EVE MORRISON – SOME REVIEWS
An Apologia for Peter Hart
Eve Morrison’s new book “Kilmichael: The Life and Afterlife of an Ambush” should have a subheading “The life and Afterlife of Peter Hart” which would be a more accurate description of its contents.
I was intrigued to read in the report on the Casement School (IPR June) that Pádraig Yeates’ claimed that the book “transcends the dispute by being scrupulously objective.” I must have read a different book.
I have long been interested in the issues she deals with, Peter Hart and his two iconic claims – that there was no false surrender at the Kilmichael Ambush and the alleged sectarian nature, or the ethnic cleansing of the war of Independence in West Cork.
I began correspondence with Hart sometime in the 1980s and helped him in any way I could as I would anyone who was interested in the War of Independence, particularly in Cork. I do not have a proper record of this correspondence as it was in the days before the use of email and I did not keep copies of my letters to him – and his letters to me had the odd feature of not been dated.
I was amazed by his book when published and readers will no doubt be aware of the intense controversy it caused. Morrison’s book is a very industrious effort to rescue Hart’s reputation which has not survived the controversy. The need to write a book like Morrison’s inadvertently confirms this. Compared to his previous stature in academia and the media he is now a non-person. When it comes to resuscitating Hart, flogging a dead horse comes to mind.
Morrison’s and Hart’s work together constitute over four decades of intense research to make their case. But despite all this effort neither found any participant or anyone connected with the Kilmichael Ambush who denied a false surrender. That was the smoking gun they never found. Instead they ‘make mountains’ out of varying accounts of it. It does not take much imagination to realise that in such a short, hectic, life or death firefight of split second decisions involving dozens of highly motivated soldiers on both sides that individual accounts may differ about aspects of what happened. If they all agreed on what exactly happened it would be prima facie evidence that the story was concocted. In the circumstances of such an ambush it is the varying accounts that are credible as it could not be otherwise. “Every man fights his own war” and every man fought his own ambush at Kilmichael. The participants in such a fearful situation cannot be expected to be able to record their own or others’ actions as if they were embedded reporters. But this is the type of evidence that Hart and Morrison expect from the volunteers and is simply childish.
And, for good measure, the Commander of the Auxiliaries, General Frank Crozier and the main advisor to Lloyd George on Irish Affairs, Lionel Curtis, made their own enquires at the time and concurred that there had been a false surrender and said so long before Tom Barry or anyone else gave their accounts. What more proof is needed of a false surrender?
Hart’s other effort was to claim that the war of independence was an example of an attempt at ethnic cleansing but thanks to the very thorough refutation of that claim he had to abandon it and did so himself very publicly: “I have never argued that “ethnic cleansing” took place in Cork or elsewhere in the 1920s – in fact, quite the opposite.” (Irish Times 28.6. 2oo6).
This admission was much to his credit and made me think that he might have had the potential to be a good historian but was encouraged and “led up the garden path” by people like Professor Fitzpatrick, the lying priest, Fr. Chisholm, The Irish Times, Kevin Myers, Eoghan Harris , John A. Murphy, Dudley Edwards, Roy Foster and a host of others who had their own agendas and axes to grind and that he was used by them to pursue their agendas. But he made his bed.
Morrison’s reliability as a historian and the claim of her “being scrupulously objective” need not rest on her methods to defend Hart but can be judged by her treatment of another subject in her book, the Irish Bulletin, which illustrates her style – or methodology. This is curious as the Bulletin was the one primary source ignored by Hart from a most extensive list of sources acknowledged in his book. He never mentioned it. This was a bit like ignoring the elephant in the room when writing about the War of Independence. It cannot have been accidental.
However, for some reason best known to herself she makes the following reference to the Bulletin: “The Bulletin was neither neutral nor always accurate” (p. 13).
It was the daily newspaper of a democratically elected Government that was fighting for its life against the most powerful state in the world at the time. How could it possibly be neutral in a war waged against it? The mind boggles that such an idea, as a criticism, could occur to anybody. Can you be neutral about your destruction?
The Bulletin was renowned for its accuracy, its secret weapon, and Ms. Morrison does not provide a single solitary example of any inaccuracy from any of its six volumes across three years. Thanks to us she could conveniently consult all volumes of the Bulletin, fully indexed, to seek to support her allegation of inaccuracy.
Instead she tries to support her allegation by referencing two sources that imply agreement with her allegation. One is by Ian Kenneally in an article by him headed “‘A tainted source’? The Irish Bulletin 1919-20.” This can give the impression to an unsuspecting reader that the title was the author’s but it was not. He makes clear it was courtesy of Hamar Greenwood, the notorious Irish Chief Secretary, whose lies and provocations were relentlessly reported and exposed by the Bulletin. Kenneally was being ironic.
Her other ‘source’ is a book by Maurice Walsh, “The News from Ireland,” which again has nothing but admiration for the paper and makes no reference whatever to any inaccuracies. She is being too clever by half in the way she presents these sources. Her antics in this regard are but another variation on what could be described as an abuse of sources – providing sources that appear to confirm but in fact contradict her allegations.
Both authors provide objective accounts of the Bulletin and in effect totally reject Morrison’s glib comments about the paper for which there is no basis. “Scrupulously objective” my eye!
Jack Lane, Irish Political Review, July 2022
Oxford vs. Aubane—Yet Again
The Irish Academic Press has just published a book called, Kilmichael: The Life And Afterlife Of An Ambush. The author is Eve Morrison of Oxford University. The Bibliography lists six other publications by her, all of which seem to be about the War of Independence that followed the election of the Sinn Fein Party in the British General Election of 1918 with a mandate to establish an independent Government in Ireland. One of these publications has the title, Hauntings Of The Irish Revolution.
It became customary in academic writings forty or fifty years ago to call the War of Independence a “revolution”. This practice is adopted by Eve Morrison:
“Engaging with historical memory is unavoidable when researching and writing about the Irish revolution. This chapter addresses evidential and methodological issues that arise when employing individual testimony and oral history accounts as evidence. The maxim that Ireland’s revolutionary generation rarely spoke about their experiences is often repeated, but true only to an extent. A significant cohort of them talked about it all the time…”
These are the opening sentences of Chapter 5, Issues And Participants. But the only issue discussed in the Chapter is whether a particular incident occurred in the course of an ambush attack by a group of Republican Volunteers on a company of British ‘Auxiliaries’ during the War of Independence. The engagement lasted about fifteen minutes. All of the Auxiliaries were killed, bar one, and the Volunteers suffered a number of casualties.
The methodology consists of an attempt to establish where every Volunteer was at the start, what he could see from where he stood, and how he moved in the course of the engagement: and to correlate what the various participants in the ambush say about what they saw and did.
The point seems to be to establish beyond doubt whether some Auxiliaries at one moment resorted to the tactic of pretending to surrender in order to take the ambushers off guard—as the Commander of the ambush said—or whether the Auxiliaries had, so to speak, “fought clean”, as a Canadian academic—Peter Hart—said about 80 years later.
It is hard to see how the methodological display could have provided an answer to that question. And Eve Morrison concedes, after much beating-about-the- bush that it didn’t provide an answer: “It is impossible to know exactly what happened at Kilmichael” (p129).
Such a lame outcome from the expenditure of so much time, effort and money, including “a three-year stint as Canon Murray Fellow of Irish History at the University of Oxford”, the consultation of numerous archives across the Atlantic, and interviews with numerous individuals!
Eve Morrison makes frequent reference to context, but takes account of it only in the most miniature framework of time and space: a quarter of an hour on a bend of the road at Kilmichael, where a group of poorly-armed part-time soldiers without battle experience set out to destroy a group of well-armed regular soldiers with battle experience—and succeeded.
She says that—
“The circumstances in which the Auxiliaries died were a magnet for controversy from the start. The British alleged that the IRA (dressed in khaki and steal helmets) had tricked them and then massacred wounded men… The report characterised Kilmichael as an outrage committed by murderers, not a legitimate act of war carried out by recognised combatants” (p26-7).
The Ambush was, of course, an outrage in the context of British law and administration.
The controversy is about the foundations of British law, in the era of democracy announced by the formation of the League of Nations, in a country that had voted to reject British Government and Law and had pledged itself to form its own Government and obey it.
Eve Morrison acknowledges a debt to Joost Augusteijn and cites him a few times. Augusteijn, about thirty years ago, sought, on general grounds, to establish that the Irish Government of 1919-21 was not a legitimate Government because it was not recognised by anybody but itself.
De Valera had made the point, in August 1921, of telling the Dail that its Government was not recognised by any other Government, and that there was little hope that it would be recognised by any other Government that did not have war with Britain in mind. Britain had the sphere of world diplomacy sewn up, and would treat recognition of the Irish Government as a hostile act. The elected Irish Government would not establish its existence in the world of nation-states by being recognised by others, but only by asserting its existence regardless of recognition.
Augusteijn did not address De Valera’s argument. He just ignored it, as he ignored the condition of world diplomacy in the aftermath of the Great War, during the years when Britain was asserting itself as the Supreme Power.
By ignoring it, he established the implicit position that no state could be legitimate without being recognised by Britain, and reduced the principle of national self-determination—which Britain had used as a slogan in the Great War—to meaninglessness.
An Elected Insurgency
For Eve Morrison, the legitimate authority in Ireland in November 1920 was the unelected Government—which was present only because of its superior military power:
“The War of Independence was ended by the Anglo-Irish Truce on 11 July 1921. There had been thousands of raids, arrests, internment and curfew orders. Five hundred and twenty-three policemen, 418 soldiers, 491 Irish insurgents and 919 civilians had died by the end of December 1921… In the South, those who had fought or supported efforts against the insurgents (or were accused of doing so) either left or, if they stayed, remained silent, at least publicly…” (p50).
“Insurgents” are rebels against established authority. She sees the active supporters of the elected authority as insurgents and she describes the supporters of the Power which had no electoral base in terms applicable to legitimate authority.
Partition became a virtual certainty in 1916, when the Ulster Unionists reduced their demand to 6 Counties. Carson took it to be an accomplished fact in his 1918 Election campaign. He demanded that the Six Counties should henceforth be treated as an integral part of Britain both economically and politically. It was part of the British industrial economy and, freed from the considerations that applied to the rural character of the rest of Ireland, it required no special treatment.
The only British electoral connections with Ireland after 1918 were with the Six Counties—which, against Ulster Unionist advice, the British Government insisted on forming into a pseudo-state— and Trinity College, Dublin.
The 1918 Election deprived Britain of its electoral fig-leaf of the Home Rule Party which went to Westminster and swore allegiance.
Its governing of the 26 Counties from December 1918 until 1921 was founded on nothing but military power. But Eve Morrison sees that military government as legitimate and opposition to it by an elected authority as insurgency.
She concedes that:
“There was a significant measure of popular support for the insurgents, underpinned by widespread public acquiescence” (p15).
The widespread acquiescence is beside the point. It is normal in any reasonably stable society for there to be a widespread measure of public acquiescence with regard to the politically- active elements. The question is whether the “significant measure of popular support for the insurgents” was countered by a significant measure of popular support for some other political force. Who stood against the ‘insurgents’ in elections? The Home Rule Party did so half-heartedly in 1918. Nobody did so in 1921 in the 26 counties. Even the staunch Trinity College Loyalists did not venture outside the walls of their University constituency.
Eve Morrison’s Index lists references to the Dail on pages 12,13,14, and 17. But neither on those pages, nor anywhere else, is there an explanation of how the Dail came to be there, except that Sinn Fein “routed” the Home Rule party and set up a counter-government. The Election, as a Constitutional event, remains off-stage.
After The Armistice
A chapter, entitled Kilmichael In Context, begins:
“The radical nationalist revolt against British rule in Ireland, which commenced during the Great War and burgeoned into a full-blown insurgency after the Armistice, was rooted in a pre- war home rule crisis…” (p10).
The thing that happened after the Armistice—the month after—was the unmentioned Election, which deprived British rule in Ireland of its Home Rule fig-leaf. The “full-blown insurgency” can only be a reference to the Election.
Policing As Politics
The RIC, accurately described as “an armed gendarmerie” and “the most visible and reliable arm of central government at local level”, is said to have established “generally good” relations with the general population. But—
“This changed once the RIC was accorded primary responsibility for countering the radical nationalist threat after the Rising. In September 1919, the Irish authorities declared Dail Eireann illegal. Two months later, other radical nationalist organisations were banned.
“…The Dail and IRA GHQ both sanctioned attacks on police in January 1920…” (p13).
What exactly was “the radical nationalist threat after the Rising”? The formation of an effective Republican political party?
The RIC was a State police force, conducted by the Secretary of State. It was not in any sense a socially-representative body, as the County Constabularies were in England—though it became so, with disastrous consequences when made over into the Royal Ulster
Constabulary in 1921.
The function of the RIC was to act as a source of information for the London Government about developments in the various localities, particularly national developments, so that the State might curb them.
About twenty years ago, Tom Bowden of Manchester University published a book on this subject, in which the case was made that a cut in the funding of the RIC resulted in lax supervision of what the populace was thinking and the consequent growth of a strong nationalist movement. This was a frank acceptance that the policing of political thought was a necessary and acceptable element in the maintenance of good social order— at least as far as British government in Ireland was concerned.
I knew from Burke’s Regicide Peace and the movement which it inspired that political policing held an honourable place in British public life, but I was surprised to see it stated so frankly in a Manchester publication. I had a soft spot for Manchester from having listened to John Barbarolli concerts, broadcast from the Free Trade Hall in the 1950s, Tom Bowden cured it!
Eve Morrison says that: “In April 1919, de Valera publicly denounced the RIC as “spies in our midst”…”. Of course he did. That is what they were. That was their job. But they had fallen down on the job of “countering the radical nationalist threat after the Rising”. A political party with the aim of establishing an independent Irish Government was formed; it contested the Election; it won the Election and set up a Government in accordance with its mandate.
If the RIC had been a representative force, it would have become an Irish police force through the electoral process. Since it was the police force of a State that had become a foreign state, it had to be dealt with as an enemy—as an insurgency against the elected Government?
Context: Political and Social
The political context of the Kilmichael action was the formation of an elected Irish Government which the British Government was trying to destroy. That elected Irish Government had no Army in the first instance; and under intensive British military occupation it could not set about organising one. But, without an Army, it would be helpless.
Therefore the electorate which had mandated the formation of an independent Government, undertook the formation, by local initiative, of Volunteer companies to defend their elected Government. If it had not done so, its votes would have been without effect.
The social context might be described as post-revolutionary. The social revolution that had been on the cards since the mid-19th century—since Gavan Duffy, following the suppression of Young Ire- land, published Fintan Lalor’s Manifesto and formed the Independent Party on a tenant-right policy—was accomplished in substance in the years after 1903. The aristocratic stratum of colonial landlordism, which had been in place for two centuries, was abolished. The slogan of the Russian Revolution of 1917, Land To The Peasants!, had been put into effect in Ireland in 1904/5/6. The great landed estates were broken up, and their place was taken by a great multitude of working farmers, each of which was absolute owner of the land he worked, and was a businessman on his own behalf.
The social structure of nationalist Ireland did not change appreciably when an elected Irish Government replaced the British administration, even though Britain made it necessary for the Irish to fight a war against it in order to get what it had voted for.
Nationalist Ireland, with its social revolution behind it, asserted its political independence electorally. Its only demand on Britain was that Britain should stop trying to govern it against its will. It had no ulterior motive in wanting to govern itself. It was a society that was remarkably at ease with itself except on that one point. It had hollowed out the British administration in Ireland in the course of the four generations after the removal of the Ascendancy Parliament. It had accomplished its social revolution in complicity with the Unionist Party a generation earlier, and now it just wanted to govern itself.
If it had wanted independence for the purpose of launching a social revolution in which the world would be turned upside down, the British response would be understandable in the context of British ideology. It was pretended—or at least asserted—that Bolshevism was at work in Irish Republicanism. But the British Government knew very well—or the Unionist majority in it knew very well—that it had made Ireland immune to Bolshevism. The peasants had bought out the land from the Colonial landlord class—facilitated by subsidies and guarantees from the British Exchequer—and the only concentrated body of industrial workers in Ireland was bound to the Union by both sentiment and material interest.
The dominant social body in Ireland was the land-based property-owning democracy. What gave force to the conflict with Britain was the strong national sentiment of a society whose class issues with England had been resolved by the land revolution.
Class antagonism was an internal British phenomenon with little Irish engagement, except in Unionist Belfast. The climax came on ‘Black Friday’ in 1921, when the Triple Alliance of Trade Unionists confronted the Government with demands which it could not meet. The Prime Minister met the Trade Union leaders and told them they were the strongest power in the state. He could command no power equal to theirs. He could not defeat them, but neither could he grant what they demanded. If they did not back down, and let him run the country as best he could, it was up to them to apply their power to taking over the running of the country.
Since using their immense power to take over the governing of the country was something they could not imagine themselves doing, the leaders of the Triple Alliance went home and reconsidered their position, implicitly accepting that Capitalism was a system within which they might bargain but which they could not replace.
This demoralising event in British Socialism was scarcely noticed in nationalist Ireland. In Belfast the industrial proletariat engaged in a long strike, and that too was beyond the sphere of Irish concerns.
A Very Irish Revolution
The (British) Unionist ideal of a property-owning democracy was conceived for England but could be put into effect only in Ireland. The Unionist Government at Westminster of 1895-1905 met with a complementary ideal in William O’Brien’s land agitation, and after it proved impossible to suppress the ideal, it was put into effect, behind the back of Redmond’s Home Rule Party, as far as the influence of William O’Brien and Canon Sheehan could reach. (The Home Rule professionals feared that the removal of the grievance of landlordism would weaken national sentiment, while Michael Davitt wanted landlordism replaced by land nationalisation on socialist grounds—but O’Brien insisted on individual ownership of small landholdings.
The Ireland that asserted its independence electorally in 1918, and that fought for it when Britain chose an anti-democratic course, was a socially satisfied property-owning democracy. All that remained at issue between it and Britain was Britain’s insistence on governing it against its will.
Lord Balfour, being interviewed for a biography in the mid-1920s, was asked about the loss of Ireland. His reply was, in effect, that he had created the Ireland that had now been lost.
There was a large measure of truth in that. The individuals most centrally active in bringing about the stabilising social revolution in Ireland were Balfour, O’Brien, Canon Sheehan, and D.D. Sheehan. Balfour as Irish Secretary had imprisoned O’ Brien for land agitation. O’ Brien, through effective agitation which made estate ownership problematic for landlords, struck a deal with Balfour as Prime Minister which created a large class of owners of small property.
That class, as the vital force of the nation, asserted national independence. Balfour tried to suppress it, but was philosophical about failing to do so after he failed.
I appreciate that the actuality of the social revolution in Ireland which preceded the declaration of independence is out of keeping with the world view of the Socialist Workers’ Party, but this is more or less how it was. Rebel Ireland was profoundly settled in its ways, and Rebel Cork most of all.
It was in Cork that landlordism was most thoroughly uprooted. And then Cork, free of landlordism, had rejected the Home Rule Party in 1910, on the ground that it had resisted the land reform lest it undermine national sentiment, had got its Liberal allies to cut back on the funding for it when they returned to Office in 1906, and had woven a Catholic Secret Society into its party structure and was driving the situation towards Partition.
O’Brien’s All For Ireland Party took eight of the nine Cork seats from Redmond’s Party in the first 1910 Election and held them in the second 1910 Election—the last election before 1918.
Peter Hart On Cork
Eve Morrison’s book is an act of devotion to the memory of Peter Hart, a Canadian who became an academic historian of Cork in the War of Independence, seeing it through the prism of Trinity—the College set up by Elizabeth the First for the conversion of the Irish. It is a book of minute apologetics, difficult to read without continually looking up convoluted Internet references, superficially academic in the sense of maintaining a veneer of detachment, but larded with barely disguised personal antagonisms.
Another difficulty about the reading of this book, and of Hart’s The IRA And Its Enemies, is how much the references given can be relied upon to bear out the statement which they support.
In the case of Hart, I concluded that they were not to be trusted at all.
In a general survey of Cork he wrote:
“…the Gaelic heartland, Sliabh Luacra, was home to the largest concentration of Irish speakers in the country and, as a result, had a particularly rich oral and verse culture…” (p41).
It certainly has a rich verse culture— or had when I grew up in it. But it is entirely in English. I never came across a word of Irish being written in it—or recited either.
Hart gave a reference for his statement. That reference was me.
Eve Morrison suggests that I shift wildly from one opinion to another, capriciously or opportunistically. So could it be that, though knowing very well that this was the case, I said somewhere that Slieve Luacra was the most Irish speaking region of the country?
I looked up the reference… A North Cork Miscellany. I find that this is what I wrote in the Introduction:
“Due to a wilful linguistic shift from Gaelic to English by Sliabh Luacra in the early 19th century there was a considerable carry-over of Gaelic culture into English form. In other parts of the country, communities remained Gaelic-speaking into the late 19th century, and became increasingly demoralised in the face of erosion by the external forces. Then, at a certain point, the old cultural attachments snapped and the new generation panicked and fled from the sudden onset of claustrophobia.”
O Bruadair and Eoghan Ruadh O Suillibheán are in the North Cork Anthology, but only in English.
“To understand how the Cork of 1913 became the Cork of 1922, we must examine the lives of its revolutionaries. Part III of this book explores how and why men became Volunteers and guerillas. The following chapters will examine the kind of men who joined the IRA and the social structures and attitudes of the armies they created…” (Hart, p133).
Hart would have done something very useful if he had described Cork as it was in 1913, and how the cookie crumbled thereafter. He did not even try to do that.
The Cork of 1913 had undergone a sea-change since 1903. The ground for sectarian conflict over land had been removed. The Protestant colonial aristocracy had lost their estates to the peasants, and the peasant landowners had formed a political party which appealed to the former aristocracy to join them in an enlightened national movement, now that they had nothing more to lose.
The colonial aristocracy had been losing power, authority and possessions ever since 1800, when their Mother Country had taken their independent Parliament away from them, judging them to have made a mess of the country they had been given to govern. In 1903 the British Exchequer had bought out their estates and transferred ownership to the tenants on hire purchase terms. There was no longer any reason for shooting Protestants as landlords—and I don’t know that they had ever been shot at for being Protestant.
Canon Sheehan’s Manifesto for the new party appealed to the former landlords to settle down with the people as Protestant country gentlemen. It acknowledged that Redmond’s party, with its Catholic secret society component, was not a party that they could reasonably be asked to join. They made a point of that in the 1910 Elections, and took the County away from the Redmondites. In the second of those 1910 Elections, the Redmondites did not even contest the North Cork constituency.
But in 1913 the Redmondites seemed to be certain of Home Rule. They were only waiting for the third passage of the Bill through Parliament to make it an Act. They held the balance-of-power in Parliament. The Liberal Party could not remain in government without finalising the Home Rule Bill.
But the All-For-Irelanders did not believe it! O’Brien understood the realities of the British Constitution as a system of absolute party-conflict which, in the end, the marginal Irish Party—which refused to take part in a British Government— could not manipulate in its own interests. They knew that there was substance to the Unionist Party—which the repartee of the Liberal Party, as transmitted to Redmond’s Party, did not acknowledge. And O’Brien knew from experience in the Tenant Right movement that there was substance to Ulster Unionists (who were fellow land campaigners).
The Home Rule Bill was given its Third Reading in its third Parliament, but the O’Brienites were still certain that it would not happen. And they did not take part in Eoin MacNeill’s Home Rule Volunteer movement, set up to do battle with the Ulster Volunteer Force.
That was Cork in 1913. The County was divided. Its divisions had been thrashed out in two General Elections which the Redmondites lost. And the O’ Brien position was expressed daily against the Redmondite Freeman’s Journal.
It was not a dispute between marginal ideologies but a party-political dispute in society at large. And it established the medium in which subsequent developments happened.
None of this appears in Hart’s picture of Cork in 1913. He has a dismissive comment about “the mysteries of Conciliation and Home Rule”. It was all just a matter of personalities:
“Cork was uniquely divided between competing nationalist parties, and the battle between O’Brienites and Redmondites—between ‘All Fors’ and ‘Mollies’—often followed the twists and turns of neighbourhood and faction” (p43).
And a paragraph from a Frank O’Connor story mentioning it is the only reference that is given for this.
A book of mine about that development is listed in Hart’s Bibliography, The Cork Free Press. I wonder why? It could have had nothing to do with his idea of Cork in 1913.
Eve Morrison follows Hart in describing Cork as the “most disturbed county”, and in not tracing the source of its disturbances to the developments that had been going on it in for twenty years—the land revolution and the political life based on that revolution. The Cork populace had acted independently of Redmond’s Party—and against Redmond’s Party—on the land issue, and it had broken the power of Redmond’s Party on the issue of the Catholic secret society, the Ancient Order Of Hibernians. It was therefore more affronted than others by the decision of the British Parliament to ignore the result of the 1918 Election and to beat the electorate back into submission.
Hart wrote about “violence”, as if it was an independent force in the world looking for disciples—and found them in Cork because it had traditions of meaningless faction-fighting.
Violence is an attribute of States—a necessary attribute. Every modern State has a specialised organ of violence. Monopolisation of the means of conducting violence comes close to being the definition of the European liberal-democratic State of recent times.
When the Irish electorate decided in 1918 to have its own Government, and when the British Government in Ireland (which was little more than organised violence) decided to prevent it by force, the Irish Government had to acquire a capacity for counter-violence or perish: organised, systematic violence, different in kind from the occasional shooting of an extortionist landlord or the assassination of a Government Minister in the Phoenix Park. And it should not be a matter for surprise that it was in Cork, the “Conciliationist” County of 1913, that that requirement was best supplied.
The Dail Government quickly took over the institutions of government established by Britain, insofar as these institutions were accessible to democratic takeover. Beyond that it established “illegal Dail courts”, as Eve Morrison puts it, and similarly illegal Judges, an illegal Army, and an illegal Secret Service.
Britain become indisputably an Occupying Power in nationalist Ireland when, in December 1918, it lost the ‘Irish Party’ that took the Oath of Allegiance to the Crown.
Morrison, in describing the situation, leaves out of account the electoral aspect of things. When the Manchester Regiment arrived in Macroom in April 1920: “The civilian population were nervous, rarely welcoming and often hostile”—as would have been the case in April 1917, and it was all a continuation from 1916.
In 1916 there had been uniformed armies and a stand-up battle, but no elected Government. In 1920 there was only an Army of Occupation on one side and civilians on the other, and no battle at all for another six months.
The “insurgency” was the electorate, which had voted itself out of the British state—perhaps half-believing in the British war propaganda about national self- determination. And now it found itself put into the keeping of the Manchester Regiment and some other guardians. And it was nervous. But the quality of its nervousness was different from what it was before it elected Sinn Fein to govern it. (In a pedantic sense it had not voted—but had returned a Sinn Fein MP by acclamation. The Irish Party had not contested the seat. Did that lessen the commitment?)
The Irish Bulletin
The Occupying Power, under the Defence Of The Realm Act, subjected the entire commercial press to censorship. The Dail Government responded by issuing its own publication: the Irish Bulletin. Eve Morrison says:
“The Bulletin was neither neutral nor always accurate, but it offered a much-needed counterpoint to blatant and persistent false accounting by Greenwood and Dublin Castle” (p13).
The reference given for this assertion that the Bulletin was not always accurate is not a list of inaccuracies she found in it, but an article about it: “Ian Kennealy, ‘A Tainted Source?’ The Irish Bulletin” (p203).
Who suggested that it was “‘A Tainted Source’?” Not Ian Kennealy. When you get around to finding Kennealy’s article, in a book about Periodicals And Journalism, you discover that it was the Chief Secretary (the ‘Prime Minister’ in Britain’s unelected ‘Irish Government’), Hamar Greenwood, who said it, in Parliament on 24th November 1920.
Greenwood, who had subjected the press as a whole to censorship, condemned the Irish Bulletin as—
“an organ prohibited by law, which is used as the basis of propaganda and news- paper reports, and in which His Majesty’s Government is condemned out of the mouths of those responsible for the murder campaign in Ireland is not a document or propaganda that ought not to be tolerated here. I say it is a tainted source…”
Greenwood described is as tainted be- cause of its source in the Irish Democracy— Eve Morrison’s “insurgency”—which was a criminal enterprise.
Eve Morrison is, of course, right when she says it was not neutral. It was a publication of the elected Irish Government in its War with the British Government, which was trying to suppress it by force.
Ian Kennealy says that it was scrupulously accurate in its reporting of facts, and restrained in the style of its comment.
The Aubane Historical Society with the Belfast Historical Society have now collected and published five volumes of the Irish Bulletin, with the sixth in preparation. The first was published in 2012, ten years ago, and it was much disapproved of, but hostile critics have so far discovered only one inaccuracy in it. That inaccuracy appeared in my Introduction to the first volume. It happened because of one detail, in which I was so incautious that I relied on the Dictionary of Irish Biography, produced by Cambridge University and the Royal Irish Academy.
The “Imperial Collaborators Organisation”
Eve Morrison has an indexed comment on Aubane. She says that its criticism of Peter Hart—
“comes in for one particularly biting commentary. In July 2007, ‘Starkadder’ observed that Aubanites ‘would have been cheering Hart on till their throats were sore’ twenty or thirty years ago” (p171).
Her reference for this is: “Comment by ‘Starkadder, 21 July 2007. See also 12 May 2007… It is a pity Starkadder uses a pseudonym” (p257; I take this to be a hint that she knows who he is). She gives an Internet reference code for ‘Starkadder’, which seems to consist of about fifty digits. Within it I recognised the words, Cedar Lounge. Ten or fifteen years ago somebody sent me print-outs from Cedar Lounge [an Internet Blog, Ed.], which consisted of fantasies by somebody who hated my guts—as I suppose many people have reason to.
Eve Morrison also has a paragraph about BICO:
“Some of Peter Hart’s most vociferous critics in recent decades were scarcely recognisable in the 1970s. Members of the British & Irish Communist Organisation promoted the Two Nations Theory recognising the ‘democratic legitimacy’ of Ulster Protestants. They argued that the IRA had no right to force them into a “state run by gombeen men and priests”. Some of them described the Belfast IRA (in the 1920s and 1930s) as a ‘Roman Catholic sectarian militia’. Then in 1985, BICO members Brendan Clifford and Jack Lane founded the Aubane Historical Society in Cork, reincarnating themselves as traditional nationalists” (p138).
Her reference for the “gombeen men and priests” quotation is Brian Hanley (Research Fellow in Irish History at the University of Edinburgh), The impact of the Troubles on the Republic of Ireland, p48.
Hanley gives it in a sub-section about BICO, under the heading, “’British Imperial Collaborators Organisation’”. His reference for that title is “People’s Democracy internal document, 1972. Sean O’Mahony Papers”, with a Manuscript number.
The People’s Democracy was a rebel students’ movement, which shook up the Northern Ireland situation around 1969, without having a realisable purpose to sustain it in the long run. By 1972 it had dissolved (in Belfast), part of it gravitating towards the BICO and another part towards Provisional Sinn Fein. When Sinn Fein made a settlement in 1998, it was in accordance with the view of the situation put by the “Imperial Collaborators Organisation” in 1969, and that settlement led to the formation of dissenting Republican groups who condemned Adams as an Imperial Collaborator.
Hanley’s choice of this sub-title indicates he still has a long way to go before he achieves academic detachment.
I looked up half a dozen references which he gives for what seemed to be quotations from BICO publications. Three of them are comments about BICO from the Irish Times, one from the Irish Press, and one from Fortnight: all of which were hostile to the B&ICO. The sixth was: A. Madden, Fear & Loathing, of which I know nothing.
So Eve Morrison gets them all at third hand—as filtered by the Irish Times; by the (defunct) Irish Press; by the magazine of what became the Alliance Party; and from the historian of the Official IRA.
The gist of Eve Morrison’s paragraph is that BICO “promoted the Two Nations Theory” in 1970, but then in 1985 remade itself on traditional nationalist lines, without acknowledging the change.
In fact, it remained as “Two Nationist” after 1985, as it ever was in 1970. It hailed the Good Friday Agreement as a ‘Two Nations’ settlement—having held ever since 1969 that a settlement based on the assumption that the Ulster Protestant community was part of a general Irish nation was an impossibility.
If she means by “traditional nationalism” the view that the Ulster Protestant community was not a separate development but was part of a general Irish national development, let her find where BICO has ever said that since 1985!
What has all but destroyed traditional nationalism is not the ‘Two Nations’ view, but the notion that the Ulster Protestant community was part of a general Irish national body in the 18th century but was alienated from it in the 19th century by antagonistic developments that somehow erupted in the rest of the nation, and that the way of restoring unity was to write off the whole national political development since 1801. It is a profoundly incoherent idea, having no basis in historical fact.
BICO attempted to write the history of the two peoples as distinct entities, allowing each to be what it was: and this had some effect. The attempt to write of the two as one leads to mindlessness.
I have no idea what Eve Morrison means by “the ‘democratic legitimacy’ of Ulster Protestants”.
Her quotations about BICO by way of the Irish Times and Professor Hanley must be left to a later date for untangling.
The History Decommissioner
Eve Morrison’s final chapter has the title, Decommissioning Irish History— which means abolishing it.
“The binaries promoted by the ‘revisionist/anti-revisionist’ debate are more than just unhelpful”.
Of course they are, from the viewpoint of the Decommissioner! If history is debated, it is not being forgotten. That’s the problem.
Professor Roy Foster was frank about it. The paradoxical object of Irish history- writing must be to cause it to be forgotten. He wanted a statue raised to Amnesia. He reported back to Oxford University that the matter was well in hand. But it wasn’t. In this age of unbelief, history is all there is to live by. There is now no transcendental dimension to replace it with.
An Ambusher Who Didn’t Shoot
Eve Morrison’s book ends:
“Is there a Kilmichael around which all sides can rally and remember? At present, it does not seem so. What stands out for this historian are those few moments when two men surrounded on all sides by death, looked each other in the eye and decided not to fire:
“‘He could have shot me and I could have shot him but I thought it was the bravest thing I could do, maybe, at the time’ …” (p176).
If they were there facing each other with guns which they did not want to fire, why hadn’t they just stayed at home? As Pascal said, if we all stayed quietly at home there would be much less trouble in the world!
The quotation is from Ned Young, under questioning by Fr. John Chisholm, who apparently wrote Liam Deasy’s second book. I read his first book, about the ‘Civil War’, but my mind resisted his second book—even though I did not know it had been written for him by Fr Chisholm.
I am not familiar with all the intricacies of the tape recordings made by Fr. Chisholm of interviews with participants in Kilmichael when writing Deasy’s second book: recordings which were made available to Peter Hart but denied access to by others. But the long extracts she gives from them tell us something about Chisholm:
“Young: …I saw one Tan under the lorry and I said to him come out and put up his arms. I fired at him first and he humped and he turned back and he could have shot me as well as I could have shot him. But he jumped, and he came out from under the lorry when I asked.
Chisholm: With his rifle?
Young: With his rifle.
Chisholm: He didn’t drop his rifle?
Young: He did. He put his hands (sic)
Chisholm: And put up his hands?
Young: And put up his hands. He asked me ‘What would he do?’ and I said go down the
road and they’ll tell you (Chisholm: yes). When he went down about five or six yards,
or ten yards, or something to that effect, I saw him falling on the road.
Chisholm: And he was shot?
Young: He was shot?
Chisholm: Did he go down with his hands up?
Young: With his hands up
Chisholm: And they shot him?
Young: They shot him (p122)
Young is then questioned by Chisholm about another surrendered Auxiliary whom he had seen being hit. Young’s words with which Eve Morrison ends the book are, I assume, from the same interview, but they are given later:
“Young was adamant that he had not killed any wounded Auxiliaries. One possible reading is that he refused to do so. This might be the real story underpinning another folkloric account, that Young ended the ambush with the same number of bullets with which he began. Young himself was clear that not shooting the Auxiliary he disarmed was the right thing to do: ‘He could have shot me and I could have shot him, but I thought it was the bravest thing I could do, maybe, at the time’…” (p129).
Young’s own account of the Ambush, says—
“The driver of this lorry reversed about 20 yards out of the position. Two members of the enemy then jumped from the lorry and made a dash up the road towards Macroom. I then left my position south of the road and followed this party. One of them went across the bog at Kelly’s house. I followed and fired at him until I saw him fall into a boghole. As I thought this ‘Auxie’ was ‘finished’, I set about looking for the second one. I found him underneath the lorry on the road where he was shooting at my comrades who were in position on the rock north of the road. I immediately opened fire on this man and firing ceased from his position.” (Witness Statement 1402.)
An ambush is rather like when two lines of infantry meet. It is an intimate slaughterhouse. Basic training for it in the British Army is charging a row of humanoid targets, screaming and shouting obscenities, plunging the bayonet in, twisting it and pulling the guts out. I assume that, with sufficient training, the real thing could be done almost automatically, but I never got that far.
The Volunteers at Kilmichael knew nothing of battle, beyond what the British ex-serviceman who trained them managed to transmit to them. It is a remarkable thing that they succeeded, under Tom Barry’s influence, of disposing of two lorry-loads of Auxiliaries hardened by fighting in the Great War. And my understanding is that his orders were that they were engaged in a fight to a finish—the taking of prisoners being out of the question. (After all, he knew, as a British soldier, what real war involved.)
The reference given for the Chisholm interview is “Young/JC (1969).
Why was a priest ghost-writing a book about Kilmichael in 1969 and dwelling on this manslaughter aspect of it? I assume it had some connection with what was beginning to happen in the North.
There was a fixed idea on all sides that the Ulster Unionist community was nothing in itself. It was a creation of British Tory policy and its instrument. And the ‘Trouble’ in the North was largely caused by nationalists living in a fantasy aftermath of the War of Independence—“Pearsean ghosts” was how Conor Cruise O’Brien put it. Therefore it was a contribution to peace in the North to de-bunk the aura of gallantry cast around the War of Independence.
(I saw the mass base of what became Provisional Republicanism forming in West Belfast during the year after August 1969, and most of the people actively involved in it had been dismissive of anti-Partionism before August 1969. They were not Pearseans looking for an excuse.)
Eve Morrison refers to Republicans who began to explode Republican myths:
“Cork republican Jim Lane, in 1972, described the April 1922 attacks on Protestants in West Cork as a ‘pogrom every bit as vicious as any one in Belfast’”(p141).
In July 1970 Jim Lane watched the Twelfth Procession pass along the Lisburn Road. I put it to him that, if the Protestants were part of the Irish nation, this was part of Irish culture because there was nothing as deeply based as it on the nationalist side. But you need to move only a few hundred yards off the Lisburn Road to see that there was an antagonism of cultures, grown from different roots, with no mutual appreciation, and that each was real. If Jim went on to disparage nationalist history, that had nothing to do with “two nations theory”.
The comparison of a dozen targeted assassinations in Dunmanway in April 1922 with the random assaults on Catholics in response to the Treatyite invasion of the North by Michael Collins in 1922 (if that is what is referred to) is simply absurd: both were regard to scale, mode of action, and cultural environment.
Eve Morrison continues:
“In 1985, Sinn Fein’s Publicity Department produced The Good Old IRA. Its précis of brutal ‘Tan War’ operations (including Kilmichael) was intended to confront ‘those hypocritical revisionists who winsomely refer to the ‘Old IRA’ whilst deriding their more effective and, arguably, less bloody successors the Provisionals’. The War of Independence had no clear democratic mandate, it said, and ‘no struggle involves a clean fight’…” (p141).
Belfast nationalists tended to call the Irish Republic the Free State, and to regard it with a fair degree of scepticism—even though always voting for unity with it, while knowing very well that the election was certain to maintain the Union. The Free State Government condemned the Provos for acting without lawful authority, but it did not itself recognise the authority of the state the Provos were making war on. The Free State, according to its Constitution, was the lawful authority in the Six Counties, but it did not even exert that authority to condemn the IRA for disobeying it. Argument between the Provos and the Dublin Establishment could consist of nothing but debating points.
Of course the War of Independence did have a democratic mandate in the form of an elected Government. But that is not a matter on which Eve Morrison would take issue with Sinn Fein.
Also, 1985 was in the period when Sinn Fein was re-orientating itself and feeling its way towards establishing a realisable ‘two nations’ purpose for the War.
War has hitherto proved to be an indispensable activity in human affairs. Britain made it so in Irish affairs in 1919.
States usually write about their wars in euphemistic language, the language of gallantry.
Peter Hart, under the direction of David Fitzpatrick, an Australian in command of the Department of History in Trinity College, decided to deconstruct the bland language in which the Irish state described the War that helped to bring it into being, and to replace it with the language of the slaughterhouse. His effort was applauded by the History Department of Cork University. The life of the Cork City middle class has always been a mystery to me. In my experience, Cork City was not the urban counterpart of Cork County—at least not the North- West of the County. We were familiar with London and with Boston, but Cork City was beyond our ken. No doubt the University imagined that it was contributing to peace in the North by acclaiming Hart’s treatment of Kilmichael.
But Kilmichael was a remarkable event. It was the kind of thing that the British Government assumed the Irish were incapable of undertaking. It disturbed their thinking about the Irish so much that Lionel Curtis went to survey the situation. And his report of it included the false surrender by some of the Auxiliaries—a stratagem intended to flush out the ambushers in order to destroy them.
Barry, as far as I recall, did not moralise about the false surrender. He blamed himself for not warning the Volunteers strongly enough about it as a trick of the trade.
Eve Morrison, helped by Fr. Chisholm’s tapes, has now brought the slaughter house aspect of war—but only of the Irish side of that War—to the fore, without the excuse that Hart might have had twenty years ago .
The Provos have won their War, made their peace more competently than Collins did, and, at least, in the North, have restored the language of gallantry.
Brendan Clifford, Church and State, Summer 2022
KILMICHAEL: THE LIFE AND AFTERLIFE OF AN AMBUSH
Published in Issue 5 (September/October 2022), Letters, Volume 30
Sir—In a review of Eve Morrison’s Kilmichael: The Life and Afterlife of an Ambush (HI 30.3 May/June 2022), Gerry White wrote that Morrison ‘spoke to a number of people who had an interest in the ambush. Notable exceptions are the papers of Tom Barry himself to which Morrison claims she was denied access and insights of Barry’s biographer, Meda Ryan.’
In a review of Barry Keane’s Massacre In West Cork (HI 22.3, May/June 2014) Morrison made a similar claim. I repeat the relevant part of what I stated in my reply then:
‘As I had Tom Barry’s papers on loan, I returned them once my biography was completed. I do not know who refused Morrison “access” (as she does not say), but I have no control over those private papers. With regard to Morrison’s reference to my use of private collections and personal interviews, I feel fortunate that many families trust and have trusted me, to give me their private collections on loan, which I always return. I hold my personal interviews, as many historians do. Fortunately, most of my interviews have been with active participants (primary sources) in an important period in Irish history. I use them prudently for ongoing research and writing. In fact, I have used some of these interviews in my recently published book, The day Michael Collins was shot: revised & updated edition.
Morrison (as the review states) may have spoken to people with an interest to the Kilmichael ambush. However, speaking to interested parties and interviewing the ambush participants, as I have done, are very different things.
The reviewer states that Morrison ‘provides evidence to refute one of the main allegations made against [Peter] Hart—that he claimed to have interviewed Ned Young, a veteran of the ambush, several days after Young died’.
I still repeat that Peter Hart claimed he interviewed an ambush participant on 19 November 1989, though Ned Young, the last recorded surviving participant, died six days earlier. In an exchange between Peter Hart and myself in History Ireland in 2005 and 2006, he refused to address the problem.
Hart’s two anonymous interviewees were: AE rifleman, 3 April, 25 June 1988, AF scout 19 Nov. 1989. All scouts on site were dead by 1967 and all riflemen by 13 Nov. 1989, when Ned Young died aged 97. Hart says AF gave him a tour of the ambush site. Who was AF, who gave a graphic account of the ambush on the site to Hart?
There were only three scouts on the site during ambush. In areas of the county many companies placed scouts in distant locations on that day. As an example: Bill Powell, No.1 Bgde., told me he was one of a few men closer to the site, from his company as a stand-by scout. John Hourihane, (Dan Hourihane’s brother—rifleman ambush participant), from Ballinacarriga, was scouting at Granure, to where the men returned. Wm. Chambers was one of those on a distant Bridge, and other scouts from Enniskeane Company were on stand-by.
Morrison now claims that Willie Chambers is AF, Hart’s 19 November 1989 interviewee. If so, Hart interviewed someone about the ambush who was not at it. She also tells us that Hart’s other interviewee, AF/Ned Young did not speak about the ambush to Hart. This may be because Young virtually lost the power of speech after a stroke in 1986. Hart’s claim in his book to have partly based his ambush account on his interview with Ned Young is therefore false. To sum up, Hart claimed to have spoken to an ambush participant, but not about the ambush, and also about the ambush to someone who was not there.
The reviewer states: ‘Morrison admits that it is impossible to know exactly what happened at Kilmichael’. But we know what has happened, as I have written. In my book, Tom Barry: IRA freedom fighter, I have demonstrated that there was a ‘false surrender’ at Kilmichael ambush on 28 November 1920, and that flying column commander, Tom Barry afterwards regretted not warning his men of the danger of this eventuality.
In the review it is also mentioned that Morrison has dealt with the relationship between Liam Deasy and Tom Barry. It is important to note that Fr John Chisholm claimed, in an interview with me for my Tom Barry biography that he ‘had a free hand’ while writing Paddy O’Brien’s account of the Kilmichael ambush for Liam Deasy’s book Towards Ireland free.
Due to reviewers questioning Barry on this account, Barry asked Fr Chisholm to explain why ‘they omitted … the salient historical fact of the false surrender of the Auxiliaries at one of the major military victories of its kind in 1920-1921, not alone in County Cork, but in all Ireland’. Fr Chisholm also said his account of a training camp prior to an ambush was one he imagined. Furthermore, he claimed that he alone wrote Towards Ireland free.
Unfortunately, this split a wonderful relationship between Barry and Deasy who, according to one of the many interviews I did, were ‘great, really great friends’. This entire episode, was the ‘spark’ that impelled Barry to write his 1974 booklet, The reality of the Anglo- Irish War 1920-21 in west Cork. A delay in the ‘printing industry’ held up publication. Deasy died on the day of publication.
Both men, with such close friendship, had worked together to bring bodies of former colleagues from abroad for burial, and also did various volunteer work together, as I have written in my biography of Tom Barry.—Yours etc.