jump to navigation

The 1985 Sinn Fein Good Old IRA pamphlet and historical revisionism – a response to comments October 16, 2012

Posted by guestposter in Irish History, Irish Politics, Uncategorized.

Here is a guest post from Niall Meehan which relates back to some of the discussions over the last week or two on the CLR and elsewhere.

I commented on Brian Hanley’s discussion of the 1985 Sinn Féin pamphlet The Good Old IRA in his generally excellent contribution to Terror in Ireland 1916-1923 (edited by David Fitzpatrick). This commentary was omitted from my original review of the book. It appeared as an addendum to my reply to David Fitzpatrick and Eve Morrison’s response to the review.

See here for that reply and also here.

In the book Brian’s discussion of and use of the term ‘terrorism’ is more critical and objective than that of editor, David Fitzpatrick. His noting of historians’ failure to address state involvement in sectarian killings in Northern Ireland in the 1920s and post 1968 was spot-on in that book in particular.

However, Brian did not engage with criticism of the late Peter Hart’s approach, apart from mildly caricaturing it. Thus, he portrays critics of Hart’s republican sectarianism thesis as naive upholders of the IRA’s ‘honour’. On the related controversy about Hart’s treatment of the November 1920 Kilmichael Ambush, they apparently believe Ambush Commander Tom Barry ‘wasn’t capable of lying’. His response on Cedar Lounge to my commentary on his discussion of the Good Old IRA pamphlet was:

8. Brian Hanley – October 6, 2012

Briefly re ‘The Good Old IRA’. It is far from the only example of republicans in the 1970s/80s dismissing that the idea that the 1919-21 war had a democratic mandate. It was a serious attempt to create a counter to the prevailing southern nationalist view that there was a fundamental difference between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ IRAs. Danny Morrison spoke about this at a debate in Drogheda during July and I didn’t get the impression that the project was intended to be ‘tongue in cheek.’

Perhaps Brian did not have time to contribute more. Also, he was responding to another poster who extracted the ‘tongue in cheek’ phrase from what I had written. I wonder how productive a discussion about that phrase might prove. As for the rest of Brian’s comment there is not a lot to go on.

Other posters on Cedar Lounge brought up the 1985 pamphlet independently. See here for more.

As I pointed out, the pamphlet was also presented recently by QUB’s Paul Bew as a significant precursor to the approach adopted later by Peter Hart. Clearly, there is more to this document than meets the eye, particularly if historians like Bew and Hanley view it as important in the contentious debate about Peter Hart’s work.

I hope in what follows to illuminate the origins of the Good Old IRA pamphlet, its aims and limitations, plus its importance to ‘revisionist’ historians.

To download Niall Meehan’s detailed response to the discussion please click on the following link: 1985 SF pamphlet (b) Cedar Lounge discussion

To download The Good Old IRA pamphlet in PDF form please click on the following link: Good Old IRA SF Publ Dept 1985



1. Florrie O'Donoghue - October 16, 2012

The importance of the pamphlet, The Good Old IRA, can be understood by looking at a broader context of commemoration within the twenty-six county state at a time when Provisional Sinn Féin were (while still far from ‘respectable’) becoming a much greater threat to the ‘establishment’, particularly in local elections and social activism e.g. CPAD. I mean the early 1980s, where it seems to be generally acknowledged that an ostracisation process was in place with regards Sinn Féin councillors etc.

A perfect example of this – since Hart seems to appear in all these discussions – is the invitation extended to Gerry Adams to give the oration at the 1983 Kilmichael commemoration.

There were several resignations from the commemoration committee following the invitation. Further, the refusal of the Irish Defence Forces rather petulantly (as I see it) to allow their rifles or blank ammunition to be provided to the ‘Old’ IRA veterans for the ceremony kept the controversy in the newspapers. Mr Cooney was Minister for Defence at the time, so I think the buck stopped with him there. Fianna Fáil and the Workers Party defended Cooney’s stance.

The Irish Times editorial of 19 November 1983 is rather pertinent if one wants to really consider the context of the The Good Old IRA. It finishes with:

‘The struggle sixty years ago was one of representatives of the people against the British Government and against a fairly clearly defined ascendancy and ascendancy structure. In the North so much of the present killing is between Irish people of the same background, same standard of living and, the more perceptive will perceive, similar culture.’

All of this is challenged by Danny Morrison two years later – certainly not tongue-in-cheek, I would believe. As we all know, RIC men were overwhelmingly Catholic and drawn from the same social background as those they policed. It is hard to see the point the Times was trying to make.

Not to disappoint, Adams’ oration at the commemoration defended the killing of RUC men and all the expected uproar followed.

Is mise srl.,


2. Niall Meehan - October 18, 2012

There was one, possibly two, resignations from the KilmIchael Commemoration Committee in 1983 over inviting Gerry Adams’ to give the commemoration speech. A member of the Fianna Fail National Executive resigned. Possibly also one other FF member.

Still alive ambush veterans Jack O’Sullivan and Ned Young stated they had come under serious external pressure not to attend but resisted it, reportedly ‘enthusiastically’ – as can be verified by the Irish Times front page picture of them talking to Gerry Adams afterwards (28 Nov 1983).

The Times published also that day on page 9 a photo of a two person demonstration against Adams. One of the two (the leader of the effort) was a very grim faced Áine Ní Chonaill, later to achieve fame (or possibly its opposite) as PRO of the racist ‘Immigration Control Platform’. Maybe she thought Adams was one.

But, you are right, this was part of the state’s policy of hyper ventilating against Sinn Féin and against Adams (who defeated former, estranged, SDLP leader Gerry Fitt in West Belfast in that year’s Westminster election).

[How about ‘seriously tongue-in cheek’ then? – the phrase refers to the uncritical citation in the Good Old IRA pamphlet of newspaper condemnations of violence in 1919-21, to make it look like contemporary media reporting of the Northern Ireland conflict. It was a means, ironically (tongue-in cheek?), of establishing political continuity between the two periods.]


3. Niall Meehan - November 13, 2012

No discussion then, everyone in agreement.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: