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Alan Stanley's book: "I Met Murder on the Way"
history and heritage |
Tuesday May 30, 2006 17:03 by Pat Muldowney
Alan Stanley’s book describes the death of the Pearson brothers using a variety of sources:
(1) The contemporary (July 7 1921) account in the Unionist newspaper “The King’s County Chronicle, Parsonstown” (King’s County and Parsonstown are, respectively, Co. Offaly and Birr) which quotes their sister Matilda Pearson on her brothers’ death and the burning of their house;
(2) A 1983 description by a surviving Pearson brother David Pearson in Australia;
(3) A summary of descriptions of those events by William Stanley who was with the Pearson brothers when they were arrested and who subsequently lived in Carlow until his death in 1981;
(4) A number of comments gathered by Alan Stanley, mostly from Protestant neighbours and relatives of the Pearsons after 1981, and principally from Tom Mitchell of Kinnitty near Coolacrease.
The page numbers refer to the edition of Stanley's book published July 2005.
Editors Note: This article originally refered back to the indymedia feature at: http://www.indymedia.ie/article/74400
The basic facts of the Pearson case, on which all accounts essentially agree, are as follows. On Thursday June 30 1921, Richard and Abraham Pearson (aged 24 and 19) were saving hay in a field on their estate at Coolacrease with their younger brother David (aged 14) and their close friend and distant relative William Stanley. When a group of 30 or so members of the Irish Republican Army arrived, William Stanley escaped by running away. The Pearson brothers were brought back to the house, where an IRA death sentence was read to them. They were shot by a firing party, and their house and outhouses were burnt down. Prior to this, all accounts refer to some trouble between the Pearsons and local Catholics, in which the three older Pearson brothers (Richard, Abraham and Sydney) and their father William sought to prevent the use of a traditional mass path through their estate. And all accounts agree that a couple of weeks before the brothers’ death there was a clash with the IRA near Coolacrease House when the IRA were engaged a road-blocking manoeuvre. (According to Patrick Heaney, the purpose of the road-block was to facilitate an IRA ambush on the British forces near Birr, preventing British reinforcements from getting through from Tullamore on the other side of Coolacrease and Cadamstown.)
Stanley’s book maintains (pages 12, 13, 72, 97) that, like other Protestants in the area, the Pearsons’ social credentials were established, and that a repetition of the naked sectarian conflict that opened up in 1798, in the Orange terror of that time, was completely unexpected (page 31). According to him (page 67), the Pearsons bought the farm in 1912, at a time when the large Coolacrease estate was expected to be divided up among the locals, thereby causing resentment against the Pearsons.
In contrast to Alan Stanley, Patrick Heaney reports unfavourably on the Pearsons’ social attitudes at this time. The mass path incident is an indicator of an actively sectarian hostility towards the people among whom they lived, which was demonstrated in many additional ways. In potent displays of threat and contempt they would gallop on horseback through the groups of Sunday Mass-goers to force them off the roads. When the local Cadamstown IRA were arrested and imprisoned, they triumphantly erected white flags around their estate. Whether or not the Pearsons were instrumental in these arrests, it is hardly possible to misread this kind of thing as being anything other than age-old Orange Croppy-Lie-Down supremacism, not different from the routine humiliation that white settlers in Africa liked to inflict on the natives.
Stanley reflects (page 72) on whether the Pearsons were estranged or alienated from their Catholic and Protestant neighbours, and concludes they were not. But, as we shall see, his own account tells us a very different story. The Pearsons were not the simple, quaint, rustic Bible-folk, full of Christian humility and charity towards all, portrayed by Alan Stanley and Eoghan Harris; and the War of Independence brought out their Orange predilections.