Coolacrease: Much heat, little light and the war of the words continues… November 25, 2007Posted by WorldbyStorm in History.
Niamh Sammon, producer of The Killings at Coolacrease had a letter in the Irish Times yesterday. In it she argued that:
Over the past few weeks a small group of people have kept up a sustained attack on the recent RTÉ documentary.
Perhaps so. But, the critiques of the programme are broader than the people she is presumably referring to. This site – for example – is one unaligned with the Aubane Historical Society, if anything we’d be rather hostile to their interpretations. Nor are we partisans for any partial or simplistic reading of Irish history. Quite the opposite. Nor, despite being quoted favourably in An Phoblacht are we partisans for any contemporary political party or grouping. Again, quite the opposite. We’re broad left and you’ll find strong criticism of the various left formations on these pages.
Anyhow, that said, it’s interesting that Sammon then focusses in on Pat Muldowney ‘a lecturer in mathematics at the University of Ulster [who] alleges that an RIC investigation concluded that the Pearson brothers were targeted by the IRA because they shot at two members of Sinn Féin (actually that’s not what he says, he says they shot at IRA members – an interesting albeit subtle distinction – wbs).’
She takes him to task because ‘…he is quite wrong; in fact there was no investigation. The document Muldowney cites as evidence is actually British Army correspondance speculating on the reasons for the Pearson killings. It was filed after the Court of Inquiry had deliberated on July 2nd in Birr’.
She notes that at the Court of Inquiry Ethel Pearson in a sworn statement said “I saw the raiders search my brothers, and place them against the wall of the barn and shoot them”.
However, Muldowney has also noted that:
…the eye-witness accounts and the medical evidence tell a very different story. Matilda Pearson’s account in the following week’s local newspapers says that her two brothers were taken away from the other family members. Dave Pearson’s 1981 letter to Hilary Stanley, also quoted in Alan Stanley’s book, says that he and his mother and sisters were taken away separately. Michael Cordial was in command of the execution party, and his Witness Statement on the events (Bureau of Military History) says that the condemned men were separated from the rest of the family.
Who are we to believe? Muldowney has also supplied further geographic evidence that it would have been impossible from the Grove (where Ethel Pearson said at the Inquiry herself and her family were taken – her verbatim quote being “ … My mother who was in a fainting condition was carried by my two brothers into a little wood we call the Grove and we all went with her by the order of the raiders. Six of the raiders, two or three of whom were masked, ordered my brothers down into the yard. I saw the raiders search my brothers and place them against the wall of the barn and shoot them.” ) to see the place where the brothers were shot.
She argues that in the document there is speculation on the reasons for the murder and that ‘crucially’… ‘the very next sentence reads “It is further rumoured when the farm house was burning two guns feel out of the roof”. In other words, the army was simply collating the rumours surrounding the deaths of the Pearsons. Not only were those rumours never investigated; the “Possible Motives” document did not even form part of the Court of Inquiry”.
She’s right. This is crucial. But not quite in the way she suggests.
As with the conflicting statements of Ethel and Matilda Pearson as regards the location of the family it is impossible to weigh up at this remove the competing ‘rumours’. We could believe those presented by the British Army correspondance, or the IRA inquiry, or alternatively the written testimony of one or other of the sisters. Or we could believe Muldowney, or we can believe Sammon or Harris. But that’s all we can do. We can have no degree of certainty. We cannot know. And the only ‘certainty’ being offered is from the various protagonists in this debate.
But that certainty is a chimera. It is intellectually dishonest.
Sammon concludes her letter by saying that…
Dr Muldowney seems to have arrived at his conclusions in spite of, rather than because of, the evidence at hand.
No. He hasn’t. He has simply made a competing interpretation. There is in my opinion, on balance, slightly more evidence for his conclusions. But only slightly. In the end we can really draw no definitive lesson from all this. We cannot know.
Perhaps that’s the most tragic aspect of the whole sorry affair. But that is a demonstration of the limitations of history and dangers of partial or partisan interpretation.