Cork’s Bloody Secret… a small dispute. October 29, 2009Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish History.
I’m not sure how many of you are following the debate, or should it be disagreement, rumbling through the media in the wake of the CSÍ Cork’s Bloody Secret about the number of southern Protestants who are supposed to have been ‘driven out’ of the Irish Free State in the wake of Partition.
It’s certainly thrown up a most bizarre antagonism between John A Murphy, Professor of Irish History at UCC, and for many an historian who would have been considered as being on the ‘revisionist’ side of the fence – which is perhaps a little unfair, but nonetheless the perception, and our old friend Eoghan Harris.
It’s also worth noting that Niall Meehan gave a very measured contribution to the debate here…
Anyhow, the discussion kicked off earlier in the month when John A Murphy wrote:
Madam, – On October 5th, I was a commentator on the RTÉ CSÍ: Cork’s Bloody Secret television documentary programme dealing with murders of 13 west Cork Protestants in April, 1922. Appearing on the same programme, Senator Eoghan Harris claimed that at least 60,000 Protestants were “driven out” of the new State in those years and that was a “conservative estimate”.
He stressed that the figure represented ordinary Protestants, “small farmers, small shopkeepers”, and did not include former servants of the ousted British regime such as disbanded policemen and demobbed soldiers. Neither did it include, presumably, those who left because they felt unable to accept the ideology and culture of the new dispensation.
Outside of these categories then, according to Senator Harris, at least 60,000 southern Protestants were subjected to an “enforced exodus” on a massive scale, to ethnic cleansing, in fact. He has made these unsubstantial allegations repeatedly (for example in the Sunday Independent , May 24th, 2009).
It has been well said that history is what the evidence compels us to believe. It is now time for Senator Harris to produce the detailed, documental evidence (no surmises or estimates, please) in support of his dramatic claims. He should do so in the interests of historical truth and of community relations. – Yours, etc,
Prof JOHN A. MURPHY,
Emeritus Professor of Irish
University College Cork.
This prompted the response:
Madam, – Prof John A Murphy (October 9th) claims to have two problems with my contribution to CSÍ, Cork’s Bloody Secret . First he wants me to support my claim that some 60,000 Protestants were driven out of the State with “detailed, documental evidence”. How can I do that that when the statistical work has not been done by professional historians like himself? But I am perfectly entitled to make an educated estimate. The Censuses from 1911 to 1926 show that a third of Irish Protestants left the State in that period. In the brief slots provided by the CSÍ programme I used the phrase “driven out ” to cover any categories of compulsion (from physical intimidation to cultural pressures such as compulsory Irish for State jobs) which caused what I called the “enforced exodus” of the 1921-22 period.
As nobody can say for sure what this enforced exodus entailed, I based my estimate of 60,000 on two figures. First, I rejected as ridiculously high a possible top figure of 146,000. On the other hand I thought the bottom figure of 39,000 a bit too low.
The latter figure comes from Dr Andy Bielenberg’s paper to the 2008 Cork conference, Understanding Our History . Excluding certain categories (RIC, first World War casualties, etc), Dr Bielenberg came up with a figure of 39,000 “involuntary emigrants”. This carefully chosen phrase is still close to my notion of an “enforced exodus”. As a professional historian, Dr Bielenberg is properly conservative in his calculations. However, if you add in the decline of Dublin working-class Protestants, those who made no claims, and those who hung on for a few years, I believe the true figure of the “enforced exodus” is far closer to 60,000. But if Prof Murphy insists that only professional historians can do the tots I will settle for Prof Bielenberg’s figure of 39,000.
This is still an appalling figure and warrants my use of the phrase “enforced exodus” – which a Prof Murphy trickily portrays as being the same as “ethnic cleansing”. But the CSÍ tape shows that I categorically reject making any such claim as follows: “I wouldn’t call it ethnic cleansing . . . and the IRA didn’t have a sectarian ideology, but there was a sectarian tradition in Ireland among rural communities that dated back to penal times, the prophecies of Pastorini . . .”
Finally, I ask your readers to reflect on Prof Murphy’s motives in distorting my contribution. This is his second personalised letter since I was appointed to the Seanad. But in pursuit of me he muddies the cleansing waters of the widely praised CSÍ programme and comforts the tribal patrols who police our past. –
Senator EOGHAN HARRIS,
And on the following Friday came this from John A Murphy.
Madam, – In my letter of October 5th, I requested Senator Eoghan Harris to supply evidence for his dramatic assertion on CSÍ Cork’s Bloody Secret that at least 60,000 southern Protestants were “driven out ” of the new State in 1921-1923. His reply (October 10th) fails to provide the requisite details. He can’t do it, he says, because the statistical work has not been done. In other words, here are the conclusions, the research will follow!
In his letter, the Senator significantly revises his programme contribution. He did indeed reject “ethnic cleansing” as an explanation of the west Cork murders but the video later shows him wondering aloud whether the terms “pogrom” and “ethnic cleansing” might not be applied to the (alleged) 60,000-plus expulsion.
His letter also states he meant “compulsory Irish” to be included in the cultural pressures forcing Protestants to leave. But his programme contribution made no mention of this, while it exclusively emphasised the factors of intimidating violence. Having thus widened (and weakened) the definition of “driving out”, he then makes the fatal concession that “nobody can say for sure what this exodus entailed”, despite his pronouncements on the programme.
Having rejected “a possible top figure of 146,000” (what fantasy land did that come from?), he grudgingly settles for Dr Andy Bielenberg’s tentative work-in-progress estimate of “39,000 involuntary emigrants”. I’m not sure what “involuntary” means in this context, but I doubt if Dr Bielenberg supports the Harris thesis of a mass “enforced exodus”. In any case, each individual case would have to be documented.
Far from “distorting” the Senator’s programme contribution, I have simply exposed its inconsistencies and infirmities. He also claims I am muddying “the cleansing waters of the programme and comforting the tribal patrols who police our past”. In other words, I am accused of giving aid and comfort to tribal nationalists. This accusation is unworthy of the Senator.
Perhaps more than anybody else, he is aware that, in the critical years when it mattered, I steadfastly opposed sectarian terrorism and resisted the nationalist-victimhood reading of our history. I now find it ironic he should be championing another sort of victimhood.
Finally, he questions my motives for criticising his contribution to the programme. First, I was concerned that what purported to be a dramatic historical statement was being advanced without supporting evidence. Second, an “enforced exodus” of southern Protestants on a massive scale would have required the collusion and active involvement of great numbers of their Catholic fellow-Irishmen in such a persecution. I certainly will not accept that serious charge without rigorous historical proof. As for Senator Harris’s view that I am somehow pursuing him, he should lighten up. Otherwise when he reaches my age, he’ll be a very dull dog indeed. – Yours, etc,
JOHN A MURPHY,
Emeritus Professor of Irish
History, University College Cork.
We can only await with fascination the next round in this…
Still, I think a number of points can be made. Firstly this is difficult territory. It is troubling to attempt to quantify what was for many genuine suffering and hardship. That such movements were, perhaps, inevitable given the socio-political and cultural issues during the time period and after doesn’t take from that. With one foot in that religious camp I’m far from unaware of the sense of isolation some felt post Partition, although that has and can be overstated and was a result of class and other issues more so than outright hostility. But I think John A Murphy gets close to the truth when he points to ‘another sort of victimhood’. To hear those who threw the MOPE trope around with abandon suddenly shifting to its inverse (following in a sense the political journey – of some – from one nationalism to effective support for another) does little to add to the credibility of their arguments. But the lack of perspective of those who cleave to that viewpoint is demonstrated by the bizarre dip into a language ‘tribal patrols who police our past’ (alliterative, surely, but that’s about all that can be said of it) in reference to someone like John A Murphy. When aspersions can be cast on the ‘motives’ of such as he, given his public pronouncements in the past, then we’re moving beyond the confines of rational debate.
And a further thought… here’s a letter from Dr. Andy Bielenberg which appears the same day as John A Murphy’s missal…
Madam, – Senator Eoghan Harris has made an important contribution to drawing attention to the Dunmanway executions in 1922, but his interpretation of the statistics of Protestant emigration for this period (October 10th) and those of Tom Carew (October 15th) are problematic.
A greater part of the fall in the non-Catholic population of 106,000 between 1911 and 1926 can be accounted for by the following factors combined: normal emigration; natural increase which was negative in this period; British withdrawal; and those who died in the first World War.
These factors in my estimation collectively contributed to a fall of roughly 65,000 people. I have assumed that the residual figure of 41,000 can be taken to account largely for those who left between 1919 and 1923, who were not employees of the old regime as soldiers, administrators etc, or normal economic emigrants (which are all accounted for in the 65,000 above). Normal economic emigration was an important element in the outflow, more particularly in the Protestant community since the early 20th century.
The 60,000 to 63,000 figure cited by Harris and Carew looks a lot like a figure for total net emigration of the minority community in the south between 1911 and 1926, after the impact of British withdrawal, natural increase (which was negative), first World War dead etc, has been removed, which were published by Sexton and O’Leary (1996) and Delaney (2000). These two studies are scholarly efforts but they lack a separate estimate of normal economic emigrants which I have included above, who clearly were not part of any forced exodus.
A significant share of my residual 41,000 were indeed part of a forced exodus, who left as a consequence of intimidation, revolutionary violence, threatening letters, businesses that were made unviable by boycott, agrarianism, etc, while some simply left for fear of their safety and that of their families as the revolution went into full spate. Others left because of the continued decline of many landed estates and the employment they offered. Some left because they felt the cultural and ideological ethos of the new state was not to their liking.
Future prospects in Ireland looked particularly bleak for Protestants between 1921 and 1923 when the exodus reached its high watermark, and this tipped the balance in favour of departure for many economic migrants.
I don’t think there is any way to further break down this residual figure of 41,000 into voluntary or involuntary migrants.
Logically, however, since this residual contains voluntary migrants, this implies that the portion of the exodus which was literally driven out of the country between 1919 and 1923 was lower than 41,000 rather than significantly higher. – Yours, etc,
Dr ANDY BIELENBERG,
Department of History,
The Phoenix reckons that Harris has raised the white flag in the face of the ferocious onslaught from one he’d have counted as his own… we’ll see.