Nial Meehan has contacted us and has pointed us to an article he wrote some time ago, thank you for submitting the article to us , his words are below:
My review (the first) of Gerard Murphy’s The Year of Disappearances:
Niall Meehan, 17th November 2010Gerard Murphy’s ‘The Year of Disappearances, Political Killings in Cork, 1921-1922’, published by Gill & Macmillan on 29 October 2010, purportedly examines the period of the so-called ‘Cork Republic’ during 1921-22. Murphy alleges that the Cork IRA killed and ‘disappeared’ sometimes-uninvolved Cork Protestants, including teenagers, in the final phase of the 1919-21 Irish War of Independence (WoI) and its aftermath. This is a controversial thesis and part of a debate whose parameters have been much publicised and discussed for over a decade.INTRODUCTIONBefore tackling the book, it is necessary to give a brief historical introduction for those unfamiliar with this period in Irish history and/or with the context within which a debate on sectarianism in Irish history is taking place.
The British government refused to accept the verdict of a large majority of Irish people who opted for independence from Britain at the 1918 General Election. Sinn Féin won 73 of 105 Irish seats and set up a breakaway Dáil (parliament) in January 1919. As a consequence of British suppression of Irish demands and institutions, an increasingly ruthless and bitter military, clandestine, intelligence, propaganda and political struggle broke out between British and Irish forces during 1919-21. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) fought British counterinsurgency forces. Support for the republican project deepened in the face of British measures that, while effectively brutal, were otherwise ineffective. Protestant and Roman Catholic civil society south of what became the border of the state of Northern Ireland either supported or was effectively neutral toward republican forces, mostly the former. British policy aimed at managing the conflict by encouraging and deepening sectarian division failed, essentially because their republican opponents, while mainly Roman Catholic in religious outlook, were politically anti-sectarian. However, small but significant counter republican forces based ideologically on Protestant loyalism and support for the British Empire may have been successfully activated. Such groups and individuals faced severe IRA sanction, including execution and deportation. As Third West Cork Flying Column leader Tom Barry put it, ‘The British were met with their own weapons – they had gone down into the mire to destroy us and our nation, and down after them we had to go.’ The question is, how far was that?A truce between the belligerents, preparatory to negotiations, came into force on 11 July 1921. An Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921 provided for partial independence for 26 of the country’s 32 counties. The Irish Free State emerged from a split over the Treaty provisions that caused a 1922-23 southern civil war. The residual Six County statelet of Northern Ireland, which remained inside the United Kingdom, effectively began life by expelling thousands of Roman Catholics and ‘rotten Protestants’ (socialists) from their jobs. It survived by institutionalising and maintaining sectarian discrimination. The permanently governing Ulster Unionist Party oversaw sectarian discrimination until the Northern Ireland parliament was effectively abolished in March 1972, a situation ‘sanctioned by the neglect of successive British governments’.The path to relative political stability by the mid 1920s was as fractious and bitter as what preceded it. It left a lasting legacy whose parameters are disputed and which acted as a significant influence on the outbreak of ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland after 1968. Disputes over what happened then, between 1919-23, are also frequently disputes over what happened after 1968. Irish history has become intertwined with, and is interpreted within, the framework of Irish politics. Within this fractious exercise British responsibility is frequently abstracted from the picture, replaced with considerations of sectarian strife peculiar to the island of Ireland. In addition, in recent years emphasis on unionist and British responsibility for sectarianism has shifted. It has been argued that Irish republicans targeted Protestants for sectarian reasons during the WoI, rather than for engaging in largely clandestine activity on behalf of British forces.GERARD MURPHY’S YEAR OF DISAPPEARANCESIn The Year of Disappearances Gerard Murphy acknowledges his debt to the late Peter Hart who pioneered the republican sectarianism argument in his highly influential The IRA and its Enemies: violence and community in Cork, 1916-1923 (OUP, 1998). Subsequent criticism established that Hart invented evidence and misreported archival material in order to establish his case. Inexplicably, with few exceptions, Irish historians failed to respond to the serious problems raised. Murphy wrote that Hart’s 1998 book ‘is worth the cover price for the sources alone’ and that ‘Hart’s sources’ were his ‘starting point’. (p. 22)  Hart’s argument had strong media supporters. Kevin Myers in the Irish Times and Eoghan Harris in the Sunday Times and Sunday Independent, vigorously promoted his research, Myers from 1990 and Harris from 1998. These efforts reflected their opposition to the Northern Ireland peace process up to and after the 1994 IRA ceasefire. Journalist propagandists like Harris and Myers promoted and amplified research with which they politically agreed, while dismissing counter arguments. The impact of their efforts should not be casually dismissed. Thousands of readers without access to a different argument were potentially conditioned to accept a tendentious view of Irish history.This is the context within which Gerard Murphy’s book has been written and within which, inevitably, it will be interpreted. However, all interpretation, irrespective of origin, should bow before evidence. Without identifiable evidence within historical texts, discussion and debate becomes merely contested rhetoric. It is here, as I shall demonstrate, that Murphy’s book fails. Murphy acknowledges that his 498 pages and 58 chapters contain ‘at best a theory or, rather a series of interrelated theories’ (p. XI). Numerous problems arise, however, from ill-considered suppositions and speculations. The absence of an adequate scholarly apparatus gives rise to doubts over the work’s merits. It also creates severe difficulties in establishing how Murphy reached his conclusions. Unfortunately, though referenced in notes, the book contains no list of primary sources. A thin bibliography of published work is provided. However, un-paginated citation of published material is of no help. On occasion also Murphy cites unnamed individuals he encountered on his quest, for example: ‘This book was almost finished when I chanced upon an elderly Cork city man’ (p. 301); ‘A number of years ago a friend of mine was driving along one Sunday morning listening to the car radio…’ (p. 245) The impression of a carelessly prepared work rushed into print (for the Christmas market?) is evident. Take page 86 for instance. There, in the second of two mentions, it is reported that there was ‘no branch of the UDA in Cork’. Presumably, instead of this unexplained acronym, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF, founded in 1912) was intended, rather than the Ulster Defence Association (UDA, which emerged in the latter part of 1971). Since ‘The Year of Disappearances’ is advertised as a referenced work of history it therefore lacks prima facie credibility. In most reputable universities such work would not be admissible as research. MEDIA AMPLIFICATIONMurphy suggests that sectarian strife was a product of Irish Republican Army (IRA) activities in the city of Cork and its environs in the province of Munster, the hotbed of military opposition to British rule during the WoI. It was a period in which the IRA and then anti-Anglo Irish Treaty IRA gained control, a control that began after the Truce and continued to July 1922. This is the period of the so-called ‘Cork Republic’. Murphy accused the local IRA, in particular its south side No. 2 Cork city battalion, of killing and disappearing Protestants, including teenagers. As with Hart’s research, Murphy’s book attracted significant media attention on publication, from Eoghan Harris, Kevin Myers and (also on this occasion) from John Paul McCarthy. With media publicity came also examples of a media amplification effect. Harris suggested that Murphy’s figure of 78 (sometimes unknown and unnamed) Protestants he alleges were killed during 1920-22 is ‘not far from the German-Jewish figure of 91’ murdered ‘during the Nazi pogrom of Kristallnacht, November 28, 1938’. Not far in total but quite so, time wise. Far, also, from the estimated six million Jews annihilated during World War Two. If Harris opted in his inappropriate comparison for a ‘European perspective’, Myers chose an all-island one. He observed, ‘Most Belfast nationalists know of the terrible things that befell Catholics’ there. He continued, ‘What happened in Cork was actually worse’. To put this comment in perspective, between July 1920 and June 1922, it is estimated that 276 Catholics and 185 Protestants (all named), plus three whose religious identity was indeterminate, were killed in sectarian disturbances in Belfast. An observation by McCarthy (a young Cork originating historian, who echoes the thoughts of Sunday Independent columnist Eoghan Harris) illustrates our first example of a limitation in Murphy’s approach. Murphy refers on page 194 to ‘the first time I had heard mention’ of Jim and Miah Grey, described as, ‘two of the most prominent IRA gunmen on the North side of Cork city’. He reports the Grey brothers as so intent on killing Protestants they were opposed internally. For example, noted Murphy, in ‘the winter of 1921/22’, an IRA company in Glenville, County Cork, put,‘a round the clock armed guard on the local demesne, that of Sir Edward Hudson Kinehan… At the time the armed guard was said to be a protection against ‘the Grays’’.McCarthy praised the book in the Sunday Independent on 7 November 2010. He described the brothers as, ‘two notoriously cruel IRA men from the city’s trigger-happy south side [sic] battalion whose ample defects were still discussed at the drag-hunt meetings in Dripsey that gobbled up my childhood Sundays’: McCarthy continued, ‘Murphy recounts the dramatic scene during the winter of 1921 when the local IRA company in Glenville posted an armed guard around the local demesne so as to protect the well regarded Protestant Kinehan family against a nocturnal visit from the Grays intent on a rerun of the earlier sectarian massacre at Coolacreese [sic], Co Offaly.’Aside from McCarthy placing the brothers on the south-side, while Murphy described them as in a north side IRA battalion, there are significant problems with Murphy’s narrative, and with McCarthy’s amplification: First, Murphy’s evidential basis ‘for this story’ consists of two ‘neighbours in Glenville’, whom he names. This local lore may be a useful source. However, oral history should be triangulated with other evidence (where available). This is desirable to avoid history resting on hearsay;Second, though it is a ‘story’ which alleges the Greys were contemplating a killing, no evidence is provided that they attempted to carry it out or that they were planning it. What we have is an uncorroborated non-event;Third, McCarthy’s sly reference to a ‘sectarian massacre at Coolacreese [sic], Co Offaly’ is noteworthy. In Coolacrease in June 1921 the IRA executed two brothers called Pearson for informing and for firing on and severely wounding an IRA road blocking party. McCarthy tendentiously describes it as a sectarian killing, in which he also insinuates the Greys may have participated, when there is far more reasonable evidence to show that the Pearson brothers were killed because they were militarily engaged informers. Nothing suggests Grey brother involvement.Instead of relying solely on sketchy local lore, Murphy should also have inspected archival material. There, the origin of the oral memory, subsequently exaggerated, may be found. Indeed, UCC historian John Borgonovo has already published on it in an article for The Irish Sword. The Greys ran the IRA’s transport section. They believed, for whatever reason, that in April 1921 Kinehan had somehow obtained car parts reserved by the Greys for the IRA. Consequently, wrote Borgonovo,‘Six armed Volunteers raided the home of Sir Edward Kinehan. They dismantled his car, took away numerous parts, then destroyed the engine with pick-axes. On the car door, they chalked the message, ‘Don’t take our parts. By Order, Transport Commandant, 1st Brigade IRA’.So, in this case there was no assassination attempt. The car was executed, not a Protestant knight of the realm. An archival source (in this case an RIC report), while also requiring interrogation, has the value of pinpointing and preserving the time and place of this event. It also clarifies a lingering memory that appears, as reported, to have lost its shape over time. Murphy did not take this elemental step, a failing that permits scope for speculation along possibly pre-conceived lines. Leaving McCarthy aside, let us now pursue Murphy’s methodology and see where it leads.‘A FELLA BURIED IN THIS BOG AND… IN THAT BOG’Murphy’s case rests on being able to show that more people were killed during the conflict than has been recorded. He suggests that this occurred particularly during the closing period of the Anglo-Irish conflict, the period of the Truce after July 1921 and in the six-month interregnum between Treaty split and onset of civil war in June 1922. Who died? In Murphy’s ‘Appendix II’, the following 12 unnamed and unknown Protestants are listed in ‘Post-Truce/Civil War Killings of civilians in Cork City and Environs’:Three Protestant Boys – 11-15 July 1921Six ‘Prominent Citizens’ – 17 March 1922Three merchants – June 1922Murphy then lists in Appendix III and IV, missing persons from 1922-26 and missing persons inquiries, 1923-28, produced by the Irish Free State. There is no correlation between Murphy’s speculations in Appendix II and the official lists. There are no links whatever to the IRA in many cases. Here we have Murphy bothering to produce archival data but the problem is that it does not confirm his speculations.On pages 39-40 Murphy wrote of the origin of his suspicion that the IRA engaged in systematic secretive assassinations, based on unreasonable paranoia. He noted,‘This was not the history we had learned in school, though it did correlate with what I had learned from neighbours as a child when I’d be told: ‘Well, there was a fella buried in this bog, and there was a fella buried in that bog, and there as another fella tied to a gate and shot in Glashaboy’.’ The 40-odd civilians shot as ‘spies’ by the Cork IRA during the War of independence is likely to be an underestimation, because tramps and those in the margins of society disappeared leaving no record’. This is followed by note 6 (p. 354) that cites Peter Hart’s The IRA and its Enemies, but no page number. The reader cannot trace these reportedly executed tramps to the information source. Had the reader done so he or she would in any case have been misled. Hart has been criticised for failing to document any evidence of his dead tramps, though he speculated freely on the IRA targeting them and ‘social deviants’, in his final chapter. While such comments may make media sound bites they are not history. In this case it is also an example of one largely contentless reference (Murphy’s) building upon another (Hart’s). So here, where Murphy provides a gestural reference, he did not check to see whether Hart had sourced his materials, and is apparently unaware that Hart’s scholarship has been questioned. No effort is made to estimate the number of tramps and ‘those in the margins of society’ in order to come up with an estimate of the numbers of non-recorded killings in the conflict. What we have here is merely speculation. It is essentially a faith-based history that is a logical outcome of Peter Hart’s sometimes-questionable methodology.The nub of Gerard Murphy’s argument requires him to establish who organised the disappearing and shooting of uninvolved Protestants. He stipulates that three leading Cork IRA members were responsible. They are: IRA head of intelligence, Florence O’Donoghue;Josephine O’Donoghue (wife of Florence as of April 1921), an IRA spy who worked for General Strickland, the British Army Commander in Cork;Cork No. 1 Brigade leader, Sean O’Hegarty. Murphy does not establish what O’Hegarty, ‘a fierce ascetic and atheist’ (p. 15), has against Protestants, and his case against the O’Donoghues is entirely speculative. The O’Donoghues are regarded by Murphy as primarily responsible.DROWNED IN PARANOIAIn his review of the book, Eoghan Harris accurately and supportively summarised Murphy’s portrayal of a ‘depraved’ Florence O’Donoghue and his ‘sinister’ wife Josephine. (Examiner, 5 November) They are accused by Murphy of executing Protestant teenagers and Josephine’s Protestant neighbours in a series of ‘what if’ scenarios that encapsulate the book’s ‘methodology’. Murphy argued that Josephine was ‘paranoid’ (p. 316). How so? A son from her first marriage to a British soldier, who was killed in the First World War, was retained by her late husband’s anti-Catholic family in Britain. In return for Josephine’s offer to the IRA to spy on General Strickland her son was sensationally either kidnapped or liberated (or both, depending on point of view) in November 1920 by Florence O’Donoghue and five other IRA volunteers. He was returned to Cork where Josephine’s sister hid him. In April 1921 Florence and Josephine married.Murphy speculated that Josephine’s paranoia was due to the publicity surrounding this event. She became ‘frightened of her Protestant neighbours’ and ‘turned on them in case they might inform on her’, while scaring off others (p. 114, emph. in original, see also ‘Map 2’). The arrest of a father and son named Blemens on 29 November 1920 by the IRA and their subsequent execution for spying, is given as the prime example, as they lived near Josephine. However, Josephine’s then mother in law in Barry in Wales received anonymous letters ‘stating that the little boy was in Cork with his mother’. Florence O’Donoghue thought the sender was ‘a Miss Murphy who lived at No 3 Roxboro Terrace’, beside Josephine (ibid). Miss Murphy was unharmed despite proof of being suspected in this regard. Gerard Murphy glides past the fact, before fixating on the Blemens family and an assumption of paranoia on the part of Josephine.Supposition devoid of a scintilla of corroborative evidence supports the unstable foundation of this argument. The argument, however, proceeds apace.Take page 310. Murphy comments on Florence O’Donoghue’s correspondence with his wife in June 1921, written while he was separated on IRA duties. A letter of 17 June revealed, writes Murphy, ‘very little… to suggest that dramatic happenings might be taking place in Roxboro Terrace’ where Josephine resided at No. 4. Murphy observes, however, ‘the lack of direct reference… may itself be grounds for suspicion.’ One or two ‘hints’ in the letter may ‘cast a new and extraordinary light’ on a previously reported Times of London article of 18 May 1922, in which ‘somebody’s child’ was abducted along the Blackrock Road, Cork city, again near Josephine’s house (p. 307). Though no other newspaper reported the alleged abduction and no archival trace of it can be found, Murphy considers the story of great significance. He asks,‘was [Josephine] the ‘mysterious individual in a motor car’ who was involved in the actual abduction? The use of the word ‘individual’ rather than ‘man’ is interesting.’ (p. 309)Yes, quite interesting. We move now to the ‘extraordinary light’ Florence’s letter allegedly casts on this dramatic episode, from which Murphy deduces Josephine’s role. O’Donoghue’s 17 June letter to his wife contains, writes Murphy, ‘one cryptic reference to matters in the city’:‘some friends from Cork tell me you were , so to say, on active service one day a while ago. But there was nothing doing apparently’.O’Donoghue then asks his wife to be ‘careful’. Murphy comments, ‘this of course could be interpreted to mean anything’. According to Murphy it could mean that Josephine was a ‘mysterious individual in a motor car’ who abducted a teenager. By the same token it could mean that Florence was advising his wife simply to be careful while carrying out her IRA duties. Murphy makes further deductions on the basis of a letter of 20 June. In a closing paragraph on family matters Florence O’Donoghue commented on a 20 June Cork Examiner report of a small family boat involved in an unconnected aquatic accident. O’Donoghue refers to ‘a boating accident…. and there was a youngster in it’. He wonders, on the basis that his wife was a keen yachtswoman, if it ‘was your party, ye seem to have a pretty taste in accidents of that kind. Glad to see that nothing worse than a ducking befell anybody’.  Murphy observes, ‘Again, this could be interpreted in many different ways’. Indeed it could, but Murphy is determined on this: ‘considering that we have already speculated [!] that boys may [!] have been taken and thrown into the sea along with YMCA provisions during [IRA] raids on the harbour in mid-June, and also that [Henry A] Harris appears [!] to have been drowned in Boulogne, this is an amazing coincidence’. (p. 310-11, see also p. 312)‘Amazing’ indeed. On this reasoning, that includes reference to an event that occurred one year later in March 1923, Murphy insinuates that Josephine was drowning as well as abducting Protestant teenagers. At the risk of drowning the reader in detail it is necessary to explain Murphy’s reference to Henry A Harris. Harris had been a prominent Cork Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) member who Murphy believes was deliberately killed by drowning in France in March 1923 (Ch. 39, ‘A Boulogne Mystery’, pp. 207-11, citing the Irish Times, 26 March 1923, Cork Examiner, 21 April 1923). However, on page 211 we read, ‘We are not 100 per cent sure of course, that the body found in Boulogne harbour was that of H.A. Harris’. In fact, apart from, ‘his age was about right’, that Harris was English and the body was assumed to be, no evidence suggests that it was. A subsequent press report that ‘I/O IRA’ killed this unknown individual, as a ‘traitor to Irish Republic’, was later again reported a ‘definitely established’ hoax, perpetrated by yet another Englishman (Irish Times, 9, 23 April 1923) For Murphy, however, ‘this was almost certainly an IRA job’, the use of ‘I/O’ (for ‘Intelligence Officer’), being the determining factor in Murphy’s view. In support, he reports that records of the East Bristol YMCA in England, where Harris was General Secretary to the end of 1922, subsequently went missing. On this basis alone, he writes that the Irish Times ‘hoax’ article was ‘dissimulation’, and also, ‘It suggests that somebody in Britain wanted to keep the facts of the drowning a secret’. Who and for what particular or peculiar reason Murphy does not explain. In an initial Times of London report (26 March 2010, not cited by Murphy) police suggested that the individual, whose possessions were missing, was robbed after he drowned and after his body was washed up on shore. The reason Harris is swept into Murphy’s narrative is because, in a previous chapter (Ch. 18, ‘The Cork YMCA’, pp. 100-07), Murphy discusses and dismisses IRA assertions that a pro-British intelligence ring operated out of the Cork YMCA. The reason Murphy is on the trail of Harris in the first place is because, ‘Harris would have made a good candidate as the leader of an alleged spy ring operating out of the YMCA…. I have found no evidence from any surviving IRA men’s accounts that he was ever shot by the IRA or targeted or that his name was ever known, but he was the head man of the Munster YMCA during the War of independence. Therefore he would make for a logical target’. (p. 207-208)There is, in other words, no evidence the IRA was after Harris in the first place. Therefore, not a scintilla of hard evidence justifies including Chapter 39 in the book. It is an evidential dead end and Murphy’s readers have entered a speculative wilderness.On the IRA suggestion that there may have been clandestine activity on the part of some Cork YMCA members, Murphy dismisses it. ‘Going through the records of the YMCA from 1915 to 1924’ convinces him that the YMCA was not a ‘secret service agency’ or even a ‘cover up’ for one (p. 103, 104). This reasoning is naive. It is doubtful if a group of the clandestine type the IRA alleged existed would have detailed their activities in the YMCA minute book. That would be foolish. On the same basis, hunting through Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) records might fail to uncover evidence of Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) infiltration, though it occurred. Murphy could have taken a hint from the YMCA General Committee Year Book, in which he is surprised by ‘how little the YMCA seemed to be affected by the conflict going on around it’ (p. 105). Preserving the stated purpose of such an organisation would be essential for a group operating ‘under-the-cover’ of the YMCA. To maintain security and credibility, most YMCA members would surely be entirely unaware of the use to which their organisation may have been put. Surprisingly, this possibility does not appear to have occurred to Murphy.The piling of unproven assumptions one on top of the other leaves the discerning reader underwhelmed.YMCA TOILET PAPER‘[T]his is all mere speculation’. (Gerard Murphy, p. 147)Eleven pages on from his boating incident commentary and with no further substantive argument, Murphy writes, ‘I am now of the view’ that the O’Donoghues and, Sean O’Hegarty, ‘snatched local Protestant teenagers – of 16 years and upwards who may or may not have been connected with spying activities – and used them as hostages against British executions of IRA prisoners’. (p. 321) Dan O’Brien was the last IRA prisoner to be executed on 16 May 1921 (p. 313). Murphy suggests that a group of teenagers was ‘snatched’ in the first two weeks of May to place pressure on the British not to shoot O’Brien. They were shot, alleges Murphy, after O’Brien was. The reason this IRA activity has no extant evidential basis is, suggests Murphy, because even the British, ‘covered up the blackmail and reported to Dublin Castle that the boys had been conscripted into the IRA’. (p. 322)Why the British should do this strange thing is not clear. Even more peculiarly, ‘a month later [16 June 1921], with more prisoners on death row, the trick was tried again’. (p. 322) Why, when it did not work the first time? Murphy has already admitted that O’Brien was the last to be shot. Furthermore, it appears that O’Donoghue knew he would remain the last. He wrote on 15 June 1921, ‘Official reprisals are certainly at an end, which is a big victory for us’. And, on 16 June, ‘I think the shooting of men for having arms and levying war is at an end’. Undaunted, Murphy alleges that the IRA, ‘now leave a note in the YMCA toilet, intended to be passed on to the military, either to warn against spying, or supplying the military or that the boys would be shot if the British returned to official executions’. (p. 322)It sounds like a complicated message. What did it say? We must turn back 216 pages to page 106, where YMCA minutes note, ‘the discovery in the downstairs toilet of the YMCA (which was used by the public) of ‘a piece of paper… purporting to come from the CO IRA, Cork District, containing a threat’[…]. There is no hint as to what the threat actually was.’Within Murphy’s methodology, ignorance is no barrier to certainty. The truth is, Murphy cannot demonstrate that the IRA snatched, imprisoned or shot two groups of Protestant teenagers. Murphy’s case is built almost entirely on supposition. His evidence, where evident, appears to consist of local lore, partial and vague archival references, and his imagination. For an exercise in sustained supposition with regard to allegedly missing persons based on no hard evidence, however, Chapter 50, ‘St Patrick’s Day Parade’ (pp. 268-277), is possibly the best example. Here Murphy discusses the alleged kidnapping of his ‘Six ‘Prominent Citizens’ – 17 March 1922’ listed in Appendix II. His discussion is based on ‘confirmation… of a rumour… that some prominent local supporters of the Treaty were recently kidnapped’ (Irish Times, 21 March 1922, in Murphy, p. 269). Murphy supposes (without describing how or why) that these were ‘lower middle class Protestants’ (p. 271), who he cannot name and whose relatives never sought their whereabouts. They ‘simply disappeared’. (p. 270) Murphy suggests,‘Secrecy and censorship… makes a space in which it is possible for all kinds of people to have disappeared. It appears that the reaction of the families involved was in effect to collude with this silence out of fear of attracting even more violence’. (p. 272). Murphy notes by way, it must be assumed, of corroboration, ‘I have not been able to find any’ references to the event in state papers. (p. 385, n. 21) Murphy has based his theory on a rumour devoid of substance. The absence of evidence reinforces Murphy’s belief system, rather than (as in most social science and other forms of rational enquiry) acting to change his hypothesis. Instead, Murphy attempts to make the past fit his point of view. On pages 273-274 Murphy cites various contemporary Protestant statements condemning unionist attacks on Catholics in Northern Ireland. They were invariably accompanied by statements that the Protestant community in the south ‘never suffered from intolerance’. (p. 273). This included ‘50 Cork business leaders’ whose ‘denial’, writes Murphy, ‘of the events of St Patrick’s Day was absolute’, absolute in the sense that these alleged ‘events’ did not penetrate their consciousness. Instead (p. 274), the business leaders called on the Northern Ireland Government to re-instate the up to 10,000 Roman Catholics who had been expelled from their work in Harland and Wolfe and other shipyards and workplaces in July 1920 by unionist mobs.Murphy concludes from this evidence of no sectarian targeting aimed in their direction:‘It is … clear from this that, for the Cork business community and for Southern Protestants in general, suppression was the price of survival.’ (p.274)Murphy continues, ‘the YMCA general committee remained unchanged…. and kept on meeting as if nothing had happened. Indeed, there is no reference… in YMCA minutes’. In other words, where Murphy has no evidence that something happened, he cites further evidence undermining the suggestion. In Murphy’s methodology this becomes confirmation that the alleged event did in fact happen. Maybe it should occur to him that indeed, ‘nothing… happened’.A sub-theme pursued by Murphy is that if Church of Ireland Anglicans were oblivious to events, then their low church Protestant counterparts, in particular Methodists for some reason, were sectarian victims (Ch. 44, ‘Clerical Errors’, p. 232-241). Unfortunately, Methodists were equally uncooperative in confirming Murphy’s thesis. Murphy cites the Rev. Alfred Harbinson, a Methodist minister in Dunmanway who stated after the exceptional April 27-29 killings of 13 Protestants in the Bandon Valley that, contrary to mistaken reports, he had been ‘neither visited or attacked’ and,‘Never at any time have I been molested or interfered with in any way. I have always received the utmost courtesy from the people of the town and surrounding community’. Murphy, then observes, ‘All the evidence from a variety of sources suggests that Rev. Harbinson did in fact flee’. (p. 274) He cites, precisely, none. The Reverend gentleman is portrayed, on no evidence whatever, as an unreliable reporter of his own experience. Cork’s most prominent Methodist, Crown Solicitor Jasper Wolfe, insisted afterwards that though he was subject to attack, this was not because of his religious beliefs, but rather due to his leading position within the British administration during a period of armed conflict. His grandson biographer recently expressed ‘surprise’ at allegations of republican or nationalist sectarianism. Jasper Wolfe had never raised them in often told tales of being, ‘kidnapped by the IRA, or attempts to shoot him, or of his house on the outskirts of Skibbereen being occupied by Republicans or Freestaters in turn. But I never heard any suggestion of sectarian hostility towards the Wolfes, whether from the I.R.A., from their Catholic neighbours, or indeed from any Catholics at all’. LOYALISTS Vs PROTESTANTSWhere Murphy relies on published sources for evidence of extra unrecorded killings it reflects further weaknesses in his argument. On page 328 (of 408 in Chapter 57, of 58), Murphy cites a June 1922 statement from the Irish Compensation Claims Committee complaining of ‘more murders of loyalists, ex-soldiers, ex-policemen than have been reported to the [British] House of Commons’ (Irish Times, 2 June 1922). Murphy supports this allegation. However, a section of the same committee report not cited by Murphy mentions ‘the position of Southern loyalists’. The ‘expulsion is not confined to Protestants’. It refers to, ‘a very large number of the exiles’ being ‘Roman Catholics … members of the old nationalist Party of Mr Redmond’ that was superseded by Sinn Féin in the 1918 general election. Anti Protestant activity is alleged to be concentrated in West Cork, where ‘nearly every Protestant trader and small farmer has been expelled’. This is the only mention of Protestants per se and relates to the fearful and understandable exodus after the April 27-29 killings of 13 Protestant civilians in the Bandon Valley. Who are the culprits? The statement explains:‘The Irish terror is directed against all who own any property or capital, or are supposed to belong to the so-called “bourgeois” class.’The controlling influence is said to be the ‘Irish Transport Union’ and ‘the anti capitalist influences of the Third International’. In short, the source blames communists for these attacks, rather than the IRA. While such misstatements are expected in propaganda intended to secure compensation, they are highly problematic as a historical source. Even then, the statement undermines charges of sectarianism, since both southern loyalists and home rulers are said to have been the targets. In Murphy’s methodology, the lack of evidence for something always becomes evidence of its existence when that is convenient. Do we have examples of him doing it the other way when it suits him?In his passion to pursue rather than control his speculations, Murphy misrepresents more representative Protestant views. Again on page 328, Murphy asserts that ‘the disappearance of youngsters…. truly traumatised the Protestant community’. At the end of July 1922, according to Murphy, ‘the Southern Protestant Appeal, set up to support families who were fleeing the south drew up a declaration’. Murphy cited it in reference to ‘Protestant residents in Southern Ireland’, who,‘desire to express our abhorrence of sectional bitterness manifesting itself in acts of violence. We earnestly hope that recent horrible reprisals, culminating in the killing of children, will make it clear that citizens of all creed and classes must unite in a most determined effort to secure peace’.At first glance, this does appear to be significant, in particular ‘the killing of children’ reference. However, this appeal made its first public appearance in the Irish Times on 7 April 1921, nearly four months earlier. The Southern Protestant Appeal did not relate to Protestants in Southern Ireland. It arose from concern at violence against Catholics in Northern Ireland. The appeal therefore did state what Murphy cited above, but with reference to the killings in the North. The appeal continued, in a passage that Murphy does not cite, with the following observation,‘We further desire as members of religious minorities in Southern Ireland, to put on record that the South of Ireland has been notably free from sectarian violence’.This statement was made, let us remind ourselves, in April 1921 after two years of often-bitter conflict and two months before the Truce. It was instigated by a letter to the Irish Times from an EA Aston, a Protestant, on 21 March and supported by ‘Belfast Catholic’ on 24 March, who referred to ‘a bomb thrown amongst Catholic children in Weaver Street’ in Belfast, in the North, not in the South. The ‘killing of children’ reference was to the killing of Catholic children not Protestants. It is of significance that southern Protestants did not support the contention that they were subject to sectarian attack.One exception to this rule appears to be the April 27-29 1922 killings in the Bandon Valley of 13 Protestant civilians. The Protestant Convention, that paralleled the Southern Protestant Appeal, met on 11 May 1922 and stated,‘apart from this incident, hostility to Protestants by reason of their religion has been almost, if not wholly, unknown in the twenty six counties in which Protestants are in the minority’. (Irish Times, Independent, 12 May, 1922)While Murphy selectively quotes from the Southern Protestant Appeal and misreports its origins, I can find no reference to the parallel Protestant Convention in Murphy’s book. I raise the issue because Florence O’Donoghue’s leading role in the IRA was then coming to an end. He resigned from the IRA at the end of June 1922 and stayed neutral in the ensuing Civil War that commenced on 20 June (p. 317). Murphy’s problem is this: at the height of O’Donoghue’s alleged sectarian reign of terror against Cork Protestants, southern Protestants were claiming that they were not targeted on a sectarian basis. Murphy’s solution to this problem is (as noted) to accuse Protestants of lying about their own experiences. Murphy has preconceived speculations that he is unwilling to test carefully against the evidence.JOHN BORGONOVO’S RESEARCH‘Further evidence may ultimately suggest that even my most closely argued theories are wrong.’ (Gerard Murphy, p. 29)In 2007, in 198 pages and nine chapters, John Borgonovo ploughed the same ground as Murphy. His concisely composed Spies, informers and the ‘Anti-Sinn Fein Society’, the Intelligence War in Cork City 1920-21 (Irish Academic Press, 2007) covered the same series of IRA executions that Murphy analyses. It was completed originally in 1997 as an MA thesis in University College Cork (UCC), prior to publication of Hart’s The IRA and its Enemies in 1998. Borgonovo also edited Florence and Josephine O’Donoghue’s War of Independence, a destiny that shapes our ends (IAP, 2006). Though Murphy stated (p. 22) that Hart’s published work provided the stimulus for his research, Borgonovo’s may have provided its structure. The O’Donoghue’s demeanour as anti-Protestants in chief in Murphy’s research does not tally with Borgonovo’s portrayal. Borgonovo revealed how Josephine was working for the British Army commander in Cork, General Strickland, as an IRA spy. Under her codename, ‘G’, she was the source of valuable intelligence information used not only in Cork but also in Dublin by Michael Collins, the head of intelligence. Borgonovo carefully evaluated evidence and suggested that IRA intelligence appeared extensive and absent of sectarian intent.GRAVESOne aspect of Murphy’s research has already excited media attention and may also attract the official version. It suggests where bodies of some of those executed during the conflict are buried. It is a fact that some were never recovered. Borgonovo noted that Martin Corry, an IRA volunteer and subsequently a Fianna Fail TD, regularly ‘boasted’ that his land was one location. In addition, a colour photograph in Gerard Murphy’s book, facing page 143, contains the caption,‘The clump of trees at Frankfield, Ballycureen, where three Protestant boys who were executed by the 2nd battalion of the city IRA are believed to be buried’If they are there, the authorities may take an interest in the recovery of human remains. The remit of the commission tasked with recovering bodies after the recent conflict in the North of Ireland could be expanded to examine this.CONCLUSIONGerard Murphy, who has written two novels, has produced novel material in a work that began life as a novel. (p. XI) It may soon feature, as with Peter Hart’s research, in Orange Order commentaries. But it should be treated as fiction until better evidence is provided. Southern Protestants consistently rejected unionist claims that the IRA was deliberately targeting Protestants. Some committed loyalists begged to differ, not Protestants generally, including many unionists. Much better evidence needs to be supplied than Murphy provides to overturn the judgment of those most likely to have had such fears.Gerard Murphy’s is not a history based on Michael Oakshot’s dictum that, ‘History is what the evidence compels us to believe’. It is rather based on what Gerard Murphy believes. Evidence in these circumstances is a useful support but not essential. Not only does Murphy fail to supply appropriate compelling evidence for what he believes, he also manages to provide sufficient warrant to show that his case is riddled with contradictions. The best that can be said for the book is that it was published in an unfinished condition. There may be a better smaller book hiding inside. The back dust cover includes an accurate statement from Professor Eunan O’Halpin of Trinity College Dublin that the work will ‘stir up controversy’. It will and it should, controversy about the lapses in historical standards and the absence of historical method that are prevalent in some revisionist histories of the Irish War of Independence and its aftermath. Sometimes referred to as ‘the Tan war’ (after the British ‘Black & Tans’ counterinsurgency force), usually to undermine the impression that full independence resulted. See note 10. Dorothy Macardle, The Irish Republic, Wolfhound, 3rd ed., 1999, pp. 266, 271-76. Most of the remainder were won by unionists in the province of Ulster. An unsurpassed survey of the Anglo-Irish conflict that discusses the sectarian and propaganda aspects of British policy is a participant’s account, Frank Gallagher, The Four Glorious Years, Blackwater, 2005 (originally publ., David Hogan, pseud., Irish Press, 1953). Gallagher, the last person prosecuted by a Free State military tribunal in 1931 and the first Editor of the Irish Press, also pioneered analysis of the sectarian structure and practices of the Northern Ireland statelet and of its private sphere, The Indivisible Island, Gollancz, 1956. Cited on rear dust cover of Meda Ryan, Tom Barry, IRA Freedom Fighter, Mercier, 2003 Macardle, op cit, p. 477. Ibid, Chapters 64-76, pp. 608-754. See G.B. Kenna, Facts and Figures, The Belfast Pogroms, 1920-22, Donaldson Archives, 1997; also note following. See Michael Farrell, Northern Ireland, the Orange State, 2nd ed., Pluto, 1980; John D. Brewer and Gareth I. Higgins, Anti-Catholicism in Northern Ireland, 1600-1998: the Mote and the Beam, Macmillan Press, 1999; Tim Pat Coogan, The Troubles: Ireland’s ordeal, 1966-1996, and the search for peace, Hutchinson, 1995; John McGarry and Brendan O’Leary, Explaining Northern Ireland, Blackwell, 2003, p.45. See Meda Ryan, Tom Barry, IRA Freedom Fighter, Mercier, 2003; Brian Murphy, The Origin and Organisation of British Propaganda in Ireland in 1920, Spinwatch-Aubane, 2006; John Borgonovo, Spies, Informers and the ‘Anti Sinn Fein Society’, IAP, 2007; Brian Murphy, Niall Meehan, Troubled History, a 10th Anniversary Critique of Peter Hart’s The IRA and its Enemies, Aubane, 2008; Niall Meehan, Distorting Irish History, the stubborn facts of Kilmichael: Peter Hart and Irish Historiography, at www,spinwatch.org, 2010. See https://gcd.academia.edu/NiallMeehan. The following also addressed Peter Hart’s questionable methodology: Brendan O’Leary, ‘A Long March,’ Dublin Review of Books, No. 5, Spring 2008, at www.drb.ie; Conor Kostick, Revolution in Ireland, Popular Militancy 1917-1923, 2nd ed., Cork University Press, 2009, pp. 102-3. At a Centre for Contemporary Irish Research Seminar in Trinity College on November 3rd, chaired by Eunan O’Halpin, Murphy reported Peter Hart’s work as the initial and continuing inspiration for his research. See Niall Meehan, 2010, op cit. Also, unpublished theses cited by Murphy are not listed in the bibiography. One is cited in a misleading manner, on pages 42, 82, 360 and 393. On page 42 a source for ‘Table 3. List of civilians killed in the environs of Cork city during the War of Independence’ is given simply as ‘Miller-Borgonovo’. This hyphenated individual is not indexed, though a ‘Borgonovo, John’ is indexed as making his first appearance on page 82 (not 42). There, a ‘John Miller Borgonovo’ (without hyphen) is named as the author of the ‘most recent detailed work’ on ‘executions carried out by the Cork No 1 Brigade in Cork city’. This is cited as ‘Informers, Intelligence and the Anti-Sinn Féin Society, the Anglo Irish Conflict in Cork City 1920-21’ (note, the term ‘Anti Sinn Fein Society’ should be in inverted commas). This is followed by note 6 in which the work is again named and dated as a 1998 University College Cork (UCC) MA thesis (p. 360). The note concludes by misnaming the 2007 Irish Academic Press book by ‘John Borgonovo’ that is based on, but also updates, the thesis. That book is ‘Spies, Informers and the ‘Anti-Sinn Féin Society’, the Intelligence War in Cork City’. Murphy again leaves out the important inverted commas surrounding ‘Anti-Sinn Féin Society’. He also omits the hyphen between ‘Anti’ and ‘Sinn Féin’, substitutes ‘League’ for ‘Society’ and omits the sub-title. In the bibliography (p. 393) these mistakes, apart from the now included subtitle, are repeated. To sum up, the 1998 Borgonovo thesis that Murphy names in his main text and cites in note 6, p. 82, is not the ‘most recent detailed work’ on the subject, Borgonovo’s misnamed (pp. 360, 393) 2007 book is. More on Borgonovo’s significant research later. Coogan, op cit, p. 130. Also, On page. 246, Professor John A Murphy is criticised for asserting ‘There was no ethnic cleansing on [Cork city’s] South Mall’, the up market commercial and financial district said to be dominated by a well to do Protestants. Neither the source, The Sunday Independent (4 October 2004), or the context, (a meeting of Reform, an organisation wishing to take the Irish Republic back in to the British Commonwealth), is given. Murphy observed, ‘Irish Protestants in the 26 counties suffered population decline, grievously in the 1914-23 period and more gradually thereafter. There are many explanations for this phenomenon, active persecution being the least plausible… the notion that tens of thousands of Protestants were compelled to flee their shops and farms is Paisleyite myth-mongering.’ Murphy, it should be stated, supports the argument that individual Protestants ‘were victims of Catholic sectarian nationalism masquerading as republicanism in places like west Cork’ and sources his view within Peter Hart’s research. Murphy replied to newspaper criticism from Eoghan Harris and from John Paul McCarthy on this point. He stood over his original comment. (Examiner, 5, 10 November 2010; Sunday Independent 7, 14 November 2010) See, https://www.gillmacmillan.ie/history/history/the-year-of-disappearances (accessed 9 November 2010). Eoghan Harris promoted the book in the Examiner, 5 November 2010. John Paul McCarthy wrote similarly in the Sunday Independent on 7 November. On 12 November in the Irish Independent, Kevin Myers observed in his commentary, ‘I invented the entire subject of historical journalism for the period 1914-23’. He continued, ‘my exclusion by the Irish Times from its supplement to mark the 90th anniversary of the  Rising was one of several reasons why I resigned from that newspaper’. G.B. Kenna, op cit, p101. Kenna names and dates the victims. Of the 185 Protestants, up to half were probably killed by Catholics, mostly from belief that they were acting in self-defence. The remainder were said to be victims of indiscriminate unionist firing and attempts by the British military to repel unionist attacks on Catholics (ibid, pp. 101-114). See for example, John-Paul McCarthy, ‘Lost chance to write the Workers’ Party history’, Sunday Independent, 8 November, 2009. While Murphy and, following him, McCarthy use ‘Gray’, ‘Grey’ is the more usual spelling in the literature. I am informed by Manus O’Riordan (email, 15 Nov 2010), son of Michael, below, ‘There is not the slightest evidence to support the charge of sectarianism against the Greys. Quite the contrary. When Michael O’Riordan was expelled from the Labour Party in 1944 – following his public stand against the anti-Semitism of Cork Labour Councillor Tim Quill – and went on to establish the Cork Socialist Party, Jim Grey became one of the most active campaigners on O’Riordan’s behalf in the subsequent [14 June] 1946 Cork [Borough] by-election [in which O’Riordan obtained more votes than Tom Barry, see https://electionsireland.org – NM]’. The Coolacrease killings were the subject of a controversial 2007 RTE documentary involving Eoghan Harris. For a critique, see, Philip O’Connor, Paddy Heaney, Pat Muldowney, Coolacrease: the True Story of the Pearson Executions, an Incident in the Irish War of Independence, Aubane, 2008. See also Niall Meehan and also (separately) Philip O’Connor and Pat Muldowney’s response in Dublin Review of Books, No. 11, Autumn 2009, to a review by Tom Wall in issue No. 9, available at www.drb.ie. John Borgonovo, ‘The Guerrilla Infrastructure: IRA Special Services in the Cork No. 1 Brigade, 1917-1921,’ The Irish Sword, XXVII, No. 108, pp. 215-16. Borgonovo’s sources are, n. 53, RIC Daily Reports, 8 – 14 April 1921. This is not an obscure source. Hart, 1998, op cit, p. 311. One reason ‘tramps’ sometimes received attention from the IRA was that the British army were in the habit of sending soldiers out disguised as tramps. See Florence O’Donoghue, No other law, Irish Press, 1954, p. 119. See note 10. Murphy, notes that this story ‘has been described in detail elsewhere’. It is the O’Donoghue’s own story, in John Borgonovo, ed, Florence and Josephine O’Donoghue’s War of independence, a destiny that shapes our ends (IAP, 2006). Unsurprisingly, the O’Donoghue’s memories of these years do not correspond with Gerard Murphy’s views. The episode is also mentioned in Borgonovo, ed, 2006, p. 174, 188-9, n. 47, which publishes the letters series. A logical place to pursue the matter would be in Boulogne itself, but there is no evidence that Murphy thought of or did this. In Borgonovo, ed, 2006, p. 170, 171 G.B. Kenna, op cit., p. 22, citing Protestant expelled worker, James Baird, in the Dublin Evening Telegraph, 11 November 1920, who gives this figure. Jasper Ungoed-Thomas, Jasper Wolfe of Skibbereen, Collins Press, 2008, pp. 143-4, 220-1; Jasper Ungoed-Thomas, ‘IRA Sectarianism in Skibbereen?’ Skibbereen and District Historical Society Journal, Vol. 6, 2010. p. 97. The incident climaxed Peter Hart’s conclusion (op. cit.) that the IRA was sectarian toward Protestants. For a counter view, see Meda Ryan, ‘‘The Dunmanway find’ of Informers’ Dossier’, in Tom Barry, IRA Freedom Fighter, Mercier, 2005, pp. 209-229. Irish Times, 2 June 1922. The same page reports 200 refugees from unionist sectarianism in Belfast being transferred to the Marlborough Hall, Dublin. Borgonovo, 2007, op cit, p. 1. Ibid, passim. See Kevin Myers, op. cit.; and, prior to the book’s publication, Andrew Bushe, ‘Have secret files solved 85-yr-old murder mystery?’, Sunday Mirror, 1 July 2007. John Borgonovo, ‘The Guerrilla Infrastructure: IRA Special Services in the Cork No. 1 Brigade, 1917-1921,’ The Irish Sword, XXVII, No. 108, pp. 211-13 See interview with Orange Order Grand Secretary Drew Nelson, Irish Times, 17 June 2006. A useful exploration is contained in four articles in Church & State, No. 86, Autumn 2006: Eamon Dyas, ‘The Crown Campaign Against Protestant Neutrality in Cork During the Irish War of Independence’; Editorial, ‘Ireland in 1921: Dr. Fitzpatrick Puts Mr. Bury’s Foot in It’; Joe Keenan, Dennis Kennedy, ‘Protestant Refugees: Semantics or Accuracy?’; Sean McGouran, ‘Robin Bury’s Faulty Witness’. It is available at, https://free-magazines.atholbooks.org/c&s/cs86.pdf. See also https://free-magazines.atholbooks.org/c&s/cs90.pdf for Manus O’Riordan, ‘Tom Barry and Sectarian Degradation’, Church and State, No. 90, Autumn 2007. The issue is also discussed by Niall Meehan, ‘Frank Gallagher and land agitation – a response to Tom Wall’s ‘Getting Them Out, Southern Loyalists in the War of Independence’’ (DRB, Issue 9 Spring 2009)’, Dublin Review of Books, Issue 11, Autumn 2009; ‘Top People, review of The Irish Establishment 1879-1914, by Fergus Campbell’, Dublin Review of Books, Issue 14, Summer 2010 – available at www.drb.ie and at, https://gcd.academia.edu/NiallMeehan/Papers.
Nial Meehan has contacted us and has pointed us to an article he wrote some time ago, thank you for submitting the article to us , his words are below: