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Coolacrease Redux… November 10, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish History, Republicanism.
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David Adams is a good guy who often writes sensible stuff in the Irish Times. But yesterday he added to the pot about the Coolacrease story with an article that makes quite remarkable assertions of opinion presented as fact.

The amateur historian in Ireland is often little more than a propagandist masquerading as an expert,

A statement of opinion offered as fact with no supporting evidence. The point is not the merits or otherwise of the amateur historian. The issue is whether these amateur historians found information that was then not presented in the program or informed the program makers that that information existed? It’s the information, not the conduit that is of significance.

Ludicrous claims delivered in blank-faced fashion, complete with pseudo-military jargon, juxtaposed perfectly with dignified contributions by descendants of the deceased to give a vivid illustration of fanaticism and people’s ability to fool themselves into believing almost anything. In a magnificent display of the power of wishful thinking, one of the apologists claimed it was “impossible” for any member of the Offaly IRA to have been an informer.

The other has reportedly complained that his research was deliberately played down by the programme makers. Perhaps, for reasons obvious to everyone but himself, RTÉ thought it best to rely upon professional historians and their own impartial research team. The only thing worse in the historical field than an enthusiastic amateur with an axe to grind, is a collection of them pursuing a common agenda.

Two thoughts strike me. Firstly this was a military conflict and to use the term ‘pseudo-military’ is merely to denigrate and undermine the legitimacy of that conflict from one side. Secondly those professional historians and impartial research team can be seen on a purely factual level to have been incorrect and therefore to rely upon them would be a mistake. The enthusiastic amateur may be mistaken, fanatical or even plain wrong, but in this instance it is clear that they have proffered information that was not used or referred to in the program, information that cast considerable doubt as to the credibility of the central thesis of that program.

There is a lash at the Aubane Historical Society. I’m no fan of the AHS. Their politics are not my politics. Their project, or rather the broader post BICO project, is one I dislike intensely. It is unclear as to Muldowneys relationship to same, but the rhetorical flourishes of Brendan Clifford et al are present and correct in an indymedia piece he wrote. I find those flourishes irritating – take for instance the use of the term ‘fascism’ in relation to the Black and Tans. There are many forms of reaction, and the Tans were reaction writ large, but ‘fascist’? Nor is his use of the term ‘money-crazed’ in relation to the surviving Pearsons to his credit.

However, that aside, it is intellectually dishonest to attack the argument made by Muldowney simply because of his links to the AHS. Either the argument is wrong or it is not. The AHS is entirely irrelevant (although almost gloriously ironic considering that E Harris ran ideologically with the BICO argument for so long – and incidentally, what an age we live in that we see our past rearing up into the present in this way. Great stuff, if it weren’t so tragic).

And here it gets worse because Adams slips into reiterating points that are quite simply incorrect.

Were the Pearson brothers shot in the groin or the genitals? What does it matter? The real question is, if it wasn’t deliberate, how did so many gunmen (about 30) manage to shoot the men only in their lower abdomens? This can only be interpreted as a brutal comment on Protestant procreation, and a deliberate attempt to cause an agonising death. They succeeded in the latter; Richard Pearson took six hours to die and his brother Abraham 14.

Whether deliberate or not Adams appears to suggest that the men were ‘only’ shot in their lower abdomen. In fact the medical evidence at the Court of Enquiry indicates that they were shot across their torso.

Muldowney states that:

The official medical report of the 1921 British Military Enquiry says Richard Pearson received wounds in the left shoulder, right groin, right buttock, the back, and left lower leg – all of them superficial.

Adams continues…

Did an RIC investigation conclude that the double murder was revenge for the shooting of two IRA men who had previously been found felling a tree on Pearson land? Most emphatically, it did not. There was no RIC investigation, merely a written report from the police to a Court of Inquiry, which outlined rumours circulating after the murders.

This simply doesn’t square with what we are told by Muldowney about the British Military Court of Inquiry (in lieu of inquest) held at Crinkle Barracks, Birr on Saturday July 2 1921. At that Court there was no dissenting from the general line on what had happened.

Were the Pearsons ever proven to be British agents? No, in fact the evidence points in the opposite direction. A surviving brother, Sidney Pearson, was turned down for compensation for the loss of the family farm precisely because he could not prove his allegiance to the Crown. Later, on advice from the Southern Irish Relief Association, and with nothing left to lose as his family was fleeing Ireland anyway, William Pearson (the father) grossly exaggerated his loyalty in order to receive a paltry £7,500 compensation for his 340-acre farm.

Well, the word ‘agent’ covers a multitude. Perhaps better to suggest that their relationship with the British was one of closeness, which is also an essential aspect of the tragedy.

Perhaps most annoying in the article is the final sentence:

Journalists might well decide that forensic examination of countless similar atrocities isn’t worth the trouble. Such capitulation would be a huge mistake. History deniers should never be pandered to.

What countless similar atrocities? What capitulation? What deniers? These are assertions of considerable significance. Yet there is simply no evidence to support them.

What Adams is doing is exactly the same as what we read from Hourihane the previous day. But in this instance the argument, such as it is, is nuanced to incorporate an attack on ‘amateur historians’ for being amateur historians, the Aubane Historical Society and to rubbish the Military Enquiry. From there we then are brought to a reprise of Hourihanes concerns about a concealed history with the reference to ‘countless similar atrocities’. Frankly, this is poor and unsubstantiated.

It’s also weirdly reminiscent of certain things that have been said before in this debate, and perhaps this is paranoia on my part, but it almost looks as if there have been ‘talking points’ circulated on the issue. For example on Joe Duffy’s Liveline Eoghan Harris said (you’ll find the transcript on Indymedia):

Look, the facts are very simple, two lads were taken out in broad daylight in front of their sisters and their mother and they were shot in the groin or genitals as I recall it because I thought there was a deliberately sexual kind of, form of contempt to shoot them like that.

Then there is the accusation made by Harris against the AHS that:

and there’s a lot of this rubbish being pushed out by Muldowney and his friends like Niall Meehan, and the Aubane group that were mentioned in the programme, they’re like a professional crowd of holocaust deniers.

Perhaps it’s nothing, simple coincidence, or perhaps people have been simply been studying the transcripts. If so they do us all a disservice.

And once again, the point of this? Harris says:

Everyone in Offaly, basically – I believe – most people in Offaly are ashamed of what happened and would like to apologise. And its doing the people of Offaly no service to drag this out like that mystifying and mudraking and trying to pretend it was IRA Court Martials. It would be far better if the people of Offaly just accepted that a bad thing happened and just allowed the ordinary people of Offaly to deal with it by apologising.

The ordinary people of Offaly have to ‘apologise’? How? In what form?

And to return to my points yesterday about patronising and condescending self-serving cant about Protestants… Here is Eoghan Harris from the same program.

He’s just got a bit of slagging but there’s different ways of keeping social control, like that. I think that sometimes Paddy Heaney’s voice, when you heard the sort of patronising sounds he made to Patricia Howard – you see the way a certain kind of person with Sinn Féin sympathies can keep a grip on, on quite a timid Protestant community, there’s no-one talking for them, they’re not represented by Church of Ireland rectors, who would talk out for them? And if people like RTE and Niamh Sammon, yourself and others don’t publicise that, who would talk out?

Got to love the submerged classism of the ‘Church of Ireland’ rector. Got to love the condescension of the ‘timid Protestant community’. Got to love the idea that people can’t ‘talk out’ for themselves and require Eoghan or Niamh or indeed Joe to be their interlocuters.
But to return to the central point. It is impossible, on the evidence we have, to make a clear cut conclusion as to the events of Coolacrease. For it then be paraded as evidence of ‘ethnic cleansing’ or indicative of widespread similar events when there is no substantiating material presented to support those assertions is dishonest on a range of levels.

The world is going mad. But it’s a madness that is directed and this discussion sinks yet further into the mire.

[small note… the transcript of Joe Duffy’s show on the matter which is available on Indymedia shows – as someone else noted – that Joe’s grasp of the actual politics of the period is very very scant indeed. He says:

PM: Responsible to the Irish Government, yes.

Joe Duffy: Insofar as we had an Irish government

For Joe Duffy’s information this point in the WoI the Irish government organised 900 parish and 70 District Courts (staffed by the – as FSL Lyons notes – conservative legal profession), SF controlled 72 out of 127 corporations and town councils and in 26 others shared their control with other nationalists. 28 out of 33 County Councils were in their hands. 182 out of 206 Rural District Councils and almost all Poor Law Boards. This is hegemonic stuff really, and this was only the civil side of Dáil Éireann’s writ.

So actually we did have an Irish government Joe… and given the context of the situation that government operated with the democratic mandate of the people of the island and rather more efficiently than one might have expected.

But the intent here (as with the point about pseudo-military language) is to reduce a complex political, cultural, social and military conflict to the idea that the island was tyrannised by marauding bands of IRA men acting as little better than gangsters with no relation to that conflict – and thereby to delegitimise it. The vacuum in the historical record is not as Niamh Sammon would have us believe a lack of knowledge about a ‘darker side’ of the Republican struggle, but a complete lack of knowledge willful or otherwise about the nature of that struggle itself…]

Comments»

1. Grendel - November 11, 2007

I found an interesting article about the Hidden History
documentary in the paper the “Western
People”:

http://www.westernpeople.ie/news/story/?trs=mhidgbojgb

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2. WorldbyStorm - November 11, 2007

Thanks for that Grendel. Fairly reasonably argued but I’d find a number of contentious aspects to it. Was it really ‘the barbaric depths to which some volunteers had descended [which] must have been foremost in Michael Collins’ mind when he negotiated the Truce and eventual Treaty.” I think that’s an highly unlikely proposition (if only because the actual reason Collins was willing to move to the Truce was because the military struggle couldn’t be sustained much further – a radically different reason). The other problem is that we run smack into two competing ‘justifications’. For the Pearsons they were upholding one set of law, for the IRA another (at least if we take some of the reasons proposed as to the motivations of both sides at face value). It’s nice to think at this remove that we can attach equal justification to both, but in the context of a war of Independence that becomes more difficult. Did they ‘deserve’ to die? I don’t think so – although firing on an IRA unit would – in almost any military circumstances be seen as an extreme provocation. But… I wasn’t there, the relationship they had to the RIC is difficult to define clearly and a war of independence where there are groups within the society who hold allegiance to the ‘occupying’ side will throw up murderous confrontations. That they didn’t happen in a widespread fashion perhaps tells us something about the nature of this conflict (and looking back at the civil side of the First Dáil something about the way in which the legitimacy of the independence project was accepted very very widely – even if half-heartedly or with no enthusiasm by others) which I think is one of the few positives we can take away from this event.

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3. And another thing! Coolacrease and Harris… we should have guessed…it’s not the past, it’s the present! | Irish Election - November 11, 2007

[…] thought it couldn’t get worse. I was wrong. And now, due to Eoghan Harris, we see the Coolacrease situation become elevated to a […]

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4. And another thing! Coolacrease and Harris… we should have guessed…it’s not the past, it’s the present! « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - November 11, 2007

[…] 2007 Posted by WorldbyStorm in History. trackback I thought it couldn’t get worse. I was wrong. And now, due to Eoghan Harris, we see the Coolacrease situation become elevated to a […]

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5. ejh - November 12, 2007

You know how you read something the first time and you skip right over something, precisely because it’s so bizarre your brain must have sort of discounted it as it went?

Anyway….did somebody really use the term “holocaust deniers” about this?

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6. WorldbyStorm - November 12, 2007

Eoghan Harris…

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