Last Monday I watched the second part of TV3’s drama-documentary series, “In the Name of the Republic”, where once again Eunan O’Halpin claimed to offer an analysis of the alleged actions of the Irish Republican Army during the Revolution of 1916-1923. Despite a few days of thinking it over and trying to see some historical value in the whole exercise it is hard to escape the impression that the programme (like the one before it) was anything other than some weirdly anachronistic anti-Irish Republican propaganda film. If fact it could have come straight from the film archives of the British Imperial War Museum, stamped 1921.
Stripped of the shallow pretence of balance it was obvious that the documentary makers had set out to “prove” that the men and women who fought to defend Irish democracy at the start of the 20th century were simply “terrorists” and “murderers” lacking in any sort of electoral mandate or support. In fact, going further, the programme all but justified British colonial rule in Ireland by taking the point of view of the country’s British paramilitary police force, the Royal Irish Constabulary, the British judicial system, the British Occupation Forces and individual members of the Irish population who actively supported or collaborated with British rule.
I suppose if the Revisionist fringe of academia in the southern United States can produce books and movies to “prove” that the Confederacy was actually a paragon of democracy and morality with hundreds of thousands of happy-go-lucky slaves then why not a “reform” of Colonial Ireland? What is it that the Neo-Confederates in the United States now demand as the proper title of the internecine conflict that scarred the nation during the mid-1800s? It’s no longer the American Civil War, it’s now the War Between the States. Or should that be the War of Northern Aggression?
So what’s next for our own Irish Revisionist tendency? Will the Irish War of Independence become the War of Irish Aggression? Some Neo-Unionists in Ireland are already half-way there with their favoured meme of the moment: the Irish Terror. Not as in the Irish being terrorized by their then colonial rulers from Britain. Oh no. It’s the other way around. The Irish terrorized the British – and the Irish terrorized the Irish. Or so they would have us believe. And sure, if the facts of history don’t fit that interpretation don’t worry, they will be ignored or replaced with some home-made ones of their own. It worked before. Just ask Peter Hart.
“In the first episode, viewers met an aged Co Laois man who related his boyhood encounter with a neighbouring farmer, who claimed he had dug up a body while ploughing his field, one of three corpses supposedly buried there by the IRA.
Series host Prof Eunan O’Halpin (of Trinity College Dublin) told the audience his research had uncovered two civilians abducted by the Tipperary IRA and “never seen again”. The rest of the episode attempted to prove his theory that they were interred in this Laois field.
At considerable expense, a team of forensic archaeologists dug up the fine pasture, before informing O’Halpin that no corpses could be located. Meanwhile, O’Halpin travelled to Dublin to request the release of Department of Justice files relating to his two missing men.
The episode concluded with O’Halpin opening the sealed files, only to learn that both had survived the conflict. They were never killed by the IRA, much less secretly buried in Laois. The obvious lesson here is: Finish your research before you rent the JCB.
Undeterred, in the second episode, O’Halpin moves to more fertile ground in Cork City and Knockraha, a village a few miles east of Cork. In recent years, the area has attracted considerable speculation about the killing of alleged informers, especially Protestants.
Much interest stems from Gerard Murphy’s 2011 book, The Year of Disappearances, which received overwhelmingly negative reviews from historians concerned by his over-reliance on folklore and supposition. Murphy’s unlikely theories of covert revolutionary activity in Cork included the IRA’s unrecorded killing of up to 30 Freemasons in the spring of 1922, and the drowning of Protestant schoolchildren by IRA intelligence agent Josephine Brown.
The absence of such dramatic events in contemporary and later records (civilian, military, governmental, and religious) leads me to conclude that they did not occur. I was surprised, therefore, by the sight of Murphy relating additional theories for In the Name of the Republic.”
Surprise is one way of putting it. But then birds of a feather an’ all that.
Meanwhile historian John Dorney, who’s truly excellent website The Irish Story has gone to great lengths to present a dispassionate and fair evaluation of the revolutionary period, examines the issue of the 200 “murders” Eunan O’Halpin alleges were carried out by the Irish Republican Army:
“Immediately this set alarm bells ringing. In 2012, O’Halpin published the first results of his and Daithí Ó Corráin’s research, which revealed that the IRA in the War of Independence, was responsible for 281 of the 898 civilian fatalities, with British forces being responsible for 381. A further 236 deaths could not be confidently attributed to any party (the IRA, loyalist, rioters, undercover Crown forces).
This brings up two questions – first of all, where did all the extra ‘disappeared’ victims come from? There was no effort made in the programme to verify this figure of 200 secret killings by the IRA. Secondly, given that state forces actually killed more civilians, why was this not given greater prominence in the programme?
Even worse was the programme quoting the Royal Irish Constabulary as an impartial witness to events. An RIC DI was quoted saying, ‘People are afraid to be associated with the forces of the crown’, by an IRA – ‘system of universal terrorism’, and called for the ‘extermination of these bandits’. What else would a party to a counter insurgency campaign say?
In the second part, looking at County Cork, it was alleged that the IRA Cork Number 1 Brigade, which covered north Cork and the city, abducted and killed up to 90 victims and secretly buried them on the farm of one Martin Corry.
Corry claimed in his IRA pension that 27 bodies were buried on his farm and in a bog (now forest) called Knockraha. In recordings in the 1970s he claimed that there were ’60 even’. The problem with this testimony is that there does not seem to have been 60, 90 or even 30 victims missing that could fit into the alleged mass graves. Corry for instance told local historian Jim Fitzgerald that 17 ‘Camerons’ (of the Highland Cameron regiment) were buried there. In fact, John Borgonovo tells us, the regiment had only 3 men missing in its time in Cork.
I am informed that Jim Fitzgerald himself estimates that between Corry’s farm and Knockraha there may be 15 bodies buried. The figure of 90 secret deaths comes from Gerard Murphy, whose book, the Year of the Disappearances, was rightly savaged here on the Irish Story by Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc for presenting supposition as evidence.
But there was no evidence presented for scores of disappeared civilians. Nor for tendentious talk about the Cork IRA’s campaign of ‘extortion’ and ‘torture’. The casual viewer would never have guessed that the IRA represented a political movement with overwhelming electoral support in the elections of 1918 and 1920.
…this was a bafflingly biased programme. It presented and inflated all the bad things the IRA did, shorn of context while proposing a thesis of hundreds of disappeared which was never even remotely proved.
So why the sensational anti-republican tone of ‘In the Name of the Republic’?
There is nothing to be gained by treating nationalist history as a sacred cow but nothing either by making radical claims unsupported by evidence.”
But that begs the question, is there nothing to be gained by the falsification of Irish history as it relates to the War of Independence? Or are there in fact real political gains to be made by inflicting untold damage on the Irish people’s understanding of their own history? Are we seeing in Ireland a larger “culture war”, as has been witnessed in the United States, over the nation’s past, present and future? A war played out in the pages of our national newspapers every week, and on our radios and TVs? The United States has Glenn Beck or Fox News. We have Kevin Myers or the Sunday Independent. In the struggle between Progressives and Regressives in Ireland the Irish Revolution represents the greatest loss of status and influence for the latter. Is it any wonder that they wish to contest it, even in retrospect?
And what about Ireland’s British-owned television channel TV3? Some more analysis and dramatic re-enactments of supposed events from world history in a series of exciting new TV programmes? Perhaps the “truth” about Anne Frank? Or a sympathetic examination of the Lost Cause? But after the farce of the last two weeks will anyone be watching?