Current Affairs History Military Politics

The Importance Of The Historical Voice

The Derry Diary

In relation to the arrest of Gerry Adams TD and the debacle surrounding the Boston College Oral History Project the Derry Diary makes some excellent points on the importance of historical narrative. There are also some tough questions for Sinn Féin on the fostering of a dualistic mind-set that permits the political persecution of some people while expecting immunity for others. One doesn’t need to be hostile to SF to question this level of hypocrisy or to predict the dangerous consequences of it.

“In recent times the Boston College Oral History Project has been described as a “touting programme” and participants described as being “anti-Sinn Féin and “anti-peace process” with the contents of the project referred to by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams as dubious. Now unless Mr. Adams was afforded the time to listen to each recording then how does he know?

These allegations are not only one-sided coming from those who have a vested and political interest but are very damaging and dangerous to the contributors involved or alleged to be involved in the project. My question to those behind such allegations is have you ever considered that contributions may be detailed in the first party without naming other people? Ultimately are these people not entitled to put their perspective on historical record? If not can someone explain why?

There are a range of historical archives that bring periods of our history to life, firsthand accounts that provide insight into the motivations and actions of people involved at different stages of the conflict from the Easter Rising, the War of Independence and the Irish Civil War through to the IRA’s Border Campaign and the most recent phase known as “The Troubles”.

These have been in many forms, memoirs such as those by Ernie O’Malley whose books “On Another Man’s Wound”, his record of the War of Independence, and “The Singing Flame”, O’Malley’s writings about his role in the Irish Civil War, are both critically acclaimed records of a period of Irish history that we may not have the same insight into had we not had O’Malley’s insightful works to read.

The Free State Government’s Bureau of Military History have complied an archive of primary source material for the revolutionary period in Ireland from 1913 to 1921. The Bureau of Military History Collection is a collection of 1,773 witness statements. This archive is among the most important primary sources of information on this period available anywhere in the world.

If we didn’t have access to such materials how would we know that just after the Proclamation of the Irish Republic was printed that Countess Markievicz was threatening to shoot Eoin O’Neill, only to be warned off by James Connolly? Or would we know that due to the lack of type fonts that a letter “E” used in the document had to be made from a letter “F” and some sealing wax? If it hadn’t been for the testimony of Christopher Brady who was involved in printing the Proclamation.

The recently released book “In the Footsteps of Anne” has female ex-prisoners tell their stories and give a vivid insight into life as republican prisoners. Would we have an archive of the stories of the hardship and camaraderie if those women hadn’t told their stories and given their firsthand accounts?

The problem with the Boston College archive is not that people have given their stories to a historical archive, the problem is one of control. It would seem that only sanitised versions of primary sources are acceptable in line with party and governmental positions.”

That and the failure to secure a general amnesty for all politically-related offences committed before 1998 by members of named organisations ranging from the (Provisional) Irish Republican Army to the British Army.

4 comments on “The Importance Of The Historical Voice

  1. Seamus,

    Over on Broken Elbow in a (speculative) post they have stopped taking comments stating that

    “Due to a number of obscene and threatening comments this facility is being suspended pro tem”

    Clearly my questions below don’t fall into that category but remain “awaiting moderation” and were posted before the above notice appeared.

    My Comments/questions not published on Broken Elbow below

    In relation to the tapes – apologies if you have covered this elsewhere but perhaps you could confirm the following

    Did you get independent (of the college) legal advice that prosecutions could not follow (i.e. that the tapes could not obtained by the police) – have you published that legal advice?

    Were interviewees told to confine their disclosures to themselves and not to mention any other individuals or material that could be used against others?

    Do you accept that the (unforeseen) fallout from the Project partly (helped) to cause a wobble in the peace-political process last week, and that the damage could have been (and yet may be) long-lasting and severe?

    And finally would you accept with the benefit of hindsight that the entire Project was a mistake? I think when you have tapes being (proposed to be) returned and prosecutions being assisted – then is difficult to see it any other way?

    p.s. In relation to my own views on Gerry – I am a supporter, but not an uncritical one, and in relation to the past I think he has made a big mistake in not being more open about his own


    • Good points. One of my own is waiting on moderation in relation to an answer that was given to you in the Comments of another post:

      “While I agree with the general thrust of the statement above I have to say I haven’t seen much evidence of “cowardice” in the Irish media over the last week or the last thirty years in relation to Gerry Adams or Sinn Féin. The majority of the news media in Ireland is ideologically anti-Republican, the most obvious manifestation of which is the antipathy to SF. Short of publishing a “Gotcha!” style headline I don’t think there was much more the Irish press could do to show their hatred of Adams. Even the pretence of journalistic neutrality went out the window with Adams’ arrest. It was a free-for-all to see which journo could out-do the other in terms of genuine “felon setting”. One can have many problems with (Provisional) Sinn Féin but worries about a sycophantic or fear-driven lauding by the news media is not really one of them.”

      I have genuine sympathy for Moloney and McIntyre. The attempt to demonise them is a gross over-reaction to the ongoing controversy and the whole politics behind it (though “splitters” and formerly ideologue critics are always subject to visceral hatred by political movements or parties). That said the whole “Shinnerbots” thing on online fora is widely exaggerated as well. A media comfort blanket. SF could only dream of having half the influence that is claimed for them.


  2. re. “I have genuine sympathy for Moloney and McIntyre. ”

    I have some sympathy for Ed.

    I think the boy Ant has to some extent been hoist by his own petard. He has consistently suggested sell-out by Gerry for abandoning ‘true’ republicanism and now finds himself accused of assisting in the breach of the sacred secrecy code of Republicanism – even if inadvertently.

    No amount of over-intellectualising – as is his wont – is going to disguise that.

    Ant needs to take this one on the chin – admit his mistake and move on – and I would condemn outright any attempt to ‘demonise’ them – but they do deserve criticism for a project that seems to have gone mammaries up.


    • Ah yeah, one must admit that the level-headed criticism is well-deserved. But then how long could one wait to carry out the interviews? 1969-2005 was not 1916-1923. Most of the guys in their twenties at the start of the Long War are now in their 60s and 70s. Time was running out to get accurate accounts. However it should have been bettered ring-fenced against exploitation. There was an element of political axes to grind. A great pity for the historians of the future. What will people look back at in 2069? How different Ireland and the world will be then!


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