Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc exposes more revisionist myth, propaganda and fabrication
Back in May, this blog reprinted an excellent piece from the Irish Political Review by Manus O Riordan on the revisionist assault on Constance Markievicz (see: The assault on Markievicz: as fact-free as it is malicious). Below is another excellent piece from the IPR dealing with Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc’s exposure of a chunk of other revisionist – ie professional anti-republican – propaganda masquerading as disinterested historiography. People have a range of views about IPR and the politics of the small current which produces it. However, there can be no doubt that these folks perform a valuable service in tackling and exposing the products of the political project of the historical revisionists. The piece below is taken from this month’s IPR (August 2016).
The March issue of Irish Political Review published the remarks made by Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc on the occasion of the launch of his book, Truce: Murder Myth and the Last Days of the Irish War of Independence. Ó Ruairc then presented his book as “a challenge to myth, propaganda and fabrication”. Indeed it is. For, from the word go, the author tackles revisionist academia head on: “Eunan O’Halpin, Professor of Contemporary Irish History at Trinity College Dublin, stated in a recent television documentary that (RIC Constable Alfred) Needham had married in a church ceremony and was shot dead in front of his new bride just minutes after they had exchanged wedding vows. A common element in most of these accounts is the suggestion that the IRA Volunteers who killed Needham knew a ceasefire had been agreed with the British forces and that was a motivating factor in the attack. The stories about Needham’s wedding are part of a wider narrative about the War of Independence, which claims that the announcement of the Truce on 8 July 1921 led to a wave of unjustifiable ‘eleventh-hour’ IRA attacks before the ceasefire began. Supporters of this narrative claim that republicans launched a determined campaign to kill as many people as possible before the war ended and that these final IRA attacks were made mainly against so-called ‘soft targets’, i. e., unarmed members of the British forces and loyalist civilians… Some of these stories have a grain of truth in them. Others are entirely fictional, or are genuine killings taken out of context and with new details invented for propaganda value.”
Ó Ruairc exposes the Needham tale, which had been related with such feeling by Professor O’Halpin, for the fiction that it is: “There was no wedding ceremony, no teenage bride… Needham, a Black and Tan from London, was shot standing at the door of a stable with two other armed members of the RIC – not while leaving a registry office with his new bride. This tale about Needham being killed immediately after getting married appears to have been invented for melodramatic effect in a propaganda story. Yet different versions of this story continue to surface every few years masquerading as factual history.” (pp 9-11).
In his history of the build up to the Truce itself, Ó Ruairc also makes clear how the war violence of the preceding seven months was solely the British Government’s responsibility, for in December 1920 it had rejected what it would accept in July 1921, Michael Collins’s proposal for a comprehensive bilateral truce, with a commitment that “the entire Dáil shall be free to meet and that its peaceful activities not be interfered with”. (p 31). But, of course, the very reason for the War of Independence had been Britain’s refusal to accept the democratic validity, and its actual outlawing, of that same Dáil Éireann. “The British generals insisted they they could crush the IRA within six weeks”, while the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Sir Hammar Greenwood, assured Prime Minister Lloyd George that “the Sinn Féin cause and organisation is breaking up … there is no need of hurry in settlement”. (p 36). He would, however, have to eat his words: “At a cabinet meeting on 27 April 1921, in an apparent volte-face from his previous position, Greenwood agreed with Tom Jones’ prediction that Sinn Féin would sweep the board at the (May 1921) elections and questioned Generals Macready’s and Tudor’s claims that the British forces would regain control of the situation within three to four months”. (p 39).
This time Greenwood had read it right. The extra seven months of warfare that Britain insisted upon meant that its failure to defeat the Army of the Irish Republic – and Dáil Éireann itself – resulted in a Truce that had Britain’s Generals frothing at the mouth. The author relates: “The republicans had secured a number of concessions from the British which effectively conferred ‘belligerent status’ on the IRA as lawful ‘combatants’ in a ‘legitimate army’… The Anglo-Irish Truce agreed in July 1921 was a formal public agreement between the IRA leadership and the British military command in Ireland… Major General Jeudwine wrote to his subordinate proscribing the use of the term ‘Truce’… The RIC’s Weekly Summary newssheet published on the morning of the Truce committed a serious faux pas in British eyes by referring to the IRA as ‘the Irish Army’.” (pp 61-64).
Ó Ruairc continues: “The available evidence from contemporary British documents and from the personal accounts of both IRA and British veterans shows that rank-and-file combatants on both sides had no idea that a ceasefire was imminent before the Truce was officially announce at 8 p.m. on 8 July ( with ‘active operations’ to be ‘suspended as from noon Monday 11th July’)… News of the agreement spread even more slowly through the IRA’s communications network, which was reliant on couriers travelling with written dispatches. IRA Volunteers in Dublin city were the first to learn of it, on the evening of 8 July and morning of 9 July. Clearly many of their counterparts in provincial areas only learned of the agreement on the evening of Sunday 10 July or early on the morning of Monday 11 July.” (pp 68-69).
Ó Ruairc reproduces the most militant IRA document in response to the Truce that he could find, issued on Saturday 9 July by the divisional adjutant of the IRA’s 1st Eastern Division, and calling on all IRA brigades in Meath, Kildare, South-East Cavan, South Louth, North-East Offaly, East Westmeath and Dublin Fingal, to ” hit anywhere and everywhere” right up to Monday noon: “The principal objective should in all cases be members of the old RIC or their Barracks. ALL SPIES of whom you may have already been advised of are to be executed also before said hour on MONDAY.”
“Ah ha!”, might cry the revisionist academics, who become orgasmic at finding any old document whatsoever, whether it be authentic or forged, but who never bother their asses to further research if such a document is actually matched by facts on the ground. In this case, the document is the exception that proves the rule, but it is nonetheless authentic. However, being the meticulous researcher that he is, Ó Ruairc has researched its reality on the ground: “Despite the free hand and encouragement this order apparently gave, no civilians suspected of spying were executed by this Division between the time the order was issued and the beginning of the Truce. Furthermore, despite the explicit instructions issued, not a single member of the RIC was killed in the Division’s operational area in the same time period.” (p 71).
Under the chapter heading “The execution of suspected spies”, the author challenges revisionist mythology with reference to the War of Independence as a whole, but with particular reference to the period just before the Truce. Major Hugh Pollard, a life-long British intelligence officer who would navigate the plane that flew General Franco from the Canary Islands to Spanish Morocco on July 11, 1936, so that Franco might commence his rebellion against the Spanish Republic a week later, had been in charge of Dublin Castle’s ‘dirty tricks’ operations during Ireland’s War of Independence. Ó Ruairc writes: “Hugh Pollard … claimed that most of the civilians killed by the IRA as spies were innocents murdered because of petty jealousies and rivalry over farmland.” But he notes how revisionist historians have taken it further: “Professor David Fitzpatrick of Trinity College Dublin added a new dimension to these assertions by suggesting that, in addition to Protestants and ex-servicemen, the IRA also targeted several other isolated social groups, including itinerants, adulterers and homosexuals… Fitzpatrick’s extraordinary claim that homophobia was a factor in some IRA killings is very difficult to take seriously, as it is not supported by any examples or references.” (pp 74-75).
Ó Ruairc then moves down the ranks: “Eunan O’Halpin has claimed … ‘The decision to execute spies may have arisen partly from a desire to fire a fatal shot for Ireland while there was still time to do so. The IRA killed Peter Keyes … on 5 July … John Poynton … was also shot at 4 a.m. on the morning of the Truce.’ … According to Marie Coleman, the IRA in Offaly knew a truce was looming when they killed the Pearson brothers… However … the Pearson brothers and Keyes – registered in both cases by the British Compensation Committee as ‘Accepted British Liability’ (de facto, and not just ‘suspected’ spies – MO’R) – were killed a full week before the Truce began. The ceasefire had not even been agreed at the time of these shootings, and none of the republicans involved knew that the Truce was imminent. While Poynton’s killers undoubtedly knew about the Truce, the circumstances of his case – including Poynton’s service as a Black and Tan – suggest that he had been under suspicion of spying long before and that the timing of his killing on the eve of the Truce was largely coincidental.” (pp 76-77 and 122).
The author also takes on British academics like Professor Charles Townshend, author of The Republic: The Fight For Irish Independence. Ó Ruairc points out that not only Fitzpatrick, but others have attributed similarly bizarre and unreliable motives to IRA killings: “For example, Charles Townshend claimed that moral outrage led the IRA to kill Patrick O’Gorman because he was engaged in an extramarital sexual relationship. In fact, the Limerick IRA did not succeed in killing O’Gorman, and there is ample evidence which suggests that he was targeted because he had passed intelligence to the British forces that led to the killing of an IRA officer.” (p 324).
In his demolition of revisionist myths, the author is quite evenhanded as to whether it is the lunatic fringe or tenured academia which needs to be exposed: “In his book, The Year of Disappearances, Gerard Murphy made the fantastic claim that the IRA executed three Protestant teenagers after the Truce and secretly buried their bodies on the outskirts of Cork city. According to Murphy, the trio confessed to being spies before they were shot and this sparked an IRA campaign of sectarian murder, … ‘dozens of deaths … and the flight of hundreds of Protestant families’. However, there is no verifiable evidence that these anonymous victims ever existed, much less that the IRA killed them… Murphy claimed that IRA veteran Connie Neenan had referred to the killing of these three boys in an interview recorded by Ernie O’Malley. However, Murphy misread the document and used an inaccurate transcription of it in his book – in fact Neenan’s interview does not mention the alleged incident at all. O’Malley’s son Cormac has confirmed the accuracy of my transcription of the account, which shows that Neenan referred to two spies killed before the Truce and not three Protestant teenagers killed afterwards as Murphy alleged…”
“Murphy also claimed that another Protestant youth, Edward Olliffe, was killed by the IRA after the announcement of the Truce… Olliffe emigrated to the United States after the conflict ended … and in December 1979 was still alive in California… Eunan O’Halpin’s 2013 TV documentary In the Name of the Republic concluded with a ‘List of the known disappeared’ … supposedly ‘known with certainty’ to have been ‘disappeared’ by the IRA. Among those listed was William Shiels, a British spy from Bweeng in Co. Cork, whom O’Halpin claimed was killed by the IRA on the day the Truce began. However, the republicans never captured Shiels and he fled Ireland after the ceasefire. During the Civil War both the IRA and the Free State Army attempted, without success, to locate and assassinate him. It is clear that when Shiels ‘disappeared’ it was to some far-flung location with the assistance of the British government, and not into a shallow grave dug by the IRA.” (pp 79-81).
Ó Ruairc examines case after case and, more importantly, also details the murders carried out at the time of the Truce by the British, killings systematically ‘overlooked’ by the revisionists. No less significant is his analysis of how few were the attacks on off-duty British troops (with 12 fatalities) following the announcement of the Truce, compared to the multitude of large-scale military IRA operations against ‘hard targets’: “The IRA made at least sixty-four attacks on the British forces between the announcement of the Truce and its implementation”, whether on British patrols or British barracks. (pp 187-8). Although limited to 11 fatalities, these too have been painted by revisionists as an insatiable Republican bloodlust to the bitter end. From the West British perspective, what was sauce for the goose should not have been sauce for the gander, however meagre the Irish ration. As the author relates:
“The rush of combatants to take part in last-minute attacks following the announcement of a ceasefire was not limited to the Irish War of Independence. The announcement of the Armistice that ended the First World War resulted in similar actions by combatants eager to continue fighting until the moment the ceasefire came into effect… Despite knowing of the 11 a.m. ceasefire, US troops in the 79th Division continued to advance on their enemy’s positions as late as 10:59 a.m., while their German counterparts were making frantic efforts to signal to them that the war was about to end… Of course they would never know what casualties, if any, their ‘parting shots’ had inflicted, but those under fire certainly did. Anton Lang, a German soldier, recalled: ‘The battle raged until exactly 11 a.m. and all of a sudden a ‘big freeze’ set in… The sudden stillness was interrupted by a single heavy shell which exploded … among a platoon of infantry and killed four and wounded about a dozen… This made us sad and mad. Some joker on the other side probably wanted to fire the ‘last’ shot.’ The collection of the Imperial War a Museum in London … shows that artillery units on the Western Front kept firing at their enemy until the very last second before the Armistice began. The legacy of such ‘eleventh-hour’ fighting zeal was that 10,944 casualties were recorded on the Western Font alone on 11 November 1918. This included 2,738 fatalities, a figure far in excess of the average daily fatality rate of 2,088 troops killed.” (pp 218-9).
Lest we forget what James Connolly called “the War upon the German Nation”! But, of course, it is not that War, but Ireland’s War of Independence, that is the focus of the author’s comprehensive investigation. Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc’s Truce is indeed a major contribution to our understanding of that history.
Posted on August 4, 2016, in British state repression (general), General revolutionary history, Historiography and historical texts, Irish politics today, Political education and theory, Republicanism post-1900, Reviews - books, War for Independence period. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.
Ah yes, Professor Townshend. The guy who supervised Peter Hart’s thesis and who appeared not to notice all the highly questionable methodology and ‘evidence’ in that piece of work.
I’m always bemused how our supposedly politically disinterested, fact-driven revisionists are far less picky about the writings of their proteges and those who agree politically with them – ie fellow professional anti-republican propagandists – than they are when it comes to the work of those they politically disagree with.
Townshend, for instance, in his new book on 1916 seriously suggests that the claim by Wylie that Constance Markievicz broke down and begged for mercy at her court-martial is as valid a piece of evidence as the actual court martial records which show she did no such thing! Wylie was a Unionist and a prosecutor in the court martial. He loathed and despised Markievicz and everything she stood for. Plus his account was written over 20 years later. By contrast, the court-martial records are official records of the court martials themselves. If Markievicz had’ve done any such thing, it would have been recorded. Townsend, however, then tries to explain away the fact that no such thing appears in the official records. He claims that not everything that happened at the court martials were recorded. And then claims that the two decades later memoir of the Unionist anti-republican and anti-Markievicz Wylie is on par, as historical evidence, with the court martial records. We are supposed to believe that something as significant as a Markievicz break down and prostration would not have been recorded!
Nothing, it seems, is beyond the revisionists. The absence of evidence is taken as a sign that what they want to have happened did actually occur! This is like the witch-finders. The patent absence of witchcraft simply proves they must be witches and witchcraft was afoot!
I’m going to write something shortly about Townshend’s double standards and contortions and also a blatant distortion by Fearghal McGarry, which really should involve an open admission of (to put it kindly) error and an apology to Barton & Foy who he blatantly misrepresents on the matter of Markievicz and the court martial records.
Historical revisionism in Ireland has little to do with exhaustive scholarly work. It is essentially a political project – the rewriting of Irish history to present British rule in a more positive light and resistance to that rule in the worst light possible. Imperialism with footnotes – albeit frequently unreliable ones (including, in Hart’s case, interviews with dead people).
Here are two pieces I wrote just over 20 years ago; much new revisionist propaganda has appeared since, but I think the general line of analysis and argument in these two pieces has been vindicated:
Nationalisms and anti-nationalisms in Irish historiography: https://theirishrevolution.wordpress.com/2011/07/19/nationalisms-and-anti-nationalisms-in-irish-historiography/
Politics and the rise of Irish historical revisionism: https://theirishrevolution.wordpress.com/2011/08/01/politics-and-the-rise-of-revisionism/
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