Gravely Mistaken History

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  Home About Campaigns Blog Powerbase Donate Rate this item (0 votes)Archaeologists excavate a suspected burial site in Co Laois Image via TV3  Thursday, 04 April 2013 00:00 By Niall Meehan font size Print Email NNiiaallll MMeeeehhaann rreevviieewwss ''IInn tthhee NNaammee ooff tthhee RReeppuubblliicc'',, aa ttwwoo--ppaarrttddooccuummeennttaarryy sseerriieess,, ssccrreeeenneedd oonn TTVV33   ((IIrreellaanndd)) oonn 1188 aanndd 2255 MMaarrcchh22001133,, aanndd mmaaddee bbyy TTiillee FFiillmmss.. RReeaaddeerrss bbaasseedd iinn IIrreellaanndd ccaann wwaattcchh tthheepprrooggrraammmmeess oonnlliinnee.. I have encountered the cases of many people who were abducted and executed bythe IRA. Put to death for suspected collusion, often on the ! imsiest of evidence. Insome case we don’t even know the names of victims, let alone their whereabouts...In 1920 and 1921 at least 200 people were abducted, executed and their bodiessecretly disposed of by the IRA. These included over 180 civilians, as well aspolicemen and soldiers….- Eunan O’Halpin, Bank of Ireland Professor of Contemporary History, Trinity College Dublin, presenter of 'In the Name of the Republic'  With these words Eunan O’Halpin described a ‘dark shadow’ over Ireland’s ght forindependence against the British Empire. On this basis he searched for bodies‘disappeared’ by the IRA. However, no evidence was presented that the majority of this FFrraacckkiinngg ffeeaarr ffoorr NNoorrtthh YYoorrkk MMoooorrssnnaattiioonnaall ppaarrkk1. EEuurrooppeeaann FFrriieennddss ooff IIssrraaeell:: FFoouunnddeeddbbyy TToorriieess,, ffuunnddeedd bbyy bbiigg bbuussiinneessss2. BBIICCOOMM:: GGiivviinngg ppeeaaccee aa cchhaannccee??3. RReevvoollvviinngg ddoooorrss aanndd aallccoohhooll ppoolliiccyy4. LLaaww rrmm lliinnkkeedd ttoo IIssrraaeelliiiinntteelllliiggeennccee ttaarrggeettss BBDDSSccaammppaaiiggnneerrss5. TThhee BBiigg FFoouurr:: WWhhoo rreeaallllyy rruunnss tthhiissppllaaccee??6. Email   Subscribe Twitter    Could Not Retrieve any Tweets Facebook Disillusioned with the PR tactics of youremployer? If you have inside knowledgeabout wrongdoing in a PR or lobbying agency,a corporation or government of  ce, we wouldlove to hear from you.Get in touch anonymously if necessary - wewill investigate and help get your story out.Call the spinbusting hotline: +44 (0)7973 424015 or email us now. Issues Gravely mistaken history InvestigationsGet email updatesWhistleblower? Gravely mistaken history of 908/11/2014 12:12  group existed. Without resolution of this fundamental research issue, it is dif  cult tounderstand how the programme emerged from the drawing board. Television programmesare expensive and this one received # 198,000 from the Broadcasting Fund of Ireland.Possibly, it looked good on paper.The two-part series ! oated on a proposition that seemed an article of faith. The srcin of the bodies was presented in a vague and deeply unsatisfactory manner. The programmeproceeded on the basis of a central perceptual ! aw, namely that an absence of evidenceestablished reasonable suspicion that something untoward had occurred. It was as thoughdarkness was itself evidence of light. O’Halpin’s reference to family IRA connections,including to Kevin Barry the srcinal Martyr for old Ireland , was, like a lot of theprogramme, of little evidential assistance.We were informed in Part I,The graves of disappeared civilians, police and soldiers are the subject of local storiesand folklore all across Ireland. One place where locals say secret burials took place isin a quiet corner of County Lois.A JCB dug up the formerly quiet corner of this midlands Irish county. It was the highlightof Part I and featured in the programme’s pre-broadcast publicity photograph, that andsome actors miming the IRA tramping through countryside. O’Halpin introduced Corkbased archaeologists who were initially 'very excited’. To illustrate their expertise theydemonstrated a Bronze Age skeleton they prepared earlier. Large holes in the skullindicated an unpleasant end. On this basis, it seemed, how hard could it be to discover andto forensically examine more recent skeletal remains? ‘Sophisticated geophysical surveytechnology’ was wheeled over the quiet corner in a search for ‘anomalies’ beneath thesurface for the excavator to unearth.Given the programme’s reference to bodies underneath the Irish landscape, the Laoisexcavations might have been thought odds-on to produce a corpse or two. It is possiblethat the prospect whetted the appetite of TV3 commissioning editors: ‘Dead bodies?’,‘Laois?’, ‘Really?’, ‘You’re sure?’, ‘You have names?’.Professor O'Halpin did indeed have names, JJ Fitzsimons and Joseph Coonan fromTipperary. 'Could these be the men buried...?', he asked and proceeded as though theywere. The third 'victim' remained nameless and he quickly faded from the scene.A wider scenario was also established. IRA slaughter of alleged but probably innocentspies and informers was suggested. P.S. O'Hegarty's post revolution conservativere-assessment of, 'moral degenerates', 'moral loosening', 'military terrorism' and 'hysteria'in the IRA was cited approvingly and at some length. This revisionist commentary, possiblythe rst on record, was augmented with counter insurgency Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC)sermonising on the IRA terrorising local populations and on general lawlessness.Professor O'Halpin dismissed Sinn Fein Courts, portraying them as a quasi-judicial arm of IRA terror. There are alternative and more benign views of those emergent institutions of the new state.1 There are less jaundiced assessments of IRA intelligence capacity.2 TheTV audience was left in ignorance of this fact. Since alternative views were excluded, if the subject matter were current affairs it would have contravened the Broadcasting Act.This was tabloid history.The digging continued but initial excitement faded. Some footage intimated argument.Prof O'Halpin thought to dig elsewhere when a shy farmer who refused to be interviewedsuggested another spot. The archaeologists dug in their heels (so to speak) and remained in situ  . Their efforts eventually brought forth a sheep's tooth, a lime kiln and one dead(but not human) animal. Gravely mistaken history of 908/11/2014 12:12  'Naturally, we are disappointed', said Professor O'Halpin. Naturally.Good, if surprising, news followed.Before the credits rolled, Prof O'Halpin was in a position to tell us more about JJFitzsimons and Joseph Coonan. He requested formerly closed Dept of Justice les on thetwo gentlemen and complained loudly about the unavailability of similar les. His wishwas granted. It was discovered that one of the 'disappeared' was ‘a chancer who wasbrie ! y imprisoned by the IRA for posing as one of them’. The other engineered his owndisappearance after cheating his landlord. Coonan and Fitzsimons lived on, admittedlyforgotten but oblivious of the excitement followed by de ! ation they would one daygenerate.Good news, at least for the two men, but Professor O’Halpin looked vaguely disappointed.No more so than the audience, and possibly also those who commissioned theprogramme. Nevertheless, it was a valuable illustration of how evidence may sometimestrump ‘local stories and folklore’. Professor O’Halpin is correct to argue for the release of  les, not least because had they been to hand earlier his programme might have beenreconsidered at the pre-production phase.Part I ended with a photograph of the entrance to Knockraha IRA prison in Cork,christened ‘Sing Sing’ after the New York penitentiary. Commentary concluded on peopleexecuted in 1921-22 by the apparently dastardly Cork No 1 Brigade, whose area of operations included Cork City.RRoollll oonn PPaarrtt IIII.The disappointments of the rst programme were history. Publicity for Part II wasdispatched immediately to newspapers.3 Former Fianna Fáil TD [member of the Irishparliament] and Captain of Cork No 1’s E Company, Martin Corry (1890-1979), was the PartII fall guy. In the absence of actual bodies, his legendary tall stories about how many hepersonally had dispatched were presented as con rmation of the programme’s mainthesis. O’Halpin broadcast audio of the former ghter, ve years before his death,recounting in sometimes gruesome detail the piling of bodies one on top of the other inhis farm and under an adjacent bog.4 In Part II we were informed that many civilians were,falsely accused of being spies or informers. These unfortunates were abducted andexecuted by the IRA. Some were secretly buried and the remains never returned.No physical documentation of the new claims presented was attempted. Perhaps theexcavation budget had been excavated in Laois.Furthermore, no de nitive example of a person falsely accused was presented. Instead, acase of actual informing was re-enacted. Loyalist Mary Lindsay informed on the IRA’splanned January 1921 Dripsey Ambush. The British refused an offer to exchange her lifefor ve sentenced to be shot IRA volunteers captured after the ambush was surrounded.5 Ambush commander Frank Busteed executed Lindsay after the British executions. Hermissing remains are probably undiscoverable.6 What of other ‘falsely accused… unfortunates’? More circumstantial evidence. According toProfessor O’Halpin,The IRA grew increasingly paranoid about spies and informers. This led to a wave of killings of civilians, particularly in Cork.What was the evidential basis for this assertion? Gravely mistaken history of 908/11/2014 12:12  Sean Healy, a Captain in A Company Cork No 1 Brigade, was, said O’Halpin,bitter about the attitude of most people in his area towards the IRA. These heregarded not as supporters but as enemies. His words re ! ect the mentality of theCork IRA leadership.Healy was cited:Only about one house in every hundred could be regarded as pro-IRA. The area wasinfested with British spies and informers and only for taking drastic action againstthese people we would never have survived.O’Halpin continued, ‘And drastic action is what the IRA took’. Healy’s view, typical of anapparent Cork IRA ‘paranoid’ ‘mentality’, deemed nearly every civilian an enemy.The problem here is what O’Halpin omitted. Healy’s attitude was in fact atypical butapparently justi ably so. His Bureau of Military History statement stated that ‘his area’ wassituated [in] the hostile HQ (Victoria Military Barracks), King St Police Barracks, StLuke’s RIC Barracks, Lower Road Barracks and Empress Place Barracks. A largeproportion of the people in the area had connections with the British forces andpolice.Healy then gave his statistical view O’Halpin cited on the local lack of support. He furtherstated that those the British employed,were armed with loaded revolvers… for their self-protection. They frequentlytravelled in the lorries with the Kings’ troops at night, during curfew hours, when outon raiding expeditions, their duties being to point out the homes of any IRA men theyknew, when arrests were affected and, in some cases, IRA men shot in their beds.Healy stated that, ‘A/Company… covered the most hostile area in the whole county’.7 Hisbeliefs do not appear to result from unjusti ed paranoia.Furthermore, if what Healy asserts is accurate, it might partially account for a high numberof spy fatalities in the Cork No 1 area, that included the city, the programme’s main boneof paranoiac contention.It is a criticism of revisionist Irish history, such as exempli ed by this example, that itgeneralizes from exceptions, invariably portraying independence forces as irrational andderanged zealots. It is also possible that O’Halpin’s suggestion that the IRA admitted thatinnocent people were shot as spies could be based on misinterpretation of a Bureau of Military History summary conclusion. One way of assessing the point is to examine whatthose involved actually said.Tadhg Crowe, Quartermaster with the 4th Battalion, 3rd Tipperary Brigade of the I.R.A.observed that on 2 May 1921:A party of police in civilian clothes called again at Maloney’s in Gurthdrum. This timethey took out one of the workmen, John Buckley, and shot him. To make it look likethe work of the I.R.A. they put a label ‘Spies and Informers beware’ on the dead body.Buckley was a member of my company in Solohead and there was no doubt about hisintegrity.8In other words, to cause dissension Crown Forces sometimes displayed and labelled thosethey killed as shot by the IRA. Frank Gallagher’s The Four Glorious Years (a republicandescription of the era derided by O’Halpin) details the February 1921 abduction of ‘Thomas Hoggett Protestant postmaster at Navan’, whose body, with a bullet in the head,was found a month later dumped in the Boyne River. Gallagher observed,The crime was described… as a Sinn Féin outrage against the [Protestant] minority…Mr. Hogget had in fact been shot by a County Inspector of the RIC and a notorious Gravely mistaken history of 908/11/2014 12:12
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