Peter Hart’s The I.R.A. and its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork, 1916-1923
Canadian historian Peter Hart has gained notoriety both in Ireland and abroad in recent years, with a number of fellow historians and academics accusing him of being one of the chief ‘apologist historians’ for British rule in Ireland, and the Irish Revolutionary period in particular, and this book (undoubtedly his most controversial work) does little to dispel those accusations.
Despite the detailed use of data on the background of Irish Republican Army Volunteers and Irish Republican activists in general, as well as other worthwhile research presented in the pages of this book, Hart’s all too clear political and national biases unfortunately swamp everything else and leave many question marks over both his facts and figures and the conclusions he draws from them.
Anyone who is familiar with the pages of the noted `Irish History’ magazine as well several new books on the history of the Irish Revolution, will know that `The IRA and its Enemies’ has been subject to careful analysis by a long line of academics and has been found to be severely wanting.
Unfortunately inaccuracies, distortions, misinformation and an absence of crucial facts seem to abound, and thorough examinations and documentation of these in various printed publications as well as online have left this work with a bad reputation for academic neutrality. The numerous accusations that Hart falsified or invented fake testimonies in relation to IRA `atrocities’ he claimed occurred (including witness statements from people who had died before he could ever have possibly interviewed them) remain unanswered both by him and his defenders. In recent times evidence has emerged that he deliberately edited a number of documents in order to prove the argument he was trying to make, even though in some cases the full documentation in fact disproved his arguments.
For instance his claim that a number of Protestant Unionists executed in the Bandon area by the IRA as British `spies’ or `informers’ were in fact innocent men and that their killings were sectarian is based on a quoted British Army intelligence report dating to 1922 (after the close of the conflict):
`…in the South [of Ireland] the Protestants and those who supported the government rarely gave much information because, except by chance, they did not have it to give’.
However the full document (which Hart edited down) states:
`…in the South [of Ireland] the Protestants and those who supported the government rarely gave much information because, except by chance, they did not have it to give. An exception to this rule was in the Bandon area where there were many Protestant farmers who gave information… it proved almost impossible to protect those brave men, many of whom were murdered while almost all the remainder suffered grave material loss.’
Elsewhere he uses a quote to back up his contention that Protestants were viewed as alien outsiders in the Cork region and therefore were subject to `ethnic’ targeting during the conflict by Irish Republican forces. The words come from a confrontation between a Cork IRA officer, Frank Busteed (an atheist from a Protestant-Catholic family), and a Mary Lindsay, a local civilian woman from an affluent Protestant Anglo-Irish background, who spotted an IRA ambush party at Dripsey, and immediately had her chauffeur drive her to the nearest town to inform both the British Army and the Royal Irish Constabulary, the British paramilitary police force in Ireland. 8 IRA Volunteers were wounded in a follow-up British attack and 10 men in total were captured. 5 were later executed by the British military and a series of reprisals were carried out in the district to deter further ambushes. Hart quotes the IRA officer Busteed (from his own written recollections) telling Lindsay:
`Listen you bitch, you think that you are dealing with a bunch of farm labourers, the men who will touch their caps to you and say ‘yes Madam, and no madam’. Well, we’re no bunch of tame Catholics.’
However the full recollection from Busteed is this:
`Listen you bitch, you think that you are dealing with a bunch of farm labourers, the men who will touch their caps to you and say ‘yes Madam, and no madam’. Well, we’re no bunch of tame Catholics. My grandfather was a Protestant and my bloody cousins are Protestants all over West Cork. This is not a religious war we’re fighting. I don’t give a damn for any religion.’
This gives a very different sense to the whole conversation and it’s obvious to see why Hart felt the need to censor the part that undermined his own argument. Deliberate omissions like this abound throughout the text, the end result turning a history book into little more than a propaganda pamphlet. The sheer weight of evidence against Hart, and the allegations in this work in particular, have grown enormously in recent years and so far seem irrefutable.
All those who suffered and died in Ireland’s struggle for freedom and independence, from all sides and all nationalities and loyalties, deserved better.
Those seeking a more honest and reflective account along fairly similar lines are far better directed to the much praised “Spies, Informers and the ‘Anti-Sinn Fein Society’: The Intelligence War in Cork City 1919-1921” by American historian John Borgonovo.
Update: In his sources Hart quotes with some approval from the contemporary writings of C.H. Bretherton, a journalist with the UK’s Morning Post newspaper. He reported on Irish-related matters for many years, particularly during the revolutionary period, and the below piece, from the writer’s 1925 collection, “The Real Ireland“, is a typical example. In his opinion many of Britain’s troubles with the Irish could be blamed on the latter’s racially inferior characteristics being “…carried from one generation to the next by the women, and not, as among the Aryan races, by the men“:
“A handy prescription for understanding the Irish can readily be given. You have only to understand that the Hibernian proper has the slave mentality, and will act accordingly. He is a mixture of childishness and ferocity. He is basely superstitious, callous to suffering, credulous, excitable, thriftless, untruthful, dirty, pettily dishonest, destructive, cunning, imitative, tortuous, devoid of moral courage, and intensely vain. There are not many slave virtues, but such as there are – cheerfulness in adversity, frugality, a certain capacity for being led, and for becoming inspired, for the time being, with the spirit of the leader –
Your Iberian does not “civilize” any more easily for himself than for those who are trying to civilize him. On the other hand, he makes an admirable savage, picturesque, amusing, cheerful, and amiable to strangers whom he does not suspect of missionary instincts.”
There is much, much more of that.