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The Curse Of Peter Hart Strikes Again

The devastated city centre of Cork City following its destruction by locally garrisoned units of the British Occupation Forces during the War of Independence, Ireland 1920
The devastated city centre of Cork City following its destruction by locally garrisoned units of the British Occupation Forces during the War of Independence, Ireland 1920

A few weeks ago I linked to a review by the historian John M. Regan on the new publication “Terror in Ireland 1916-1923”, a collection of essays on various aspects of the Irish Revolution edited by David Fitzpatrick, where Dr. Regan expressed some concern at the number of inaccuracies or misinterpretations contained in the book. This has now been taken up by the writer and lecturer Niall Meehan in an article for the online Reviews In History where he meticulously analyses the compilation and finds some of it severely wanting. Meehan also questions the tone in parts of the work which he regards as being decidedly hostile to any form of “violence” emanating from Irish combatants in the conflict while exhibiting a peculiarly indifferent or neutral attitude towards the “violence” of the British, be they state or state-backed participants.

“Terror in Ireland, 1916–23 is the fifth Trinity College Dublin History Workshop publication. Edited by Professor David Fitzpatrick, who also contributes a chapter, this well-presented volume publishes research from 14 undergraduate and postgraduate students, doctoral researchers and established historians.

The book examines British and Irish violence (mainly the latter) from the 1916 Easter Rising through the Civil War. The terms ‘terror’ and ‘terrorist’ are loosely, often selectively, applied. According to Fitzpatrick, ‘Terrorists are those who perpetuate any form of terror; Terrorism implies a sustained and systematic attempt to generate terror’ (p. 5). This conceptualisation is not so much taut as tautological. It is difficult to envisage military or quasi-military activity that does not induce terror among combatants and an affected civilian population. Brian Hanley’s compelling first chapter exposes the problems in Fitzpatrick’s construct. Hanley notes that even under current US State Department categorisations, IRA attacks on Bloody Sunday (21 November 1920) and at Kilmichael (28 November 1920) cannot be defined as terrorist (p. 11). Nevertheless, two chapters are devoted to Bloody Sunday and one to Kilmichael.

Throughout the collection republican forces are often ‘Irish terrorists’ or simply ‘the terrorists’. Their British opponents are not similarly identified, suggesting that the words have a pejorative rather than descriptive function. Drawing upon the work of the late Peter Hart (who died in 2010 at the age of 46), whose analysis ‘called into question the morality and sincerity of the republican movement’, the editor asserts that republicans set out ‘to threaten and marginalize “deviants” within the community that the terrorists claim to represent’ (p. 6). Their suspicions were ‘based on categorical assumptions’ (p. 4). As the volume is dedicated to Hart’s memory, Fitzpatrick is intent on defending his reputation from ‘outraged readers’ for whom ‘the integrity of the revolutionaries from 1916–21 was an article of faith’ (pp. 4, 6). The ‘article of faith’ formulation is carefully chosen.”

A significant part of “Terror in Ireland 1916-1923” is dedicated to defending the latterly discredited research and writing of the controversial Anglo-Canadian academic Peter Hart whose works have become central to the ideology of a hardline rump of Neo-Unionist and Pro-British apologist writers and journalists in Ireland. Niall Meehan effectively demolishes the scant evidence clung on to by Hart’s supporters in his review of the chapter “Kilmichael Revisited: Tom Barry and the “False Surrender”” where the allegations made by Hart in his 1998 ideologue publication “The IRA and its Enemies, Violence and Community in Cork, 1916-23” are restated by the researcher Eve Morrison.

Interestingly Morrison now finds herself at the centre of an academic storm with accusations being made against her by John Young, the son of Edward Young, an eyewitness participant in the Kilmichael Ambush named in her essay. In an interview with the Irish edition of the Sunday Times newspaper (28th August, 2012) Young accuses Morrison of misrepresenting a phone conversation with him while researching the evidence given by Peter Hart in his original 1998 book and that her claims (made in Fitzpatrick’s publication and online in a response piece for Reviews In History) are inaccurate. He has demanded a retraction or opportunity to correct the claims with an affidavit of his own to Reviews In History, so far without success.

It would seem that the curse of Peter Hart has stuck the academic world once again.

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