulary (the forerunners of the (in)famous B Specials). Even if he wasn't officially in the RIC/RUC, he might have had some role in the semi-official special constabulary.
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Thanks for the tip, Bob. Crawford has a substantial collection in PRONI, and I'd certainly like to take a look when I go there.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby Jd66 on Mon May 23, 2011 2:07 pm

http://www.theirishstory.com/2011/05/23 ... h-history/ My review of Anne Daly's essay here, part of a book review of 'Turning Points in 20th century Irish history'.

It's a fairly short excerpt so I'm going to cut and paste it here. One thing I'd like to bring up as well is that if Gerard Murphy's calims ahve no substance (as seems likely) was there still a 'sing-sing' in a cemetery in Cork? Padraig O Ruairc has told me there was - apparently John Borgonovo has written of this in The Irish Sword. All motivation aside, sectarian or otherwise, if dozens of people were 'disappeared' in this way, it's still pretty sickening. Especially if it happened during the truce.

Anyway, my report on Dolan's essay;
___________________
Ending war in a sportsmanlike manner’
The hand of Hart can also be seen in the second essay which stood out – Anne Dolan’s, ‘Ending War in Sportsmanlike manner’. It was Hart who directed the attention of the Irish public in the 1990s to the nastier aspects of the War of Independence – the prevalence of assassination – the gunning down of selected unarmed targets – as opposed to combat.

But Anne Dolan’s essay on the origins of (for want of a better word) terrorism is interesting and original in that it concentrates on not just who was killed or why, but how. A grisly series of riddled bodies are presented for the reader’s attention, the woman shot down in Monaghan, the Cork case where the gunman sat on the victims chest before putting a bullet into his brain, the British agents shot in their beds on Bloody Sunday, etc etc.


Did the advent of political assassination as weapon of war blur the divide between ‘honourable war’ and murder?
Dolan’s argument is that the systematic targeting of the unarmed and defenceless, fundamentally changed the nature of ‘war’ in Ireland and, blurred the distinction between war, assassination and straightforward murder. Henceforth, assassination having been formally sanctioned in this way, excuses had to be found, and were, for the most ignoble of deeds – ‘I have no doubt but that they deserved it’, ‘the IRA were good men and they wouldn’t kill innocent people’.

The small groups of men who actually did the killing, the likes, for instance, of Charlie Dalton in the Squad in Dublin, ended up brutalised and in many cases alcoholic – ‘anything but normal’ an Army report of 1924 says of the ex-Squad men. Following another spree of killing, this time of republican prisoners in the civil war, some of these assassins ended up in mental homes and prisons after 1923.

Dolan asks, ‘when you have counseled your best fighting men to kill, how do you get them to stop?’.

This is an argument worthy of very serious consideration when we think about political violence throughout 20th century Ireland. The British and also, traditionally, insurgent groups like the Fenians, thought there was legitimate separation between war, conducted between armed combatants who could recognise each other, where civilians were left alone and combatants given a chance to surrender, and ‘murder’. In the 1919-21 period there was a serious blurring of these lines.

At the same time, there is no point in romanticising conventional warfare. More civilians died in the supposedly ‘honourable’ five days of open fighting at Easter 1916 than in any subsequent single event in 20th century Ireland. The one exception to this is the Belfast Blitz of 1941, when the bombs of the Luftwaffe killed 1,000 people in single night. Dolan writes that the advent of political assassination, ‘ended war in a sportsmanlike manner’, in the age of total war this seems like an anachronism.


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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby michaelcarragher on Fri May 27, 2011 9:59 pm

John,

I think the
legitimate separation between war, conducted between armed combatants who could recognise each other, where civilians were left alone and combatants given a chance to surrender, and ‘murder’

has always been harder to discern than one might think today. If we leaf back through our history it’s all too easy to find “systematic targeting of the unarmed and defenceless”. The campaigns of Cromwell, Carew and Lake serve as obvious examples, but “the great O’Neill” was hardly a model of chivalry on his march to Kinsale; and it’s interesting that Dan Breen, to take another instance from “our own” side, disdained to differentiate between murder and other sorts of killing.

Perhaps we’re surprised, now as then, by what happened in the revolutionary years because the Enlightenment had seemed to render combat methods of earlier centuries unacceptable by modern “civilised” standards. Also we had taken in latter-day notions of chivalry such as those defined—at any rate described—by Sir Walter Scott and, after him, propagated by “Empire authors” like Henty and Rider Haggard. Out of our own Celtic Twilight—always far more influenced by Victorian fashions than any of its champions could admit (even appreciate)—then emerged stories in like vein, as well as bowdlerised and sanitised versions of older accounts such as the Tain.

I don’t think I’m far wrong here? From best recollection of my own youthful readings, I think I got the notion almost that Cuchullain’s enemies didn’t really mind getting their heads hacked off by such a notable hero. I was no more disturbed by the rampages that I revelled in reading than by what Jack the Giantkiller got up to. The baddies seemed to lie down and do the decent thing—die quietly. Certainly there was no appreciation of gouting blood and warbling screams of horror; of proud men far beyond embarrassment as their bowels emptied; of brave men wishing they had never been born.

The reality could hardly be more different than the light-hearted derring-do of gay blades and honourable foes, as we were to see here after 1969. But in 1914 people in these islands mostly had lost meaningful acquaintance with war and bought into the war fever that swept Europe. This made it relatively easy, in later years, for children, parents, wives and friends to camouflage the reality of a later campaign in idealistic clichés such as you suggest:
I have no doubt but that they deserved it”; “the IRA were good men and they wouldn’t kill innocent people.


Elsewhere on this thread I’ve referred to 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 books make clear the awful thing it is to kill a fellow-human being; to break the greatest taboo. Small wonder men like Charlie Dalton ended up “anything but normal”. And things don’t change: a couple of years ago one of the men who abducted Captain Nairac in 1977 was interviewed on TV and said, “The day never dawns when I don’t think of that man”.

Years ago I met a young evangelist missionary who “bore witness” in prisons up North. He described one Loyalist mass-murderer who told him that the first time he killed a man he was horrified, appalled, so much so that he became violently sick. He was mentally and emotionally disturbed for days afterward, and when told he had to kill another Catholic he was panic-stricken. However, to his surprise and relief “it wasn’t so bad” this time. The third man he killed … “I liked it”. It may not take long to become “anything but normal”.

Charlie Dalton reports to “palpitating with anxiety” as Bloody Sunday dawned, rather like that Loyalist killer—though this is not to imply, in any way at all, that young Dalton was sectarian, merely that the trauma of killing affects normal people the same way. Though they may become calloused and maybe even come to enjoy their grisly work, in later years killers often are racked by remorse, even soldiers whose killing was impersonal, as Grossman and Bourke, as well as others like Philip Orr (in The Road to the Somme) describe. Ernst Jűnger, a very effective soldier of the Kaiser, remarks (in Storm of Steel, one of the best memoirs of the Great War), “The state, which takes away our responsibility [for killing the state’s enemies] cannot take away our remorse”.

But not all people suffer “palpitations of anxiety”, or any remorse whatever. Dan Breen’s only regret, “in the winter of his days” as he put it, was that he had not killed more of his Irish and British opponents. That he could say this while acknowledging that he “wouldn’t have fired a shot” had he been able to foresee the outcome of his efforts suggests a man who was “anything but normal”; but this might not mean traumatised like Dalton but that Breen was by nature the affectively-retarded “thug” he’s often been called—and not just by his political opponents, for Sean Treacy’s aunt always referred to him as “Breen the murderer”, and a neighbour felt that “There was always something dirty about that Dan Breen”. Breen would be the sort that Gerard Murphy might have had in mind when speaking of the hard men of the revolutionary years, who intimidated and largely eclipsed the generation that came after them.

His defiant lack of remorse, even of regret for the perceived need to have killed, suggests that Breen may have been borderline-psychopathic, and the evidence of those awful years suggests that he was far from alone. But I also incline to believe that most of his colleagues were, as Frank O’Connor’s fictive Belcher puts it, “good lads”, doing what they believed was right—their “duty”. Elsewhere on this forum, Bannerman gives an entertaining and uplifting account of General Lucas’s time as a real-life “guest of the nation”, and reinforces the traditional narrative of “good lads” doing their duty. Often, no doubt, to their own horror, like Bonaparte and Noble.

So what does it take to make such good lads kill other good lads doing their duty?

Obviously that very sense of duty. Yet many other good lads, who equally saw their duty as being to their country, did not see that that duty could excuse killing others; lads who were in the O’Connell tradition. Others who took the path of Tone avoided actual killing—accounts from the time make clear that only a small number of men could be counted on in a battle situation. Were these, to some extent at least, affectively deficient or retarded? And how could some genuine good lads—lads who were affectively healthy—be driven to break the ultimate taboo and brought to feel, like O’Connor’s Bonaparte, that “anything that happened to me afterward, I never felt the same about again”?

Dan Breen gives a clue when he speaks of how the Irish of his childhood were no better than “slaves”. This is nonsense. Breen was born in 1894, years after the Land War, and hardly could have remembered landlords. Before he was ten Ireland was experiencing unprecedented prosperity, thanks to agrarian reform coupled to Sir Horace Plunkett’s Cooperative movement that had poised farmers to take full advantage of the end to the Long Depression. (A jocular saying of the time was “We have America over here now!”) In addition to agrarian, sweeping social and political reform had marked the years of Constructive Unionism and more was to follow under Campbell-Bannerman and Asquith. Apart from Dublin slum dwellers, the farming and working classes in Ireland were better off than much if not most of their British equivalent, and it was becoming evident by the time Breen was in his teens that self-government might well be on its way. In 1914 Home Rule made it onto the statute books, to the great joy of Nationalist Ireland: bonfires were lit across the country, and telegrams of congratulations came in from Irish communities across the world.

Graduated independence wasn’t enough for some, so foolish notions were fostered toward political ends, notions such as Breen expresses. For an informative and sometimes amusing contrast between histrionic silliness and intelligent criticism of British imperialism one should read the letters of Mabel FitzGerald and George Bernard Shaw. By 1916 Mrs FitzGerald was hardly alone in believing that the RIC was a more oppressive force than the Kaiser’s occupying armies in Belgium, for instance. Poisoning good lads’ minds with such nonsense made the murder of Irishmen in dark green uniforms easier.

So IRB propaganda and antiquated grievances clearly were factors in driving some good lads to kill. Similar factors were at work in the more recent Troubles. Shankill Butcher “Basher” Bates claims not to have been naturally sectarian, but to have been “led astray”; his later friendship with Provo “Dark” Hughes suggests that he was not, indeed, sectarian by nature and this gives an extra grotesque and troubling aspect to his notoriety as one of the worst sectarian murderers of our time.

Again, it is important to emphasise that there is absolutely no comparison being made here between sectarian murderers and the average Volunteer/IRA fighter of the revolutionary years, merely drawing of a parallel in how peer pressure and absorbtion of dangerously simplistic views can make killers out of “good lads”. Indeed, the difference is very great, for Bates blames his moral degeneration on “drink, drugs and bad company”, while the Volunteers/IRA often were notably abstemious and pious.

So who was pulling fingernails and teeth and doing unimaginable things to fellow-human beings in that “Sing-Sing” crypt in Cork? Who was it murdered Protestant women and octogenarian clergymen in a campaign that—in my view anyway—was not, essentially, sectarian? For as you say, John,
All motivation aside, sectarian or otherwise, if dozens of people were 'disappeared' in this way, it's still pretty sickening. Especially if it happened during the truce.

It can sometimes seem that evil is nowadays reserved for application to “capitalist imperialist” regimes and multinationals. But what Basher Bates and his sordid cronies did to innocent Catholics was evil by any decent person’s measure, as was his prior corruption by sectarian bigots. The French Revolution started off to give liberté, égalité, fraternité to all; but the Terror quickly followed, and what was self-evidently good to any thinking person became obscured under codified definitions of what “good” really meant; and what “liberté, égalité, fraternité” meant; and “all”.

What happened was that people who had been motivated by an essentially good agenda became diverted into thinking with that very agenda rather than with their God-given intelligence; this led them under the sway of evil or misguided people to whom ideology, enshrined in the agenda, had become an idol that must be worshipped with the blood sacrifice of unbelievers.

Far-fetched? Robespierre said, “Pity is treason”. Hitler would have agreed. I forget who said that evil begins with loss of empathy but Richard Holloway substitutes “pity” for empathy and perhaps with that word makes the concept more accessible.

It’s hard to imagine pity in the evil minds and hands at work in that dark crypt in Cork.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby thepremier on Tue May 31, 2011 4:28 pm

Jd66 wrote:One thing I'd like to bring up as well is that if Gerard Murphy's calims ahve no substance (as seems likely) was there still a 'sing-sing' in a cemetery in Cork? Padraig O Ruairc has told me there was - apparently John Borgonovo has written of this in The Irish Sword.


According to Borgonovo's article, 'Sing-Sing' was "an isolated, half-submerged crypt" in Knockraha, East Cork, operated as a prison for "suspects, criminals and suspected spies". Prisoners were brought in blind-fold partly to protect the location, but also so they wouldn't realise they were being kept in a cemetery (which might have challenged their sanity). It was maintained by the Brigade rather than the local company. The spies that were executed were said to have been buried on Martin Corry's farm.

It was one of two prisons maintained by the Cork No. 1 Brigade. The other was a cottage in the Third Battalion area near Farranes, and three soldiers and three informers were said to have been buried in the adjoining ground. The number executed at Knockraha isn't stated.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby michaelcarragher on Sat Jun 04, 2011 9:08 am

Thanks for those details, Premier—they all add up.

John, I’ve located Thomas Hachey’s book, and am quite impressed so far—though I don’t think much of Jason Knirck’s contribution, “Women’s Political Rhetoric and the Irish Revolution”. His jargon suggests that Mr Knirck’s approach to academe was by the “studies” school (as opposed to the traditional disciplinary method), and his thesis is decidedly weak—at any rate flabby in terms of critical thinking. Much of it is rather tangential to this discussion, but not all, and it seems to me that Mr Knirck allows his obvious partisanship to colour his view of history.

As far as I can ascertain, of the six women Mr Knirck deals with only Kate O’Callaghan and Mary McSwiney were re-elected to the Third Dail—it can hardly be an oversight that he fails to deal with their subsequent electoral fortunes which had less to do with feminist theory than the will of the people. This is the bottom line in any democracy and while Mr Knirck is welcome to speculate on reactionary forces being marshalled to “feminise” republicanism in order to endorse the Treaty I suspect the facts are far simpler: that the Irish people knew that they had got the best deal they could with a Free State; that they knew that the IRA was utterly incapable of defeating a British Army unconfined to barracks; that British soldiers billeted in every house in hostile areas was intolerable; and—most relevant to this thread of discussion—that the Irish people were sick, sore and tired of the sordid antics of their “saviours” (to say nothing of terrified), so well described by Anne Dolan’s in “Ending War in a ‘Sportsmanlike Manner’”.

You’ve done a fair summary of this chapter, and I agree with most of what you say. Yet at the same time I find one of my feet—uncomfortably—in the camp of the “anti-revisionists” here. It may come down to nothing, but Ms Dolan’s suggestion that Kitty Carroll might have been murdered to evade paying off sexual favours seems unjustified. In the first place, Ms Dolan’s footnoted source, “Curator, Monaghan County Museum”, without explication, could be interpreted to mean that she is citing merely dark rumour while dignifying this citation with a respectable-seeming source. I am not accusing Ms Dolan of anything like sharp practise or unprofessionalism here, merely pointing out that the vagueness of her footnote leaves her open to accusations of salaciousness and—following therefrom—prejudice.

She lays herself open even further to criticism by some of her other sources. “Notes on the murder of Protestants in Ireland” is cited more than once, and though I have no reason to doubt the veracity of any testimony contained therein, only a fool could believe that such a source is beyond prejudice—or at any rate, accusations of such. Worse, one of Ms Dolan’s sources is Blackwood’s Magazine, a notoriously partisan organ (one of its publications is Tales of the RIC).

All that said, I do not doubt the substance of Ms Dolan’s claims. Much of what she writes is shocking, yet hardly surprising to anyone who lived through the more recent Troubles in anything other than denial. But her thesis would be strengthened if she were to back up such sources.

An admittedly-subjective criticism is of Ms Dolan’s failure to engage with how the “acceptability” of acts of war has changed in the last 90 years—and how, at the same time, the remorseless nature of war remains constant. The murder of Kitty Carroll provides a point of entry here. As I infer above, the IRA chopped enough bludgeons without Ms Dolan’s needing to cut a salacious stick with which to flagellate it. Kitty Carroll was not the last “half-wit” the IRA killed: the remains of Peter Wilson, a young man described as having "learning difficulties", were recovered last year, almost 40 years after his abduction and murder by the IRA.

What had changed in the half century between the murder of Kitty Carroll and that of Peter Wilson was that “half wits” could no longer be dismissed as “social undesirables” and knocked off with perhaps uneasily tacit local complicity in their murder. By 1973 decent people had come to realise that “half wits” are as deserving of respect as anyone else of whatever intellectual capacity, so it became more politically expedient to “disappear” Peter Wilson rather than to hang an “informer” sign on his corpse.

Yet—and again I find a foot uncomfortably hot in the campfire of the “anti-revisionists”—what else could the IRA have done, in either case? When you’re up against an obstacle that isn’t a witting enemy yet is a potential liability, how do you deal with it? What do you do with people who don’t have the wit to know their lives are in danger if they don’t take your warning?

Maybe Kitty Carroll was killed because she was an amorous nuisance, or a social embarrassment, or a Protestant, or an informer. The bottom line is that the dogs of war are bloodthirsty brutes and if you unleash them you never have full control of them—and you can use them to your own nefarious ends if you’re a cynic, or war make you cynical. If Kitty Carroll was an informer, war made her silencing essential; if she was a nuisance or anything else deemed undesirable, the Troubles made her murder possible.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby Jd66 on Fri Jun 10, 2011 9:35 am

Hi Michael, yes I think it's a very good book in some parts and average in others. The chapter on women in the revolutionary period doesn't have much new I didn't think.

Some of the other additions lapsed into cliche a bit too, the one on WWII, for instance trotting out the 'allies in all but name' argument, which I think is a bit simplistic. In my review I concentrated on the essays I found most interesting. Diarmuid Ferriter's one on church-state relations is well worth a read too. (He comes to teh conclusion that the state actually tended to win in the end when it dug its heels in).

Re the shooting of informers, I think that yeah, by the internal logic of that kind of conflict it makes sense, but on any moral level it's kind of sickening.

Incidentally, I've just been doing work on the WoI in Cavan and what you see there is that the IRA were contstantly being disrupted by raids and arrests but that they were not very ruthless. The whole conflict was not really a 'war' there so much as a political confrontation with an armed dimension. Only nine people were killed in Cavan in 1919-21 and only one of them was a suspected informer - though one of the IRA witness statements says he actually wasn't. There was also one Protestant clergyman shot dead by the IRA in raid on his house -they said by mistake. But the really curious thing is that with thousands of Cavan Protestants signed up to the UVF and armed, why there was not more sectarian conflict. In fact it seems to have taken a very limited amount of force on the part of the local IRA to cow the unionists - ie night raids, arms siezures etc. There was the occasional exchange of gunfire between the UVF and IRA but as far as I can tell there were no sectarian assassinations in Cavan. I wonder what this relative retraint (on both sides) can be put down to?
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby DrNightdub on Sat Jun 11, 2011 6:11 pm

Jd66 wrote:I wonder what this relative retraint (on both sides) can be put down to?


Military incompetence on the IRA side, and if they weren't up to much, then there was relatively little for the British / UVF to be doing in response.

The flip side of that is that the presence of a large unionist population made conditions difficult for the IRA to operate in - if you like, a slightly less extreme case of the situation that applied in the other northern counties. Antrim would be a case in point - Mulcahy started keeping a kind of running diary of IRA operations in mid-March 1921, by June he abandoned it (presumably because he couldn't keep up!), but in that whole three month period, he only recorded three actions carrried out by the Antrim Brigade. But in a county where the population was 80% loyalist and of the nationalist 20%, only a minority would've been IRA supporters, that was probably as much as that Brigade could manage. I'd guess that if Cavan was equally moribund, it would've been for similar reasons.

On the incompetence thing, it's only a slightly glib comment. The flying column captured at Lappinduff in May 1921 would appear to have been an attempt by GHQ to graft some backbone / experience from Belfast onto a relatively inactive Cavan brigade. And going back to the previous point about a hostile population, the BMH statements of two of those captured at Lappinduff (Seamus McKenna and Tom Fox) both attribute their capture to the authorities being alerted to their presence by a local unionist farmer.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby thepremier on Sat Jun 11, 2011 11:58 pm

With regard to the general Antrim area, I would've thought that most of the focus would have been on Belfast? The Belfast brigade were kept pretty busy enforcing the boycott and attacking factories and the like. As you say, the population imbalance was a huge factor in the type of action that could be taken, since IRA actions were followed reprisals against the Catholic population. The death toll was pretty substantial, so not all was quiet.
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