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Dublin - Event Notice
Thursday January 01 1970

Tim Pat Coogan launches 'Troubled History' - Friday November 7th

category dublin | history and heritage | event notice author Wednesday October 29, 2008 11:28author by Jack Lane - Aubane Historical Societyauthor email jacklaneaubane at hotmail dot com Report this post to the editors

A 10th anniversary critique of Peter Hart's The IRA and its Enemies, by Niall Meehan and Brian Murphy

Troubled History - a 10th anniversary critique of Peter Hart's The IRA and its Enemies
by Niall Meehan and Brian Murphy osb, introduction by Ruan O'Donnell (Head of History Dept, Limerick University)

Friday 7 November 2008, 8pm (sharp)
Teachers' Club, Parnell Square, Dublin 1

Introduced by

Tim Pat Coogan

Author of biographies of Michael Collins (1990), Eamon deValera (1993), histories of The Irish Civil War (1998), 1916: the Easter Rising (2001),The IRA (1970), The Troubles (1995), and Tim Pat Coogan: A Memoir (2008)

All Welcome
10 years of controversy in Irish history. Why is this research so controversial - the newspaper cutting is one reason
10 years of controversy in Irish history. Why is this research so controversial - the newspaper cutting is one reason

Troubled History examines the uncritical academic and media reception afforded to Peter Hart's research, prior to and after publication in 1998. It traces the history of the dispute with Hart's findings and engages with contemporary sources.

The pamphlet publishes an affidavit from the son of the last surviving veteran of the Kilmichael Ambush of November 1920, Ned Young. Young died on November 13 1989. His death was reported in the Southern Star on November 18 1989. Hart reported interviewing a Kilmichael veteran on November 19.

Niall Meehan's analysis of Hart's 1992 PhD thesis, on which The IRA and its Enemies was based, reveals new anomalies within this important research. Brian Murphy's essay points to the continuing use of Hart's research to paint the Irish War of Independence as a sectarian, ethnic conflict. Meehan and Murphy question the evidential adequacy of this view and trace it back to Hart's work.

See also:

The War of Independence 1919-2004: What Is The Dispute About Kilmichael And Dunmanway Really About?

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

Now it's History (Ireland)! Peter Hart replies on Tom Barry and Kilmichael (but not Dunmanway)

Playing Handball Against a Haystack: A Response to Brian Hanley's Defence of Peter Hart

[Also, see, launch of book on Coolacrease controversy, Thursday Nov 6 in Offaly, http://www.indymedia.ie/article/89557]

Troubled History - a 10th anniversary critique of Peter Hart's The IRA and its Enemies
by Niall Meehan and Brian Murphy osb, introduction by Ruan O'Donnell (Head of History Dept, Limerick University)


Friday 7 November 2008, 8pm (sharp)
Teachers' Club, Parnell Square, Dublin 1

All Welcome

[click images with your mouse if you can't read them]

Pamphlet contents - newspaper cutting on cover partially explained.... read pamphlet to find out more.
Pamphlet contents - newspaper cutting on cover partially explained.... read pamphlet to find out more.

PDF Document PDF poster for launch - please print off and post for those who may be interested 0.33 Mb

author by Jack Lane - Aubane Historical Societypublication date Wed Oct 29, 2008 11:33author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Troubled History Cover - [Click to read in more detail]

Troubled History cover - click image to see more detail
Troubled History cover - click image to see more detail

author by Patrick Prendergastpublication date Thu Nov 06, 2008 10:31author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The Southern Star (Cork) and Times Higher Education (London) have covered the new information in 'Troubled History'.

By comparing Hart's 1993 PhD thesis, on which the controversial 'The IRA and Its Enemies' (1998) was based, Troubled History reveals the names of some of Hart's anonymous veteran republican interviewees. Crucially, it publishes an affidavit from John Young, the son of Edward (Ned) Young, the last surviving participant from the Kilmichael Ambush of November 28, 1920.

John Young explained that Hart could not, as he claimed, have interviewed his father - as Ned Young suffered a stroke affecting his speech a year before Hart's claimed interview.

Troubled History also points up further anomalies in Hart's claim to have conducted an interview with an ambush veteran six days after Young died. Information in the PhD thesis was withdrawn from the book, while new contradictory information that makes no sense was inserted in the book about this very mysterious individual.

Southern Star and Times Higher articles below:

Kilmichael veteran’s son challenges Hart
Niall Meehan The Southern Star

TEN years ago, a publishing sensation hit Irish history. Newfoundland historian, Peter Hart, turned the accepted view of the Irish War of Independence and West Cork’s role upside down.

In 1996 Hart accused the IRA of involvement in ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Protestants. ‘Worst of all’ was West Cork. Hart pursued this theme in his landmark 1998 book, The IRA and Its Enemies. Hart called IRA commander Tom Barry a ‘political serial killer’, whose history of the pivotal Kilmichael ambush of November 28, 1920 consisted of ‘lies and evasions’.

The Waterford Professor Roy Foster chaired a panel awarding Hart’s book that year’s prestigious Ewart Biggs prize. He praised Hart then and ever since. In 2006, Foster criticised Ken Loach’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley, set in West Cork during the War, partly because it ignored Hart’s view.

Foster was not alone. In 1990, the noted controversialist Kevin Myers praised Hart in The Irish Times. In 1995, Myers wanted Hart’s research published. In May 1998 he called it ‘a masterpiece’. Myers kick-started a dispute that has been running ever since, initially for six months on The Irish Times letters page.

Myers supported Hart’s view that Tom Barry lied about the Kilmichael ambush and a false surrender by British Auxiliaries. The false surrender justified Barry’s order to keep firing until he thought all the British Auxiliaries were killed.

Prisoner of war status was denied a force abusing a cry of surrender to kill its enemies. The recently deceased Padraig O Cunacahain wrote to defend Barry on June 5, 1998.

Hart replied and was followed in turn by historians Brian P. Murphy and Meda Ryan. Murphy and Ryan questioned Hart’s use of an unsigned, undated, typewritten account of the ambush. Hart said he had ‘unearthed’ it in British archives and claimed it was by Barry. Murphy and Ryan argued it was not, not least because of its errors, the most obvious of which Hart censored.

It related to Irish casualties. All participant accounts say that IRA soldier Pat Deasy was badly wounded and died later, while Michael McCarthy and Jim O’Sullivan died at the scene. Hart’s document puts it the other way around.

Other errors include a vast over-estimate of the amount of ammunition each volunteer had and on the circumstances under which the ambush started. Because the document did not mention a false surrender followed by IRA casualties, it meant there was no such event, said Hart.

So far, it looked like an animated historical debate. But unusual factors were emerging. Hart had left out of a document a factor undermining its credibility. For someone claiming to be objective that was a ‘no-no’.


Was it an isolated slip up? In an academic review, Brian Murphy produced more examples. In Hart’s account of April, 1922 killings of Protestants near Bandon, Hart wrote that an IRA volunteer admitted ‘our fellas took it out on the Protestants’.

Murphy showed that the volunteer, Denis Lordan, was not talking about the 1922 events, that his comment was not sectarian, and that he was speaking to a friendly Protestant republican, Dr. Dorothy Stopford. Hart compounded the misrepresentation by naming his chapter ‘Taking it out on the Protestants’.

In the second misrepresentation, Hart had claimed that British intelligence reported that Protestants were no good as agents or informers, because they had no information. It was Hart’s justification for saying that Protestants shot in April, 1922 or during the war, were shot for sectarian reasons.

He left out the very next sentence of the British account. The British stated that the area around Bandon, where the killings took place, was an exception.

Murphy and later Ryan noted that the killings just prior to the start of the Civil War violated an IRA amnesty for spies and informers. However, they stated that Hart’s omission affected the historical verdict.

Hart refused to distinguish Protestant and loyalist, Catholic and republican. His categories were relentlessly sectarian.

Was Hart pursuing a political view, rather than objective research?


Meda Ryan, who had written a short biography of Barry in 1982, began new research. Hart said he had interviewed anonymously two surviving Kilmichael ambush participants in 1988 and 1989. Ryan was puzzled.

Her uncle, Pat O’Donovan, had fought in the ambush. Ryan and most people who knew thought that Jack O’Sullivan, the second last surviving participant, had died in 1986 and the last, Ned Young, on November 13, 1989.

The Southern Star reported Young’s death on November 18, 1989 with the headline ‘Ned Young – last of the “boys of Kilmichael”’. Strangely, Hart reported interviewing an ambush veteran one day later, November 19, 1989.

Hart had already ‘unearthed’ a document in the British archives. Had he now done the same with a Kilmichael veteran? Could his history make the dead speak? Ryan wished to pose this question to Hart in The Irish Times. But, the editor had had enough at that stage. Instead, Ryan published Tom Barry, IRA Freedom Fighter in 2003. She posed the question to Hart in the book. Five years later, he has not answered.

In addition, Ryan researched the April 1922 killings. Sensationally, she re-produced evidence left behind by departing Auxiliaries showing most of the April 1922 victims as working with British forces. She pointed out that, after the war, IRA leaders like Barry called for no victimisation of loyalists who fought with the British. The war was over.

They wanted silence on the matter because, said Barry, ‘these people are our neighbours’. Barry did not name those shot as informers in his Guerilla Days in Ireland. Hart interpreted silence has guilt. He, like Kevin Myers, possibly could not have been more wrong.

Barry, Tom Hales and Sean Buckley, put guards on the homes of the vulnerable when the April killings started. The IRA, which vehemently opposed the killings, stopped them.

Local Protestants knew this to be the case and were grateful. It was one reason why, as a Fianna Fáil TD in the 1930s and 40s, Buckley received substantial Protestant votes. In 1994 Church of Ireland clergyman, JBL Deane, wrote in The Irish Times, opposing Kevin Myers on this very point: ‘Many local Protestants in the constituency voted for [Buckley], not because they supported the policy of Fianna Fáil, but as a mark of gratitude and respect for what he had done in 1922.’

Deane continued: ‘I hesitated before taking part in this correspondence, as I could not see what beneficial purpose was served by regurgitating these unhappy events when the community affected by them had long since drawn a line under them and is living in harmony with its neighbours. However, silence might have been interpreted as agreement with some statements which were historically incorrect or incomplete.’ Hart and Myers regurgitated with abandon.

In May 1922, two weeks after the April killings near Dunmanway, southern Irish Protestants reported in Dublin’s Mansion House that, apart from the April killings, ‘hostility to Protestants has been almost, if not wholly unknown in the 26 Counties in which they are a minority’. Myers and Hart ignored the evidence of Irish Protestants, who were more interested in condemning pogroms against Catholics in the new state of Northern Ireland.

If Hart missed The Southern Star of November 18, 1989, he also misrepresented its April 29 1922 edition. Hart reported that the wife of one of the April killings victims ‘seems to have recognised at least one of her husband’s attackers.’ In fact the Star and other papers reported her emphatic denial that she recognised any.


Is there a missing piece to this jigsaw?

Just one.

If Hart could not have interviewed a Kilmichael participant on November 19, 1989, could he have interviewed the last surviving participant, Ned Young, earlier?

I examined Hart’s earlier 1992 Trinity College PhD thesis on which his 1998 book is based. In the Book Hart’s anonymous interviewees are AA, AB, AC, AD, etc. In the earlier thesis the real initials of their names are given. ‘EY’ a claimed Kilmichael interviewee, is none other than Ned or Edward Young.

Did Hart interview him on April 3 and June 25, 1988, as he claimed? In 1998, Hart said on Radio Kerry that the ‘children’ of veterans were ‘concerned’ at what they were saying. No ‘children’ emerged to confirm this detail.

However, Ned Young’s son, John, completed an affidavit on this very subject in late 2007. It is reported here for the first time.

John Young states that his father suffered a debilitating stroke affecting speech and mobility prior to Hart’s claimed interview. John Young states that he was in charge of access to Ned Young, who was nursed at home, and that Hart did not interview his father.

If Hart did not interview Ned Young then he interviewed no Kilmichael veteran. One of the signatories to the affidavit is James O’Driscoll, senior counsel. In his acknowledgements to his thesis and book, Hart thanks especially the same ‘Jim O’Driscoll’. Many of those similarly acknowledged wish they had not encountered him.

Currently, I am researching why the book was initially received uncritically and reasons for the emergence of the mistaken view that the Irish War of Independence was sectarian. Peter Hart’s book will continue to be a sensation.

Troubles and strife as IRA historian draws peers' fire
John Gill Times Higher Education

The author of a revisionist study of Irish republicans defends his research against critics who claim inaccuracy. John Gill reports

An acclaimed study of the IRA that set out to challenge "myths" of Irish republican history has come under fire over alleged anomalies and the use of anonymous sources.

The IRA and its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork, 1916-1923, by Canadian historian Peter Hart, offers a revisionist version of events that proved highly controversial when it was published in 1998. It won several awards, including the 1999 Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize, which recognises work that furthers understanding between the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

Ten years after its publication, the book, which was based on a PhD thesis completed at Trinity College Dublin, has come under detailed attack. Claims of anomalies in Dr Hart's work, all denied by Dr Hart, have surfaced in a pamphlet that was distributed at a recent conference at Queen's University Belfast.

The conference, which Dr Hart attended, was titled "The Black Hand of Republicanism" and focused on the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

Among the most controversial elements of his book is Dr Hart's assessment of the Kilmichael ambush of 1920, in which 17 auxiliary policemen, former British soldiers, were killed by a brigade led by IRA commander Tom Barry.

Mr Barry, who became a heroic figure for republicans, had claimed in a memoir that the policemen had pretended to surrender before shooting dead three IRA men. It was only then, he said, that he ordered his men to open fire on the policemen.

However, Dr Hart's work challenged this version of events, claiming that the police's "false surrender" had been invented to justify the massacre.

Speaking in 1998, Dr Hart described Mr Barry as "little more than a serial killer" who "thought of the revolution largely in terms of shooting people".

One of Dr Hart's most vociferous critics is Niall Meehan, who co-authored the pamphlet presented at Queen's, which is titled "Troubled History: A 10th anniversary critique of Peter Hart's The IRA and its Enemies".

Mr Meehan is head of the journalism and media faculty at Griffith College Dublin, a private further and higher education institution, and he is writing a critique of Dr Hart's book as part of his own PhD thesis.

In his research, Dr Hart relied on interviews with conflict veterans, whom he anonymised in the book. However, Mr Meehan claims it is possible in some cases to identify the interviewees by cross-referencing the original PhD thesis with the book, and by using initials used in the PhD to establish their identities.

One of Dr Hart's anonymous sources is described as a participant in the Kilmichael ambush and is said to have been interviewed on 19 November 1989. However, Mr Meehan claims that this was six days after the last known participant of the ambush died.

Another of Dr Hart's sources is cited as EY in the thesis, which Mr Meehan contends is Edward Young, the last known survivor. The pamphlet says: "John Young, son of the last surviving veteran ... denied that Peter Hart had interviewed his father". According to Mr Meehan, Edward (or Ned) Young had a severe stroke a year before Dr Hart claims to have interviewed EY, and no one saw him without his son's permission.

The pamphlet concludes: "Hart reported interviewing two Kilmichael ambush survivors, EY and HJ, when only one, Ned Young, was alive.

"He reported interviewing one of his two Kilmichael interviewees, HJ, when none were alive. When one Kilmichael veteran (Ned Young) was physically available for interview, he was not capable of submitting to an interview due to his medical condition."

The pamphlet criticises the use of anonymous sources. "The anonymity of interviewees prevents the possibility of verification of Hart's claims ... Academic research without verifiable sources is journalism ... Hart claims to have extracted anonymous information from aged veterans at a time when verification after publication of the research was impossible."

Mr Meehan concludes that the largely celebratory reviews of Dr Hart's book "were uncritical because Hart's conclusions were welcomed to the extent that flaws in the research were overlooked".

Dr Hart told Times Higher Education that he had been responding to criticisms ever since the book was published. "To repeat what I've said many times before, I did carry out the interviews I cite in my work. However, my book is about far more than the Kilmichael ambush, and my account of the ambush is not just based on my own research.

"In fact, as you can see in my footnotes, most of my reconstruction is based on other people's taped interviews of ambush participants - and they asked that their identities be kept secret just as I did.

"There are other issues involved. For example, I quote from Tom Barry's first report of the ambush, in which he makes no mention of a false surrender.

"My critics have tried to claim that this (report) was a British forgery, but they have no evidence or logic to support their claim.

"Nor am I the first person to raise questions about what happened. The controversy goes back to the days after the ambush, but it has also pitted Barry against erstwhile comrades.

"I think it is also fair to say that these critics have completely failed to engage with the book's larger arguments about the nature of the IRA and the Irish Revolution.

"Real historians are interested in exploring and analysing - and debating - how and why such extraordinary events come about, and that's what I will continue to do."

Skibbereen keeps an eye on the controversy over Hart's research [click image to read]
Skibbereen keeps an eye on the controversy over Hart's research [click image to read]

'Times Higher Education' (London) covers 10th anniversary of controversy [click image to read]
'Times Higher Education' (London) covers 10th anniversary of controversy [click image to read]

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