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Terror in Ireland 1916-1923 September 10, 2012

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish History, Irish Politics.
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…Those of us who regularly read History Ireland will have noted with interest the discussion that has wended its way through the letters pages of that publication over the book Terror in Ireland 1916-23 edited by David Fitzpatrick. This is in part on foot of a debate/disagreement between Fitzpatrick and John Regan, and a review by Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc and in addition to this a review by Niall Meehan for the Institute of Historical Research . It appears to be an interesting book with a broad range of contributors (including one or two well known to us at the CLR). In review by Niall Meehan various issues were raised – not least the definition of ‘terror’ in the context in which it is used in the book and the perennial issue of Peter Hart and his research into the Kilmichael ambush and there’s been a fascinating to and fro between various protagonists [some of which are appended in the link above]. And add to this further statements and it all becomes even more complex.

It’s almost fatuous to note how the events of the foundation of this state (for those of us within the Republic) continue to be contested, and perhaps slightly less so to similarly note that of course they would as they operate as near perfect proxies for much more contemporary debates about political matters on the island.

Where though does this end?

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1. CB - September 10, 2012

http://nearpodcast.org/pcast/?p=6683
David Fitzpatrick did an interview for the History Show on Near FM about Terror in Ireland back in June. John Dorney also did an interview with John M. Regan which is available here on the Irish Story website http://www.theirishstory.com/2012/06/25/history-wars-interview-with-john-regan/#.UE0-qlLAETA

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2. Jim - September 10, 2012

Read it – Fitzpatrick, Morrison, etc. articles rather weak as usual, but some interesting contributions. We’re no closer to finding out the anonymous sources of Hart – tho’ considering he probably made them up that’s no surprise.

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3. WorldbyStorm - September 10, 2012

Thanks for the links CB. Very handy.

It’s interesting how this has become politicised and in unpredictable ways.

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jim otway - September 11, 2012

What are the unpredictable ways in which it has become politicised?

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4. CB - September 10, 2012

Thanks WbS. It’s incredible the interest that there still is in Peter Hart and the fact that his work is still the most contentious and debated issue in recent Irish historiography. If you look at Indymedia for example, discussions on Peter Hart can get upwards of a hundred comments whereas other posts on the site would be lucky to get five.

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Jim Otway - September 11, 2012

I often find the inflexibility and tenacity of some historians defence of Peter Hart’s work to be rather unsettling. I mean, I understand why historical illiterates like Kevin Myers or Eoghan Harris defend and promote the work but not the historians. Even Hart’s non controversial research is rather tepid and unremarkableir not outright erroneous in many respects.

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Jim Otway - September 11, 2012

*should read ‘if not outright erroneous’*

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eamonncork - September 11, 2012

Personally I find the non controversial bits of Hart’s book on West Cork during the War of Independence to be very interesting and I wouldn’t agree with Myers or Harris on anything politically. God knows it’s more interesting than reading some hagiography.
I think the reason Hart gets so much attention is that the research has become an easy target for unthinking online kneejerk dismissals, some of it by historical illiterates themselves who appear in order to comment on this subject and this subject only.
Coming soon, my exclusive argument that the people shot in Dunmanway later turned up alive and well in England. Why not? Who can say it’s not true? Does it not indicate a deficiency in the historical method that this bold theory has not been examined?

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Dr. X - September 11, 2012

One example: before Hart (whom I used to know vaguely), had anyone done anything on the role of social networks based on, e.g., shared workplace membership or residential proximity in fuelling recruitment to the revolutionary forces in 1916 – 1923?

Had anyone even bothered to ask the question of who, in those years, joined the IRA and why?

The Kilmichael issue will overshadow everything else he wrote of course.

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Jim Otway - September 11, 2012

Yes, this is what I find so fascinating! Given that the most severe and fatal criticisms of Hart’s work has come from academics, historians etc. all from diverse background and persepectives, why the inordinate focus by Hart’s defenders on ‘unthinking online kneejerk dismissals, some of it by historical illiterates’. It’s like some people wish Hart was right just to put such boors in their place or maybe some defenders conjure those boors out of the ether as convenient strawmen/women. It doesn’t say much for ‘historical method’ that historians defending Hart ignore rather gratuitous mistakes on the part of Hart (that in an undergraduate essay would result in a fail) because it allows them to attack the bogeymen in their heads.

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5. Jim Otway - September 11, 2012

Yes Dr. X that is, indeed, a pertinent question. However, if Hart was the first to ask such questions it doesn’t follow that he answered them satisfactorily. It is my opinion that after the Kilmichael controversy dies down alot more of Hart’s reasearch will be revised.

There was a review (linked to here, I think) which commented on Hart’s use of statistics and the problems around them, for example.

I think there are a lot of problems with Hart’s methodology that go beyond the narrow confines of the false surrender or lack thereof at Kilmichael. The fact that these go largely uncommented is curious. Indeed any attempt to question Hart’s wider methodology is shouted down with a narrative of ‘Hart was great especially on other stuff it’s just backward nationalists who can’t get over irrelevant details about Kilmichael that criticise him’ that I find rather unsettling. Not being a Nationalist my main interest in the controversies is historiographical.

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eamonncork - September 11, 2012

The details about Kilmichael aren’t irrelevant. There was a case for Hart to answer there. But what I find rather unsettling is the narrative of, ‘Hart was terrible not just on Kilmichael it’s just backward revisionists who think he was any good.’ in any event it’s Dunmanway rather than Kilmichael which excites the most controversy. There doesn’t seem to me to be much historiographical integrity in the suggestion which has arisen subsequent to the initial controversy that republicans didn’t carry out those killing at all. The argument apparently being that (A) The Protestants involved deserved to be shot by republicans and (B) They weren’t shot by republicans at all.
Who’s mentioned anything about boors by the way.Jim? You’re the one who used the phrase ‘historical illiterates.’ and who appears to have the interest in shouting people down.
And to be honest I don’t believe you when you say you’re not a nationalist. You’re using fairly standard cliches from that side of the argument, the ‘undergraduate essay’ one being a case in point.
The War of Independence is not hopelessly compromised if there wasn’t a false surrender at Kilmichael or if Protestants were shot in Dunmanway as revenge for the killing of O’Neill. These things happen in war. It’s only the Harris/Myers camp on one side and their mirror image on the other side who believe this kind of guff.

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Jim Otway - September 12, 2012

You’re fully entitled to believe in what you like or bow out of any debate you want. But three quick points: 1) the idea that this controversy boils down to a simple nationalist vs Unionist/Imperialist/whatever is unconvincing. No doubt there are many who fit that mold including many champions of Hart. However, Hart should be given the benefit of the doubt, while his work no doubt could give propagandist succour to Harris/Myers, he seems to have been just a terrible historian. 2) The undergraduate comment may, indeed, be a cliche but it doesn’t mean it’s not true. How else to describe someone who quoted half a sentence from primary sources but left out the other half that completely refuted the point he was trying to make? What about the mess surrounding the Kilmichael interviews? Even after this new essay by Morrison we are no closer to untangling who or what Hart had access to. In fact, while it was easy to give Hart the benefit of the doubt way back at the start of the controversy, the failure to ascertain his sources now appears strange if not outright sinister. What ever way you look at it it doesn’t look good. 3) I agree completely that the War of Independence is not compromised by any revelation about Kilmichael.

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6. eamonncork - September 11, 2012

I will now bow out of this argument which always ends up being the stupidest one on CLR.

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7. Pro-Brit revisionist (Ballydehob branch) - September 11, 2012

‘unthinking online kneejerk dismissals, some of it by historical illiterates’
Is this a quote from someone? because online you’ll find plenty of examples of people saying the protestants at Dunmanway were definitely spies and it was right to shoot them; that Hart interviewed the dead; that Hart was (quote) ‘a pro-British c***’; ‘ are these all critiques written by historians? Are his defenders making them up?
Mind you Jim, you can’t have read too many undergraduate essays if yiou reckon Hart’s writing wasn’t up to scratch.

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EamonnCork - September 11, 2012

It’s a quote from me, making the same point you’ve just made.

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Dr. X - September 11, 2012

The self-pwnage-fulness is terrific.

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eamonncork - September 11, 2012

?

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Dr. X - September 12, 2012

I was implying that PBr had pwned himself in a terrific manner, by failing to realise that you had made the same point he was making.

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eamonncork - September 12, 2012

Sorry Dr X I had to look up ‘pwned’ last night.

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8. CL - September 11, 2012

The meticulous scholarship of Peter Hart has demonstrated conclusively that a revolution is not a tea party. This has shocked the delicate political sensibilities of the empire loyalists Kevin Myers and Eoghan Harris. Hence their continued outrage.

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Jim - September 11, 2012

Eh? What planet is that from. Kevin Myers and Eoghan Harris of Independent Newspapers are Peter Hart’s biggest fans, always have been, always will, for very good reason.

“Peter Hart has demonstrated conclusively that a revolution is not a tea party.”

Who thought it was (not even the Boston Tea Party)?

Has someone come in and decided to turn a perfectly sensible discussion about a critical review of a book dedicated to Peter Hart’s memory into gobbledygook.

Now, who might do such a thing….. ?

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CL - September 13, 2012

No one is denying that Harris and Myers are fans of Hart.
War is a dirty business, people get killed, many of them innocent. Its doubtful if there ever was a war without war crimes. The IRA’s war of liberation is no more egregious in this respect than other wars.

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eamonncork - September 13, 2012

I think he was implying that you’re an MI5 agent attempting to spread confusion. Obviously that’s my job.

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CL - September 13, 2012

Not quite. Since moving to the U.S i’m with the National Security Agency. (We’re much bigger than the CIA, and the perks are better)

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9. Jim (again) - September 11, 2012

Comment No.7 cites apocryphal denunciations of Hart that are quite unpleasant. However, the jury is out on who may have contributed them. Like Hart’s sources they are anonymous and should be ignored. They do not form any part of the debate.

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10. Pro-Brit revisionist (Ballydehob branch) - September 11, 2012

So it’s Hart’s supporters who are actually denouncing him! The plot thickens…next they’ll be claiming that the Aubane Historical Society used to be the British and Irish Communist Organisation! Thank god the Auxies left that list of informers, it really clears up a lot of this argument.

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Jim - September 11, 2012

If I ignore your childish comments, will you go away?

Read the material linked at the top of the post and come back when you wish to contribute something sensible.

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11. Pro-Brit revisionist (Ballydehob branch) - September 11, 2012

I leave the field, defeated by a man of greater intellect then my own. I can only tremble at the knowledge that is passed onto the lucky students in your courses. When you turn up.

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12. Jim - September 11, 2012

I give up.

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13. Jim - September 11, 2012

Reading the contributions over the years of Brian Murphy, Meda Ryan, John Regan, Niall Meehan, Padraig O’Rourke, John Borgonovo, Joost Augusteijn, John Dorney (the list appears to be growing) who have in one form or another questioned Hart’s methodology, I don’t think they have been guilty of over the top claims. They seem to argue on the evidence.

The evidence suggests that Hart was mission driven in the 1990s to expose the IRA as anti-Protestant Catholic fanatics, an exercise in which evidence was assembled to fit his argument. While Hart went on later in the early 2000s to look at the ugly picture of pro-British sectarianism in what is now Northern Ireland (and to row back on earlier IRA ‘ethnic cleansing’ claims), the book dedicated to his memory, Terror in Ireland 1916-23 devotes no chapter to terror in Northern Ireland (where there was a lot).

Clearly, Terror in Ireland Editor, David Fitzpatrick (Hart’s PhD supervisor), has fond memories of Peter Hart, but it is the earlier ethnic-cleansing-claims Peter Hart he remembers, not the later version that emerged post-TCD.

It is part of Hart’s legacy that while at TCD he distorted an important source in his account of the April 1922 killings in West Cork and that he misreported and distorted his anonymous sources on the Kilmichael Ambush. That much is perfectly clear. Those who agree with Hart’s conclusions are upset by this successful critique of his evidence. They cry ‘foul’ and dance about a bit with every sort of inanity at the slightest opportunity to scare off the general reader. I don’t think that strategy is working any more.

In addition to Niall Meehan’s review of Terror in Ireland (linked at the top with responses from Fitzpatrick and Eve Morrison), there is another critical one by John Regan at Dublin review of books: http://www.drb.ie/more_details/12-06-22/The_History_of_the_Last_Atrocity.aspx

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14. Dr.Nightdub - September 11, 2012

“While Hart went on later in the early 2000s to look at the ugly picture of pro-British sectarianism in what is now Northern Ireland…”

That – much more than Kilmichael / Dunmanway – is my main issue with Hart: he only took a superficial look at the pogrom period, he didn’t really look at it in any depth. Remember this was a guy who put a lot of store in findings underpinned by stats. In “The IRA At War”, in relation to the north, he bluntly assumed (on page 250) that all non-catholic deaths were caused by catholics, though he conceded that “some” weren’t.

My own analysis shows that, from July 1920 – Oct 1922 in Belfast, the British army killed 34 protestant civilians (members of neither the RIC/RUC nor Specials) and there were a further 22 “own goals” – protestants killed by co-religionists who thought they were from the other side. Of a total of 181 protestant civilians killed in that period, that’s almost a third NOT killed by catholics – a hell of a lot more than Hart’s “some”.

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Jim - September 11, 2012

I agree with you. Hart’s analysis improved in the North, but there was still room for lots more…. and probably that potential development had limits. Certainly Terror in Ireland did not pursue the issue.

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15. RosencrantzisDead - September 11, 2012

The problem with this historical debate is that it is not about history at all.

It is doubtful if it ever will die down; the French Revolution suffers from the same problem. Critics of the Revolution are not upset that people were killed 200 years ago. If this were the case, lectures on the history of the British Empire would resemble the funeral of Princess Diana.The Dunmanway issue seems to suffer from the same problems.

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Niall Meehan - September 12, 2012

Don’t necessarily disagree, but not at all about history?

It is an attempt to strip irish history of its anti-imperialist aspects and to substitute instead ‘ethnic’ antagonism. This absolves the imperial power and those promoting imperial ideologies from historical responsibility for sectarianism by dissolving the problem into the Irish population generally.

It masquerades as value free history while it strips out the politics that animated historical actors during the War of Independence period. It was effective from the 1970s on precisely because it was in the interest of (and therefore was promoted by) conservative social forces in southern Ireland, though many of the promoters presented themselves as liberals and even socialists. Many were ‘liberal’ merely in opposition to the increasingly popularly contested influence of the Roman Catholic Church.

That is why my review of Terror in Ireland concludes:

In broader terms, the historiographical trend initiated by Peter Hart in 1998 and extended by some of the historians contributing to Terror in Ireland has created the basis for a history that reinforces a sectarian interpretation of the past even while laying claim to anti-sectarianism. Its epistemological antecedents can be traced to a contested project initiated by Conor Cruise O’Brien (1972) and endorsed academically by Roy Foster (1986). It is sometimes called ‘revisionism’ and, though an unsatisfactory name, its essence as a hegemonic project is best enunciated by a supporter, the distinguished novelist and critic Colm Tóibín:

“This revisionism is precisely what our state needed once the North blew up and we joined the E[E]C, in order to isolate Northern Ireland from us and our [sic] history, in order to improve relations with Britain, in order to make us concentrate on a European future. Foster and his fellow historians’ work became useful, not for its purity, or its truth, but its politics.”

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RosencrantzisDead - September 12, 2012

Those are excellent points and I agree with them.

Your point about the issue being used by conservatives as a collateral attack on political/paramilitary movements in NI is what I was getting at. The proponents of this thesis are not interested in understanding the character of the War of Independence and the Irish State that emerged; they are concerned only with banishing a certain type of politics to the realm of ‘tribalism’, thus rendering it unworthy of any serious discussion.

Given the emotional investment involved, people in the debate tend to be forced into either being completely for the argument or completely against it. I am inclined to lay the blame on the likes of CCO’B and Eoghan Harris for this. Both are men who could never admit that they were even slightly wrong. This tends to encourage people on the other side to dig in their heels.

I had not come across that quote from Colm Tóibín. I never warmed to the man much, but I hadn’t realised just how far up the arse of the Irish Government he had crawled.

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eamonncork - September 12, 2012

I find the mentality displayed by that Toibin comment to be abhorrent and I greatly dislike the use made of the Hart book by those seeking to portray West Cork, where I live, as a kind of sectarian nightmare zone. That’s obviously not true considering that to this day the area probably has the largest Protestant population in the Republic. Bandon, for example, which features prominently in the book had the second largest percentage of Protestants for any town in the last census.
The point I was trying to make is that I think there is still a lot of interesting stuff in Hart’s book for anyone interested in the War of Independence, particularly related to Cork and that it seems unfair to damn the entire work. It’s not just Harris and Myers who refuse to admit that their opponents have any point at all. And I’m still not sure that Hart was engaged in the same crusade as someone like Foster with his persistent statements that republicanism and the armed struggle had their roots in some kind of backwardness now banished in the new shiny happy Euro friendly Ireland. I’d have to say that when I first read and enjoyed Hart’s book it didn’t strike me as a revisionist tract or a wholesale condemnation of the Cork IRA of the time.
One other thing. The notion that the War of Independence was a uniquely noble conflict where everyone got shot for the right reasons and in a sporting manner is not necessarily a Republican trope. In fact a lot of the people who were most virulently anti-IRA during the Troubles condemned the Provos by reference to, in the words of Breandan O hEithir, “the fine sporting wars we used to have.” In that way the idealised original War of Independence was actually used as a stick to beat the modern republican movement with.
Fine Gael commemorated Michael Collins even while they were licensing the Heavy Gang and their campaign of repression and suggesting, in the words of Paddy Cooney, that the IRA were suffering from a form of collective illness.
As I’ve said before, Ruairi O Bradaigh and Conor Cruise O’Brien didn’t agree on much but they both agreed that the modern IRA were the linear descendants of the IRA which fought in the War of Independence. They drew different inferences from this of course but it’s interesting all the same.

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Garibaldy - September 12, 2012
eamonncork - September 12, 2012

See also his defence on Fingleton which has led to his various acolytes adopting an apolitical ‘didn’t we all party’ attitude to the economic crisis.

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Dr.Nightdub - September 12, 2012

“The notion that the War of Independence was a uniquely noble conflict where everyone got shot for the right reasons and in a sporting manner is not necessarily a Republican trope.”

SF / Danny Morrison themselves put that one to bed with “The Good Old IRA” way back in the 1980s. Really nailed the idea that the War of Independence was fought in accordance with even the Queensbury Rules, let alone the Geneva Convention.

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EamonnCork - September 13, 2012

Yet anyone making the same argument now that Danny made then would probably find themselves being berated for Revisionism and accused of tarnishing the good name of the Old IRA by some of his party colleagues.

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eamonncork - September 13, 2012

The difference I suppose is that back in the eighties SF despised the Irish political mainstream whereas now they’re trying to join it.

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16. Dr. X - September 13, 2012

“Bandon, for example, which features prominently in the book had the second largest percentage of Protestants for any town in the last census.”

I think I’ve mentioned before that my (RC) mum is from Bandon. She has several stories about inter-faith relations in the town. One of them is that although all the Catholic schoolgirls were banned by the Nuns from attending the wedding of Lord Bandon’s daughter, because it took place in a C of I church, they all went anyway.

There would also be sectarian name-calling with no quarter asked given between children walking to the schools of their respective denomination. Yet when some idiot arrived in town in 1970 and tried to stir up sectarian strife, the grown-ups from both traditions got together and ran him out of town.

I’d say that these anecdotes suggest that the history of relations between the two traditions in Bandon town is a lot more complicated than you might assume – so complicated, in fact that that history can’t be used for crude political polemic by any person or party.

As to whether we can properly grasp the complexity of that history, well, More Research is Needed.

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eamonncork - September 13, 2012

I’d agree. I used the statistic just to make the point that the Harris line that West Cork was the scene of ‘ethnic cleansing’, a phrase which suggests root and branch removal of the Protestant population, is nonsense.

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Dr.Nightdub - September 13, 2012

My mum’s from Enniskeane, about 10 miles out the road from Bandon.

I remember her telling me ages ago that whenever she’d be cycling hom from school in Bandon (quite possibly the same one as Dr. X’s mum), every farm along the road was protestant-owned. That always struck me as a very strange bit of information to lodge itself in the head of a teenage girl. Even as recently as a few weeks ago, when she was talking about their next-door neighbour from back then, she described him as “a protestant farmer”, not as “a farmer”.

I’d never describe my mum as a bigot but I think it does hint at a level of casual or everyday sectarianism, or at least consciousness of religious differences, that was par for the course in the area almost 70 years ago.

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eamonncork - September 13, 2012

I think it’s not peculiar to that area though. I remember when I was growing up in South Sligo that I often heard from different people how the Protestants still had the big shops in the nearest town.
And my late granny God love her, who came from Kilkenny always maintained that you could tell Protestants by their fine soft skin and would always describe a Protestant farmer as a ‘gentleman farmer.’
I’m not quite sure if awareness of who’s Protestant, or Catholic, and who’s not is a foolproof indicator of sectarianism. Such details tend to stand out in a society as monocultural as the Republic was for many years.

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eamonncork - September 13, 2012

It’s one thing after all to observe that there are a lot of black people in London and another to say that this makes it a terrible place altogether.

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17. Dr. X - September 13, 2012

Another point of possible relevance is that the Earl of Bandon (not Lord Bandon, as I erroneously wrote above) was a senior commander in the Royal Air Force during the Great Anti-Fascist War:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Percy_Bernard,_5th_Earl_of_Bandon

There, were, therefore a lot of ex-RAF settled in the Bandon valley after the cessation of hostilties – my grandparents, for example, had a slightly touched former Battle of Britain pilot living next door. He used to come and hide in my gran’s kitchen when his wife was mad at him.

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18. Niall Meehan - October 5, 2012

http://gcd.academia.edu/NiallMeehan/Papers/1992770

My reply to Professor Fitzpatrick and Dr Morrison’s response to my review of Terror in Ireland. Also included, a commentary on Brian Hanley on the 1985 Sinn Fein pamphlet, The Good Old IRA, that I left out of my original review. Included because it was introduced in the discussion above and because Paul Bew explained its significance for him at a conference on public history in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin, during the summer.

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19. Terror in Ireland 1916 − 1923 (II) « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - October 5, 2012

[…] For the original thread on the book please go here. […]

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20. The 1985 Sinn Fein Good Old IRA pamphlet and historical revisionism – a response to comments « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - October 16, 2012

[…] posters on Cedar Lounge brought up the 1985 pamphlet independently. See here for […]

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