Monday, October 5, 2009

Truth and reconciliation?

For the Sunday Independent, Eoghan Harris (not Malcolm's usual choice of reading) did a powerful piece. Harris anticipates and expands on an RTÉ programme:
Cork's Bloody Secret, tomorrow night's CSI documentary on RTE One. The title signals the team is not going to push any skeletons out of sight. But it exhumes these grim ghosts only to exorcise them in a powerful piece of public service broadcasting that will help to heal many wounds in West Cork.

Pat Butler came up with the concept of Cork's Bloody Secret. Fachtna O'Drisceoil presented the film and Sean O Mealoid produced it. They needed nerves of steel. Although I agreed to take part I was pessimistic. Previous attempts to tell the truth had failed because relatives of the victims were reluctant to speak freely.

But the CSI team found three courageous Protestants -- Donal Woods, Hazel Baylor and Charles Duff -- and two courageous Roman Catholic historians, Tommy Collins and Colum Cronin. The result is a rare film in which personal testimony transcends the tribal and ideological agendas of all sides.

It begins on the night of April 25th, 1922, four months after the Treaty, when an IRA group broke into the home of Thomas Hornibrook, his son Samuel and son-in-law, Captain Herbert Woods. Faced by armed intruders at dead of night, Captain Woods fired at them and shot dead the IRA group's leader, Michael O'Neill.

The three Protestants surrendered. The IRA group took them away to the hills and killed them in dire circumstances. Their bodies have never been found...
Harris reminds us that this was links to Joseph O'Neill's Blood-Dark Track, a Family History.

The Ardkitt Colt

Malcolm has already raved previously about O'Neill's fine novel, Netherland.

Blood-Dark Track is O'Neill's earlier book, an attempt to reconcile his own family history. One grandfather locked up in Mountjoy Gaol by De Valera in the wartime Emergency; the other, a Turkish Christian, detained by the British in Palestine.

Here is O'Neill visiting his family's farm in the Bandon Valley for the first time:
... all I sensed, standing on the brow of the hill in the rain, was that this was a hard place, a place that exacted hard physical effort. A short while afterwards, I got into the car to leave. My father's brother, Uncle Brendan, who had accompanied me to Ardkitt, was still talking to his cousin Pat O'Neill, who now lived on the farm.

Then Pat went into the house and returned with a white towel. He handed it to Brendan. They laughed, and Brendan came over to the car, got into his seat and slammed shut the door. He dropped the towel on my lap. I felt a weight among the folds. I unfolded the towel. A rusted revolver sat between my knees. I looked at my uncle. Colt .45, he said, starting the engine, that's the gun that shot Admiral Somerville.
Somerville was murdered,
Shortly after nine o'clock on Tuesday March 24 1936
His crime, in the eyes of the Cork IRA, was explained:
Alongside the body was a piece of cardboard on which this message, in letters cut from newspapers, had been glued, "This British agent has sent 52 boys to the British Army in the last few months."
The Somervilles are an Anglo-Irish family whose roots in West Cork reach back:
At the inquest, four days later, the state solicitor, a Mr T Healy, described Admiral Somerville as "the descendant of a proud family", who had fought "to keep in this country a parliament which had legislated for the entire country, the descendant of one who had disdained rank and wealth in order to fight for that parliament, which legislated for 32 counties and not for a dismembered and partitioned country".
Cork's Bloody Secret

Let Malcolm put his bias up front.

First, he has qualms about a programme which confines itself to:
the killing by the IRA of 13 West Cork protestants over four days in April 1922
Then there is the festering dissention over the seminal book by Peter Hart: The I.R.A. and its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork, 1916-1923. For many, Hart committed two grave offences: as a Canadian he blundered into a local cesspit for his TCD PhD thesis; and he besmirched the reputation of local hero, Tom Barry.

In mid-2008, Brian P Murphy & Niall Meehan produced a pamphlet: Troubled History: A 10th anniversary critique of Peter Hart's The IRA and its Enemies. A small booklet, authored by two minor academics (a Benedictine monk and a media lecturer at a private Dublin college) would not usually achieve success. It was then touted round a conference, at QUB, on the IRB, which Hart attended.

Malcolm admits not have the read the pamphlet. He presumes it follows Meehan's synopsis on Indymedia Ireland. An earlier "debate" from History Ireland of March/April 2005, involving Hart and Murphy is also available on Indymedia.

So, Malcolm's problems are these:

1. Murphy and Meehan seem primarily to aim to rescue the reputation of Tom Barry, incensed by Hart's referring to him as "little more than a serial killer". Whether either view is sustainable (and remote psycho-analysis always leaves Malcolm cold), it is clear that, compared to the rest of the country, Barry's column had a remarkable kill-rate. Barry's self-defence is well-known and repeatedly quoted:
They said I was ruthless, daring, savage, blood thirsty, even heartless. The clergy called me and my comrades murderers but the British were met with their own weapons. They had gone in the mire to destroy us and our nation and down after them we had to go.

2. Why does this programme focus on just a baker's dozen sectarian killings? There were 700 or so violent deaths in Cork over the period 1917-23. 400 were caused by the IRA. Some two hundred of those deaths were assassinated civilians. That means (as Diarmaid Ferriter says, admittedly following Hart):
Cork experienced one "political" death for every 530 people between 1917 and 1923 as compared with a figure for Northern Ireland between 1969 and 1975 of one for every 1,200
3. The Protestant deaths in that tally seem disproportionate. Not just the thirteen with which this programme concerns itself. Seventy Protestants, not armed, not members of the army or RIC, were shot down in Cork in those years. In a single night, early in the May of 1922, ten Protestants in the City of Cork were shot dead. Not surprisingly, Cork City and County showed a remarkable reduction in its Protestant population -- over a third disappeared between the 1911 census and 1926.

4. Those numbers are not seriously disputed. The IRA apologists claim that the murdered, -- Protestant or Catholic -- were informers.

What is beyond dispute is that Dublin HQ has issued an order, as early as April 1920, forbidding the execution of spies and informers (excepting only when volunteers' immediate safety was threatened). That prohibition was, at best, loosely interpreted by Barry and the Corkmen. Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

yourcousin said...

One, Harris is a tool. I don't care what he writes or says, he's full of shit. Even if I agree with him, he's still full of shit. Where that leaves me when on the very rare occasion we find ourselves in agreement is a question for another time.

I would appreciate if folks (Harris in this case)would stop citing Tone as gospel when berating the political faith of others. The unity of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter was a means, not an end. In 1798 with the help of the French Tone thought he could tap into elements of each group and break the English connection. Laudable, but not the end all, be all. And for the record I was seriously thinking of spending the $200ish dollars to the full three volume set of Tone's writings from Read Ireland and even had to dissuade my wife (God love her) from buying them for me by reminding her of the simple truth that we can't pay all of our bills right now as is, and that's without pissing money away on books just so I could have immutable truths about Tone in his own words. That's not to dismiss the ideal of holy trinity so to speak but let us remember it's context, as a means to an end. Let us also remember that it failed.

To expect that 1922 (or '69 for that matter) should emulate 1798 is to forget the century plus in between and to forget that even in '98 it was more of an ideal than a reality.

To be quite honest, I can't find anything wrong with the killing of Admiral Somerville.
So lets tackle your problems one by one.

1. The body count. There are two points which are similar but not the same. The oft cited "defense" you mention was in specific reference to the burning of loyalist/unionist homes in Cork in response to the actions of the Black and Tans/Auxies etc. I'm sure that if you looked solely at the body count for British Army/Tans/auxies/RIC personnel (legitimate targets?) you would also find a higher body count than any other part of the country. To me that level of activity would naturally result in a higher civilian death count as a natural side effect of the vamped up military campaign. But also leaves the question as to whether the campaign against the loyalist community was really just ethnic cleansing? I don't have the answer to that but I doubt it. At least not in the sense that we have come to know ethnic cleansing.

2.Why the bakers dozen? Quite simply there's political hay to be made. One of the things over looked in this argument is Cork as a stronghold of unionism/loyalism. And as such was much more open to the volatile mass schism that marked the ethic politics of the north and places like the Balkans (which were also experiencing massive, more often than not "non-voluntary" population transfers at the time). As to whether this invalidates the cause of independence? Not in my opinion, but then again, it wasn't my family being murdered.

3. I don't know what to say on this point. You forgot to put it in your post.

4. I'm not actually sure of the problem here. The numbers, the lack of dispute or simply the fact that a guerilla army relies most heavily on mass volunteerism and self discipline for its survival? The schisms between Dublin and the outlying counties are well known as is the marked difference/conflict between the Army men and TDs. I think Orwell said it best in Homage to Catalonia and I paraphrase with great liberty, 'individuals could and were shot for desertion, but there was nothing to stop a whole unit from leaving the line'. To me this line represents a fundamental truth about almost any and all revolutionary/guerilla situation.

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