edited by: David Fitzpatrick
Dublin, Lilliput Press, 2012, ISBN: 9781843511991; 248pp.; Price: £12.00
Griffith College Dublin
Date accessed: 10 December, 2023
Terror in Ireland, 1916–23 is the fifth Trinity College Dublin History Workshop publication. Edited by Professor David Fitzpatrick, who also contributes a chapter, this well-presented volume publishes research from 14 undergraduate and postgraduate students, doctoral researchers and established historians.
The book examines British and Irish violence (mainly the latter) from the 1916 Easter Rising through the Civil War. The terms ‘terror’ and ‘terrorist’ are loosely, often selectively, applied. According to Fitzpatrick, ‘Terrorists are those who perpetuate any form of terror; Terrorism implies a sustained and systematic attempt to generate terror’ (p. 5). This conceptualisation is not so much taut as tautological. It is difficult to envisage military or quasi-military activity that does not induce terror among combatants and an affected civilian population. Brian Hanley’s compelling first chapter exposes the problems in Fitzpatrick’s construct. Hanley notes that even under current US State Department categorisations, IRA attacks on Bloody Sunday (21 November 1920) and at Kilmichael (28 November 1920) cannot be defined as terrorist (p. 11). Nevertheless, two chapters are devoted to Bloody Sunday and one to Kilmichael.
Throughout the collection republican forces are often ‘Irish terrorists’ or simply ‘the terrorists’. Their British opponents are not similarly identified, suggesting that the words have a pejorative rather than descriptive function. Drawing upon the work of the late Peter Hart (who died in 2010 at the age of 46), whose analysis ‘called into question the morality and sincerity of the republican movement’, the editor asserts that republicans set out ‘to threaten and marginalize “deviants” within the community that the terrorists claim to represent’ (p. 6). Their suspicions were ‘based on categorical assumptions’ (p. 4). As the volume is dedicated to Hart’s memory, Fitzpatrick is intent on defending his reputation from ‘outraged readers’ for whom ‘the integrity of the revolutionaries from 1916–21 was an article of faith’ (pp. 4, 6). The ‘article of faith’ formulation is carefully chosen.
Hart’s first publication appeared in the 1990 History Workshop publication, Revolution?, also edited by Fitzpatrick. His later output dominated discourse on ‘the Irish revolution’, at times provoking ‘intemperate debate’ (as the book’s rear cover puts it). Fitzpatrick declares his intention ‘to restore balance and decorum’ (p. 5). ‘Equilibrium’ might be more appropriate than ‘balance’, since there is little open engagement with Hart’s research or with his critics. One of Hart’s prominent contemporaries (and fellow Workshop alumnus), Joost Augusteijn, several years ago called attention to ‘the serious questions over Hart’s use of source material’. He was neither invited to the seminar that produced the book, nor asked to contribute a chapter. This approach may result from ‘groupthink’, where, to paraphrase Fitzpatrick, critics are seen as deviants within the academic community some historians claim to represent.(1)
Dr. Eve Morrison offers a forthright defence of Hart’s reconstruction of the Kilmichael Ambush, but her willingness to provide readers with full references to the ongoing debate distinguishes her work from contributions by Fitzpatrick, Hanley, and Fearghal McGarry. Their essays are littered with cryptic asides about ‘ideological conflict’, ‘furious debate’, and ‘often ugly and personally offensive’ ‘counter “revisionist” polemic’ from ‘those who felt duty bound to defend the honour of the IRA,’ but they have difficulty identifying sources for these claims (pp. 5, 12, 53).(2) Criticism of Hart’s detractors is not always consistent: McGarry complains here that critics possess ‘no scholarly interest in who did what’ (p. 53), but previously charged them with maintaining an ‘inordinate focus on who did what’ (McGarry, Irish News, 28 Aug 2010). Brian Hanley bypasses substantive ‘criticism concern[ing] Hart’s sources’, knocking down instead an observation by West Cork traditional musician Peadar Ó Ríada that Kilmichael Ambush commander Tom Barry ‘wasn’t capable of lying’ (pp. 15, 23, n.15). Where critical interplay is elided academic faculties atrophy.
Initially, Hart’s The IRA and its Enemies, Violence and Community in Cork, 1916-23 (1998, based on his 1993 PhD thesis) received both critical and popular acclaim.(3) He characterised revolutionary violence as sectarian, unambiguously so in a chapter entitled ‘Taking it out on the Protestants’, which examined the killing of thirteen West Cork Protestant civilians in late April 1922. That controversial chapter provoked spirited debate, as did Hart’s treatment of the 28 November 1920 Kilmichael Ambush, arguably the single biggest British defeat of the War of Independence.
Hart’s critics accused him of distorting evidence but also, more seriously, of inventing two anonymous interviewees in his Kilmichael chapter. This criticism seems to be regarded by Hart’s defenders as particularly unfair. They will likely welcome the publisher’s assertion that Eve Morrison’s chapter ‘vindicates’ Hart’s treatment of the ambush.(4) For that reason Morrison’s findings merit consideration, as does the legacy of Hart’s work infusing other contributions.
One week before the Kilmichael Ambush a significant series of events occurred in Dublin. Consistent with the volume’s fixation with republican (rather than Crown force) ‘terror’, Jane Leonard’s chapter on Bloody Sunday offers a shot-by-shot account of coordinated IRA attacks on the morning of 21 November 1920 (pp. 102–40), in which ten British staff and intelligence officers were killed. Leonard gives us pen-portraits of the victims, calling into question republican claims of success by suggesting not all of those targeted worked in intelligence. Curiously, she ignores an internal assessment that the intelligence system was ‘temporarily paralysed’ due to ‘several of its most efficient members’ being killed.(5) Crown forces retaliated for these assassinations that afternoon by firing into a Gaelic football match in Croke Park, killing ten spectators and one footballer. Later the same evening, in Dublin Castle, three IRA suspects were tortured and then unofficially executed, ‘while trying to escape’. Their demise receives attention from Eunan O’Halpin, who draws on his forthcoming study of fatalities in the war.(6) O’Halpin discusses brutality and criminality attributed to the Crown forces, a trend that escalated after ‘Black & Tans’ and Auxiliaries were introduced in 1920. These forces feature in chapters on Kilmichael and on the Balbriggan reprisal attack.
The Auxiliary Cadets were an elite counter-insurgency force of former British military officers, deployed to Ireland in the autumn of 1920. Their first commander, Brigadier General F. P. Crozier, resigned in February 1921 and later described the Auxiliaries as, ‘soldiers in disguise under no army and no R. I. C. code’.(7) According to J. B. E. Hittle (2011), their activities as ‘a sort of English Freikorps’ consisted of ‘clearing out towns, and burning and looting of houses, farms, factories, and dairies, while shooting or arresting unnamed citizens and sending them to internment camps’.(8)
It was economic as well as ordinary warfare, as evidenced in Ross O’Mahony’s chapter on ‘The Sack of Balbriggan’ (pp. 58–74), which details the September 1920 police reprisal conducted against the small town north of Dublin. Shops, pubs, houses and a factory were destroyed, putting over 400 out work. The element of collective punishment is noted in David Fitzpatrick’s analysis of Balbriggan compensation claims (p. 87). He also remarks, at odds with the thrust of editorial commentary, ‘many former unionists’, persuaded ‘that Irish terrorists were less arbitrary and malign than the forces of the Crown … conferred moral legitimacy on the emerging republic’ (p. 92).
Ulster Unionists in the emerging state of Northern Ireland generated terror on a large scale, but the volume conspicuously avoids examination of ‘so-called pogroms and counter terror that tore Belfast apart between 1920-22’ (Fitzpatrick, p. 7). The closest we come is in Brian Hanley’s chapter, where he rightly criticises historians’ failure to analyse pro-state loyalist violence in its relationship to the British state in 1920–2 and after 1968 (pp. 18-19, 20-22). The omission is surprising when we consider that in 2002 Hart called the Ulster Special Constabulary ‘ethnic cleansers’ of Roman Catholics. During the same period Hart retracted previous claims of IRA ethnic cleansing in Cork, though this development is not acknowledged by Fitzpatrick. He asserts that ‘Hart’s hypothes[i]s of “ethnic cleansing”’ in Cork was formulated in 1996 and reissued in 2003 (pp. 4, 5). Reissued yes, but in 2003 Hart also insisted, without reference to his 1996 position, that ‘what happened in Southern Ireland did not constitute ethnic cleansing’. In a 2006 Irish Times letter directed at this reviewer, Hart denied ever espousing his former view. This is the second time Professor Fitzpatrick has made his assertion and the second time I have corrected it.(9)
During 27–9 April 1922 in West Cork, ‘armed bands shot down a dozen Protestants, several of them well known loyalists’.(10) This was the only incident that might plausibly offer a basis for suggesting parallels between events in Cork and Belfast. If an exception can illustrate a rule, this was it (though a sectarian motive has been queried (11)). A representative Protestant Convention asserted two weeks later that, apart from the West Cork events, Protestants had not been singled out for persecution. The influential British Empire journal, Round Table, remarked after the incident that southern Ireland ‘boasts with justice that it has been remarkably free from the purely sectarian hatreds that have come to characterise Belfast’.(12) RIC (later RUC) police inspector John Regan astutely observed that the further one travelled from Belfast ‘the less sectarianism there is generally’.(13)The further south Hart pressed his case for a sectarian interpretation of the war, the weaker his treatment of evidence became, and nowhere more so than in his consideration of the April 1922 killings.
Undergraduate student Thomas Earls Fitzgerald engages to some extent with Hart’s work in an interesting chapter on IRA ‘Execution[s] of “Spies and Informers”’ in West Cork (pp. 181–93). His research suggests that such killings during the War of Independence were based on IRA evidence of collaboration. Earls Fitzgerald briefly addresses a British Army report asserting that loyalist Protestants in the Bandon area engaged in systematic informing (pp. 183–4), but ignores Hart’s often discussed misuse of the same document. Hart quoted a section stating that in general Irish Protestants rarely passed information to the Crown forces, but omitted a succeeding passage mentioning direct assistance from West Cork Protestants. On this basis Hart could claim that the April 1922 West Cork killings were sectarian. Hart never satisfactorily addressed his distortion of the record.(14) This is the closest the volume comes to examining Hart’s assertion of republican sectarianism.
Hart also never properly addressed anomalies in his Kilmichael research, which should be revisited in the context of Eve Morrison’s chapter ‘Kilmichael Revisited: Tom Barry and the “False Surrender”’ (pp. 158–80). Morrison’s chapter, which she believes overturns criticism of Hart, includes important new evidence that provides a breakthrough in the debate surrounding Hart’s treatment of the ambush. The material is significant, as it goes to the heart of determining the reliability of Hart’s research. But as always, the devil is in the detail.
At Kilmichael 16 of 18 British Auxiliaries present were killed by an IRA flying column commanded by Tom Barry. One Auxiliary who was wounded, escaped but was later captured and shot dead by the IRA, while another was left for dead but miraculously survived. Three of 37 IRA attackers were killed. British officials alleged at the time that the IRA massacred defenceless soldiers and deliberately mutilated the corpses. In his 1949 memoir, Guerrilla Days in Ireland, IRA commander Tom Barry insisted that the Auxiliaries engaged in a false surrender ruse that caused the death of two IRA fighters. To Barry this justified his force continuing the fight until all remaining Auxiliaries were believed dead.(15)
In The IRA and Its Enemies, Hart dismissed the allegations of mutilation but asserted that otherwise ‘British information seems to have been remarkably accurate’. Kilmichael was ‘a brilliant ambush but it turned into a massacre’. Hart, who described Barry as a ‘political serial killer’, insisted that his account ‘was riddled with lies and evasions. There was no false surrender as [Barry] described it. The surviving Auxiliaries were simply exterminated’.(16) Hart’s hypothesis of ‘republican duplicity’ (Fitzpatrick, p. 5) is based on the assertion that Barry invented a false surrender narrative, a finding that Morrison endorses.
Though Hart’s rejection of the false surrender contradicted a strong oral tradition in West Cork, some of his important sources were unverifiable. Hart explained that during his research he personally interviewed ‘thirteen Cork IRA veterans’, some of whom requested anonymity. For unknown reasons Hart decided to anonymise them all, identifying veterans sequentially as AA, AB, AC, etc.(17) Two Kilmichael Ambush veterans were reportedly interviewed: AA in 1988; and AF in 1989.(18)
These attributions created two problems. From 1 January 1987 to 13 November 1989 just one known Kilmichael veteran remained alive. His name was Edward ‘Ned’ Young. In Hart’s 1993 PhD thesis, AA was identified as EY, Young’s actual initials. However, in 2008 Young’s son John testified in a sworn affidavit that Ned Young suffered a stroke late in 1986, could no longer communicate effectively, was in John Young’s care, and was incapable of being interviewed by Peter Hart.(19)
Hart claimed to have interviewed his second Kilmichael veteran (AF), an IRA scout rather than rifleman, on 19 November 1989, six days after Young (the last known veteran) died. In an interview for a television documentary, Scéal Tom Barry (2011), Hart said, in relation to the ‘scout’:
I suppose it’s possible that this was some sort of hoax and he was a fantasist, but that seems extremely unlikely.(20)
Kilmichael veterans Jack Hennessey and Ned Young contributed Bureau of Military History (BMH) Witness Statements on the Ambush. The statements were sealed until 2003, though many veterans retained personal copies. Later chapters of Hart’s The IRA and Its Enemies cite Hennessy and Young’s statements, though not on the Kilmichael ambush. The veteran Hart called AF had first been labelled HJ in his PhD thesis. HJ was not a scout in Hart’s thesis. Inexplicably his status changed to a scout in Hart’s book. Jack Hennessey’s initials backwards are HJ. Hennessy was a rifleman, not a scout. He died in 1970.(21)
The false-surrender narrative was the central focus of Hart’s Kilmichael chapter. However, Hart’s two interviewees do not appear to have been asked an obvious question, ‘Was there a false surrender?’ A direct answer never appears in Hart’s narrative. An explanation for this omission and the dating anomalies could be that Hart paraphrased information from Jack Hennessy and (in particular) Edward ‘Ned’ Young’s witness statements and also (as we shall see) misattributed testimony from another source.(22)
Eve Morrison does not address interview-dating anomalies, but instead concentrates on another critical source of anonymous testimony. Hart claimed access to taped interviews with three more unnamed Kilmichael veterans. These were conducted by Father John Chisholm, while helping War of Independence veteran Liam Deasy research his 1973 memoir, Toward Ireland Free.(23)
Therefore, Hart’s PhD thesis reported ‘five detailed interviews’ with Kilmichael veterans - his two and Father Chisholm’s three, all anonymous. Hart’s 1998 book then added two further veteran sources, making a total of seven. The sixth was ‘a detailed statement written by one of the ambush party’ held by the Ballineen Enniskeane Area Heritage Group. While Hart stated he reviewed this material, he did not cite it. I suggest it is (again) either Jack Hennessy or Ned Young’s Witness Statement. Hart’s final, seventh, veteran source account was an elusive ‘taped interview’, also ‘held by the Ballineen/Enniskeane Area Heritage Group’. The group deny ever possessing such a tape.(24)
Meda Ryan queried Hart’s disputed interviews in Tom Barry, IRA Freedom Fighter.(25) Hart prepared a draft ‘riposte’ in 2004 that remained unfinished at the time of his death. Morrison was granted access to the draft and reported that Hart listed seven individual Kilmichael veterans as his sources: Paddy O’Brien, Jim ‘Spud’ Murphy, Jack Hennessy, Ned Young, Michael O’Driscoll, Jack O’Sullivan, and (finally), ‘Unidentified Scout’.
Significantly, five of the six named were dead before Hart began his research, while the alive Ned Young was unavailable. The first five submitted BMH statements released in 2003. The sixth veteran, Jack O’Sullivan, is a Chisholm interviewee. The seventh is the still unidentified ‘scout’. How was it Hart could not name him? Morrison’s new evidence indicates that Hart interviewed zero, not two, Kilmichael veterans and cited two, not three, Chisholm interviewees. The veteran testimony Hart relied upon in 1998 appears to have been: Jack O’ Sullivan – Chisholm interview; Ned Young – Chisholm interview and BMH Witness Statement (plus claimed Hart interview with AA); Jack Hennessy – BMH Witness Statement, (plus claimed Hart interview with AF).
As Morrison does not explore the full import of her new evidence this conclusion requires explanation.
In 2010 TV producer Jerry O'Callaghan was given access to the Chisholm tapes. He was permitted to make verbatim transcripts of the recordings, but not broadcast them. As pointed out in the television documentary Scéal Tom Barry, O’Callaghan found that only one of the eight tapes contained Kilmichael testimony. This came from a single IRA veteran, Jack O’Sullivan, not the three veterans Hart claimed.(26) This was puzzling.
Father Chisholm partly explained the mystery during a presentation by Morrison at a TCD Contemporary History Seminar.(27) He reported there was an additional ninth (and apparently final) tape he had mislaid and only recently remembered. Chisholm made all nine tapes available to Eve Morrison ‘in response’, as she explained, to ‘unwarranted attacks on Hart’ (p. 160). The ninth tape contained one more Kilmichael veteran interview. Therefore, two (not three) interviewees discuss Kilmichael on the ’Chisholm tapes’. But the ninth tape interview is with Ned Young, the only Kilmichael veteran reportedly alive (but unavailable) in 1988–9.(28)
These are new anomalies. Surprisingly, Fr Chisholm informed Ned Young’s son, John, in 2008:
I greatly regret having to inform you I have no recording of an interview with your father, though I remember him with affection as a man of real character.(29)
Fr Chisholm additionally confirmed something queried by Meda Ryan in 2003. A Kilmichael ambush account in Towards Ireland Free, reportedly by ambush participant Paddy O’Brien, was not in fact written by O’Brien. Morrison reports Fr Chisholm’s ‘distress’ at being informed in 2011 that O’Brien was not the author. However, he admitted to Meda Ryan that he had a ‘free hand’ in its drafting. Morrison reports discovering an ‘earlier draft of Paddy O’Brien’s account’ in Liam Deasy’s papers (p. 160; p. 176, n. 8), though she continues to attribute to O’Brien the Toward Ireland Free rewritten account (pp. 163, 164, 166, 168).(30)
Be that as it may, Morrison reveals that Chisholm interviewed Ned Young. This is a second reason why Young may be excluded as one of Hart’s two interviewees in 1988–9. Five possibilities could explain the anomaly. Hart either,
- double counted Ned Young as being interviewed by himself and Fr Chisholm;
- misrepresented parts of Chisholm’s taped interviews as his own work;
- invented one or both of his claimed Kilmichael interviews;
- misattributed Jack Hennessy and Ned Young’s witness statements as his own interviews
- interviewed unknown Kilmichael veterans.
If he did not discover hitherto unknown veterans, Hart may have mixed up his sources to strengthen his case that Barry lied about the false surrender.(31)
Eve Morrison does not believe that Hart acted unethically, but rather, ‘muddled a few citations’ (p. 173). She reports that testimony Hart ascribed to his ‘scout’, in which Tom Barry issues an order, ‘finish him’, actually comes from a Chisholm tapes interview with Jack O’Sullivan (p. 161).(32) She should be troubled by this misattribution, since it further questions the existence of Hart’s 1988 and 1989 veteran interviews. In addition, Hart’s scout citation also includes, ‘“Barry made us”, said another’, implying the existence of yet ‘another’ unnamed interviewee. This quotation is possibly one of what Morrison refers to as two unspecified ‘un-attributable’ utterances (p. 161; Hart, Enemies, p. 35, n. 62.).
Morrison also described as ‘slightly mistranscribed’ a Ned Young quotation, in which meaning is not compromised (p. 179, n. 58). That is rather generous. 71 words in two Ned Young utterances, interrupted by Chisholm, become an 18-word sentence in which confusion is removed and narrative flows (p. 170; p. 179, n. 58. Hart, Enemies, p. 35). The remarks relate to IRA volunteers attacking the first of two Auxiliary lorries caught in the Kilmichael trap. There is a third noteworthy transcription error by Hart. An Auxiliary pleading, ‘Don’t shoot me, I’m a Catholic’ is not referenced and neither is the assertion that he was ‘shot off’. Morrison reports (p. 170) that the Auxiliary’s plea is not heard on a taped interview. It is a hearsay remark from Fr Chisholm (claiming to cite veteran Paddy O’Brien) during Chisholm’s interview with Ned Young.
These misattributions of varying seriousness enable the presentation of a seamless narrative guiding the reader toward a pre-ordained conclusion. Fitzpatrick conceded that Hart was ‘occasionally careless in citing [primary sources]’ (p. 3). Occasionally?
Let us now test Morrison’s assertion that Hart personally interviewed a Kilmichael veteran on 19 November 1989 (the ‘unidentified scout’), whom no one, not even Hart, can identify. We should also remember that Hart claimed to have personally interviewed two Kilmichael veterans, not one, in 1988–9. Since Ned Young is now excluded (he was unavailable and Chisholm interviewed him two decades previously), there is a second unidentified Kilmichael veteran sitting for interview alongside the ‘unidentified scout.’ Morrison ignores this problem. Instead it is implied that two unknown ambush participants near the end of their lives spoke anonymously in 1988-89 to a visiting PhD student before again disappearing. Positing one or (especially) two unaccounted for Kilmichael veterans faces a difficulty. There were un-contested newspaper references to the deaths of the final three Kilmichael veterans between 1983 and 1989.(33) The fates of the dwindling ‘boys of Kilmichael’ had been dutifully catalogued since the 1960s.
Detailed Kilmichael veteran lists are to hand. One is in the paperback edition of Meda Ryan’s Tom Barry IRA Freedom Fighter (2005). Ryan researched Kilmichael and the false surrender in the 1970s for her earlier shorter work, The Tom Barry Story (1982).(34) This involved establishing the identity of ambush participants in order ‘to investigate the [false surrender] fully’ (Irish Press, 29 December 1983). Ryan also cited eight named Kilmichael veterans who confirmed their perception of an Auxiliary false surrender.(35) The veterans were: Tom Barry, Dan Hourihane, Paddy O’Brien, Tim O’Connell, Pat O’Donovan, James O’Mahony, Jack O’Sullivan, Ned Young.
An initial participant list was constructed at a 1938 ambush commemoration attended by 23 veterans.(36) A solidly researched compilation was provided by the Ballineen Enniskeane Area Heritage Group (which conducts the Kilmichael Ambush commemoration) in its booklet, The Wild Heather Glen, The Kilmichael Story in Grief and in Glory (1995). This list of 46 participants agrees with Ryan’s. She identified within the 46 three scouts and two dispatch scouts, in addition to noting four after-ambush helpers.(37) Except for the unavailable Ned Young, none of the 46 veterans were alive in 1988–9.
Citing BMH witness statements, Morrison refers to ‘two previously unknown witnesses’ and implies that that there were undocumented participants (p. 162). However, her argument is not persuasive. Morrison’s first, Cornelius Kelleher (p. 162), was not an ambush witness and died in 1968. A member of the local IRA company (but not attached to Barry’s force), he never claimed to have fought at Kilmichael.(38)
Morrison’s second new witness is Timothy Keohane who died in 1972. In his BMH statement (1,295), he claimed to have participated in the ambush, though he did not appear in the three veteran lists mentioned above. His claim was not unknown in West Cork. After Keohane died, ‘following considerable debate’, local historian Flor Crowley added Keohane to a 1973 Southern Star participant list.(39) Meda Ryan reported that Keohane joined the column almost immediately after the ambush.(40) He lived in the intimate rural community of West Cork where a publicised anomaly arose about participation in the ambush. It was a matter of public interest and debate. This environment makes the appearance of one previously unknown Kilmichael veteran so unlikely, much less two.
Hart himself disposed of any suggestion that he interviewed ambush veterans omitted from the Wild Heather Glen list. In The IRA and its Enemies, Hart observed that the list included, ‘a profile of every man at the ambush containing valuable biographical details’ (my emph.). Therefore, if there were additional unknown veterans, they were not, according to Hart, interviewed by him.
This controversy began over Hart’s claim that Tom Barry invented the ‘false surrender’ story to cover up for his ‘massacre’ of Auxiliary police. However, Hart and now Morrison cite no veteran testimony denying a false surrender. Hart amalgamated what he considered incriminating testimony in two footnotes. He wrote in the first:
‘All of the men interviewed agree on this point: [Michael] McCarthy and [Jim] O’Sullivan… did not die because of a fake surrender. Two of these veterans considered Barry’s account to be an insult to the memory of these men’.(41)
If ‘all the men’ believed McCarthy and O’Sullivan did not die due to a false surrender, how then did Pat Deasy, the third IRA fatality, die? This is a strange omission. Secondly ‘all of the men’ seem to be (at the same time) ‘two …veterans’, Ned Young and Jack O’Sullivan. Morrison should be in a position to cite them on the Chisholm tapes, though she refers only to Jack O’Sullivan. He stated it was ‘wrong’ to assert that Michael McCarthy ‘got up out of his position’ during the false surrender episode. However, Tom Barry reported McCarthy died beforehand.(42)
It is necessary to reveal a partial transcript of Chisholm’s interview with Jack O’Sullivan, in which they discuss Michael McCarthy:
John Chisholm - Yes but still [Tom Barry] put [Michael] McCarthy [in charge of No 2 section].
O’Sullivan - That’d tell you. That’s what I’m coming at that McCarthy never got credit for his bravery as a soldier and then …
Chisholm - Yes.
O’Sullivan - Another thing I think is very wrong.
Chisholm - Yes.
O’Sullivan - And it wasn’t up to me because his own pals from Dunmanway should have taken care of it. It was a wrong thing to say that Michael McCarthy got up out of his position.
Chisholm - Yes.
O’Sullivan - and got shot. Now there could be two meanings to it.
Chisholm - Yes, yes, yes, well you see the way Tom Barry put it was that the Auxiliaries cried, ‘we surrender, we surrender’.
O’Sullivan - Yes.
Chisholm - … and then, only then Michael McCarthy stood up and he said that once the Auxiliaries saw him they just shot.
O’Sullivan - Yes.
Chisholm - And shot, it was a bogus surrender.
O’Sullivan - I know, I know, that covers my story, but ah then I, I always say that Michael McCarthy was even dead before …
Chisholm - was dead before the Auxiliaries surrendered.
O’Sullivan - Before they surrendered.
Chisholm - Yes.
O’Sullivan - Yes.
Chisholm - And I’d say the same of Jim Hurley … Jim O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan - Yes, Jim O’Sullivan, yes, Jim O’Sullivan hadn’t a hope.
Chisholm - No.
O’Sullivan - He was up high.
Chisholm - Yes. And I’d say the very same thing happened about …
O’Sullivan - ‘Tis very likely.
Chisholm - Pat Deasy too.
O’Sullivan - Yes.
Chisholm - The whole three of them, so you wouldn’t be satisfied with Tom Barry’s story as history but you think it good, a good dramatic account.
O’Sullivan - Well now I’ll tell ya I read it and I tell you it couldn’t remind me of anything only a Wild West story. I mean a man can get away with escapes once, twice or three times but there was too many of them in Tom Barry’s story.
Chisholm - Yes.
O’Sullivan - I mean, it wasn’t Tom Barry’s ‘twas somebody else that wrote this story. I suppose he just told them what to say.
Here, Jack O’Sullivan pointedly asserts that McCarthy was killed before the false surrender. Chisholm steps in to wrongly accuse Barry of stating otherwise. Chisholm then uses this false premise to impress his own view that Pat Deasy and Jim O’Sullivan were also killed beforehand. Chisholm elicits from Jack O’Sullivan, ‘Tis very likely’ and ‘Yes’. The latter ‘Yes’ would have more weight, had not O’Sullivan also uttered ‘Yes’ twice and ‘that covers my story’, affirming Chisholm’s ‘bogus surrender’ reference. In addition, what did ‘[Jim O’Sullivan] hadn’t a hope’ and his being ‘up high’ when shot mean? Unfortunately Fr Chisholm (apparently having achieved a semblance of his purpose) did not ask.
It would appear Morrison was referring to this exchange when she wrote, ‘Jack O’Sullivan categorically denied to Chisholm that there had been a false surrender’ (p.167). The assertion is followed by note 45 (p. 178), where we find, ‘This denial is more emphatic in the untaped version of the interview with O’Sullivan: telephone interview with Chisholm, 27 July 2011’ (my emph.). So, Chisholm claimed O’Sullivan unequivocally rejected the false surrender, but not in the evidence supplied to Morrison. This argument is underwhelming.(43)
Remarkably, despite its ambiguity, this passage has been used as a primary piece of evidence to justify the denial of a false surrender at Kilmichael.
Like Father Chisholm, Peter Hart also thought Tom Barry attributed McCarthy’s death to the false surrender. Hart’s misreading is clear in adjoining pages of The IRA and its Enemies. Having first correctly cited Barry on the false surrender ‘kill[ing] two of them’, Hart then incorrectly stated that Barry claimed it ‘caused the death of three IRA men’. This careless mistake led to further errors, though Morrison does not acknowledge it.(44)
Let us also consider another Hart footnote cited by Morrison, which partially concedes a false surrender event, though it jars with the main text. The footnote wording is exactly the same as in Hart’s 1992 PhD thesis, except it changes HJ to his new name, AF, and adds text I italicise,
One witness (AF – a scout rather than a rifleman, and therefore further away from the ambush site than the other interviewees) saw several auxiliaries surrender after the three volunteers were hit, but then heard further firing, some of which he believed came from the Englishmen. Because of this he says there was a sort of false surrender, but no IRA men died as a result.(45)
Alongside the first footnote, this second one constitutes Hart’s full argument against the occurrence of a false surrender. This includes testimony about what Hart termed ‘a sort of false surrender’ from the unidentified (1998 book) ‘scout’. In the absence of other suitable candidates (46), I suggest he is Jack Hennessy, who did indeed imply a false surrender episode in his BMH statement, as will be discussed below.
What is the alternative case?
Ambush commander Tom Barry divided his 36 men into four sections to tackle two auxiliary lorries between two bends in the road at Kilmichael. In Guerilla Days Barry detailed the approach of two Crossly Tenders containing 18 Auxiliaries from ‘C Company’ in Macroom into the Kilmichael Ambush trap after 5pm on 28 November 1920. Wearing an Irish Volunteer uniform, Barry stood in the road and waved down the first lorry.(47) When it slowed, Barry blew a whistle commencing the action and hurled a Mills bomb that exploded in the driver’s cab. Some of the lorry‘s nine occupants died immediately or were killed during gruesome hand-to-hand fighting. Barry then turned his attention to the second Auxiliary lorry, some distance away, which was under attack by ten IRA volunteers in No. 2 section. This is where a false surrender episode occurred.
The Auxiliaries were lying in small groups on the road firing back at No. 2 section, at about 25 yards’ range. Some men of No. 2 were engaging them. Waiting only to reload revolvers and pick up an Auxiliary’s rifle and some clips of ammunition, the three riflemen from the Command Post, Murphy, Nyhan and O’Herlihy, were called on to attack the second party from the rear. In single file, we ran crouched up the side of the road. We had gone about fifty yards when we heard the Auxiliaries shout “We surrender”. We kept running along the grass edge of the road as they repeated the surrender cry, and actually saw some Auxiliaries throw down their rifles. Firing stopped but we continued, still unobserved, to jog towards them. Then we saw three of our comrades on No. 2 section stand up, one crouched and two upright. Suddenly the Auxiliaries were firing again with revolvers. One of our three men spun around before he fell, and Pat Deasy staggered before he, too, went down.
Barry indicated here that the false surrender caused two IRA fighters to be killed. He and his party then attacked the Auxiliaries from the rear, giving the order, ‘rapid fire and do not stop until I tell you’. Auxiliaries attempted again to surrender, but Barry believed they had forfeited their opportunity and took no prisoners.(48)
Stephen O’Neill was the first ambush veteran to write about the false surrender, in The Kerryman newspaper in 1937.(49) Though footnoted by Morrison (p. 177, n. 34), like Hart she ignores O’Neill’s succinct account:
The O/C [Tom Barry], with three of the section responsible for the destruction of the first [Auxiliary] lorry, came to our assistance, with the result that the attack was intensified. On being called on to surrender, they signified their intention of doing so, but when we ceased at the O/C’s command, fire was again opened by the Auxiliaries, with fatal results to two of our comrades who exposed themselves believing the surrender was genuine. We renewed the attack vigorously and never desisted until the enemy was annihilated.(50)
Jack Hennessy was in No. 2 Section. His BMH account contains:
Vice Comdt. McCarthy got a bullet through the head and lay dead … Our orders were to fix bayonets and charge onto the road when we heard three blasts from the O/C’s whistle. I heard the three blasts and got up from my position, shouting ‘hands-up’. At the same time one of the Auxies about five yards from me drew his revolver. He had thrown down his rifle. I pulled on him and shot him dead. I got back to cover, where I remained for a few minutes firing at living and dead Auxies on the road. The Column O/C sounded his whistle again. Nearly all the Auxies had been wiped out.
Morrison does not agree that this testimony implies the perception of a false surrender, speculating that the rifle was discarded because the Auxiliary was out of ammunition (p. 169). A soldier exposing himself and shouting ‘hands up’ to an enemy who had just ‘thrown down’ his rifle, might disagree. Hennessy’s statement goes on to relate moving on to the road after ‘nearly all the Auxies had been wiped out’. He then bayoneted:
a wounded Auxie who moved his hand toward his revolver…. Another Auxie tried to pull on John Lordan who was too near to use his bayonet and he struck the Auxie with the butt of his rifle.
Eve Morrison paraphrased Ned Young, on the ninth Chisholm tape as reporting (p. 168):
‘he had seen [John] Lordon bayonet an Auxiliary and that after the ambush members of the column had informed him that this Auxiliary had surrendered falsely’.
While Young may have confused Hennessy’s bayonet and/or Lordan’s rifle butt, this is further evidence of a perception of a false surrender that links with Hennessy and O’Neill’s narrative. It is significant testimony. Does Morrison think the participants lied to each other?
Morrison connects Young’s testimony here (p. 168–9) to the testimony cited above from Hart’s disputed ‘scout’ interview. Hart said he was told, ‘there was a sort of false surrender, but that no I.R.A. men died as a result’. Hart’s paraphrase resembles the passage cited from Jack Hennessey’s BMH Witness Statement. Regardless, a ‘sort of’ false surrender may be as good as a false surrender to a soldier fighting for his life at close-quarters in the November twilight.
Besides Tom Barry, three additional Kilmichael veterans (O’Neill, Hennessy, Young) provided accounts of what was perceived as a false surrender. Young (according to Morrison) also reported other volunteers (and presumably John Lordon) believing it occurred. A problematic IRA veteran (Timothy Keohane) said in his witness statement:
Tom Barry … called on the enemy to surrender and some of them put up their hands, but when our party were moving on the road the Auxiliaries again opened fire. Two of our men (John Lordon and Jack Hennessy, I think) were wounded by this fire.
If Keohane was present this is his memory of what happened. If, as Meda Ryan contends, he joined the column after the ambush, he could have remembered discussion with those who participated in the fight.
The various accounts are not identical which is not surprising. They are conceived from the vantage point of the observer in the midst of battle and with the benefit (or hindrance) of memory.(51) The IRA Volunteers believed the Auxiliaries’ false surrender sealed their fate.
Two important British sources described a false surrender before and independently of Tom Barry. Lloyd George’s secretary during Anglo Irish Treaty talks, Lionel Curtis, published the earliest in June 1921. He addressed:
an account of one notorious episode, which was obtained from a trustworthy source in the district ... Last autumn a party of police was ambushed at Kilmichael, near Cork. Every member of the party but one was killed, and the bodies were shamefully mutilated. It is alleged by Sinn Fein that a white flag was put up by the police, and that when the attacking party approached to accept the surrender fire was opened upon them.(52)
Former Auxiliary commander General F.P. Crozier reported in Ireland forever (1932) the version of the false surrender reported to him in Cork soon after ambush. Here, an Auxiliary ‘shot a ‘Shinner’’ with his revolver after ‘arms were supposed to have been surrendered’.(53) These are significant accounts, related or obtained soon after the actual ambush. Hart mistakenly asserted that Crozier’s ‘incredible’ account was the first published, when it was the third.(54) Hart wrote that Crozier claimed he had ‘infiltrated’ the IRA. Crozier stated no such thing. He reported being in Cork ‘in Mufti’ to find out what happened at Kilmichael and why his troops burned down Cork city centre in December 1920. Hart’s undermining of Crozier’s credibility deflects attention from the significance of Crozier’s Kilmichael account.
Unsurprisingly, Hart additionally failed to note two Republican accounts appearing well before Barry published, from Piaras Beaslai in 1926 and from Ernie O’Malley in 1936.(55) There were five published accounts of a Kilmichael false surrender Hart either ignored or was unaware of (or chose to disbelieve in the case of Crozier), before Barry published on the subject in 1941 and 1949. Did all these sources invent their narrative, as Hart believed Barry and Crozier did?
Hart’s overall conclusion was made possible by careless citation, misattribution, misunderstanding and research shortcomings. Morrison’s reduction of the problem to ‘muddled … citations’ considerably understates the scale of Hart’s misrepresentation. There is no more basis for portraying Barry as a liar then there is with regard to other ambush participants. Why pick on him? Fitzpatrick insists that Peter Hart’s PhD thesis possessed ‘the rare distinction of being accepted exactly as it stood’ (p. 3). Hart was not required to undergo a normal PhD Viva Voce examination. This is unfortunate because closer inspection, in particular of anonymous sources, might have resolved some of these issues.
Morrison construes minor criticisms by some veterans of aspects of Barry’s narrative (e. g., Paddy O’Brien on the location of a veteran during the ambush, or Jack O’Sullivan on Barry’s overemphasis on dramatic escapes) as definitive rejections of the false surrender narrative (p. 174). This weak and contestable argument on subsidiary points seems to be the strongest case available.(56) There is little basis for Morrison’s claim to have definitively settled the record of the Kilmichael Ambush. While it is possible to accept, to reject, or to modify, the false surrender narrative, one cannot assume that that differences between participant testimonies amount to bad faith by any single participant. Peter Hart offered his provocative narrative based on a dubious claim to certainty, but the authenticity of his unverifiable evidence is doubtful. Hart’s ‘hypothes[is] of republican duplicity’, as David Fitzpatrick puts it (p. 5) is, therefore, unsustainable.
Hart accused Tom Barry of committing fraud to cover up his war crimes. Pleas for restraint and decorum would carry more weight if historians based in the Irish academy themselves considered adequately the shortcomings of the academic methodology used to construct the assault on Tom Barry. As it stands, Barry’s narrative emerges from this saga in rather better shape than Peter Hart’s. Hart concluded his analysis of Kilmichael by stating it ‘belonged to [a] world of disappearances and revenge killings’. He returned to Kilmichael in the final paragraph of his April killings chapter and associated the massacre of defenceless soldiers with that of defenceless Protestants.(57) In both cases Hart’s selective use of evidence enabled him to arrive at sensational conclusions.
To eradicate residual doubt the ‘Chisholm tapes’ should be publicly available through deposit in a research library, the preferred option of Liam Deasy’s eldest daughter. Perhaps all can agree that the present unsatisfactory situation should end. In addition, Hart’s unpublished 2004 defence of his position might, if his family agrees, also be published.
In broader terms, the historiographical trend initiated by Peter Hart in 1998 and extended by some of the historians contributing to Terror in Ireland has created the basis for a history that reinforces a sectarian interpretation of the past even while laying claim to anti-sectarianism. Its epistemological antecedents can be traced to a contested project initiated by Conor Cruise O’Brien (1972) and endorsed academically by Roy Foster (1986).(58) It is sometimes called ‘revisionism’ and, though an unsatisfactory name, its essence as a hegemonic project is best enunciated by a supporter, the distinguished novelist and critic Colm Tóibín:
This revisionism is precisely what our state needed once the North blew up and we joined the E[E]C, in order to isolate Northern Ireland from us and our [sic] history, in order to improve relations with Britain, in order to make us concentrate on a European future. Foster and his fellow historians’ work became useful, not for its purity, or its truth, but its politics.(59)
Questions about Hart’s Kilmichael chapter have been in the public domain for over a decade. Hart refused to answer them in the years before his premature and unfortunate death. Though dedicated to his memory, Terror in Ireland provides limited and ultimately unsatisfactory answers to evidence of serious anomalies in Hart’s work. Book editor David Fitzpatrick has proved adept in the past at dismissing and marginalising Hart’s critics, without engaging with them. Perhaps he could clearly respond to the issues raised here.
- Joost Augusteijn, History Ireland, 17, 2, 4 (March-April, July-August 2009); email, 1 May 2012. Another TCD associated historian, Conor Kostick, who wrote that Hart ‘appeared to have invented eyewitness interviewees’, was similarly ignored - see Revolution in Ireland: Popular Militancy 1917 to 1923 (Cork, 2009), pp. 102–3.Back to (1)
- Criticism of anomalies in Hart’s research stretches from mild to severe. See, Joost Augusteijn, op cit; John Borgonovo, Spies, Informers and the ‘Anti-Sinn Fein Society, the Intelligence War in Cork City 1920–1921 (Dublin, 2006), pp. 83–97; Michael Farry, The Aftermath of Revolution: Sligo, 1921–23 (Dublin, 2000), p. 193; J. B. E. Hittle, Michael Collins and the Anglo Irish War (Dulles, VA, 2011), pp. xvi–ii , 276–7, n. 54; William H. Kautt, Ambushes and Armour: The Irish Rebellion 1919–1921 (Dublin, 2010), pp. 108–9; Conor Kostick, op cit; David Leeson, The Black and Tans: British Police and Auxiliaries in the Irish War of Independence, 1920–1 (Oxford, 2011), p. 156; Niall Meehan and Brian Murphy, Troubled History, a Tenth Anniversary Critique of Peter Hart’s The IRA and its Enemies (Aubane, 2008); Brian P. Murphy, The Origins and Organisation of British Propaganda in Ireland, 1920 (Aubane, 2006, pp. 71–5, 77–9; Brendan O’Leary, ‘A long march, Paul Bew and Ireland’s nations’, Dublin Review of Books, 5 (April 2008), see n. 72, 73 <http://www.drb.ie/apr08_issues/a_long_march.htm> [accessed 5 Jun 2012]; John Regan, ‘The Bandon Valley Massacre as a historical problem’, History, 97, 325, (January 2012). Meda Ryan, Tom Barry, IRA Freedom Fighter (henceforth, TBIFF) (Cork, 2003), pp. 64–89, 209–29, pagination from paperback edition.Back to (2)
- Peter Hart, The IRA and its Enemies, Violence and Community in Cork, 1916-23 (Oxford,1998) (henceforth, Enemies), based on Hart PhD thesis, The Irish Republican Army and its Enemies, Violence and Community in Cork, 1916-23 (PhD thesis, University College Dublin, 1992), (henceforth, thesis). Roy Foster, ‘Things change: but not violence’, Times (Lon), 21 May 1998; Paul Bew, ‘IRA and its Enemies review’, Canadian Journal of History, 34, 2 (August 1999).Back to (3)
- The Lilliput Press, press release, n.d., ‘Some highlights from Terror in Ireland, 1916–23’.Back to (4)
- In Brian Murphy, The Origins and Organisation of British Propaganda in Ireland, 1920 (Aubane, 2006), p. 54. See also, J. B. E Hittle, Michael Collins and the Anglo-Irish War (Potomac, MD, 2011), pp. 160–77.Back to (5)
- O’Halpin also refers to the ‘strongly criticized’, Year of Disappearances, Political Killings in Cork, 1921–1922 (Dublin, 2010), by Gerard Murphy, whose work was inspired by Peter Hart’s research (p. 150–1). Reviews of Murphy may be accessed alongside Eugenio Biagini’s at, <http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/1053> [accessed 31 May 2012]. Curiously, O’Halpin asserts that though that book ‘may be inaccurate in particulars’, its findings will be supported by ‘evidence shortly to reach the public domain’. Possibly this is a reference to a forthcoming Broadcasting Authority of Ireland funded TV3 (Tile Films) television documentary, The Graves of the Disappeared.Back to (6)
- F. P. Crozier, Ireland Forever (Bath, 1971, originally published 1932), p. 133; also in Ryan, TBIFF, p. 62, citing memoirs in The Kerryman, 1938.Back to (7)
- J. B. E Hittle, Michael Collins and the Anglo-Irish War (Potomac, MD, 2011), pp. 115, 116.Back to (8)
- Peter Hart, The IRA at War 1916–1923 (Oxford, 2003), p. 246; ‘Definition, defining the Irish Revolution’, in The Irish Revolution 1913-1923, ed. Joost Augusteijn (Basingstoke, 2002), p. 25. Niall Meehan, ‘Distorting Irish history two, the road from Dunmanway: Peter Hart’s treatment of the 1922 ‘April killings’ in West Cork’, Spinwatch, 24 May 2011 <http://gcd.academia.edu/NiallMeehan/Papers/618347/> [accessed 5 June 2012], a response to David Fitzpatrick, ‘History In A hurry’ <http://www.drb.ie/more_details/11-03-17/History_In_A_Hurry.aspx> [accessed 18 June, 2012]; also see, Niall Meehan, letter, History Ireland, 17, 4 (July-August 2009).Back to (9)
- R. B. McDowell, Crisis and Decline, the Fate of the Southern Unionists (Dublin, 1997) p. 127.Back to (10)
- See Niall Meehan, replies to Jeffrey Dudgeon on Peter Hart, <http://gcd.academia.edu/NiallMeehan/Papers/1369781/> [accessed 28 June 2012] and http://gcd.academia.edu/NiallMeehan/Papers/1133971/ [accessed 28 June 2012]; also, on David Fitzpatrick and Peter Hart,< http://gcd.academia.edu/NiallMeehan/Papers/618347/> [accessed 28 June 2012]. See Fitzpatrick response, ‘Dr Regan and Mr Snide’, to John Regan, ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the two histories’, History Ireland, 6, 1, 3 (January-February, May-June 2012). See also video of, ‘The War of Independence: ‘four glorious years’ or squalid sectarian conflict?’, with David Fitzpatrick, John M. Regan, Eve Morrison and John Borgonovo, National Library, 11 January 2012 <http://vimeo.com/35893747> [accessed 5 June 2012]. Also, see Ryan, Murphy, Regan, note 2.Back to (11)
- Irish Times, Irish Independent, 12 May 1922; Anon., ‘Ireland at the cross-roads’, Round Table, 12 (September 1921 to December 1922), p. 523.Back to (12)
- The Memoirs of John M. Regan, a Catholic Officer in the RIC and RUC, 1909–48, ed. Joost Augusteijn (Dublin, 2007), p.78.Back to (13)
- A problem first indicated in Brian Murphy’s review of The IRA and its Enemies, The Month (September-October 1998).Back to (14)
- Tom Barry, Guerilla Days in Ireland: A Personal Account of the Anglo-Irish War (1989, originally published 1949), pp 44–45. Barry can be seen doing so in an RTE documentary broadcast in 1998 and Peter Hart can be seen debating Barry’s account with Brian Murphy, in three parts, You Tube: <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCfrZLp17qM&feature>[accessed 17 April 2012)]; <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v= Rj89U6SA_eE&feature>[accessed 17 April 2012)]; <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PO3kXym_R4&feature>[accessed 17 April 2012)].Back to (15)
- Enemies, pp. 36, 37, 100.Back to (16)
- Enemies, p. 33, n. 56; p. 330.Back to (17)
- AA on 3 April, 25 June 1988, AF on 19 November 1989, Enemies, p. 33, n. 56; for the same note, thesis, p. 46, n. 50.Back to (18)
- Published as an appendix to Brian Murphy, Niall Meehan, Ruan O’Donnell, Troubled History, a 10th Anniversary Critique of Peter Hart’s The IRA and its Enemies (Aubane, 2008). In 1995, The Wild Heather Glen, the Kilmichael Story Grief and in Glory (Cork, 1995), p. 125, noted that Ned Young ‘spent the last eight years of life living with his son’.Back to (19)
- Scéal Tom Barry (Trans., ‘The Tom Barry Story’), Blackrock Pictures, Dir., Gerry O’Callaghan, Broadcast TG4, 19 January 2011.Back to (20)
- Enemies, p. 35, n. 61; Enemies (thesis), p. 49, n. 55. Hart cited Jack Hennessy’s BMH Witness Statement (No. 1,234, 23 August 1955) and sourced it ‘Ballineen Enniskeane Area Heritage Group’ (p. 132, n. 20), but does not cite Hennessy on the ambush. Hart also cited in similar fashion Ned Young’s then unreleased BMH witness statement as ‘Edward Young statement’ (Enemies, p. 232; thesis, p. 306). ‘Obituary, Mr Jack Hennessy’, Irish Press, 12 February 1970. When Times Higher Education invited Hart to explain these interview anomalies after publication of Troubled History, Hart denied that he had acted improperly, John Gill, ‘Troubles and strife as IRA historian draws peers’ fire’, 3 July 2008.Back to (21)
- One clear example, Young’s witness statement asserted that Auxiliaries used his father as a hostage in the vicinity of Dunmanway. This is also claimed by Hart’s interviewee, AA, Enemies, p. 80, n. 46, by EY, thesis, p. 100, n. 178.Back to (22)
- Father Chisholm refused for many years to release his taped interviews to other researchers. In 2009 Liam Deasy’s eldest daughter, Maureen, who typed her father’s manuscript, requested in writing that the tapes be deposited in the University College Cork (UCC) library archives. Father Chisholm gave them instead to Liam Deasy’s nephew, Liam Deasy junior, who in turn gave them to his nephew. Maureen Deasy Letter to Liam Deasy and Fr John Chisholm, 3 June 2009, copy in author’s possession.Back to (23)
- Enemies, p. 33, n. 56; p. 36, n. 70; p. 132, n. 20. Meda Ryan, ‘Peter Hart and Tom Barry’, History Ireland, 13, 3, (May-June 2005).Back to (24)
- In fact Ryan first put the point in Kilmichael: The False Surrender in the Irish War of Independence - Why the Ballot (of 1918) was Followed by the Bullet (in 1919), a discussion with Peter Hart, Padraig Ó Cuanacháin, D.R. O’Connor Lysaght, Brian Murphy, Meda Ryan, Jack Lane, Brendan Clifford, ed. Jack Lane, Brendan Clifford (Aubane, 1999).Back to (25)
- I am indebted to Jerry O’Callaghan for allowing me to see his transcript of Jack O’Sullivan’s interview. That transcript is identical to the portion reproduced by Morrison on p. 171 and other partial citations.Back to (26)
- Entitled ‘Kilmichael revisited, the Veterans’ Speak’, 26 October, 2011. I attended.Back to (27)
- Two additional Kilmichael veterans, Jack Aherne, and Paddy O’Brien, were also interviewed by Chisholm but do not discuss the ambush. Email from Eve Morrison, 30 November 2011. I am grateful to Eve Morrison for this information.Back to (28)
- Letter to John Young, 12 April 2008, copy in author’s possession.Back to (29)
- Meda Ryan, TBIFF, pp. 56–7. Additionally, Chisholm’s introduction to the Deasy book contained, ‘I endeavoured to preserve the style found in the manuscripts supplied to me, but I am conscious that all too often it is my own style that prevails’. Editor’s note (November 1972), Liam Deasy, Towards Ireland Free: The West Cork Brigade in the War of Independence 1917–1921 (Cork, 1973), p. vii.Back to (30)
- Given John Regan’s demonstration that Hart evaded presentation of evidence that contradicted his view on the 1922 ‘April killings’, this is not an improper suggestion, ‘The Bandon Valley Massacre as a historical problem’, History, 97, 325 (January 2012).Back to (31)
- TV producer Jerry O’Callaghan, who heard and took a written transcript from this interview, independently confirms this, email, 21 November 2011.Back to (32)
- For example, Southern Star, 3, 24 December 1983, 7 December 1985, 20 December 1986, 26 November 1988, 18 November 1989. I outline this in more detail in ‘Reply to Jeff Dudgeon on Peter Hart’, Irish Political Review, November 2011 <http://gcd.academia.edu/NiallMeehan/Papers/1133971> [accessed 5 June 2012].Back to (33)
- Ryan’s The Tom Barry Story (Cork, 1982), is an earlier shorter 200 page biography of Barry, not to be confused (though Morrison does, p. 174) with the later 470 page, TBIFF (2003, 5), which benefited from access to Tom Barry’s private papers and critiqued Hart. Ryan investigated the false surrender as part her earlier research and benefited from interviewing veterans she named. TBIFF, p. 428, n. 90.Back to (34)
- In addition Ryan spoke to Denis Lordon about his brother John’s recollections as a Kilmichael participant of the false surrender, TBIFF, p. 428, n. 90.Back to (35)
- Southern Star, 3 December 1938. Forty three participants were namedBack to (36)
- Ryan, TBIFF, pp. 69, 390–1.Back to (37)
- Southern Star, 16 March 1968. Cornelius Kelleher, WS 1,654. After observing Auxiliary lorries travelling toward Kilmichael, Kelleher stated that, ‘as night approached’ he and a companion ‘moved off towards the scene of the ambush where we could still see the flames of the burning lorries’. Kelleher never reached ‘the scene’ as he reports being waylaid by a scout who asked him to obtain a priest for the mortally wounded ambush participant Pat Deasy (brother of the author of Towards Ireland Free), then dying some miles away in Gortroe.Back to (38)
- Southern Star, 15 August 1970, 23 September 1972, 27 October 1973. Also controversially added in 1973 (also, on this occasion only) were four IRA members who arrived at the ambush scene on a horse and cart just before the Auxiliary lorries. They were ushered up a side road by Tom Barry and did not participate.Back to (39)
- Meda Ryan, TBIFF (2012 printing, on sale November 2011), pp. 59, 63, 429 (n. 108). I brought Keohane’s statement to the attention of Meda Ryan in 2008. She contends that Keohane attended a post-ambush camp at Granure, letter to reviewer, 14 May 2008.Back to (40)
- Enemies, p. 43, n. 58.Back to (41)
- The fighting between the second lot of Auxiliaries and No. 2 section continued for about five minutes by which time Battalion Vice-Commandant Michael McCarthy and at least one Auxiliary were killed.’ ‘Eyewitness’ (pseud. Tom Barry), ‘Kilmichael – Part II’, An Cosantoir, 16 May 1941, republished in Terence O’Reilly, ed., Our Struggle for Independence: Eye-witness accounts from the pages of An Cosantoir (Cork, 2009), pp. 93–108, see, esp., p. 103.Back to (42)
- Morrison’s research relies to some extent on Fr Chisholm’s memory. Besides noting ‘an untaped portion’ of Jack O’Sullivan’s interview, Morrison refers to ‘telephone discussion with Chisholm’ (p. 176, n. 8; p. 178, n. 45; p. 179, n. 75). These appear to include 40-year-old memories of unrecorded discussion of events almost 50 years earlier.Back to (43)
- Enemies, pp. 22-23. Also in The Reality of the Anglo Irish War 192-21 in West Cork (Cork, 1974), p. 16, Barry wrote that ‘the Auxiliaries were firing again … and two volunteers fell’. See also pp. 13–14, where we find, ‘two IRA men were killed’ by the false surrender.Back to (44)
- Enemies, p. 35, n. 61; thesis, p. 49 n. 55 – text in bold-italic type in book only. Thesis text contained ‘HJ’ only at this point. In the thesis (only), Hart added, ‘if anything, this underlines just how difficult it is to reconcile the various accounts and perceptions’. Quite.Back to (45)
- Apart perhaps from Hart again misattributing and also misreading Jack O’Sullivan’s testimony.Back to (46)
- Paddy O’Brien, BMH WS 812.Back to (47)
- Tom Barry, Guerilla Days in Ireland (Cork, 1989), p. 44. H. F. Ford, was left for dead, but survived, while another Auxiliary named Guthrie who escaped was later shot dead.Back to (48)
- 12 Dec 1937, reproduced in 1947 edition of Rebel Cork’s Fighting Story (Cork, 1947), and in 2009 edition, pp. 140–3.Back to (49)
- Hart, Enemies, p. 27, n. 21.Back to (50)
- As the military historian, William Kautt, observed, absence of uniformity may add to, not subtract from, credibility, Ambushes and Armour: The Irish Rebellion 1919–1921 (Cork, 2010), p. 114. He also noted, ‘the truth is that eyewitnesses are horribly unreliable… the ferocity of fighting limit’s ones view, literally, to what is immediately in front. Soldiers usually have a very poor understanding of what happened – that’s why commanders are placed to the rear, so they aren’t caught up in that and can make decisions based on the greater whole’, email to author, 30 March 2006. In the context of the ambush, in these circumstances, the person best placed to ascertain what was happening was Tom Barry. He was making his way from Section 1 toward the Section 2 position and assessing the situation.Back to (51)
- ‘Ireland’, Round Table, 43 (June 1921), p. 500.Back to (52)
- Crozier, Ireland Forever, p. 128.Back to (53)
- Enemies, p. 37, n. 71. Also, again without evidence, Hart suggested that Stephen O’Neill’s account came from the same source, p. 27, n. 21.Back to (54)
- Piaras Beaslai, Michael Collins and the Making of a New Ireland Vol. 2, London, 1926), p. 97; O’Malley, On Another Man’s Wound, (Cork, 1979), p. 217. The O’Malley text is cited in Hart’s bibliography, p. 339.Back to (55)
- Morrison cites an intriguingly detailed account apparently from the Auxiliary ambush survivor who was left for dead, Lieutenant H. F. Forde, Irish Independent, 17 January 1921. Forde reported being shot in the head after ten minutes, ‘and all at once began to feel very sick’. The account is reportedly taken from the previous day’s ‘Observer’, though it is not in 9 or 16 January London Observer editions examined electronically or on microfilm. The Irish Independent followed up on 19 January with, ‘In connection with the story of the ambush at Kilmichael alleged to have been given by the sole survivor, it is interesting to note that Co Court Judge Hynes, at Macroom Quarter Sessions, in awarding compensation to the dependents of the [Auxiliary] cadets killed on the occasion, stated that the wounded survivor was incapable of giving any evidence, so not one of the unhappy party was able to give any description of the ambush’. Forde was awarded £10,000 in contemporaneous compensation hearings.Back to (56)
- Enemies, pp. 37, 292.Back to (57)
- Conor Cruise O’Brien, States of Ireland (London, 1972); R. F. Foster, ‘We are all revisionists now’, Irish Review, 1 (1986).Back to (58)
- Colm Tóibín, ‘New ways of killing your father’, London Review of Books, 15, 22, 18 November 1993.Back to (59)
Editor’s Response to Review
As most of Niall Meehan’s review concerns a single chapter in this volume of 14 essays by the Trinity History Workshop, any detailed response should come from Dr Eve Morrison, author of ‘Kilmichael Revisited: Tom Barry and the “False Surrender”’. As editor, I shall confine myself to defending the Workshop’s attempt ‘to restore balance and decorum’ to the often acrimonious debate on terror in revolutionary Ireland. Though perhaps ‘tautological’, my inclusive definition of ‘terror’ was designed to avoid the selective limitation of the word to actions by the IRA or other paramilitary groups. Meehan is disingenuous in claiming that ‘throughout the collection republican forces are often “Irish terrorists” or simply “the terrorists”. Their British opponents are not similarly identified, suggesting that the words have a pejorative rather than descriptive function’. Brian Hanley’s chapter rightly insists that the term be applied to state forces and ‘loyalist’ groups as well as republicans, rejecting the restriction to ‘sub-state groups’ preferred by American theorists and officials. Ross O’Mahony’s chapter on ‘The sack of Balbriggan’ assesses ‘its credentials as an act of state terror’ (p. 58), and my own piece on ‘The Price of Balbriggan’ refers to this and other reprisals by the forces of the Crown as ‘atrocities’ (p. 92). Far from being ‘at odds with the thrust of editorial commentary’, my conclusion that such atrocities ‘conferred moral legitimacy on the emerging republic’ exemplifies the Workshop’s ecumenical and non-doctrinal approach to the issue of ‘terror’. As stated in my introduction (p. 9), ‘the book cannot claim to encompass the entire terrain of its title’, and admittedly pays insufficient attention to the northern ‘pogroms’ (and the southern civil war). This imbalance is not, as Meehan insinuates, an expression of editorial bias, but of the lack of available contributors with relevant expertise. Nor does the book’s dedication to the late Peter Hart imply, as Meehan asserts, that ‘Fitzpatrick is intent on defending his reputation’. Several contributors, in line with my introductory statement that ‘this book is not an apologia for revisionism or for Peter Hart’ (p. 5), express reservations about some of his findings or citations while acknowledging the importance of his contribution to this topic. My own guarded reference to his provocative reference to ‘what might be termed “ethnic cleansing”’ exemplifies the absence of the ‘groupthink’ that Meehan perceives in the Workshop’s work. Hart himself, as Meehan observes, seems to have regretted this hyperbolic application of an incendiary contemporary phrase to revolutionary Ireland. In the same spirit, Terror in Ireland, 1916–1923 may help to depoliticise and mollify public debate. Sadly, this review and others suggest that ‘balance and decorum’ have yet to be restored.
Response from Eve Morrison
I write in response to Niall Meehan’s inordinately long review of Terror in Ireland (over 9,000 words) which is devoted almost entirely to my contribution, one of 14 essays. I apologise in advance for subjecting readers to an inevitably lengthy but hopefully less convoluted rejoinder than that to which I respond.
Firstly, I would like to outline what I did, and did not say in my piece. Contrary to what Meehan asserts, I never ‘endorsed’ the ‘assertion that Barry invented the false surrender narrative’ and made no claims to have produced a ‘definitive’ account of the ambush. My article identified, as far as was possible at the time, the anonymous interviewees cited by Peter Hart in The I.R.A. and its enemies: violence and community in Cork, 1916–1923 (naming all but one) and presented evidence undermining claims that a definitive list of Kilmichael participants exists that can be used to establish when the last one died. I examined the extent to which Tom Barry’s account of the ambush was supported by accounts from other Kilmichael veterans, and confirmed this testimony with reference to available contemporary sources. I cited mistakes in Hart’s footnotes, noted mis-transcriptions, and pointed out aspects of his analysis that had been conclusively disproved by Meda Ryan, such as his assertion that Barry was responsible for omitting the false surrender from an account published in the Irish Press in 1932. My overall conclusion was that Hart, though he did not get everything right, uncovered an authentic counter-narrative of the Kilmichael Ambush that did not rely on fabricated evidence. I argued that every other first-hand account I tracked down, bar one from Stephen O’Neill, contradicted or ignored the false surrender story. I had hoped, obviously naively, that this would be enough to put an end to accusations that Hart had invented his interviewees, thus allowing the debate to shift towards what actually happened at Kilmichael. I was wrong.
Meehan has responded with an aggressive restatement of his long held contention that Hart invented some of interviewees. By contrast, historians who have dealt with the Kilmichael Ambush have made a point of distancing themselves from such accusations. William Kautt, for instance, while not uncritical of Hart, argued that ‘one should assume Hart is telling the truth’ and discounted theories that a captured ‘Rebel Commandant’s report’ used by Hart was a forgery.(1) Meehan suggests Father Chisholm asked leading questions in his interviews, criticises my methodology and attempts to uphold the primacy of Barry’s version of events as an uncontested account of the ambush. The final section of his review degenerates into a general rant against ‘revisionism’. Terror in Ireland does not contain any ringing endorsements of Roy Foster or Conor Cruise O’Brien, so I am not sure on what grounds Meehan has brought these individuals, or the arguments surrounding the April 1922 killing of Protestants in Dunmanway, into the review. Is he suggesting that merely by contributing to Terror in Ireland we are somehow guilty by association? My article on Kilmichael is only the second I have published. Meehan has no other evidence of my views or work apart from what I said at a History Ireland hedge school last January.
As it happens, the word ‘terror’ does not appear in my article either, because I agree with Brian Hanley (another contributor to the volume) that it is inappropriate terminology to apply to Kilmichael. In this we differ from Professor David Fitzpatrick, but uniformity of viewpoints, or ‘groupthink’ as Meehan describes it, is not a requirement of the Trinity History Workshop. It is Meehan, rather than myself, who seems to be promoting a ‘present-centred’ interpretation of the Kilmichael Ambush to serve a political agenda. Unfortunately, in so doing, he mishandles several of the sources on which he relies and ‘elides’ (to use the currently fashionable expression) some of the most significant evidence I presented. This occurs so frequently throughout his review that I hope interested parties will read my article for themselves, because Meehan is a very unreliable guide to what I wrote. In this response, I will limit myself to three main issues: Meehan’s insistence that Hart fabricated some of his interviews, his efforts to discount the possibility that there are newly discovered (or still unknown) Kilmichael veterans, and his egregious attempts to refute the quite considerable amount of evidence I presented that almost every Kilmichael veteran who went on record about the ambush contradicted or ignored the false surrender story.
Identity of Hart’s Interviewees
Using Hart’s unpublished notes and Chisholm interviews with Jack O’Sullivan and Ned Young I was able to identify all but two of the anonymous quotations in Hart’s text. It was also possible to establish that Hart had consulted two or more accounts by some of these individuals. However, I decided not to use all of this information until I had confirmation, which I now have. Hart had access to three different accounts by Ned Young: a Father Chisholm interview, his Bureau of Military History (BMH) witness statement, and the interviews he conducted with Young himself in April and June 1988, cited in his PhD as ‘EY’. Meehan dismisses the possibility that Hart interviewed Ned Young by citing an affidavit signed by John Young (one of Ned Young’s children) which states that Hart could not have interviewed his father. Recently, Mr. Young informed me that he did not actually live with his parents, and was just one of several individuals and family members who had access to their home. He insists that he gave strict instructions to all that no-one was to enter his parent’s house without his consent, but his evidence for maintaining that Hart did not visit is simply that no-one told him of such an event. Furthermore, Mr. Young confirmed that his father’s mental faculties were not impaired and that he could speak perfectly clearly. I asked him this twice, and he said he was willing to go on the record on this point.(2) Consequently, the Young affidavit is not evidence to discount Hart’s interview dates in his PhD and other notes, not to mention the fact that Hart cited Young’s witness statement as ‘being in the possession of Edward Young’.(3)
I have also established the authenticity of the interview Hart cited as ‘taped interview in the possession of the Ballineen/Enniskeane Heritage Group’.(4) Hart consulted their copy of Jack Hennessy’s witness statement, but the taped interview is with another veteran. I have also found more information about the ‘scout’, but not enough yet to identify him. I will expand on all this in due course, but can say no more at present, because those whom I have spoken to flatly refused to go on the record: ‘we have to live here’, they said. Although this is frustrating, in light of the petty harassment suffered by Hart and anyone who was seen to support him over the years I do not blame them. Father Chisholm was also bombarded with aggressive phone calls and letters demanding access to his interviews following publication of The I.R.A. and its Enemies. He eventually met several members of the Deasy family who decided that Liam Deasy (Liam Deasy’s nephew) should take over custodianship of the interviews.(5)
Meehan’s theory that Hart invented some of his interviewees also rests on the assumption that there is a definitive list of Kilmichael participants. Without one, there is no way of determining when the last one died. The assumption that such a list exists is what enables Meehan to dismiss the possibility that Hart interviewed a previously unknown scout who was still alive at the end of November 1989. To begin with, compiling definitive lists of participants in IRA operations was notoriously difficult, and exclusions occurred for all kinds of reasons. The most famous politically motivated example was when Richard Mulcahy was not included on the list of participants in the Battle of Ashbourne in the 1916 roll of honour presented to the National Museum on 24 May 1936, despite the fact that he had played a leading role in the action.(6) In relation to Kilmichael, I stated that the BMH ‘interviewed five well-known column members and two previously unknown witnesses’ (i.e. Bureau witnesses who had not previously been associated with the ambush by researchers). One was Timothy Keohane and the other was a dispatch carrier named Cornelius Kelleher. The obvious significance of Kelleher’s testimony – which describes his unsuccessful attempt to reach the ambush with a dispatch – is not that he might have taken part in the fight, but simply that if one previously unidentified dispatch carrier was sent to the ambush site, then it is perfectly possible that other still obscure individuals might have been there as well. Meehan also attempts to cast doubt on Keohane and ignores a footnoted reference to Michael O’Dwyer, yet another Kilmichael veteran identified by Don Wood in 2010. Meda Ryan has also rejected Keohane and O’Dwyer as Kilmichael participants, though the arguments she and Meehan make are weak.(7)
All in all, the evidence for both Keohane’s and O’Dwyer’s being there is much stronger than the evidence against it, but in this response I’ll concentrate on Keohane. Meda Ryan suggests Keohane might have been one of the many individuals whom Flor Crowley told her had falsely claimed to have been at Kilmichael in hopes of improving their chances of qualifying for a Military Service Pension (MSP). What makes this explanation unconvincing is that the Bureau was given full access to the files relating to the administration of MSPs and often worked closely with local old IRA committees when selecting interviewees precisely to avoid taking statements from individuals considered to be unreliable. In the minority of cases where investigators felt questionable evidence had been given, it was recorded in their notes. As I stated in a footnote, the notes for Keohane’s statement show that he was recommended to the Bureau as a credible witness by two former officers he served under, Liam Deasy (OC of the West Cork Brigade) and Dan Holland (Quartermaster of Bandon Battalion). Both Deasy and Holland were members of the local body working with the pension board – the Old IRA Men’s Association (Cork County) Cork 3 Brigade Committee. Keohane is also listed as a Kilmichael participant in the witness statement of his company captain, John O’Driscoll. Oddly, among the evidence Meehan cites for discounting Keohane are two newspaper articles dating from 1970 and 1973 in which Keohane is named as a participant in the ambush. The earlier article, reporting on the ceremony marking the fiftieth anniversary of the ambush, explicitly names Keohane as a Kilmichael veteran.(8) The second notes some discussion over adding Keohane (by then dead) to the official list, but no details are given.(9) This is not grounds for excluding him.
Criticisms of Barry’s account
Meehan also maintains that I presented no clear evidence that a sub-set of veterans deliberately contradicted or ignored Barry’s account. It is at this point that his review goes into ‘elision’ and distortion overdrive. Meehan completely ignores the extract I presented from correspondence in Liam Deasy’s papers which provides clear evidence that the omission of the false surrender from Paddy O’Brien’s account published in Towards Ireland free was deliberate. Deasy’s papers contain correspondence with Dan Nolan of the Anvil Press about publishing Towards Ireland free, which Nolan refused to do after his internal reviewer specifically queried the absence of any reference to the false surrender. Deasy flatly refused to change it, stating that O’Brien’s account of the Kilmichael Ambush had been ‘corroborated by two living members of the column who also fought there. Perhaps if Pat [the internal reviewer] enquired more closely into the full details of the fight he might come to appreciate that I have been more discreet than he would seem to credit me’. This evidence not only proves that the omission of the ‘false surrender’ was intentional, but it also gives an indication as to how controversial it was for Kilmichael veterans to give accounts that differed from Barry’s. This is the context in which the omission of the false surrender in Bureau statements should also be understood. The Deasy-Nolan correspondence was the ‘major piece of evidence’ I presented that Kilmichael veterans deliberately contradicted Barry’s story, not what Jack O’Sullivan told Father Chisholm in an un-taped portion of the interview – which I mentioned in a footnote.
Meehan also implies that Father Chisholm was not being frank about his role in relation to the re-drafting of Paddy O’Brien’s account in Towards Ireland free, and suggests I should not have used it. I cited the original and re-drafted O’Brien accounts for Towards Ireland free as well as O’Brien’s witness statement. Father Chisholm explicitly told me that he typed in the O’Brien account exactly as received. O’Brien sanctioned that account. He was one of the 14 signatories who publicly endorsed Towards Ireland Free in 1974 and explicitly disassociated themselves from Barry’s critique of it – The Reality of the Anglo-Irish War. Furthermore, as O’Brien’s Towards Ireland free account was the one to which Barry was responding in Reality, it would not have made methodological sense to use any other one when discussing that issue.
In addition – in a truly shocking methodological sleight of hand – Meehan misreads Barry’s account of the ambush and obscures the most important disparity between Barry’s story and the witness statements and Chisholm interviews: the point at which Michael McCarthy, Jim Sullivan and Pat Deasy were killed or fatally wounded. All the testimonies from men in No. 2 Section say that the three IRA fatalities were hit in the initial exchanges of fire with the second lorry. The men from No.1 Section say they did not even realise there were IRA fatalities until after the ambush (p. 167). This directly contradicts Barry’s story, and is a crucial difference, because Barry said that what prompted his order to kill the remaining Auxiliaries was the death of his men as a result of the false surrender. As Jack O’Sullivan’s Chisholm interview indicates, other members of the column were angry at the suggestion that the Volunteers who were killed or fatally wounded had naively stood up, particularly Michael McCarthy. So how does Meehan get around this? Twice in his review, Meehan insists that Barry never said Michael McCarthy was one of the Volunteers who stood up to take the false surrender. Meehan relies for his account, not on Barry’s memoir, but on a previous article published in An Cosantoír in 1941 under the pseudonym ‘eyewitness’.(10) That account was changed by the editors and differs in various respects from everything else Barry put on record. It includes the ‘false surrender’, but says that four individuals stood up and significantly, states that McCarthy had been shot earlier. In Guerilla Days in Ireland, published in 1949, when Barry had more control over the editing process he went straight back to the version of events he preferred with its clear implication that the three men who stood up were McCarthy, O’Sullivan and Deasy. In quoting Barry’s famous account in Guerilla days Meehan simply ‘elides’ the relevant sentences. For a fuller and more accurate quotation, see my article (pp.158–9).
Every account Barry gave thereafter is consistent with Guerilla days rather than the An Cosantoír account. In 1969, Barry told Nollaig Ó Gadhra that: ‘We were about sixty yards from the first lorry when we heard these follows shouting “We surrender! We surrender!” They knew by then that the first lorry was wiped out. I saw some of them myself throwing their rifles away. And three of our chaps stood up then, three Volunteers, and the next thing was they opened fire with revolvers and they killed two of them standing up’.(11) In 1974, Barry said that three Volunteers stood up, and adds in a footnote that McCarthy and O’Sullivan were ‘killed instantly’ and Deasy was wounded: ‘Of the three, two at least had fallen to the bogus surrender trick’.(12) Later, he told Kenneth Griffith that ‘Three of our men stood then from their positions to take the surrender, but the minute they did the others opened fire on them and killed two of them’.(13) The two men who Barry says he found dead were Michael McCarthy and Jim O’Sullivan. Pat Deasy was wounded and died several hours later. As Barry consistently states that only three men stood up, and two of them died instantly, there is no-one else he could be referring to except McCarthy and O’Sullivan.
Only by ignoring this can Meehan claim, as he does, that Hennessy’s and Keohane’s statements are consistent with Barry’s. Meehan’s misreading also allows him to accuse Father Chisholm of misrepresenting Barry and to claim that Jack O’Sullivan’s anger at the suggestion that McCarthy stood up is not a criticism of the false surrender story, when clearly it is. Meehan also seems to be suggesting that O’Sullivan’s description of Jim Sullivan as being ‘up high’ can be understood as ‘standing up’, though this is obviously a reference to the fact that Sullivan was positioned on the rocks above McCarthy, as the witness statement by Michael O’Driscoll (who was in the same section as Sullivan) confirms.(14) Ned Young said the same to Father Chisholm. Meehan also fails to address other significant differences between Barry’s and the other accounts. Barry twice insisted in The Reality of the Anglo-Irish War that only men from the Command Post were on the road during the fighting, he denied that John Lordan had been wounded, and elsewhere asserted that only two men in the column had bayonets.(15) It is also hard to understand on what grounds Meehan ignores the Bureau testimony of Jim ‘Spud’ Murphy, who was in the same section as Barry, and who Barry says witnessed the false surrender with him. Of all the witness statements this is the one that should support Barry’s account. Yet Murphy says only that they got down on their knees and fired at the Auxiliaries from the second lorry until they were dead, and Ned Young said something similar in his witness statement. Neither Murphy, nor any of the Bureau or Chisholm interviewees, suggests any duplicity on the part of the Auxiliaries. Ned Young was very clear in saying that he did not see or hear the false surrender himself, and states specifically that John Lordan was not one of the people who had told him the story afterwards.
Tellingly, the first time Barry attempted to publish an account of the false surrender in the Irish Press in 1932, the editor removed all reference to it. Barry wrote to complain:
I know you mentioned that you have to omit any details that you feel would be libellous and also that space on your paper was a consideration, however important facts should not have been omitted ... One of the most important facts of the Kilmichael ambush was the false surrender of the Auxies. Three of our lads thought it was all over and stood up. The Auxies began to shoot again after shouting ‘we surrender’ … Because so much of it was cut and altered there are other errors in the publication.(16)
These remarks by Barry beg an obvious question. Why would the false surrender be considered potentially libellous? As Meehan points out, the story had been circulating since 1921, and even some members of the British forces such as General Crozier had accepted an element of duplicity on the part of the Auxiliaries. It certainly does seem odd that the Irish Press would choose to replace an apparently uncontested account of the false surrender with one that was remarkably similar to ‘Spud’ Murphy’s and Ned Young’s witness statements, and the Towards Ireland free account:
After eight or ten minutes of terrific fighting the first lorry of the enemy was overcome and a party of three men from the then disengaged section of the I.R.A. advanced up the road to help their second section. They were firing as they advanced to the relief of their sorely pressed comrades, three of whom had already fallen. The end was at hand and in the short time the remainder of the Auxiliaries fighting the second section were dead. They like the I.R.A. had fought to a finish.
Finally, contrary to what Meehan asserts, I did not suggest that Barry necessarily invented the false surrender. I do not know whether Barry actively invented the story, or simply could not bear to acknowledge that he might have mistaken what he saw in darkness and rain. Perhaps there never was never any intention to take prisoners, and some veterans disliked the ‘false surrender’ story because it demeaned the fighting skills or bravery of Volunteers and Auxiliaries alike. Perhaps, unlike Barry, they did not feel they needed to justify anything. As I said, I do not know. My argument was simply that almost every other Volunteer who went on record about the ambush gave accounts that differed from Barry’s in crucial respects, and that deliberately excluded the false surrender. Only by distorting Barry’s story, misconstruing the other Kilmichael accounts, ignoring crucial evidence I cited and twisting my words can Meehan overlook these vital differences between Barry’s and the other interviews. So I suggest that it is Meehan, rather than I, who has methodological issues to address.
Meehan then goes on to call for Father’s Chisholm’s tapes to be made available to ‘eradicate residual doubt’, and for Hart’s unfinished piece on Kilmichael to be published. I am entirely in favour of as much historical information as possible being freely available. However, it is important to bear in mind that privileged access to privately held collections of papers and tapes is perfectly normal. Meda Ryan confirmed to me that she has never given anyone access to her interviews or notes, for instance, and is not willing to do so.(17) Yet I have never come across demands by Hart’s detractors to access any of her material in order to verify what Kilmichael veterans told her. Nor have they demanded sight of Barry’s personal papers which she used. Meehan’s seemingly wilful elision and distortion of the substantial evidence I presented, as well as his attempts to associate me with anti-republican iconoclasts despite having no evidence of my views, is a good example of the sort of tactics used by Hart’s detractors that make Father Chisholm, Liam Deasy and Hart’s family (as well as others who hold valuable sources) reluctant to release anything.
- William H. Kautt, Ambushes and Armour: the Irish Rebellion 1919–1921 (Dublin, 2010), pp. 101, 102, 109.Back to (1)
- Telephone conversation with John Young, 4 July 2012. See footnote 19 in Meehan’s review and ‘Affidavit by John Young’ in Niall Meehan and Brian P. Murphy, Troubled history: a 10th Anniversary Critique of Peter Hart's The IRA and its Enemies (Millstreet, Cork, 2008).Back to (2)
- Peter Hart, The I.R.A. and its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork, 1916–1923 (Oxford, 1998), p. 232.Back to (3)
- Ibid, p.36.Back to (4)
- Author interview (notes), Father John Chisholm, 15 Mar. 2010. I conducted four interviews with Father Chisholm, on three occasions (15 Mar. 2010, 29 Mar. 2010, 8 Apr. 2010 ) taking notes only and one recorded (25 Oct. 2010). We also exchanged numerous emails.Back to (5)
- Labhrás Joye and Brenda Malone, ‘The roll of honour of 1916’, History Ireland, 14, 2 (Mar/Apr 2006), 10–11.Back to (6)
- Meda Ryan, Tom Barry: IRA Freedom Fighter (Cork, 2012), pp.63, 429; Southern Star, 8 Jan. 2011.Back to (7)
- Southern Star, 15 Aug. 1970.Back to (8)
- Southern Star, 27 Oct. 1973.Back to (9)
- See footnote 42 of his review.Back to (10)
- Quoted in Meda Ryan, Tom Barry, p. 427.Back to (11)
- Tom Barry, The Reality of the Anglo-Irish War 1920-21 in West Cork: Refutations, Corrections, and Comments on Liam Deasy's 'Towards Ireland Free' (Dublin, 1974), p. 16.Back to (12)
- Kenneth Griffith and Timothy E. O'Grady, Curious Journey: an Oral History of Ireland's Unfinished Revolution (Dublin, 1982), p.182.Back to (13)
- BMH WS 1297 (Michael O’Driscoll), pp.4–5.Back to (14)
- Tom Barry, The Reality of the Anglo-Irish War, pp.16–17; Meda Ryan, Tom Barry, p.73.Back to (15)
- Barry to Irish Press, 28 Nov 1932, quoted in Meda Ryan, Tom Barry, pp.87, 434.Back to (16)
- Telephone conversation with Meda Ryan, 7 July 2012.Back to (17)