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In The Name Of History

Mutilated remains of Harry Loughnane Volunteer of the Irish Republican Army tortured to death by the Royal Irish Constabulary 1920
The mutilated remains of Harry Loughnane, age 22, Volunteer of the Irish Republican Army, tortured to death alongside his older brother Patrick, age 29, by the Royal Irish Constabulary or RIC, Britain’s loathed colonial police force in Ireland, 1920

I’ve just finished watching a history-documentary (and I use that term advisedly) on Ireland’s British-owned private television channel, TV3, called “In The Name of the Republic”. Presented by Eunan O’Halpin it set out to investigate the alleged “disappearance” of some 200 Irish people during the Irish Revolution, supposedly executed by the Irish Republican Army as part of its struggle against the British Occupation Forces from 1918-1923. Beginning with an archaeological dig searching for the corpses of three men found shot dead in 1921/22 by a local “eccentric” farmer the program goes on in drama-documentary style to present a case for the mass and indiscriminate murder by the IRA during Ireland’s War of Independence of countless innocent civilians (who may or may not have been British spies or informers, officers of the feared British paramilitary police, the Royal Irish Constabulary or RIC, or soldiers of the British Army).

Of course the archaeological dig failed to uncover any evidence of any murdered men (spies or otherwise), despite the fact that the program makers offered us some identities for two of the three supposed victims, complete with dramatic reconstructions of their capture and deaths. However (and quite bizarrely) at the end of the program we were told that the two suggested victims actually survived the conflict completely unharmed.

Not only do we not have the bodies of the “murdered” we don’t even have any suggestions for who was “murdered”. In fact we don’t have any evidence that any “murders” happened in the first place! What we do have is a supposed drama-documentary from the Peter Hart school of Irish history, with a hefty dollop of Gerard Murphy (of which more here).

By the by, if any historians are looking for murder victims from the Irish Revolution with, you know, real actual identities and, hey, actually physical remains, here they are. The photographs above and below are of Patrick and Harry Loughnane, aged 29 and 22, both Volunteers of the Irish Republican Army, detained, tortured and murdered by members of the RIC’s Auxiliary Division in November 1920. From Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc’s article that featured on The Irish Story in 2012:

“The Loughnane brothers were arrested in daylight at their family home at Shanaglish, Co. Galway on the 26th November 1920. Their partially burned and mutilated bodies were discovered in a pond near Ardrahan on 5th December that year. The two brothers had been tied to the back of an R.I.C. lorry and forced to run behind it until they collapsed from exhaustion and were dragged along the road. Both of Pat’s wrists, legs and arms were broken. His skull was fractured and there were diamond shaped wounds, resembling the cap badge worn by the RIC Auxiliaries, carved into his torso. Harry’s body was missing two fingers; his right arm was broken and nearly severed from his body. Nothing was left of Harry’s face except for his chin and lips. A doctor who examined the Loughnane’s bodies stated that the cause of death was “laceration of the skull and the brain.” The attached photographs of the brothers’ bodies at the time of their discovery show some of the horrific injuries they suffered. The same month that the Loughnane brothers were killed, members of the RIC in Galway also killed a pregnant woman and a Catholic priest.”

Mutilated body of Patrick Loughnane Volunteer of the Irish Republican Army tortured to death by the Royal Irish Constabulary 1920
The mutilated body of Patrick Loughnane, age 29, Volunteer of the Irish Republican Army, tortured to death alongside his younger brother Harry, age 22, by the Royal Irish Constabulary, Britain’s feared colonial police force in Ireland, 1920

If I might also add, all that archive film shown in the “documentary” of supposed victims of violence by the Irish Republican Army during the War of Independence, including men, women and children made homeless sitting in ditches at the side of the road? They were actually from a contemporary newsreel showing Irish civilians hiding in the fields of north County Dublin following the Sack of Balbriggan. That is the burning of the small Irish coastal village of Balbriggan by the British Occupation Forces in 1920.

Irish refugees hiding in the countryside following the Sack of Balbriggan
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
A column of Irish refugees fleeing the ruins of their homes following the Sack of Balbriggan
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

5 comments on “In The Name Of History

  1. EmmetRising_1803

    I’m not against historical discussion/exploration of the execution and burial of informers by the IRA during the 1918 – 23 period, but I get very annoyed when it’s not placed in the proper historical/political context and played up for sensationlism and shock value. (I would argue even on this last point a historian like Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc, no revisionist, can be guilty of this – using a picture of an IRA commander posing with a revolver during the Civil War in a recent article on a similiar subject for Irish Story and History Ireland).

    O’Halpin’s premise would have us believe the IRA were just a gang of undisciplined thugs who popped up all over the country in response to the 1916 Rising and who set off a series of ‘tit-for-tat’ killings for no good reason then to disrupt the ‘normal’ social order of things. And it’s crazy how he continually cites the commentary of one disgruntled Free State politician to support his theories – an individual who would have been far removed from any armed actions anyway. Why not mention witness statements/accounts from IRA commanders at the time regarding the conduct of the war?

    It’s laughable it’s being stretched to a two-parter, as O’Halpin ultimately found NOTHING on the Laois farm of merit – and both individuals he assumed were buried they were ultimately found to have survived the period in the supposedly surpressed government documents. (And why not stretch the search to the field the local farmer pointed out?).

    … the whole documentary/enterprise is just so maddening. As was to be expected.

    • Some good points there. History should be under continuous revision as new facts and theories come to light. In that context it is entirely appropriate that the darker aspects of the War of Independence are investigated. Off the top of my head I could suggest several incidents that require new research. The struggle against the British between 1916-1923 had aspects to it that bear a close comparison to the WWII struggle in France against the Vichy regime and the German Occupation.

      However what we witnessed last night on TV3 was far from appropriate. In fact it was quite extraordinary and disturbing stuff. Disturbing not because it was in any way accurate or truthful but because it was quite the opposite. I had some respect for Eunan O’Halpin (his book “Spying on Ireland” was quite interesting and I recommended it to several of my friends). My opinion has swung 180 degrees after last night’s program.

      As I sat watching the drama-documentary I was just astonished at the selective, one-sided, and wholly anti-historical tone to it. Even the smallest of things, like the references to “IRA courts” taking over justice in Ireland during the revolutionary period and serving as judge, jury and executioner was completely at odds with the known facts of the era. How could O’Halpin be unaware of the Dáil/Sinn Féin courts and the role they played? They are perhaps amongst the best documented and researched facets of the undermining of administrative British rule by the Irish Republic and the means by which it won wide-scale support. Yet he deliberately mischaracterized them as “IRA courts”.

      One is reminded most of all by the fringe “documentaries” produced by the “9/11 Truthers” or the Tea Party-inspired “Birthers” in the United States. The use of conspiracy theories, misrepresented or selective facts and information, slanted opinions and prejudicial images or film footage (especially when associated with voice-overs implying that the pictures or film represent something completely different from what they actually do represent). It is astonishing that this got made and extremely worrying too.

      And in the end it produced not a single fact to back up its supposed “executions”. No graves, no bodies, no identities, no missing persons, no records, no nothing. Yet the whole basis of the program was the three “murdered” men found by a farmer on his lands in the 1920s. If they never existed then what of the rest of the allegations made in the documentary?

  2. I live in the US so obviously I was not able to see this particular program, but something like this always raises questions in my mind – namely, to what end does a program such as this get produced and televised?

    These things don’t happen in a vacuum. This wasn’t some poorly researched college student’s film project. When a private television station chooses to produce or even just broadcast a program that, from what I understand, is so far off the mark in terms of accuracy, there has to be some sort of an agenda at work. And I don’t think it’s simply to denigrate the Irish nationalists of 1916-23, either. There’s a modern element to this effort, as well. I’m curious as to why a television station is willing to throw its credibility to the winds in order to run some anti-Irish propaganda at this point in time.

  3. I am never surprised to hear of such things. In the US there is a whole lot of disinformation sent out there, and for the most part, on a mass level, it sticks. Unfortunately. The only thing we can do is tell the truth of what we know, and the most intelligent people will see it.

    Eamon

    • Unfortunately dirt sticks, Éamon. And when it comes to TV or the cinema people will believe “infotainment” over real history and in far, far greater numbers. No matter what academic critics may say this mockery of a documentary will have a far greater and wide-ranging effect. And, as we have seen, its all bad.

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