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Coolacrease: Much heat, little light and the war of the words continues… November 25, 2007

Posted 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.


1. Joe - November 28, 2007

Stumbled across a programme on Irish History and how its written on RTE 1 last night. They were all there – Roy Foster, John A Murphy, Paul Bew, Ronan Fanning, Fr Brendan Bradshaw and more. Great stuff on the development of the writing of Irish history from the twenties on.
I thought Paul Bew came out with a very good opinion on the War of Independence. He said that overall the IRA fought an honourable war in 1919-21 but it would be bad history to say something like “they never killed a Protestant just because they were a Protestant”. Just like it would be bad history to say “they killed Protestants up and down the country in a sectarian bloodbath” (I stress – my words, not his, but I think the same import).
I’m fascinated by the fate of southern Protestants in the period. Pope’s Children McWilliams (I’ve forgotten his first name) was on the radio talking to Eamon Dunphy last week. He said his grandfather came over from Scotland in the twenties. He saw an ad in the Scottish paper, placed there by the Irish govt, looking for copper roofers to work on rebuilding the Four Courts. The copper roofing trade, he said, was what was known in Dublin as a “black trade” i.e. a trade dominated by Protestants, but all the Protestant copper roofers had either been killed in WW1 or headed north after independence.
Sebastian Barry has written some great fiction on related themes.


2. Starkadder - March 25, 2010

I’m not sure where to put this, but Pat Walsh of the AHS
had an article in Tuesday’s Irish Examiner attacking
Mary McAleese for commemorating the Irish soldiers who
died at Gallipoli.


WorldbyStorm - March 25, 2010

Hey Starkadder, you don’t have a link do you?


Starkadder - March 25, 2010

There’s a link to the article here:


I also found,oddly, this article mentioning Walsh’s book
approving here,
on what seems to be a Turkish ultra-nationalist

This is part of what the Google translation program
gave (since I can’t speak a word of Turkish, I
can’t vouch for its complete accuracy)

Google English-Turkish translation:

Dr. Pat Walsh, the book’s preface that the emphasis
Republic of Ireland was established from the path of Ataturk. Atatürk
not only of the Turkish State in the Republic of Ireland organizations
There are fundamental in.
Dr. Walsh made it to identify when an Irish historians “bride
Let’s face on our “call is made. Turkey in the same calling
some “intellectuals” In contrast to reject the team Ataturk, Dr.Walsh
Ataturk in 2010 against the people of Belfast is making. So
is a historian with the responsibility.
Question for the readers of the book in many respects the importance of Turkey is available.
Primarily in London, the British Empire of the Armenian genocide fabrication



3. WorldbyStorm - March 25, 2010

Great, thanks a million


4. Starkadder - March 25, 2010

And here’s some more mentions of the Pat Walsh book,
“Forgotten Aspects of Ireland’s Great War on Turkey” including
the Ataturk Society, a group which argues the Armenian Massacres
were not a genocide and that “An Armenian Diaspora continues to distort history”.



5. Starkadder - March 25, 2010

And it’s mentioned other Turkish blogs here:



Same article on a big Turkish language website:


Turkish article about McAleese that also mentions the Walsh book:


What on earth is going on? Why is a book by a small Irish publisher
getting such an unusual amount of attention east of the Bosphorus ?


WorldbyStorm - March 25, 2010

Well the Armenian issue is big news there. I guess if a Turkish writer wrote a book on the Famine -say taking a certain line – I can think of one outfit who’d be more than interested!


Starkadder - March 25, 2010

The An Fear Rua website mentions the Pat Walsh
book as well, here:


It’d be interesting to see a review of it in say, “History Ireland”
or “Books Ireland”, even though Clifford told Roy Johnston
he has a policy of not allowing anyone to receive Athol
Books publications for review (what is he afraid of?) .


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