I rarely pay attention to the mealy-mouthed nostalgia for the ancien régime of British colonial rule which fills the pages of certain newspapers and publications in Ireland. Many of the individuals who write these hyperbolic screeds belong to the counter-revolutionary generation of the 1960s and ’70s. They are a clichéd mix of ex-Trots and Big House nostalgists, historical revisionists and imperial apologists. More often than not I find their ramblings more amusing than infuriating. However every now and again I come across some claim or argument that is duplicitous enough to irk. In a recent piece for the Irish Times, the author Julie Parsons, a New Zealand-born former RTÉ producer, discusses the background to her new novel, The Therapy House. Aside from my puzzlement over how someone can “emigrate” from one part of the same country to another, I was struck by this passage on the reaction of southern unionists to Irish independence in the 1920s:
Some had emigrated to Northern Ireland, England, Canada, Australia. All had stories of the way life had changed after independence. Clarendon Monsell, for example, from Mulgrave Terrace, a civil servant who had taken his family to London rather than work for the “rebels”.
…And then there was Andrew Knight, an inspector on the Dalkey tram who lived in Dún Laoghaire with his wife and four children. On July 8th, 1921 he didn’t come home after work. His body was found the next day under a hedge a couple of miles away. He had been shot through the jaw, murdered by the local IRA unit, accused of informing.
Coincidentally, I am currently reading through the copious files of the Bureau of Military History (BMH), researching the intelligence operations of the British Occupation Forces in the Dublin region from 1919 to 1923, so I recognised the name of Andrew Knight. Sure enough here is a reference to him by Constable Patrick Mannix, one of Michael Collins’ chief sources of information in the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) during the War of Independence.
I supplied information that Andrew Knight, a tram Inspector on the Dalkey line, was a very active anti-I.R.A. and that he was supplying information about I.R.A. activities to the British military. As a result of the information supplied he was taken off a tram car by the I.R.A. and taken out to Killiney Golf Links where he was shot. In his pocket were found cheques for information he had given to the British. A search was made in his residence in Clarinda Park and in his box was found a list of names of members of the I.R.A.
Knight is referred to in a separate BMH statement by Patrick J Brennan, a senior officer with the Irish Republican Army in south County Dublin:
8 July Execution of Andrew Knight, Inspector Dublin United Tramways Company, spy near Sandycove.
In a previous article Parsons also bemoaned “…Andrew Knight’s pointless murder” though she again avoided any mention of the evidence which led to his unfortunate execution in 1921, both from within the British Forces and in his own possession.
While loyalty to one’s kith and kin or to a larger community is no bad thing it should not be at the expense of clearly established history. Muddying the waters of historical understanding has been one of the primary intentions of a wider “revisionist tendency” in Ireland for the past several decades. In the age of Trump and Brexit, in the era of alternative facts and post-truth, it is all the more indefensible.