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
, Kevin Myers in the
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.
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/.