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National - Event Notice
Sunday November 28 2004
Kilmichael Commemoration (November 28) breaks through media silence
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Friday November 26, 2004 15:31 by Barry McGarry
RADIO ULSTER broadcasts criticism of revisionist historian Peter Hart
Irish Historians Dr Brian Murphy and Meda Ryan aired their criticism of Peter Hart, who based his account of what happened at the Kilmichael on anonymous sources and British Intelligence reports. Meda Ryan demonstrated that, at the time Hart claims he spoke to his un-named sources, the survivors were dead or (in the case of one) too ill and infirm to carry on an intelligible conversation. Brian Murphy has demonstrated that Hart also relied on British reports heavily compromised by propaganda distortions.
Commemoration Meeting Sunday November 28 at 1pm
BBC Northern Ireland Radio, Good Morning Ulster programme, November 26 2004:
BBC Announcer Conor Bradford:
This Sunday marks the 84th anniversary of the Kilmichael Ambush in Co. Cork in 1920, the bloodiest single battle in the Irish War of Independence. Queen’s University academic Peter Hart alleges that IRA leader Tom Barry had soldiers, who had surrendered, shot in cold blood. But now another expert says he has found new evidence of a British propaganda operation which discredits all official British accounts of the time. Diarmuid Fleming reports from Dublin on the controversy:
The ambush at Kilmichael was the bloodiest single battle of the Irish War of Independence. Commemorated in song, for nationalists it was seen as a turning point of the conflict.
[Song: O forget not the Boys of Kilmichael ….]
But for 17 Auxiliary Officers who had survived the First World War, a routine patrol through the Cork countryside on a Sunday afternoon was to end in death when they were ambushed by an IRA Flying Column led by Tom Barry. Three IRA men also died, two of them shot, according to Barry who died in 1980, after they stood up to take the surrender of a group of auxiliaries. But Tom Barry’s account has been challenged by a Canadian historian Dr Peter Hart, author of the award-winning book, the IRA and its Enemies. He says the notion of a false surrender was made up to excuse the execution of defeated soldiers in cold blood.
Seven accounts by eye-witnesses, two of whom were interviewed by me, say there was no false surrender. Either they explicitly deny it or they make no mention of it at all in their accounts. So I think there is an enormous preponderance of evidence giving accounts of the ambush radically different from Tom Barry’s.
Martial law was declared shortly afterwards in Cork after newspaper articles wrote reports of the mutilation of the bodies of those killed at Kilmichael. But new research by another historian, Dr Brian Murphy, reveals that fictitious official accounts such as these were run from a British propaganda office established just three months before Kilmichael, headed by a British Army Major Street in London and former journalist Basil Clarke in Dublin.
He said that “We must engage in Propaganda by News rather than Propaganda by Views”. and he said “We must do this in accordance with truth and verisimilitude”. That’s the air of being true but not strictly true. Now Major Street, he said for propaganda to work it must be dissolved in some fluid which the patient will readily assimilate. And official news, according to Street, was the best way of doing that. It must be now very close as to whether Peter Hart has to qualify his statement in the light of the fact that the hand of Basil Clarke was at work in defining what happened at Kilmichael. To dismiss, as Hart does, Barry’s account as lies and evasions, I don’t think is tenable.
My account is based on IRA witnesses, not on the British report. One of the points of my looking into Kilmichael was to examine the kind of stories and labels that came out of the event, whether both sides calling each other terrorists, for example, and to try and get to the truth behind it. And the truth is, as I think the whole book shows, that really, in many ways, the two sides acted in much the same way, whether in terms of propaganda, or thinking, or violence.
But Barry’s biographer, Meda Ryan, says that her interviews with the IRA leader and other survivors of the ambush, including her uncle who was beside one of the IRA men when he was shot, do not corroborate Dr Hart’s account.
Admittedly it was years later, but it was so vivid in their minds. This was a major event, and if a major event happens in anybody’s life they will remember it with stark reality. In fact they were really adamant about the false surrender.
Among some who revere the memory of Tom Barry, Dr Hart’s findings provoke fury. Secretary of the Kilmichael Commemorative Committee is Sean Kelleher.
We’re baffled, genuinely baffled, at his sources. The people of my generation, and younger, and some older, to put it bluntly they are outraged that such allegations would be made.
Peter Hart says that he doesn’t mind criticism but feels that some of his critics are not open to debate
What becomes difficult is not people being sceptical, what becomes difficult is people refusing to accept what one says has any validity. Because the typical reaction of critics is not that I have some things wrong. The typical reaction of critics is that I have everything wrong, and everything Tom Barry says has to be right. So in other words it is almost a kind of faith-based history.
Myths still swirling around that ambush at Kilmichael many years on. Dr Peter Hart ending that report on the controversy still raging about the Kilmichael ambush 84 years on. Diarmuid Fleming reporting.
Peter Hart’s suggestion that his critics are using a “faith based history” is insulting, patronising and lacks credibility.
Those who have read Ryan’s book or who attended Brian Murphy’s recent talk in Dublin are aware of the meticulous attention to detail with which they presented their findings. Hart’s approach will not wash.
Peer Hart, who refuses to debate the issue on Indymedia (see link below) is nevertheless on record here, in his response to criticism, as agreeing to respond in some forum, though what that forum is or when it will be published has not been clarified. It is now time for Dr Hart to come form behind the shadows and to answer the criticism.
His account of what happened at Kilmichael forms one part of the matters in dispute.