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Peter Hart praises book that rubbishes his research

category cork | history and heritage | other press author Tuesday April 03, 2007 09:22author by Jack Lane - Aubane Historical Associationauthor address Aubane Historical Association, Millstreet, Cork, Ireland Report this post to the editors

Peter Hart's review of Borgonovo book obscures criticism of.... Peter Hart

by Jack Lane Irish Political Review April 2007

Peter Hart's latest effort to defend his thesis on the Irish War of Independence took the form of a review of John Borgonovo's book "Spies, informers and the 'Anti-Sinn Fein Society': the intelligence war in Cork City 1920-1921" in History Ireland, March-April 2007.

In case readers need reminding Hart's thesis is that "…. the Dail had no legal standing and was never recognised by any foreign government. Nor did the IRA, as a guerrilla force acting without uniforms and depending on their civilian status for secrecy, meet the requirements of international law. The British government was therefore within its rights to give courts-martial the power to order executions." (Irish Times, 23 June 1998)

Revisionist historian puts foot in it.... again
Revisionist historian puts foot in it.... again

And furthermore, "Nor were members of the IRA protected by the Hague Convention, the basis for the law of war on land. The British government and its forces were not at war in this sense. To be recognised as belligerent soldiers, the guerrillas would have had to be fighting for a responsible established state, wear a recognisable uniform or emblem, carry their arms openly, and not disguise themselves as civilians. None of these conditions applied. It is of course true that international law favours established states, but if any group can claim belligerent status when using political violence, then so can the INLA or the LVF. The Oklahoma bombers would also conceivably have a right to POW status." (Irish Times, 22 July 1998)

1918 Election

Essentially the whole episode was therefore a wanton criminal act with no legitimacy and everything done by the IRA was done by it for all sorts of ulterior motives under the guise of fighting for self-determination. All their actions are to be condemned and denigrated. Hart's logic has a perfect internal consistency.

Of course, he ignores the clear result of the 1918 Election, which established the legal, electoral basis for an Irish independent state. He also ignores the wholesale promulgation at the time of the right of all nations to self-determination.

Imperial Powers

It was the issue of the day. Britain convinced millions that the war it started in August 1914 was for the freedom of small nations and up to 50,000 Irishmen died for it in that war and millions elsewhere. The Russian Revolution of 1917 ended Russia's participation in the war and developed an effective programme that encouraged and supported the colonial world to rise up and establish their national rights against all the Imperial powers. Then the USA joined the war and Woodrow Wilson's '14 Points' justified it essentially on the basis of nations' right to self-determination. The world was thereby saturated with talk and actions insisting on the rights of nations to self-determination. It was the spirit of the age and millions in all continents were set in political motion on the basis of it. Some peoples began to think in nationality terms for the first time in their history.

But for Mr Hart none of this was meant to apply to Ireland although it had a national movement for generations – it was to be the great exception to what was happening all over the world. How strange.

It means that Hart's case flies in the face of obvious realties and therefore he has to rely on all sorts of spurious arguments, distortions and lies to make his case. If one has to defy the reality of a situation how else could one operate? What a strange career choice to have made?

Detailed Study

There could hardly be a greater contrast in John Borgonovo. About 10 years ago he came across some of Hart's initial work and immediately detected flaws in his arguments. On the basis of what he had then researched he could not accept that the war was some sort of tit for tat with the IRA picking on certain groups such a Protestants, ex soldiers and others through sheer prejudice of one sort or another.

He made a detailed study of the intelligence war in Cork city during its most intense phase to see if Hart's arguments made sense. They did not. He said so. He took, head on, the toughest, nastiest subject of all – the execution of civilians for spying and informing. If prejudice and ulterior motives were given an opportunity to express themselves it would be obvious and clear-cut here.

He came to the conclusion on the basis of all the available evidence that spies were executed because they were spies and for no other reason. And that is usually accepted as a good enough reason in the middle of a war. Borgonovo's methodology is to painstakingly gather and present as much of the unvarnished facts as can now be located. No speculation that the facts don't back up and no innuendo and wild assertions and no questions going a begging.

Hart tries to claim that because there were a majority of ex-soldiers executed, it proves his point that groups such as those were picked on.

In the middle of a war the only intelligence that matters is immediate military intelligence. Who is likely to be a good source of this? Surely, it is people with military experience who have fought for one side and who are likely therefore to have an instinct for what is useful intelligence to that side in these circumstances. And who also have the means of discovering such information because of their local knowledge - and who need the reward. Is this a surprise? If there are thousands of them in the war theatre is it picking on them to note such activities? Is it a surprise that some of them, a small minority, turn out to be good at spying, while many, many others supported the Republic. Only a fool would think otherwise and Mr Hart is not a fool.

Florence O'Donoghue

Another of Hart's lines of defence is to question Borgonovo's faith in the trustworthiness of the head of the IRA's intelligence operations in Cork city, Florry O'Donoghue: "but the author is inclined to take Florence O'Donoghue at his word." If he could not be trusted then Borgonovo's thesis could indeed be challenged. But what evidence does Hart have to support his suggestion, or rather his insinuation, about O'Donoghue? None whatever. On the other hand Borgonovo has done a detailed study of O'Donoghue, his character, his ability and has published a fascinating book on him as a person and as an intelligence operator. It makes a most compelling case for O'Donoghue's trustworthiness. So we have to choose with an insidious unproven assertion by Hart and a hard detailed study made by Borgonovo. Take your choice.

He then says that British claims of that the majority of those executed were innocent "presumably is as believable as the IRA claim to the contrary."


Britain had to defend the indefensible in 1919-21 in Ireland. Brian Murphy has established how they sought to do this. The truth was a problem for them and when lies would not suffice verisimilitude (the appearance of truth) took its place, quite deliberately and consciously. By the same token, the facts and the truth were of vital importance to the republicans – it was a vital weapon. They had a vested interest in proving their case to world opinion. How then could one side be considered as truthful or as untruthful as the other? Hart is defying common sense by suggesting this.

But what is believable and unbelievable is an arbitrary and optional matter for Hart. Facts are easily created or dispensed with to make his case. In his 'classic work' on the War in Cork there is the infamous treatment of what he said was "the most trustworthy" source, the official "Record of the Rebellion" from British Army intelligence. Hart quoted half a sentence, which appeared to support his case and excised the second half that flatly contradicted his thesis; he also used a document that was a proven forger. When all else failed, he interviewed a dead man. It is rather rich to see this type of person advising on what is and is not believable. In legal jargon he is a discredited witness and his case would be thrown out of court years ago. He would never be called as an expert witness on the truth.

Hart seeks to damn Borgonovo with faint praise: "good material for class room discussion"; his "aim of advancing the debate is admirable".

He criticises Borgonovo for not dealing with periods and conflicts outside the period of his book. And what is his own assessment of the period in Cork city? Rather than Borgonovo's hard headed, factually based analysis he sees only "mayhem in the streets of Cork at that time" and "What emerges instead is a picture of predators hunting and killing opportunistically right up to the final bell".

Is this really the best our Professor can do? It is a pathetic effort at analysis and an admission that he has lost the plot and cannot make sense of it. He resorts to the best tabloid tradition of lurid conclusions entirely unencumbered by evidence. Is this his idea of "advancing the debate"?

Jack Lane Irish Political Review April 2007

Search Indymedia.ie for further information

The History Ireland Debate - Peter Hart, Brian Murphy, Meda Ryan, and others

Related Link: http://www.indymedia.ie/article/80362

Ned Young, last survivor of Kilmichael Ambush Nov 28 1920, died Nov 13 1989. Hart claimed to interview ambush participant Nov 19 1989. See Tom Barry: IRA Freedom Fighter by Meda Ryan
Ned Young, last survivor of Kilmichael Ambush Nov 28 1920, died Nov 13 1989. Hart claimed to interview ambush participant Nov 19 1989. See Tom Barry: IRA Freedom Fighter by Meda Ryan

Brian Murphy's study demonstrated Hart's (and Roy Foster's) reliance on British propaganda
Brian Murphy's study demonstrated Hart's (and Roy Foster's) reliance on British propaganda

Hart's Review - History Ireland March April 07
Hart's Review - History Ireland March April 07

PDF Document HIgher Quality PDF of Jack Lane Article 0.24 Mb

author by Jack Lanepublication date Tue Apr 03, 2007 09:27Report this post to the editors

Click on the images above with your mouse to read the text

author by Jack Lane - Aubane Historical associationpublication date Tue Apr 03, 2007 09:32Report this post to the editors

PDF of article attached here

PDF Document Higher Quality PDF of article 0.24 Mb

author by observerpublication date Tue Apr 03, 2007 10:58Report this post to the editors

Well done to the Aubane Historical Society for pursuing this like little terriers. Bit of a shift from the BICO days, but you're certainly entertaining the history-reading public!

author by jack lane - Aubane Historical Societypublication date Tue Apr 03, 2007 12:00Report this post to the editors

I am sure 'observer' knows that Mr Hart and his brand of IrIsh history was not around in what he terms 'BICO days'

author by observerpublication date Tue Apr 03, 2007 12:21Report this post to the editors

No, but Conor Cruise O'Brien was and you didn't mind cuddling up to him.

By the way, straight question that requires a simple 'yes' or 'no', are you still a two-nationist?

author by Edward Youngpublication date Tue Apr 03, 2007 13:32Report this post to the editors

Peter Hart seems to have learned something from his study of British counter insurgency, in his dealings with his critics. Whereas in History Ireland (see link above and below) he tried a full frontal assault and came away with egg all over his face, now he tries to kill criticism with kindness.

He possibly learned the technique from Richard English, his former colleague in Queens University History Department, who reviewed Meda Ryan's ‘Tom Barry: IRA Freedom Fighter’ (Mercier 2005) in the Irish Times, and damned it with faint praise. English barely mentioned Ryan's exposure of Hart's shoddy research before going on to praise his friend Peter Hart to the heavens.

The appropriately named English is, like Peter Hart, the winner the Ewart Biggs Prize, usually awarded to works containing examples of outstanding deference toward British policy in Ireland and apologies for Irish resistance to same. Hart won it in 1998 and English in 2007 (below, a tastefully composed tableau of English receiving his just reward from the chair of the Ewart Biggs prize givers, Professor Roy Foster, doyen of revisionist history writing).

Thus Roy fosters like-minded 'talent' (though why the Irish Department of Foreign affairs continues to be involved in this picturesque charade is questionable).

It is thought to have been of help to English in winning the prize that his book, a pro-British history of Irish nationalism, praised Foster highly (though the interpretations alone would possibly have sufficed).

Peter Hart’s problem is that he praises a book that rips to shreds his contention that during the War of Independence the IRA targeted Protestants and ex-service personnel as a general class of opponent. The evidence from Borgonovo’s two books, his editorship of Florence and Josephine O’Donoghue’s account of their part in the War of Independence, and the latest on the intelligence war in Cork city, indicates meticulous attention to detail and a very impressive IRA intelligence system operating under O’Donoghue. Where evidence exists it points to the guilt of those targeted and shot in a war forced on the Irish people by the British who refused to accept the democratic mandate of the 1918 election.

This evidence does not suit revisionist apologetics, and so it is ignored.

The History Ireland Debate - Peter Hart, Brian Murphy, Meda Ryan, and others

Foster and English: mutual admiration (Click image for Foster's fawning tribute)
Foster and English: mutual admiration (Click image for Foster's fawning tribute)

The book that is hard to put down - but it does not stop Peter Hart Trying
The book that is hard to put down - but it does not stop Peter Hart Trying

Borgonovo's book on Florence and Josephine O'Donoghue is a further refutation of Hart's insinuations
Borgonovo's book on Florence and Josephine O'Donoghue is a further refutation of Hart's insinuations

Related Link: http://www.indymedia.ie/article/80362
author by Niall Meehanpublication date Tue Apr 03, 2007 16:01Report this post to the editors

The story that Borgonovo tells of Florence and Josephine O'Donoghue is fascinating.

He was in charge of intelligence in Cork, she worked for General Strickland in British Army Headquarters in Cork.

They met after the family of her husband, who was killed during the First World War, kidnapped her child in England. The IRA took the child back and brought it to Josephine in Ireland. Florence and Josephine fell in love and were married secretly. All of this is recounted in detail in the book.

The book arises out of the recounting for their family of their role during the conflict to their children in 1960. Borgonovo faithfully sets down the accounts and provides an explanatory context.

If the lorence and Josephine O’Donoghue story was a Hollywood blockbuster, it would be regarded as improbable, but the story is true.

The story has, so far, been largely neglected by our normally highly inquisitive media, which habitually seeks 'love' and 'romance' when enquiring into Michael Collins' relationships with every English woman he met during the Treaty negotiations in 1921.

Getting back to the main point. O'Donoghue had no problem acquiring accurate intelligence as to British agents and British strategy. He had agents at every level of British administration, including his wife who 'worked' for the top British General.

This book complements Borgonovo's latest on the intelligence war
This book complements Borgonovo's latest on the intelligence war

author by Jack Lanepublication date Tue Apr 03, 2007 18:01Report this post to the editors

Straight answer to 'observer''s question which he would not need to ask if he took the trouble to read stuff I write - I am a two nationist. Nations don't come and go very often. Also if he took even more trouble to read O'Brien he would know that O'Brien categorically rejected that position on more than one occasion and never accepted it. Hopefully 'observer' might now get over his fixations and make a contribution to the current debate. It would be a little bit more useful than this ill-informed sniping.

author by Ghost of the UWCpublication date Sun May 13, 2007 17:09Report this post to the editors

As I remember the first people to mention or highlight at least the allegation that Protestants were massacred by the IRA in west Cork in 1922 were BICO in about 1972, in workers weekly or one of the other dozen publications that or one of their fronts published. Theres a long story about this elsewhere on Indymedia. From Peking to Aubane I think. By the way, Semaus Heaney, who BICO used to consider a backward nationalist poet also got the ewart biggs prize one year. Was he a revisionist as well?

author by Jack Lane - Aubane Historical Societypublication date Wed May 16, 2007 15:45Report this post to the editors

‘Ghost’s methodology reminds me of that of Peter Hart - outlandish claims based on spurious evidence. At least Peter does attempt to back up his allegations with some sort of research and evidence.
Perhaps the pseudonym is wisely but unconsciously chosen – ‘Ghost’s claims have as much substance as a ghost.

author by Niall Meehanpublication date Thu May 31, 2007 22:42Report this post to the editors

In this letter (click to read) John Borgonovo questions Peter Hart's sweeping and inaccurate generalisations about who the IRA shot during the War of Independence in Cork .

Borgonovo questions Hart's analysis (click to read)
Borgonovo questions Hart's analysis (click to read)

Related Link: http://www.historyireland.com
author by Frankpublication date Fri Jun 01, 2007 21:50Report this post to the editors

I remember the correspondence between Jack Lane and one Pierce Martin in Village magazine on this subject. I had entered the fray earlier on by commenting on the fact that the revisionist approach to Irish history is always taken from the British perspective, namely..'How dare we rebel?' Martin and Hart take the same approach to the point that they could be one and the same. Jack prevailed in the joust handsomely.

author by Cats-Outta-Debagpublication date Fri Jun 29, 2007 22:02Report this post to the editors

Jack Lane is right about the Cruiser-in the Pamphlet "Queen's: a comment on a university"-Brendan Clifford said:
"O'Brien was a total failure as a politician in the Republic.But he grapsed the elements of the N.I. situation, accepting without acknowledgement the theory I had put forward in 1969" (Pg. 55). But the pamphlet notes that O'Brien later rejected Clifford's ideas,
apparently to the latter's annoyance.
The pamphlet also refers in sectarian terms to "Michael Longeley, a guilt-ridden Protestant sidekick of the forceful Catholic-Nationalist
bigot Seamus Heaney..." and accuses Longeley of funding anti-unionist propaganda through the NI Arts Council. (Pg. 51).
Mr. Clifford is not a humble man ("Before long, I realised I know more about Irish history than anyone else,"-what more than say, Tim Pat Coogan or Joe Lee?) and is also pro-choice ("Cornelius O'Leary is a Catholic-Nationalist from Cork.He was especially active in the Abortion referendum on the Side of the Ultra-Romanist bigots"pg. 48).
Peter Hart is probably just a conversative fraud historian like Andrew Roberts, Niall Ferguson or Michael Burleigh. But Clifford and his followers like Lane helped create a congenial atmosphere for Hart and his ilk, try as they might to deny it now.

author by Cats-Outta-Debagpublication date Wed Jul 11, 2007 11:36Report this post to the editors

Why would any organisation spend almost twenty-five years, a large amount of time, money, and resources (around Fifty pamphlets published) aggressively defending N.I.'s union with Britain (denouncing the SDLP, Sinn Fein, the Alliance Party and Ulster Nationalists), and then suddenly embrace the same position they had forcefully attacked, without a convincing explanation?
It doesn't make any sense (And notice how angry Mr. Lane got when his organisation's unionist past was mentioned!).

UNLESS....the B&ICO/Aubane group is a "political cult". The cult of personality around the arrogant bully Brendan Clifford certain resembles
the ones Gerry Healy (of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party), Frank Furedi (of the
Revolutionary Communist Party/Living Marxism/Spiked Online), Ayn Rand’s Objectivists and Lyndon Larouche’s Group formed around themselves.
Clifford claims to have special knowledge ("Before long, I found I knew more about Irish history than anyone else", pg. 44) and the articles of the Irish Political Review are filled with attacks on rival leftists such as Gene Kerrigan and Fintan O'Toole, as well as the political right.In their publications, Clifford and his yes-men all sing from the same hymn sheet.
In addition, the Aubane group's "two nations" theory has always said religion and nationalism are stronger forces than either class loyalty or liberal individualism , a textbook reactionary’s view.

I suspect many ordinary Irish people are understandably fed up with "Southern Unionist" reactionaries like Peter Hart and Ruth Dudley Edwards, and the
media-friendly nationalism of Jack Lane seems attractive. But the Aubane Historical Society ("Gombeens against Globalization") is simply an authoritarian dead end, offering only “Little Irelander” (defence of Haughey’s corruption and anti-British xenophobia) nonsense instead of any way to create a fairer and more equal Ireland.

Related Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_cult
author by Cats-Outta-Debagpublication date Fri Jul 20, 2007 11:54Report this post to the editors

Here is a list of articles discussing and criticising Brendan Clifford, the B&ICO and Workers’ Association,
and the Irish Political Review.

Ted Grant (A critique from 1966, in which Grant attacks Brendan Clifford’s
pro-Stalinist ideas on nationalism, mentions Ireland )

For Workers Unity (A famous pamphlet rebutting the B&ICO/Workers Association’s attempts to split the trade unions on sectarian lines)

Provos, Protestants and working class (Part of a 1980s dialogue on NI that criticises B&ICO)

Arguments for a Worker’s Republic (Argues that the B&ICO “two nations” theory is outdated, and partition is caused by imperialism and sectarianism)

Nationality and Kingship in Norman Ireland (Mentions B&ICO’s ideas on medieval Ireland)

Brian Trench: Two nations fallacy (Attacks the ICO/Worker’s Association positions as sectarian, derived from Loyalism and historically inaccurate).

Cedar Lounge revolution (Discussion and criticism of B&ICO and the Irish Political Review, particularly the latter’s reactionary politics. Also mentions the similarities between B&ICO/Aubane and the RCP/Spiked group).

Splintered Sunrise Preview Tape (Mentions and challenges the ideas of B&ICO and the IPR)

author by Peterpublication date Fri Jul 20, 2007 12:10Report this post to the editors

If Mr Cat wants to start an irrelevant discussion about what appears to be his pet subject, could he start his own thread, and leave this one alone.

author by Cats-Outta-Debagpublication date Fri Jul 20, 2007 17:38Report this post to the editors

I have no time for Peter Hart-any competent historian could point out the flaws in his research. I was merely pointing out the hypocrisy of the Aubane Historical Society,and giving some background information and speculations on its questionable motives.

author by Peterpublication date Fri Jul 20, 2007 20:22Report this post to the editors

Rubbish. You are a sectarian nincompoop (or worse) who (by your own admission) has no intention of addressing the contents of this page. I repeat, do it on another thread, and attract all the followers you want there. You are a gatecrasher. Buzz off.

author by Cats-Outta-Debagpublication date Sat Jul 21, 2007 19:35Report this post to the editors

Borgonovo's works have some valuble insights into the period.
He points out that it was a violent time given the death of Terence MacSwiney and other events. Much historical evidence for the period is absent (i.e.,the IRA destroyed records for security reasons).
Borgonovo nevertheless makes a convincing case that the Cork IRA rebels only killed informers as opposed to Hart’s implication that they were engaged in a sectarian campaign murdered for their religion.

Perhaps for his next book, Borgonovo could write a history of the
B&ICO/Aubane cult, and explain why anyone (Martin Mansergh,Miriam Cotton, Chekov) who utters even the mildest criticism of it receives abusive and threatening messages (I am sectarian because I correctly pointed out the hypocrisy of Aubane?).

author by Paul Stokespublication date Sat Jul 21, 2007 19:59Report this post to the editors

That's some very interesting information you've put up about one of the most controversial
and little-known groups on both the British and Irish left. The British and Irish Communist Organization, now dissolved into the Aubane society, seems to provoke huge divisions among Indymedia posters, ranging from admiration to derision to hatred.
I must admit I think Jack Lane and Manus O'Riordan are interesting if controversial writers, athough Brendan Clifford always struck
me as a arrogant crank.
However, I think a discussion about the authenticity of Peter Hart's research probably isn't the best place to post it, useful as it is.

author by Frankpublication date Sat Jul 21, 2007 22:00Report this post to the editors

I am in agreement with the poster above. If Cat (Bag?) wants to establish a case, then start a thread about that, instead of muscling into this one and making sarcastic comments about what another historian might do. Cat (bag) should take his own advice and write his own history of a group he takes such a close interest in. Then, he should be grateful if people tackling him on it stick to the point. He made three successive interventions, one after the other on a subject that has nothing to do with this thread. He could have, without a problem, started his own thread and alerted readers to it in a short post here. He can still to that. If he does not, he is a troll. Plain and simple.

author by Captain Whitepublication date Tue Dec 04, 2007 18:34Report this post to the editors

A related controversy:

Coolacrease - The Hidden Interview - an Indymedia EXCLUSIVE!
Audio of the evidence RTE censored - published in the interests of FREE SPEECH


Original in depth article at:

Hidden History or hidden agenda – the real story
Ethnic cleansing in Offaly or execution of Black & Tan collaborators


More censorship exposed at: http://www.indymedia.ie/article/85285
More censorship exposed at: http://www.indymedia.ie/article/85285

Some of the newspaper coverage
Some of the newspaper coverage

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