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National - Event Notice
Thursday January 01 1970
Cork historian challenges revisionist Peter Hart on Irish War of Independence
rights, freedoms and repression |
Saturday May 06, 2006 12:10 by Jack Lane - Aubane Historical Society Cork Aubane Historical Society Millstreet Cork
Hart to speak in UCC on Tuesday May 9th 2006
Serious questions raised about Peter Hart's methods
Jack lane challenges Irish historians to ask the embarrassing questions they have so far avoided.
(Search for 'Kilmichael' to see previous Indymedia articles on this topic.)
Brian Murphy accuses Hart of censorship (right-click to save or left- click to enlarge)
A letter to historians
The controversial revisionist historian, Dr Peter Hart, is to speak on
"Political Violence" at the Irish Historical Society in UCC on Tuesday
One of the events in Irish history on which Dr Hart made his
reputation is the Kilmichael Ambush of November 1920.
Hart accused IRA and ambush leader General Tom Barry, who stated that
British Auxiliaries engaged in a false surrender leading to IRA
fatalities during the ambush, of engaging in "lies and evasions". Hart
alleges that Barry simply killed unarmed British combatants without
In the hitherto accepted version, after the apparent 'surrender' and in the
lull that followed, Auxiliaries killed IRA soldiers standing in plain
sight to take the surrender. This caused Barry to issue an order to
recommence firing until all the Auxiliaries were killed. Two British
and two Irish sources from the 1920s and 1930s support Barry's account
of the false surrender. It circulated freely in West Cork after the
ambush. It was not regarded as contentious until Dr Hart arrived to
challenge it 70 years later.
While the heat of battle and the fog of war has generated the heat and
fog of this historical debate, it is important to state that Dr Hart
uses Kilmichael to view the War of Independence as a sectarian war in
West Cork. That is why the debate goes beyond arguments over what
exactly happened at Kilmichael and Hart's directly quoted
controversial contention in the Sunday Times (April 19th, 1998) that
Tom Barry was "little more than a serial killer".
Peter Hart claims support for his view that Barry lied, as a result of
interviews allegedly conducted in the late 1980s with those Hart
claimed were IRA veterans who had participated in the ambush. Peter
Hart anonymised the names of interviewees in his research findings.
This leads to an issue touched upon by Dr John Regan of Dundee
University, in a recent review of Meda Ryan's Tom Barry IRA Freedom
Fighter (Mercier 2003 HB). Regan wrote: "Hart was indeed fortunate in
finding survivors of the ambush alive and lucid nearly seventy years
after the event." Regan observed, "one of whom he [Hart] notes visited
the site with him".
Dr Hart dates an interview with an ambush scout as taking place on
November 19th 1989. The last surviving ambush participant, Ned Young,
died six days earlier, while the last surviving Kilmichael ambush
scout died in 1967. Meda Ryan has dated the time of death of all
ambush survivors in the recently published (Mercier 2005 PB) paperback
edition of her Tom Barry biography. Her dating is in agreement with
that of other researchers.
Dr Hart's persistence in anonymising his interview accounts means that
unravelling the issue is problematic. We are dealing with an event
that took place over 80 years ago in which all of the participants are
deceased. Governments operate a 30-year rule on secret material,
source material that historians usually crave. Dr Hart appears to be
operating a 'perpetuity' rule in relation to his own secrets.
As Dr Regan noted "The question pointedly raised is: Whom did Hart
interview?.... The issue of anonymity only becomes problematic if
there were no bona fide veterans to interview". Dr Hart has had
opportunity to resolve the dating problem but has declined to do so.
This is unsatisfactory.
There are other problems with Dr Hart's approach, outlined over four
issues of History Ireland (March-April to Sept-Oct 2005 – see
historyireland.com) and centre on accusations that Dr Hart omits
relevant information in original source material. An allegedly
"captured" typed document, now generally accepted as a British
forgery, purported to be Barry's account of the Kilmichael ambush. Its
true provenance as a forgery designed for a particular purpose would
have been clearer earlier had Dr Hart published it in full, instead of
quoting from it in a highly selective manner.
Similarly, Hart made an accusation of sectarianism in relation to
Protestants shot near Bandon after the Truce in 1922, an act condemned
by both sides of the then pre-Civil War Treaty divide. Hart used a
British source (the 'Record of the Rebellion in Ireland') to promote
his view that these shootings, and others carried out earlier by the
IRA, were simply sectarian and aimed at randomly selected Protestant
victims. However, the source cited by Hart contained a following
sentence contradicting the sectarianism point Hart made. Hart omitted
it in his research findings. An Irish Times reviewer referred to Dr
Hart as being "disingenuous" in appearing to deal with this omission
(January 18, 2003). Brian Murphy (2006) has pointed to further
omissions in this context.
Research by both Meda Ryan (see above) and by Brian Murphy (2006),
using original source material, has questioned Peter Hart's opinions
on the Bandon-Dunmanway sectarianism issue. Recently published and
forthcoming work by John Borgonovo (published by Irish Academic Press)
clarifies the position further with regard to sectarian loyalist
activity in Cork during the War of Independence period.
In the interests of historical accuracy, perhaps Dr Hart could address
some of these points, or else participants at the event might address
them to Dr Hart for reply.
I am sure all can agree that the questions are clear and they are important.
Jack Lane, Aubane Historical Society, Cork
Borgonovo, John (2006), Florence and Josephine O'Donoghue's War of
Independence, Irish Academic Press
Murphy, Brian (2006), The Origins and Oganisation Of British
Propaganda in Ireland in 1920, Aubane and Spinwatch
Regan, John (2006), Review of (2003 HB) Tom Barry IRA freedom Fighter,
in History, Journal of The Royal Historical Society.
Ryan, Meda (2003 HB, 2005 PB), Tom Barry IRA Freedom Fighter, Mercier
Hart, Peter, Meda Ryan, et al, in History Ireland, March-April to
Sept-Oct 2005 (see full content at www.historyireland.com)