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History And Counter-History In Ireland – Confronting The Apologist Historians

Two Irish civilians forced to parade around a Waterford town by British troops with a British flag tied around their necks. Both men were beaten and dumped outside the town. The War of Independence, Ireland, 1920
Irish civilians forced to parade around a Waterford town by British troops with a British flag tied around their necks. Both were beaten and their bodies dumped outside the town. The War of Independence, Ireland, 1920

Just a quick post to highlight Protestant Cork 1911-1926, one of the best resources I’ve seen so far on the issue of the alleged decline in the numbers of Protestants living in the region of Cork City and County in the closing years and aftermath of the Irish Revolution. The reason this issue is so important is because of the claims made in relation to it by apologist historians and journalists on behalf of British rule in Ireland (the misnamed “revisionists”). This site is no simple Irish Nationalist or Republican one but follows a neutral line between both sides in order to maintain objectivity and scholarly standing. Meticulously researched, analytical, and with a host of primary sources both old and new, it is essential reading for anyone interested in this artificially contentious subject.

“It has been claimed that the Irish War of Independence from Britain in Cork turned into an ethnic pogrom driven by fear of mostly Protestant outsiders.

This site shows that the story is far more complex and nuanced that this simplistic view.

The Population declined by 14470 in 15 years, but 10,714 non-Irish-born Protestants lived in Cork in 1911.

Most were military, or government. Has this story been told properly?”

The conclusion is fair and balanced – even to a Republican:

“This article aims to correct our understanding of the issue through using new resources online to improve older research. As much written about this topic has either been incompletely researched, unverifiable, or supposition dressed up as fact, it is difficult to winnow out the fact from the fiction. It has often been necessary to return to the original source to examine its accuracy. To their credit those who have followed standard academic referencing to a verifiable source allowed this process to happen; the unverifiable sources should not be treated as being anything other than hearsay.

The War of Independence was driven by nationalism, and as 1921 continued it descended into the mire of a bloody war of reprisals. While this may revolt some people, and others may question the need for it, the people involved at the time had no idea if they were going to win or lose. If they had known the outcome they may have stayed their hand. Equally, if they had not pursued the savage course they took would the British have offered a truce? Was the impetus for truce the fact that the Ulster Unionists had secured partition? These are the questions that need answering.

The Dunmanway killings are different in that they occurred after independence. The Irish State failed to protect its citizens. No evidence has been produced to suggest that the IRA garrison attempted to leave the barracks and take control of the town, and at the very least this was a dereliction of duty. All we do know for certain is that 16 Protestants, and one Catholic, were shot or disappeared in West Cork over a three day period. Others of both main faiths were shot at or targeted for shooting. We know who shot four of them in Macroom, and we can suspect who may have shot the others. However, there was insufficient evidence to charge anyone with the killings. The murders were denounced by both sides of Sinn Féin, and vulnerable citizens were protected by the local Anti-Treaty IRA. Civilians and military were warned they would be shot if they didn’t hand in all guns to the local IRA commanders throughout the area. The killings resulted in the emigration of a small number of native Church of Ireland and other Protestant members from the county, but the contemporary Protestant sources stubbornly refuse to suggest a sectarian pogrom: Bolshevik certainly, agrarian definitely, nationalist undoubtedly but sectarian exceptionally.

There is no justification for the actual Dunmanway killings. Even if each and every one of the men shot were informers they had been granted amnesty by the Truce. If they had breached the Truce then they should have been brought before a court of law and tried. Whatever the reason for their killings, if the IRA were involved then it was a betrayal of their oath to the Republic. However to use this event to argue that there was a sustained campaign against Protestants because of their religion is not supported by any of the evidence from the time: Protestant, Catholic or Dissenter.

It is important neither to understate nor overstate what happened in the revolutionary period. This was a savage period in Irish history. A vicious war, using methods which eschewed the norms of war up to that point, was fought to a draw in July 1921. This was followed by an even more savage Civil War which led to a complete breakdown of law. Those with property, and known Treaty supporters were most at risk, and ex-Unionists fell into both these categories. The new Irish state did its best to protect all of its citizens, and yet there were appalling atrocities committed. The evidence does not support the theory that Protestants were targeted because of their religion. Historians are entitled to speculate, but in this case has the speculation run away with the story? Is it time to stop this pointless debate, and write true history?”

A column of Irish refugees fleeing the ruins of their homes following the Sack of Balbriggan by the British Occupation Forces during the Irish War of Independence, Ireland, 1920
Irish refugees hiding in the countryside following the Sack of Balbriggan, the destruction by the British Occupation Forces of the small village of Balbriggan during the War of Independence, Ireland, 1920

Some more analysis below.

Niall Meehan:

Irish Political Review, Vol. 27, No. 2, February 2012,  ‘The Further One Gets From Belfast’, a second reply to Jeff Dudgeon

Irish Political Review, Vol. 26 No 11, November 2011,  Reply to Jeffrey Dudgeon on Peter Hart

History Ireland, November-December 2011, Vol. 19 No 6 History Ireland letter on second edition of Gerard Murphy’s The Year of Disappearances

Spinwatch 24 May 2011, Distorting Irish History Two, the road from Dunmanway: Peter Hart’s treatment of the 1922 ‘April killings’ in West Cork

FINAL 16 NOV 2010 1 An ‘amazing coincidence’ that ‘could mean anything’: Gerard Murphy’s The Year of Disappearances

Spinwatch November 2010, Distorting Irish History, the stubborn facts of Kilmichael: Peter Hart and Irish Historiography

Irish Times Monday, October 12, 2009, Sectarian gloss on State’s early years is flawed

Dublin Review of Books, Issue Number 11 – Autumn 2009, Frank Gallagher and land agitation – A response to Tom Wall’s ‘Getting Them Out, Southern Loyalists in the War of Independence’ (drb, Issue 9 Spring 2009)

History Ireland, Vol 17 No 4 July August 2009, A response on use (and non-use) of sources to Professor David Fitzpatrick (TCD)

Irish Political Review, Vol 23, No3, March 2008, After the War of Independence, some further questions about West Cork, April 27-29 1922

Counterpunch, November 11/12, 2006, “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” Sends Revisionists Yapping at History’s Heels

Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc:
Troops of the British Occupation Forces watch over Dublin City from rooftop machinegun-posts during the War of Independence, Ireland, 1921

David Fitzpatrick:

Dublin Review of Books (DRB): History In A Hurry

Troops of the British Occupation Forces watch over Dublin City during the War of Independence, Ireland, 1920

John Borgonovo:

History Ireland, Book Review: Gerard Murphy, the Year of Disappearances

The British Forces confront civilian protestors during a raid on the Regal Hotel in Dublin City, the Irish War of Independence, Ireland, 1920

Eugenio Biagini:

Reviews in History: Gerard Murphy, the Year of Disappearances

British Army vehicle checkpoint in Dublin City, the Irish War of Independence, Ireland, 1920

Three very short book reviews of my own:

John Borgonovo’s Spies, Informers and the ‘Anti-Sinn Fein Society’: The Intelligence War in Cork City, 1919-1921

Peter Hart’s The I.R.A. and its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork, 1916-1923

Gerard Murphy’s The Year of Disappearances: Political Killings in Cork, 1920-1921

1 comment on “History And Counter-History In Ireland – Confronting The Apologist Historians

  1. Now available 1916 Easter Rising Centenary Commemorative Coins.


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