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Not So Much Revising History, As Rewriting It…

Following on from my post examining the controversy raging around “Terror in Ireland 1916-1923” , the collection of historical essays on the Irish Revolution edited by David Fitzpatrick, the website Spinwatch carries an introduction by the writer Niall Meehan and two statements from John Young, whose father Edward Young was an eye-witness participant in the Kilmichael Ambush, one of the better known contests between the British Occupation Forces and the Irish Republican Army in County Cork during the War of Independence. Incredibly this battle has latterly become central to the rewriting of Irish history by British apologist-historians and Neo-Unionist writers and journalists in Ireland, as well as right-wing nationalists in Britain itself, who allege that a handful of British paramilitary policemen who surrendered during the clash were “massacred”.

In Fitzpatrick’s book and on the British website Reviews In History the academic student Eve Morrison claims that Edward Young’s son John confirmed several statements to her that his father supposedly made in a face-to-face interview with the disgraced Canadian historian Peter Hart many years earlier, an interview the Young family have repeatedly stated never took place and was fabricated by Hart for political purposes (a position they have maintained despite the slanderous attacks on them by Peter Hart’s defenders).

John Edward has now empathically denied the claims made by Eve Morrison, in a bizarre re-run of the Hart controversy.

From Spinwatch:

22 August 2012

A response to claims by Dr Eve Morrison (TCD Modern history Department) at the Institute for Historical Research, Reviews in History website.

I am a son of Edward, ‘Ned’, Young, last surviving veteran of the 28 November 1920 Kilmichael Ambush. Ned Young died on 13 November 1989, aged 97.

In a response (16 August 2012) to a review by Niall Meehan of Terror in Ireland 1916-1921 (edited by Professor David Fitzpatrick), the author of a chapter on the Kilmichael Ambush, Dr Eve Morrison, reports a 4 July 2012 telephone conversation with me. I have not spoken to Eve Morrison before or since. I have never received any other communication of any kind from Eve Morrison.

I refute Eve Morrison’s report of that conversation in its entirety.

The telephone call lasted approximately five to ten minutes. I attempted at the outset to ascertain who or what Ms Morrison represented and the purpose of her call, without success. Members of my family witnessed my end of the conversation with Eve Morrison. After the somewhat puzzling telephone call I dismissed the subject from my mind.

That pales into insignificance in comparison to claims Eve Morrison makes in her recently published report of that conversation, brought to my attention by a family member.

Morrison defends the late Peter Hart’s analysis of [the 28 November 1920] Kilmichael Ambush in The IRA and its Enemies (OUP, 1998). That analysis was based on alleged anonymous interviews with two Kilmichael veterans in 1988 and 1989, at a time when my father was, I repeat for emphasis, the sole surviving ambush participant. Meehan noted in his review that Hart’s claim to have interviewed my father anonymously in April and June of 1988 was undermined by an affidavit signed by me on 21 August 2007, sworn with witnesses on 14 December 2007 (first published, in full, as an appendix to Troubled History, 2008, by Meehan and Brian Murphy). Peter Hart made no response to my affidavit that stated, inter alia,

If Peter Hart is referring to my father, Ned Young, with his made up reference (of “A.A.”), his claim that he interviewed my father in April and June of 1988 is totally untrue as, at that stage, Ned Young was wheelchair bound having suffered a stroke sometime previously (circa late 1986). As a consequence, it made him incapable of giving an interview, having virtually lost the faculty of speech. He was constantly attended day and night by family members and full-time professional carers. On my instructions to my mother and the carers, the only people allowed into my parents home were family members, i.e., his nephews and nieces, grandchildren his doctor, Dr. Jim Young (his nephew), and the priests of the parish.

Despite this, Eve Morrison claims in her response to Meehan that on 4 July 2012,

[John] Young confirmed that his father’s mental faculties were not impaired and that he could speak perfectly clearly. I asked him this twice, and he said he was willing to go on the record on this point.

This her statement is  – I repeat emphatically – palpably untrue.  I wish to go on record to refute Eve Morrison’s claim. My August 2007 affidavit stands in its entirety because it is true and immutable.

I am surprised if Eve Morrison’s behaviour is regarded as acceptable academic practice in Trinity College Dublin. Is a short, hurried, and confused telephone call between strangers on a serious matter a proper basis for making historical claims? Does Eve Morrison consider me so light minded as to reverse a sworn considered statement about my own father, in the course of a brief conversation on the telephone with someone I have never met? Why did Eve Morrison not attempt to confirm with me in writing her mistaken interpretation of our conversation before publication? She had over forty days prior to publication in which to do so.

Eve Morrison’s other claims with regard to how my father was cared for are equally without foundation and equally upsetting to me and to my family. Two carers under my direction were required to nurse my father after he suffered his stroke in late 1986. Ned Young rarely ventured out in public during the period in question, an exception being attendance at the annual Kilmichael commemoration. I was the family member in overall charge of my father’s care and well-being. I reiterate what is stated in my affidavit, that, apart from designated family members, his doctor and parish clergy, no one was permitted to speak to my father without my express permission. Eve Morrison’s insulting remarks to the effect that because I was not present 24-7 Peter Hart could have slipped through this mutually agreed family net is specious and unworthy of serious consideration.

I have a specific reason, not before revealed, why I am confident in making this assertion:

During the late 1980s a man with what my late mother described as a “foreign accent” called to her door asking to interview Ned Young [ASF: Peter Hart was Canadian]. She reported to me that she explained to him directly that Ned Young was a sick man in bed who would not be granting interviews, not least because he was incapable of doing so. I do not know if the man was Peter Hart. However, I am aware that the late Jim O’Driscoll, SC (Orwell Road, Dublin), drove the then PhD researcher Peter Hart and deposited him at my mother and father’s address during that time frame. Jim O’Driscoll, who I knew well, was one of the witness signatories to my affidavit sworn on 14 December 2007, referred to above.  If, as seems likely, the man in question was Peter Hart, it makes his subsequent behaviour all the more inexcusable and inexplicable.

Eve Morrison’s suggestion that my father was not the last surviving veteran of the Kilmichael ambush is nonsense. Morrison makes this claim because Peter Hart reported interviewing a second anonymous ‘Kilmichael veteran’ six days after Edward, ‘Ned’, Young, my father, died.

My upset at being presented with Eve Morrison’s claims is only surpassed by my incredulity at the publication of untrue and unchecked claims by Morrison.

I am equally astonished by the revelation that Father John Chisholm possessed a forty-year-old tape-recorded interview with my father he released to Eve Morrison. I wrote to Fr. Chisholm in 2008 asking if he had such a tape recording. He replied,

I greatly regret having to inform you I have no recording of an interview with your father, though I remember him with affection as a man of real character.

I agree with the suggestion that Fr. Chisholm deposit tapes of interviews with War of Independence veterans (which he obtained on the basis of research for Liam Deasy’s 1973 book, Towards Ireland Free) in a public archive. That is the expressed view also of Liam Deasy’s eldest daughter, Maureen, who typed her father’s manuscript. I demand that a copy of Fr. Chisolm’s interview with my father should be given to me without further delay.

John Young

22 August 2012” 

It seems that when it comes to Peter Hart and the ongoing campaign to rewrite Irish history to a British agenda everything becomes contaminated by association.

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3 comments on “Not So Much Revising History, As Rewriting It…

  1. It’s odd isn’t it how it keeps as you say repeating, though perhaps that’s to be expected given the underlying dynamic.

    One thing that struck me is that there’s a lot of clear water between the neo-Unionist (or perhaps more a neo-Home Rule) position and the actual Unionist position of Robinson etc. Whatever ones criticism about the latter they get it that this is a dispute about competing nationalisms and they’ve picked their side. The former are all over the shop.


    • Though obviously there’s the class element as well.


      • On the Unionist and Neo-Unionist thing, it is quiet difficult to find a fitting terminology to describe the political position of those who in days of yore were labelled “Castle Catholics”.

        Yes, Unionist is not quite right, but then it is not quite wrong. Definitely not northern or Ulster Unionist, with all the ethnic connotations attached, but a sort of soft southern or Dublin Unionist.

        The term “West British” seems awfully old fashioned, yet there is an element of truth in it. Irish and British. So what does one use?

        Pro-British? Not quite right. Wannabe British? Perhaps more honest but still not accurate.

        I think CLR had a long discussion on this quite some time ago (during the presidential campaign?), though in could not come up with an adequate answer to sum up what seems to be a definite ideological position.

        Class element, certainly. In fact I would argue it is simply the Home Rule position of the Irish Party under new dress, as you imply.

        Interestingly, the attacks on the Young family above have also been worded in class terms. There is a strong implication in some of the references to them by Hart’s supporters that they are recalcitrant, untrustworthy, rural, traditional, etc.

        Very much the language of English officials about 19th century Irish peasants and the whiff of cordite and Fenianism about them.

        Irish history always seems to turn the full circle.


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