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Article by Niall Meehan: Distorting Irish History Two, the road from Dunmanway.

Article by Niall Meehan: Distorting Irish History Two, the road from Dunmanway.

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Published by: lucy_brown_15 on May 24, 2011
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Distorting Irish History Two, the road from Dunmanway:
An analysis of aspects of Peter Hart’s treatment of the 1922 ‘April killings’ in WestCork, by Niall Meehan
The Year of 
 Disappearances, Political Killing in Cork, 1920-23
by Gerard Murphy,published in November 2010 by Gill
& Macmillan, excited considerable media andacademic interest. It attempted to document in extensive detail a previous historian’sassertion that the IRA ramped up a campaign of anti-Protestant violence beginning in thesummer of 1920. Despite an impressive initial flurry of favourable commentary fromEoghan Harris in the
 Irish Examiner 
, Kevin Myers in the
 Irish Independent 
and fromOxford University based historian John Paul McCarthy in the
Sunday Independent (on5,7,12 November, respectively)
, the book fared less well subsequently. A problem for Murphy was that, aside from documented errors
, most of his disappeared Protestantvictims were unnamed. They had no known prior existence. No archive reveals them, norelatives searched for them and no one cried wolf. At the time of writing, Professor DavidFitzpatrick’s commentary in the
 Dublin Review of Books
) is the sixth consecutiveconsidered response to argue that it cannot be seriously taken as historical research.
Minewas the first to make this point.
 However, I expressed a similar conclusion about aspects of pioneering work by the lateProfessor Peter Hart, Fitzpatrick’s much-celebrated former student, and also the historianwhose book,
The IRA and its Enemies, Violence and Community in Cork, 1916-1923
 (1998), inspired Murphy. Perhaps for this reason, Fitzpatrick’s review went some lengths toseparate what he termed Gerard Murphy’s ‘disorganised dossier’ from the ‘intellectual power and academic skill’ displayed by Peter Hart. Even some of Peter Hart’s harshestdetractors concede the attributes Fitzpatrick rightly awarded him. Hart was capable of combining gifted and imaginative scholarship with exceptional powers of exposition. At its best, his work demonstrated a masterful integration of archival detail that drove forward aclearly structured and an elegantly composed narrative. However, while Hart’s academicskill and narrative presentation was superior to Murphy’s, problems associated withMurphy’s book have also been identified in Hart’s scholarship. This is most evident in theselection and presentation of sources appearing to imply that ethnic and sectarian hatredsdrove the quest for Irish independence during the period, 1919-23.In that sense, Murphy’s book represents a kind of continuity with Hart’s work, rather thanthe binary Fitzpatrick suggested. For those who question Hart’s historical scholarship,Murphy’s book represents a logical, and a significant, decline in Irish historical standards.This is a subject I would like to further develop here.
 Unfortunately, Fitzpatrick’s
review furthers an unhappy downward trend. In hisattempt to rescue the residue of Hart’s argument from Murphy’s embrace he drew attention
See for example, John Downes, ‘Author owns up to errors in IRA Cork deaths book’,
, 16 January 2011. These errors were uncovered by Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc (2011).
‘History in a hurry’, DRB, Issue 17,http://www.drb.ie/more_details/11-03-17/HistoryIn_A_Hurry.aspx. Reviews (to date) of 
The Year of Disappearances
are linked alongside EugenioBiagini’s review, at the Institute of Historical Research website (see references section).
An ‘amazing coincidence’ that ‘could mean anything’: Gerard Murphy’s The Year of Disappearances, Spinwatch, 17 November, 2010, at http://gcd.academia.edu/NiallMeehan/Papers/.
See also, ‘Distorting Irish History, the stubborn facts of Kilmichael: Peter Hart and IrishHistoriography’, Spinwatch, 17 November 2010, athttp://gcd.academia.edu/NiallMeehan/ Papers/.
to Hart’s exploration in
The IRA and its Enemies
of violence directed against:‘Freemasons, Orangemen, ex-servicemen, military deserters, ex-policemen, thoseassociated with the Crown Forces in any way’, and went on to say, ‘most contentiously,[at] Protestants’. Fitzpatrick followed this by arguing: ‘In subsequent essays such as “TheProtestant Experience of Revolution [in Southern Ireland]” published in the
The IRA at War, 1916-23
(2003), Hart went further’, claiming that IRA inspired violence amounted to,
“what might be called ethnic cleansing”
’. This gives the unmistakable impression thatHart’s endorsement of the charge of ethnic cleansing in revolutionary Ireland derived fromhis major 1998 research book, cited above, based on doctoral research that Fitzpatrick supervised. But the published record shows that Fitzpatrick’s assertion is wholly mistaken.Hart’s ‘ethnic cleansing’ claim was in fact first published in a 1996 essay collection,
Unionism in Modern Ireland 
, edited by Richard English and Graham Walker. It preceded publication of 
 IRA and its Enemies
(which did not use that phrase) by two years. This1996 ‘Protestant Experience of Revolution in Southern Ireland’ essay was then republishedin Hart’s
The IRA at War 
(2003), the version cited by Fitzpatrick. This observation would be of peripheral interest, except that in a new essay written for the same 2003 volume, Hartasserted (p. 246):‘What happened in Southern Ireland did not constitute ethnic cleansing’.Does it matter that these statements contradict each other? Well, yes, because they showHart clearly changed his mind about ethnic cleansing. In his review Fitzpatrick implied thatHart’s endorsement of ethnic cleansing was an innovation, stemming from enlightenedresearch based on Hart’s monograph. This chronology and conclusion is one Fitzpatrick appeared eager to endorse. However, having applied the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ in 1996,Hart did not employ it explicitly in
The IRA and its Enemies
(1998). Possibly he no longer  believed it appropriate, or the referees for Oxford University Press may have advisedagainst. Or perhaps there was another reason.However, we may say with certainty, Hart applied the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ in 1996,implied it in 1998 (though he might well have disputed this), and refuted it in 2003. It isremarkable that Fitzpatrick, of all people, is confused about the order of thesehistoriographical developments.But let us be clearer still, because Hart went further in a letter to the
 Irish Times
on 28 June2006. Memorably, at least for this student of Irish historiography, he made the surprisingassertion: Niall Meehan, as usual, misrepresents my work (June 23
). I have never argued that
“ethnic cleansing”
took place in Cork or elsewhere in the1920s - in fact, quite the opposite.
 While Hart’s denial is somewhat mystifying, his settled opinion in this matter is clear.Suggesting that Hart continued to endorse the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ is a gross distortionof his position. In fact the opposite is true, and I think transparently so.Those who participate in the historiographic debate surrounding Hart’s work often
As a matter of record, I did not attribute that term to Hart in my
 Irish Times
letter of 23 June,which I subsequently pointed out in my response (3 July). As a matter, also, of record, in a letter to
 History Ireland 
(17.4, July August 2009) responding to Fitzpatrick (17.3, May June 2009), I citedHart’s contrasting ethnic cleansing statements.
negotiate misinformation and distortions. Fortunately, in the case of Gerard Murphy atleast, Irish historians are seeking to uphold scholarly standards. For example, Fitzpatrick drew attention to some of Gerard Murphy’s ‘amazing coincidences’, where he comes tooutlandish conclusions based on tangential evidence and happen-stance. In our separatereviews of Murphy we drew attention to these and even (coincidentally) cited the sameexamples. But it is also remarkable that I can identify similarly amazing coincidences inHart’s work, including one with which Professor Fitzpatrick is likely already familiar.I would like to address Hart’s account of the killing of eleven and the disappearance of afurther three people in West Cork in late April 1922, during the unstable period followingthe Treaty split in January 1922. An IRA officer was shot dead in Ballygroman near Ovenson 26 April, after which three Protestant loyalists disappeared, assumed killed. Over thenext three nights, April 27-29, ten Protestants were shot dead in the adjacent area. Onemore was reportedly wounded severely, while others whose homes were visited escaped.The perpetrators were never identified (a consideration that might temper commentary onthis particularly complex subject).These shocking unprecedented events caused fear, dismay and outrage. According toDorothy Macardle (1951, p. 705) they were ‘violently in conflict with the traditions and principles of the Republican Army [and] created shame and anger throughout Ireland.’ Hartdisagreed and described them as part of a pattern beginning in the summer of 1920, in thiscase a series of random, copycat, killings. They were simply the ‘worst’ example during theconflict of republican anti-Protestant violence. The killings had, in other words, a dominantmotive of sectarian hatred. It is this ‘massacre of 14 men in West Cork in April [1922] after an IRA officer had been killed… [that] might be called ethnic cleansing’ (1996, p. 92).Two years later Hart concluded in his detailed examination, ‘These men were shot becausethey were Protestants’ (p. 288). Why then did he exclude the phrase ‘ethnic cleansing’ fromthis 1998 analysis, having used it in 1996? The decision may have resulted from theattempt to correct a significant error in the 1996 essay. The mistake originated in Peter Hart’s 1992 doctoral thesis completed under Fitzpatrick’s supervision, in which Hartexaggerated the number of fatalities and also their geographical spread. Partial correctionof the error in 1998 compounded the mistake with regard to the geography of the Aprilkillings. I will endeavour to explain.
Taking out one too many Harbords
In Chapter 9 of his Ph.D. thesis, ‘Taking it out on the Protestants’, as part of his analysis of the April killings, Hart recorded the shooting of two men, ‘Richard Harbord’ and‘Reverend Ralph Harbord’. According to the doctoral thesis, Richard Harbord was killedon the evening of 27 April at Murragh, a few miles east of Dunmanway, near Ballineen-Enniskean. On the same night, Hart reported that the Reverend Ralph Harbord was shot andwounded at Rosscarbery, twenty-five miles away from Murragh. The separate shootings of Ralph and Richard Harbord are emphasised in the following four references, as well as in alist accompanying a map drawn by Hart depicting, ‘The West Cork Massacre’.1.
P. 367Further down the Bandon River, the Murragh rectory was also visitedand the son of the Rector,
Richard Harbord
, was killed.2.
P. 369The
Reverend Ralph Harbord
was shot the same night inRosscarbery, but escaped with only a wound.
Rev. Ralph

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