Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby anchorman on Sat Sep 01, 2012 10:22 am

FULL John Young statement here:

Historian Caught in Ambush Row [Kilmichael Ambush - Tom Barry and Peter Hart]
by Justine McCarthy - Sunday Times 26 August 2012

A SON of a war of independence veteran has accused a historian of publishing "untrue and unchecked claims" relating to a disputed IRA ambush in which his father participated 92 years ago.

Edward "Ned" Young was the last known survivor of the Kilmichael ambush, when the IRA killed 17 police auxiliaries on November 28, 1920. His son John Young has described as "palpably untrue" assertions made by Dr Eve Morrison about a phone conversation he had with her last month. Morrison's claims appear to contradict an affidavit Young signed five years ago, in which he denied that his father co-operated with a controversial book about the ambush.

Young has requested that a statement by him disputing Morrison's version of the July 4 conversation be posted on the Reviews in History website, which is operated by the University of London's Institute of Historical Research.

On the site Morrison claims that John Young told her his father was healthy enough to be interviewed in 1988 when Peter Hart, an acclaimed revisionist historian, claimed to have done so. Hart's thesis in The IRA and its Enemies - a book he published in 1998 - was that Tom Barry, the ambush leader, concocted a story that the Auxiliaries faked a surrender in order to justify the IRA killing 17 of them.

Hart reported an interview with Young, who was not identified, which supported his theory that there had been no fake surrender. John Young signed an affidavit on December 14, 2007, describing Hart's claim to have interviewed his father as "totally untrue".
He swore his father was incapable of being interviewed in 1988, as he had suffered a stroke in 1986 and died aged 97 on November 13, 1989.

"At that stage [the time of Hart's claimed interview], Ned Young was wheelchair-bound, having suffered a stroke some time previously," John Young said in his affidavit.

"As a consequence, it made him incapable of giving an interview, having virtually lost the faculty of speech." Young said a man with "a foreign accent" called at his mother's house in the late 1980s and requested an interview with her husband. She refused, as he was sick in bed.

"If, as seems likely, the man in question was Peter Hart, it makes his subsequent behaviour all the more inexcusable and inexplicable."

Morrison states on the website: "Mr Young confirmed [by phone] that his father's mental faculties were not impaired, and he could speak perfectly clearly. I asked him this twice, and he said he was willing to go on the record on this point."

Morrison's essay Kilmichael Revisited was part of a collection entitled Terror in Ireland 1916-1921, edited by David Fitzpatrick, Hart's and Morrison's history professor at Trinity College in Dublin. In his replying statement, Young says: "I am surprised if Eve Morrison's behaviour is regarded as acceptable academic practice in Trinity College. Is a short, hurried and confused telephone call between strangers on a serious matter a proper basis for making historical claims? "Does Eve Morrison consider me so light-minded as to reverse a sworn statement about my own father in the course of a brief conversation on the telephone with someone I have never met? "Why did [she] not attempt to confirm with me in writing her mistaken interpretation of our conversation before publication? She had over 40 days prior to publication in which to do so."

Last week Morrison said she identified herself to Young when she phoned him last month, and put it to him that she did not believe Hart had lied about interviewing his father.

"I asked Mr Young how he could be so sure that Hart did not interview his father," Morrison said. "Mr Young stated that he had left instructions that no one was to be let into his parents' house without his permission and that no one had ever told him that Hart had visited the house."

In response to Young's request to publish his statement, Reviews in History said it "has a policy of simply allowing a review and a response from the authors and editors, so we wouldn't be able to publish any additional pieces".

FULL John Young statement here:

The Sunday Times report (above) stems from Eve Morrison's response to Niall Meehan's review of Terror in Ireland 1916-1923.

Terror in Ireland 1916-1923[/b
, edited by David Fitzpatrick
Dublin, Lilliput Press, 2012, 248pp.; Price: £12.00
Reviewer: Niall Meehan, Griffith College Dublin
Reviews in History, Institute of Historical Research, University of London

(plus Professor David Fitzpatrick, Dr Eve Morrison, response)
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby Na Fianna Éireann on Sat Sep 01, 2012 7:54 pm

I personally don't care whether or not they were killed in cold blood or indeed after faking a surrender as it's like this they were an invading force so there is absolutley no dishonour in killing them what ever way in action or execution, war is war is war and if that is what it took then so be it as that was the way of war in years gone past as their was no geneva convention.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby michaelcarragher on Sat Sep 08, 2012 11:25 am

Long runs the red herring! Far from Eve Morrison settling the Kilmichael controversy, she has made things worse—much worse.

John Young’s trenchant rebuttal of Dr Morrison’s account of their telephone discussion exposes the latter to charges of naïveté and unprofessionalism—at very least. For Dr Morrison to publicly proclaim that Mr Young “was willing to go on the record” to contradict a previous affidavit demanded that she have his alleged willingness on some sort of record of her own, so that she could stand over what the most callow undergraduate could have predicted was going to prove controversial. To imagine that this controversy could be adequately addressed by privately logging a cold-call to a man to whom she was a stranger, and from whom agreement with her position was unlikely rather than otherwise, is... frankly, words fail me.

To put it as inoffensively as I can, Dr Morrison has been most unwise. I don’t wish to add to her embarrassment but nobody is walking away from this car crash she’s caused, and embarrassment is the least of anybody’s injuries.

The Kilmichael controversy is really a red herring but Dr Morrison’s attempt to net it has only served to morph it into Moby Dick. Her extraordinary failure to substantiate her conversation with Mr Young is frustrating apart from anything else: for leaving aside this detail development, her essay goes a very long way to establish “an authentic counter-narrative of the Kilmichael Ambush”, one grounded in Republican tradition though never publicly acknowledged because of “how controversial it was for Kilmichael veterans to give accounts that differed from Barry’s”. Now, because of this new hornets’ nest that she herself has aroused, her entire essay (if not the whole corpus of her work) becomes clouded by question. Far from removing the shadow that hangs over the late Peter Hart’s sources, she has, ironically, darkened that.

The killings at Kilmichael, given the nature of war, need not be controversial at all. What is far more significant than the current he-said-she-said squabbling is the closing of anti-revisionist ranks around the traditional narrative. Constructive debate is eclipsed; and Dr Morrison, by her sloppy scholarship and unsustainable claim, effectively ensured that this would happen.

I’m instinctually revisionist because questioning orthodoxy stimulates the intellect and invigorates democracy and because changing your mind when evidence warrants change is the sane thing to do. I’ve changed my mind on various issues on the basis of emergent evidence, and hope to live long enough to maybe change it again. I find much of Niall Meehan’s review of Terror in Ireland to be overly-forensic, turgid and pedantic and largely concur with Dr Fitzpatrick’s dismissal of it, and with his own defence of the Workshop’s “ecumenical and non-doctrinal approach to the issue of ‘terror’.”

But for Dr Fitzpatrick to conclude “Sadly, this review and others suggest that ‘balance and decorum’ have yet to be restored” is not enough. Rather, this sentence comes across as patronising, superior and smug—an attitude that accounts for much popular hostility toward revisionists. Some of us come across as scorning our opponents as knuckle-dragging slope-heads; and indeed these are swinging in the trees out there, hurling coconuts at historical investigation and greatly heartened by Dr Morrison’s own-goal; but most traditionalists I know are sincere, intelligent and informed, and provide valuable counters to my own take on history, provoking deeper introspection on the issues we discuss, and thereby enforcing better understanding. Historians cannot afford to disdainfully dismiss those who disagree with us—least of all, at this juncture, Dr Fitzpatrick.

Dr John Regan claims that there is an agenda in Irish academe, particularly in the Trinity History Workshop, calculated to propagate a politically-fostered historical narrative, an engineered orthodoxy to compete with what let’s call the Authorised Version of Irish History. I am not convinced that he is correct, but would be as worried by any such agenda as by anti-revisionism—for precisely the same reason.

Dr Morrison, and Dr Fitzpatrick, if they haven’t endorsed Dr Regan’s claim, must face the fact that the credibility of the Trinity History Workshop has been seriously damaged. They must competently address this latest controversy if that credibility, previously undermined by questions over Dr Hart’s sources, is not to be undermined further, perhaps fatally, by this recent failure.

I personally wish Dr Morrison nothing but well, but her lamentable lapse of judgment has made not just bullets but shells for her enemies to fire at her, her mentor, and TCD. A Trinity imprimatur on a history degree seems in peril of devaluation.

To swap metaphors: the Pequod is being head-butted hard by Moby Dick. Ishmael and Ahab need to look to their harpoons, PDQ, if the Trinity History Workshop isn’t to sink.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby Billy on Sat Sep 08, 2012 9:59 pm

I love this thread. Well done everyone.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby michaelcarragher on Fri Sep 14, 2012 7:11 pm

Glad you’re enjoying the crack, Billy. It is a lot of fun, this forum, as well as being challenging and stimulating.

Our clampracht na staraí continues in the current issue of History Ireland. Dr Morrison robustly defends her position on the Kilmichael controversy but it is impossible—for me at any rate—to concur with her conclusion that “[Peter Hart’s] research into the Kilmichael ambush has been broadly vindicated”. Her “considerable coaxing by Fr Chisholm” could not unreasonably be construed as the priest putting words into his interviewees’ mouths, as Sean Kelleher chooses to interpret it, going on to dismiss the heterodoxy that Dr Morrison argues existed among Kilmichael veterans.

In her essay Dr Morrison does indeed present evidence for such heterodoxy, but Mr Kelleher, son of a Kilmichael veteran, claims that discussion “at annual commemoration ceremonies ... often centred on the Auxiliaries’ bogus surrender call”. Add this statement to John Young’s adamant denial of what Dr Morrison was rash enough to claim in print last month and she is in an unenviable position. Further defence of her thesis seems likely to draw attention more to its weaknesses than to its strengths. She has to decide whether in future exchanges she is trying to score points or trying to solve a problem, and to bear in mind that she probably cannot do both, given the invidious position her misjudgement has led her into.

In brief, the Kilmichael controversy has attained an importance that the military or historical significance of any shoot-to-kill policy does not warrant. Reinvigoration of the controversy has become a damaging distraction—and potentially damaging to professional careers. Besides, as Bannerman says, the exact truth will never now be known. Time to move on.

Elsewhere on the letters page of HI David Fitzpatrick promises a “detailed and footnoted riposte to John Regan’s charges in a forthcoming issue of History”. One can only hope that this riposte will be comprehensive and convincing enough to place the Trinity History Workshop beyond accusations of fostering any political agenda. With assaults already being made on history in the school syllabus, the academy cannot afford to take any hits on its integrity.

Desmond Fennell, elsewhere in History Ireland, also is concerned with problems in history—if with rather different problems. He “argues that Irish historians are failing to narrate the Revolution as it really was”. Respectable revolutions, it appears, are characterised by “common traits” or stages, which Mr Fennell proposes to “explain” and “narrate”.

I intuit from his essay that revolutionary traits or stages are everyday items of conversation in the rarefied air of those drawing rooms and lounges in which revolutions are discussed (and, for all I know, plotted); and, while I’ve been educated by enumeration of these theoretical traits or stages, and other incidentally interesting material in his piece, Mr Fennell leaves me beset with questions:

• Exactly which “Irish historians are failing to narrate the Revolution as it really was”?
• All of them?
• In what ways are they “failing”?
• What, precisely, is the way the Revolution “really was”?
• Who says so?

Lack of space may have imposed constraints on Mr Fennell, but he seems extraordinarily prescriptive after a vital and exciting couple of decades in historical scholarship, from the Rocky Mountains to the Urals, has so opened up and enlivened the discipline—Irish history not least. Yet in the teeth of all this Mr Fennell brazenly advocates an anti-revisionist pedagogy.

For example—directly relevant to our thread here—he advocates that any narrative of the War of Independence period should

in particular [tell] that the Republican leadership worked towards its vision of Catholic-Protestant fraternity in an all-Ireland sovereign state...

—one that would be
morally and materially superior to the existing one.

This sounds glorious—but the awkward unglorious fact is that the vision mentioned, however admirable in the abstract, was utter anathema to most of the Protestants the Republican leadership sought to embrace. Nor does Mr Fennell’s proposed narrative apparently acknowledge that “the Republican leadership worked towards its vision” by deliberately starting a war designed to impose this anathema on 20 percent of the island’s population—at best a whimsical interpretation of “morally ... superior” and “fraternity”, and certainly closer to rape than embrace (“I promise, you’ll love it”). Nor does his proposed narrative tell how the predictably-inevitable defeat of such coercion encompassed not merely failure to subjugate Irish Protestants to their enemies (as they saw Republicans), but failure of the Republican project for all time—i.e. that partition of the island would be permanent, with all the human, political, social and economic evils partition brought with it. To say nothing of the horrors that war always brings with it and in its wake.

All this, we are supposed to believe, was materially as well as morally superior to the prosperity and progress that had marked the decades prior to revolution.

Rather than explore, investigate, discuss, analyse or evaluate the historical complexity of those awful years, Mr Fennell proposes to narrate an anti-imperialist fable, smug, pietistic and simplistic, and later to narrate the “completion of the revolutionary programme in the 1930s”.

This narrative of “completion” is hard to square with his admitted failure of the “revolutionary programme”: for the “Irish republic in all but name” that emerged out of the calamitous ’Thirties fell six full counties short of the revolutionaries’ “vision of ... an all-Ireland sovereign state”. As he is unconscious of inconsistency in his own argument, Mr Fennell is unlikely to have drawn the fairly obvious conclusion from this part of it: that since “completion of the revolutionary programme in the 1930s” was attained by diplomacy and negotiation, not by force, it leaves little reason to doubt that diplomacy and negotiation could have worked from the outset.

The time-scale toward full, 32-county, negotiated independence unquestionably would have been much longer; and counter-factual speculation always must be tentative. Yet the eventual island-wide democracy that might have been born out of dialogue and negotiation must have had a better chance of surviving than the crippled polity that limped out of the wreckage of failed coercion—given all the assets, resources and skills that 25 percent more citizens, most of them thrifty and with an admirable work ethic, would have brought to a true res publica.

There’s something apposite in the word Mr Fennell uses throughout his proposal: narrative connotes fiction rather than factual writing. In works of serious history narrative is often brief, setting the stage for deploying the other rhetorical modes: description, exposition and argumentation. Bald narratives are shortcuts to “understanding” for neophytes; they also, of course, are useful devices for propagating slanted versions of history to such neophytes and to novitiates of a political order (or revolutionary movement); but for the student of history, seeking to explore the past, in all its complexities and subtleties, they offer damn all.

Mr Fennell’s proposed narrative stops short of narrating the failure of, not merely the Irish Revolution, but the Three-Quarter Republic that it spawned. Perhaps failure isn’t on the list of traits or stages of revolutions approved for discussion in polite revolutionary company. Our country’s degeneration into a humiliated protectorate of the EU is testament to such elision, and its associated bluff and deception, bluster and bravado, arrogance and autocracy.

We can thank for the loss of our sovereignty the shambling idiots and clever bastards who led us to this pass and robbed us blind. Plebs who questioned their patrician pronouncements were told that our betters had crystal balls or other organs into which they could gaze and therein descry what was good for us; if we continued to question we were told to take a jump—if we knew what was good for us.

Yet our loss cannot all be laid at the cloven feet of our preening kleptocrats, bullies and liars. All citizens of the Three-Quarter Republic bear some responsibility: we elected to govern us men whom we often knew to be liars and grafters, if not worse.

Healthy democracies are not built upon revolutionary theory, lofty ideals, high rhetoric or the ripping yarns of their foundation myths. They are not built on selfless readiness to give our lives for some revolutionary cause; nor readiness to make mistakes at the start and kill the wrong people in the same cause until we develop the knack of killing the “right” ones; nor killing these.

No. What makes democracy work is individual responsibility and personal accountability—and, of course, acceptance of the will of the people. Ideally a people educated to the healthily sceptical point where they know that nothing that truly matters is ever simple, to distrust those who would pretend otherwise, and to utterly reject those do-gooders—“ideologues [with] a vision”, Mr Fennell prefers to call them—who know better than ourselves what we’ll really love after they’ve beaten it into us; those ready to die and kill for the good of us all.

Such democratic responsibility and accountability are unlikely to be better fostered in the future than they have been served in the past if we submit to anyone, anyone at all, arrogating to tell us what our past “really” was.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby DrNightdub on Sat Sep 15, 2012 11:38 am

On Kilmichael, I do think Eve Morrison may be on to something - as I said before, the evidence regarding dead Auxies having bullet wounds to the armpits raises questions about whether there was some kind of surrender, be it real, partial or whatever. But I think she went into print before she had all her ducks in a row. Apart from John Young cutting some of the ground out from under her, she herself said that she has identified other sources who won't go on the record. So if her research is still work-in-progress, why stir up the hornet's nest at this point?

The other point about her argument is that it seems to be based on the idea that the absence of a positive is necessarily proof of a negative. Or in other words, the lack of corroboration of Barry's false surrender account from other participants automatically means that they rejected his account. I'm not entirely comfortable with that line of reasoning. She does seem to make a strong case for it in relation to Liam Deasy and "Towards Ireland Free". However, I don't know whether there was bad blood between Deasy and Barry, on account of Deasy's public call for a Republican surrender after being captured in the spring of 1923. Equally, they may well have kissed and made up after the Civil War. Either way, I'd expect a question to be raised over whether Deasy might have had an agenda of his own. But because it's not raised, it's not addressed.

There's also the simple fact of Kilmichael veterans continually turning up for the annual commemoration for years and years after Barry's book came out. Now unless they all tacitly agreed to sit in silence on one side of the pub and let Barry sit on the other, telling his story, you'd imagine there would have been some rumblings of dissent somewhere along the way. But no big deal was made about it, unless there were subterranean discussions in Cork outside of the public domain, in which case you're back in the the he-said-she-said land of the John Young phone call.

As for Desmond Fennel's piece in History ireland, I found his stress on post-Civil War "moral purification" and "missionary dissemination" to be downright creepy. How does that even sit on the same page as talk of catholic-protestant fraternity? His neo-Ancient Order of Hibernians guff is precisely one of the reasons why Ulster said No - and they're currently busy celebrating the fact of having done so consistently for a hundred years now.

I can't help thinking of Austen Morgan's history of the Belfast working class, "Labour and Partition". I disagreed with much of what he wrote but his dedication at the start of the book was devastatingly apt: "To the 'rotten prods' of Belfast - victims of loyalist violence and nationalist myopia." Fennell is a case in point.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby DrNightdub on Sat Sep 15, 2012 11:50 am

By the way, only slightly off-topic, but this could be a interesting event in Drogheda tomorrow: http://www.millmount.net/whats-on/the-irish-civil-war-and-its-legacy
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby NiallMeehan on Wed Oct 24, 2012 12:49 pm

I posted a reply to Prof Fitzpatrick and Dr Morrison's response to my review of Terror in Ireland 1916-1923:

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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby michaelcarragher on Wed Feb 13, 2013 8:13 am

Dr David Fitzpatrick’s riposte to Dr John Regan’s charges of last year appears in the current issue of History.

Any doubt that this particular clampracht na staraí was ever other than fierce is dispelled; and it looks like the antagonism may wax rather than wane, as there seems to be both professional and personal issues at stake here—memories of Taylor and Trevor-Roper come to mind. All entertaining and educative for those who care to follow the argument, as it was for those who followed Taylor and T-R, and all for the good of the discipline, especially if the disagreement draws more observers and participants into the debate.

At the heart of this conflict is Peter Hart—yet not merely Hart’s controversial claims. Dr Fitzpatrick’s writes because

the manner in which Regan’s critique has been personalized and publicized renders it necessary to offer a defence, not so much of Hart’s findings on revolutionary Cork, as of academic freedom (p. 136).

Dr Regan would claim that he, too, is concerned with academic freedom, which he feels is constrained by an anti-Republican agenda in TCD, something so blatant as to constitute “academic fraud” in Peter Hart’s case. As the late Dr Hart is unable to defend himself against this most egregious professional charge one can understand why his mentor, Dr Fitzpatrick, takes up the cudgels in his defence.

At the core of Dr Fitzpatrick’s riposte is that “a strong distaste for ... gunmen and their political apologists” of the more recent Troubles does not infer that “endemic distortion or falsification of history” must follow from this. Rejecting the political agenda that Dr Regan imputes, Dr Fitzpatrick claims:

The excitement we derived from Irish revolutionary history came, above all, from discovering something new, forgotten, or concealed, consuming and digesting all the evidence we could unearth, and trying to devise provocatively novel interpretations. We were not paradigm-primed political pawns or plotters, but ‘revisionists’ in the benign sense of that much-abused term (p. 139).

He goes on to repudiate Dr Regan’s accusation of “a collaborative effort” by “several historians to write a particular narrative of the past, which was ideologically motivated”, and vigorously to reject

the implication … that I and other hitherto independent scholars were induced to conform to some party line in order to strengthen a collective campaign against republicanism (p. 142).

Dr Fitzpatrick bluntly dismisses such implication as conspiracy theory.

And surely—to intrude my own opinion—if there were such a politically-motivated conspiracy of Irish historians as Dr Regan hypothesises, students with more traditional sympathies could always choose to study elsewhere; at Dundee, even. The quality of their research would then be evaluated by other historians, and perhaps after those erstwhile students are dead later generations of historians might still be debating their work as they are Dr Hart’s.

Dr Fitzpatrick’s essay confirms the virtues of revisionism. I don’t mean that “the revisionist” Dr Fitzpatrick has “won the war” with “the anti-revisionist” Dr Regan, or that he has fully vindicated the claims of Dr Hart. Rather I mean that he has conceded the flaws in Dr Hart’s work that have been evident from the outset.

This does not weaken the defence he makes of his former student. While he concedes Dr Hart’s tendency to “exaggerate” and “simplify” he points out that in Hart’s view

the Dunmanway ‘massacre’ was a relatively rare eruption of endemic sectarian antipathy into lethal violence … a flurry of probably uncoordinated sectarian attacks…. Nowhere did Hart claim that most republican violence was directed against Protestants, that sectarianism was the dominant strand in republican mentality, or that other groups identified as suspect ‘outsiders’ (such as tramps, sexual deviants and ex-servicemen, often Catholics) fared any better (p. 139).

This claim may sit ill with those who remember mention of “ethnic cleansing”; but Dr Fitzpatrick points out that changes between Dr Hart’s thesis and his book “[do] not betoken suppression of relevant facts, but enhanced prudence and rigour in the use of evidence” (p. 142). Again, witness to the power of revisionism to work its way toward the truth—or as close as we can get to the “truth” of what “really” happened back then or at any time—through argumentation backed up by evidence.

It all seems to be for the good of the discipline. For two things we can be grateful, anyway: this debate has moved a long way from the embarrassments of last summer’s spats; and in so moving it, Dr Fitzpatrick has vindicated the professionalism and integrity of the Irish history academy.

Yet no true revisionist can ever celebrate any “triumph” of revisionism: because without the polar-charge provided by anti-revisionism there can be no energy to drive the study of history; and in this regard Dr Regan is almost invaluable because, even if one disagrees with his views in our clampract na staraí, one must acknowledge him a professional from whom much may be learned if only in confounding his arguments.

It’s in the dialectic between the likes of Drs Fitzpatrick and Regan that history thrives.
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Re: Historical Revisionism and the Irish War of Independence.

Postby NiallMeehan on Sat Feb 16, 2013 6:56 pm

Some more material on the Hart debate with contributions by me, John Regan, Eve Morrison, and four relatives of War of Independence participants, Maureen Deasy (daughter of Liam), Maura O'Donovan (daughter of Pat), Sean Kelleher (son of Tom), John Young (son of Edward 'Ned').

West Cork and The Writing of History
John M Regan


Terror in Ireland 1916-23, David Fitzpatrick (ed) - review by Niall Meehan (including David Fitzpatrick, Eve Morrison, responses)

Reply to Professor David Fitzpatrick and to Dr Eve Morrison’s response to criticism of Terror in Ireland 1916-1923 (plus consideration of Dr Brian Hanley on 'The Good Old IRA')

History Ireland v21 n1 Jan Feb 2013
(Nov-Dec 2012 letters attached - not great quality but best system will allow, Jan-Feb 2013 letters below)


Sir,—I am the eldest daughter of Liam Deasy whose War of Independence memoir, Toward Ireland Free, was published in 1973. My father died in 1974. I willingly typed up the manuscript from start to finish as a labour of love.

Part of my father’s research consisted of tape-recorded interviews with IRA veterans. These were undertaken with the help of Fr John Chisholm, who edited the manuscript under direction of my father, and with his introduction of Fr Chisholm to former veterans. After publication and after my father died, Fr Chisholm regarded the tapes as in effect his personal possessions. In 2007 I requested from him in a telephone conversation a copy of my father’s tapes for submission to interested historians, a request he abruptly rejected on the grounds of ‘priestly confidentiality’.

The tapes were subject to controversy due to Fr Chisholm allowing the late Peter Hart, author of The IRA and its Enemies (1998), to quote the recordings anonymously. Hart reported three veterans on the tapes speaking on the November 1920 Kilmichael ambush. Some years ago due to pressure from historians to make the tapes available for inspection, Fr Chisholm gave the tapes to a member of the Deasy family, a nephew of my father. On the basis that she was sympathetic to Peter Hart’s account Eve Morrison of Trinity College was given access to the tapes. She partially reported their contents in a chapter in Terror in Ireland, 1916-1923 (2012). She wrote that the tapes contained veteran testimony from two Kilmichael veterans.

In Trinity College on 26 October 2011 at a talk on Kilmichael by Eve Morrison, Fr Chisholm was questioned by TV producer Jerry O’Callaghan. O’Callaghan listened to and was allowed to report on the recordings but not broadcast them. He reported in Scéal Tom Barry (‘The Tom Barry Story’) on TG4 in January 2012 that the tapes contained just one Kilmichael veteran speaking on the ambush. Fr Chisholm answered that he had mislaid a final tape O’Callaghan did not hear. He subsequently found that tape and gave it to Eve Morrison. It contained the testimony played at the TCD seminar and it was from Kilmichael veteran Ned Young. That is a very strange fact. In response to a request from John Young, son of Ned Young, for a copy of his father’s tape, Fr Chisholm stated that he didn’t have a tape recording of Ned Young.

In addition to the Deasy/Chisholm interviewees, Hart claimed to have personally interviewed two more veterans in 1988-89. As Ned Young was the last Kilmichael veteran alive since December 1986 he had to be one. However, Ned Young suffered a stroke in late 1986 and could not communicate effectively (as sworn on affidavit by Ned’s son, John). Furthermore, Hart reportedly interviewed his second alleged additional veteran six days after Ned Young died. Therefore, as it stands currently there are now nine Deasy/Chisholm tapes containing two Kilmichael veterans speaking on the ambush, not three as Hart claimed. Hart’s two separate additional interviews seem fictitious.

This situation clamours for the production of all the Chisholm/Deasy tapes for the scrutiny of all interested historians. On 3 June 2009 I wrote as follows to my father’s nephew, the present custodian of convenience of the tapes, with a copy to Fr Chisholm:

‘It is my fervent wish that the tapes be placed in the public domain, where other scholars may have access to the contents. My father’s research should not be sullied by becoming a political football. The only way in which this may be avoided is by openly and transparently placing the information in a historical archive. I suggest University College Cork as most appropriate.’

Professor Dermot Keogh, then Head of History in UCC, was in contact and expressed great interest in receiving and safeguarding the material. My plea fell on deaf ears, as the tapes are still held privately and are still denied critical scrutiny.

I am not in good health. It is my fervent wish that Fr Chisholm make a thorough search for all material belonging to my father which he may also have mislaid, and that the material be given to UCC for use by researchers. This scandalous situation has to end and can only end with full disclosure of the tapes and their contents. Yours etc.,



Sir,—I am saddened that a question has arisen again regarding the false surrender at the Kilmichael ambush on 28 November 1920. Eve Morrison in her letter (HI 20.6, Nov./Dec. 2012) has written that ‘relatives of Kilmichael veterans have become more active in promoting an alternative version of event’.

My father Pat O’Donovan was a volunteer in Tom Barry’s flying column and fought in section two, where volunteers were fatally wounded that day due to the deceitful actions of the Auxiliaries. He always said that following acceptance of surrender, the Auxiliaries took up and activated revolvers after they had thrown down their rifles. Tom Barry and the men who fought at Kilmichael have been wronged over recent years, and Peter Hart in his writing has created much annoyance for many family members of these men.

These men suffered much in their fight for independence. The agony that my father and ‘the boys’ in direct line of fire (section two) had to endure, on that freezing November day, and their account of the Auxiliaries’ false surrender, should be accepted. Otherwise future generations will continue to speculate. The result will be like Peter Hart’s story—distorted.

My mother died in December 2010. She was the last link to ‘The Boys of Kilmichael’. She was lucid to the end and whenever asked, would recall her husband’s (my father’s) account and that of the other volunteers and the trauma they had to endure, due to the Auxiliaries’ having accepted a surrender and then resuming action with revolvers.

My father participated in many engagements with the flying column. Between engagements he lived in a dugout in a field near his home. In later years he often returned to the ambush site, and with Fr O’Brien, he said the rosary for his comrades who were killed that day. He was the fourth last Kilmichael veteran. He died in 1981.—Yours etc.,

MAURA O’DONOVAN Dunmanway Co. Cork


A chara,—Eve Morrison in (HI 20.6, Nov/Dec 2012) states that I am ‘misreading’ Jack Hennessy’s Bureau of Military History statement. I suggest it is she who is ‘misreading’ Hennessy. While Hennessy does not put the name ‘a false surrender’ on what he witnessed at Kilmichael on that day he actually describes one. Hennessy wrote: ‘Vice Comdt. McCarthy had got a bullet through the head and lay dead’. The breech of Hennessy’s rifle got fouled with ‘blood dripping’ from his forehead; he dropped his own rifle, took up McCarthy’s and continued to fight. He, like other Volunteers responded to Barry’s ‘three blasts’ whistle-indicator to cease firing following the surrender call. Hennessy says:

‘I heard the three blasts and got up from my position, shouting “hands up”. At the same time one of the Auxies about five yards from me drew his revolver. He had thrown down his rifle.’

It was during this period that two volunteers were fatally wounded. (I inadvertently wrote three in my previous letter.) At the opening of the ambush Barry blew the whistle—a signal for specific volunteers to commence; this whistle was again an indicator to cease firing—an acknowledgement that the surrender was accepted.

Like Peter Hart, Ms Morrison believes that the ‘Rebel Commandant’s report’ was not a forgery but was written by Tom Barry. I note that Meda Ryan in her biography of Tom Barry (2003) analyzed this report in detail, and it is obvious Barry would not have written it. But the clincher is the final sentence in the PS: ‘...P. Deasy was killed by a revolver bullet from one of the enemy whom he thought dead’. Barry would not have written that. Pat Deasy was seriously wounded following the false surrender and died some hours later.

Since that November day it has been known in West Cork that volunteers were fatally wounded following a false surrender. A controversy arose because Peter Hart located a document in the ‘Rebel Commandant’s report’, alleged to have been written by Tom Barry. It did not mention a false surrender. Hart endeavoured, in his book (1998), to prove there was none. Meda Ryan (2003) pointed out that Hart had interviewed an anonymous scout on 19 November 1989, and that the last known Kilmichael ambush survivor Ned Young died on 13 November 1989. During a Q & A session at a UCC conference I asked Peter Hart to disclose the name of this Kilmichael ambush interviewee. Before a large audience he hedged, did what he could to bluff. I put it plainly to him that he was lying, and that he did not locate any participant who would deny the false surrender story. Despite being asked on numerous occasions by historians over the years, he did not answer that question. In a TG4 documentary Scéal Tom Barry (Dir. Gerry O’Callaghan, 2011) Hart said:

‘…it’s possible that this was some sort of a hoax and he was a fantasist, but that seems extremely unlikely.

Eve Morrison is now defending Peter Hart’s flawed narrative of the Kilmichael ambush, which includes disputing Tom Barry’s and the 3rd Brigade flying column’s actions on that day. Ms Morrison wrote that I am not ‘prepared [like others]...to accept the reality of war and...acknowledge the true extent of the sacrifice made by the men’. Let me assure Ms Morrison that I accept the reality of war and fully understand the sacrifices made by the men of the flying column. Is she not aware of the involvement of my father, Tom Kelleher, in many of the engagements carried out by members of the 3rd West Cork Brigade?—Is mise,

SEAN KELLEHER Chontae Chorcaí


Sir,—I write further to John Young’s letter (HI 20.6, Nov./Dec. 2012). In a statement dated 22 August 2012, Mr Young (one of the children of Kilmichael veteran Ned Young) takes ‘very strong exception’ to the account of our telephone conversation of 4 July 2012 that I gave in my response in Reviews in History to Niall Meehan’s long-winded review of Terror in Ireland.

I fully stand over my understanding of our 15-minute conversation (as recorded on my phone bill). As I already told Justine McCarthy of the Sunday Times, when I rang Mr Young I gave him my name and telephone number. I also told him I was an historian, and explained that I wanted to explore the veracity of a controversial claim that Peter Hart had lied about interviewing his father Ned. Mr Young does not recall confirming to me that Ned Young was mentally sound and could speak clearly on the dates Hart gave for his interview with him, whereas my notes indicate that Mr Young did do so. I asked Mr Young specifically if he was willing to go on record on this point, and he said yes. There was nothing confusing or ambiguous about our conversation, and further enquiries gave me no reason to doubt that Ned Young was well enough to be interviewed in the summer of 1988. John Young asserts that his father suffered a stroke in late 1986, but this evidently did not stop Ned Young participating in public events. In August 1987, for instance, the Southern Star published a photograph of Ned Young at Ballabuidhé (a local Dunmanway festival). In August 1988 the newspaper noted that he again attended the festival’s opening ceremony. Peter Hart had conducted his second interview with him several weeks earlier, in June.

Mr Young also maintains that the fact that the late Jim O’Driscoll SC, witnessed his signature on his 2007 affidavit imputes O’Driscoll’s support for the affidavit’s contention that Hart could not have interviewed Ned Young. Niall Meehan and others have styled O’Driscoll as one of the ‘signatories to the affidavit’. This is profoundly misleading. As solicitor Michael Malone, also a witness to the 2007 affidavit, explained to me, a ‘witness to signature’ merely verifies the identity and signature of the person making a statement, and does not imply any knowledge of or view on the contents of such a document. This was certainly so for Jim O’Driscoll. His widow Marion informed me that, contrary to what is being claimed, her late husband was clear that Hart did interview Ned Young, who was one of several IRA veterans O’Driscoll helped Hart to contact. She also confirmed that her husband had no reservations about Hart’s work, and in fact refused to join in attacks on Hart when approached to do so.—Yours etc.,



Sir,—In paragraph two of Eve Morrison’s letter on the November 1920 Kilmichael ambush (HI 20.6, Nov/Dec 2012) IRA volunteer Michael McCarthy died during the fight. Yet, in paragraph three he was alive afterwards.

Replying to Seán Kelleher (HI 20.4, July/Aug 2012), Morrison cited Kilmichael veteran Jack Hennessy’s Bureau of Military History statement that McCarthy ‘lay dead’ prior to a British false surrender (that Morrison says never happened). Ambush testimony from veteran Jack O’Sullivan and commander Tom Barry supports this sequencing of McCarthy’s death.

Most veterans reported that McCarthy and Jim O’Sullivan were killed during the engagement and that a wounded Pat Deasy died some hours later. The veterans include Tom Barry, Jack Hennessy, James Murphy, Michael O’Driscoll, Ned Young and Stephen O’Neill. Here, Morrison is on sure ground.

Peter Hart in The IRA and its Enemies mistakenly presented as Tom Barry’s view that all three IRA fatalities resulted from the British Auxiliaries’ false surrender. He and Morrison use this misreading to undermine Barry’s account of the fight, thus weakening Barry’s false surrender narrative in Guerilla Days in Ireland. In fact, Barry consistently identified two resulting fatalities, Jim O’Sullivan and Pat Deasy.

Despite its clear contradiction with the veteran evidence cited above, Morrison simultaneously supports the view of veteran Patrick O’Brien, echoed in a recent commentary, that McCarthy was wounded and died soon after the ambush. This second version of McCarthy’s demise also strengthens Hart’s misinterpretation of Barry, and it reinforces Hart’s championing of a disputed ‘Rebel Commandant’s report’ in British archives. That document reported, ‘P. Deasy was killed by a revolver bullet from one of the enemy he thought dead’ and that two volunteers ‘subsequently died of wounds’. It does not mention a false surrender.

Morrison simultaneously presents conflicting versions of McCarthy’s death without comment because she subordinates evidence to vindication of Hart. The publisher claimed Morrison’s Kilmichael chapter in Terror in Ireland 1916-1923 accomplished such vindication. In my opinion her contribution clarified problems with Hart’s methods. I explain this in my review and in a response to criticism from Morrison (gcd.academia.edu/NiallMeehan).

Besides misreading Barry, Hart’s methods included claiming access to anonymous interview testimony from five Kilmichael veterans: his two and three from Fr John Chisholm. In fact, Hart appears to have accessed just two (Ned Young and Jack O’Sullivan on the ‘Chisholm tapes’). In response to my review Morrison reported being on the trail of a Kilmichael ‘scout’, allegedly interviewed by Hart six days after the last known ambush veteran died. Should Morrison discover him that will make three. However, his evidential value is doubtful. According to Morrison in Terror, Hart ‘muddled’ citations by attributing to the ‘scout’ tape-recorded words said by Jack O’Sullivan. Is this a muddled attribution or a muddled existence? In addition, in Hart’s 1993 PhD thesis this same historical actor was not the unarmed ‘scout’ he mysteriously became in Hart’s 1998 book.

A reason the Kilmichael false surrender is still discussed (see Peter Connolly’s letter in HI 20.6, Nov/Dec) is therefore because Peter Hart used questionable means to undermine it. These means were first noted in Meda Ryan’s Tom Barry IRA Freedom Fighter (echoed in John Young’s letter in the last HI). Irish Independence forces appeared as ethnically inflamed caricatures in Hart’s research. The inaccurate portrayal of Tom Barry as a lying ‘political serial killer’ fleshed out the portrayal. It links this discussion with that of John Regan and David Fitzpatrick on Hart’s equally problematic IRA sectarianism allegations (HI 20.1, Jan./Feb 2012 to HI 20.6, Nov/Dec 2012).

This debate long ago moved beyond determining the precise conclusion of a bloody battle in the November twilight of 1920. I am sure it will revive again when future commentators ponder why the Irish historical profession chose to remain silent about Hart’s distortion of ethical standards, and whether a systemic bias in favour of Hart’s conclusions facilitated such indifference.—Yours sincerely,

History Ireland v 20 n 6 NovDec12 Kilmichael letters (i).jpg
HIstory Ireland letters on Kilmichael Dunmanway Nov-Dec 2012 (save and open to view - best quality the system will allow)
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Full Name: Niall Meehan
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