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A few pieces on Big House Burnings during the Irish Revolution January 4, 2013

Posted by irishelectionliterature in History.

Saw these links on facebook today and its a topic that may be of interest to some of you.
A decent piece (in pdf format) from James S Donnelly jnr on Big House Burnings in County Cork during the Irish Revolution, 1920–21*

There is also a good piece on the subject on the excellent The Irish Story site


1. littlemicky2012 - January 4, 2013

Interesting articles. The first mentions the burning of much of the Colthurst mansions in Cork. Of course the Colthurst connection with Cork remains to this day. Lord Colthurst is the owner of Blarney castle,where the gullible pay to go and kiss a stone. A stone local youths piss on as a right of passage, as it happens. The current Lord Colthurst is quite out spoken railing last year against the excessively generous level of the minimum wage, no doubt cutting into his multi million profits from Blarney Castle. He also owns the village square in Blarney which he denied use of to the local community last year for their Patricks day events. If you ask me not half enough of the big houses were burnt out. The residents should have been expropriated or driven out if they resisted.


Martin Savage - January 4, 2013

The crime of captain colthurst


Niall Meehan - January 9, 2013

Donnelly’s is a highly significant piece of writing. It will help to reverse badly documented sectarianism allegations in relation to the War of independence that have plagued irish history writing since publication of the late Peter Hart’s ‘The IRA and its Enemies’ in 1998.

One quibble on first reading.

On p. 177 Donnelly sugests that Hart used the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ in his 1998 book to describe alleged sectarian attacks on Protestants. He did not. While Hart strongly implied it, that phrase was used in Hart’s earlier 1996 essay, ‘The Protestant Experience of revolution in Southern ireland’. It was reprinted in ‘The IRA at War’ (2003), where, in a new essay for that book, Hart said ‘ethnic cleansing’ did not a feature in the south. This confused a lot of people, including Professor David Fitzpatrick who I have attempted to correct on the subject on four occasions.


Substantively, Donnelly shows, as did Joost Augusteijn previously in his studies of Wexford and Tipperary, and as did John Borgonovo in his Spies and Informers book on Cork City, that in general where the IRA attacked property or persons during the War of Independence it had a rational military or political motive not linked to sectarianism.


Niall Meehan - January 9, 2013
2. Red Hand - January 10, 2013

Wasn’t Donnelly’s point that Hart did not really write anything about the attacks on big house Protestants?


Niall Meehan - January 10, 2013

More a case that Hart failed to examine why particular things happened and failed to adequately classify them. See Donnelly’s note 4 (p142-3) in which he points out that Hart simply asserted that ‘113 private homes’ were burned, implying it was sectarian because the owners were predominantly Protestant. John Borgonovo made the same criticism of Hart’s broad-brush conclusions with regard to IRA execution of suspected informers.

As Donnelly points out, many of the very large ‘Big House’ dwellings burned were used to billet British troops, reasonably suspected of being about to be used for this purpose, burned in retaliation for British reprisal burning and destruction of property, because the owner refused to cease working within the police and judicial system, or for other political/military causes having little or anything to do with the victim’s religious identity.

If the well-to-do owners of these premises were mainly Protestant and loyalist that has more to say about the sectarian nature of British rule than about those (the majority) who opposed that sectarianism and wanted a more egalitarian society.

Read Fergus Campbell’s ‘Land and Revolution’ (2005) and his ‘The Irish Establishment’ (2010). I wrote a review of the latter:



3. Red Hand - January 10, 2013

No, I think from reading Donnelly’s paragraphs again I think he is saying Hart did not really look at the big house burnings.


4. Niall Meehan - January 10, 2013

…. and in not looking at (examining) them, while including them in his statistics, Hart was not in a position to make the sweeping and sensational assertions with which his analysis concluded.


Dr.Nightdub - January 11, 2013

Such sweeping assertions seem to have been par for the course with Hart. In the chapter of “The IRA at War” which deals with the Belfast pogrom, he basically assumed that all Protestant deaths were caused by non-Protestants, though he allowed that “some” were not. But in fact, 34 Protestant civilians (i.e. non-RUC/Specials) were killed by the British army and a further 22 by their co-religionists who mistook their victims as being from the other side. Between them, this represents almost a third of all Protestant civilians killed during the pogrom – a far cry from “some”.


Niall Meehan - January 11, 2013

Yes, unfortunately a fairly typical ‘Hartism’. Hart’s use of ‘at least’ elicited this from Michael Farry (The Aftermath of Revolution, Sligo 1921-23, UCD, 2000, p193):

“Few incidents of Protestant victimisation were reported from Sligo during the War of Independence. Peter Hart’s statement that ‘At least two [Protestant churches] in Sligo were burned before the truce’ lacks evidence. The two reports he cites refer to the same incident, an unsuccessful attempt to burn Tubercurry Protestant Church and school. Three men were apprehended for this crime by Volunteers, convicted at a Sinn Fein court and ordered to pay fines to the local Protestant clergyman.”

Such mistakes tended to serve Hart’s argument, a curious achievement.

(Where did you get your interesting Belfast info? – my email address at http://gcd.academia.edu/NiallMeehan)


Niall Meehan - January 13, 2013

For those still interested in the long running debate over Hart’s methodology, the latest History Ireland has a ‘Letters Extra’ section on the web. There are letters from Maureen Deasy (daughter of Liam), Maura O’Donovan (daughter of Kilmichael veteran, Pat), from Sean Kelleher, Eve Morrison, Jeff Dudgeon, and from me.

The URLs are:

Maureen Deasy:

Kelleher, Meehan, Morrison, O’Donovan:


The response is fallout from Padraic O Ruairc’s History Ireland review of Terror in Ireland 1916-23 (David FItzpatrick, ed), to which Morrison then took exception, followed by responses in the Nov-Dec 2012 History Ireland and in the latest Jan-Feb 2013 edition.

This one, it appears, continues to run and run…….


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