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LETTER: Identification of IRA veteran interesting

Sunday, 18th June, 2017 8:00pm
LETTER: Identification of IRA veteran interesting

Send your letters to editorial@southernstar.ie

SIR – Eve Morrison’s identification of an IRA veteran, interviewed anonymously by the late Peter Hart about the November 1920 Kilmichael Ambush, is of great interest (Letters, June 10th, 2017).

Controversy arose because the interview was dated six days after the last known Kilmichael veteran, Ned Young, died on November 13th, 1989. The discrepancy was first noted in Meda Ryan’s 2003 biography, Tom Barry, IRA Freedom Fighter, on the ambush commander.

In 2008, I pointed out that Hart’s mysterious interviewee was presented as an ambush participant in Hart’s 1992 PhD thesis. He became an unarmed ‘scout’ in Hart’s 1998 book, The IRA and its Enemies. He was identified in the thesis as touring Hart around the ambush site, a claim the book withdrew. 

I indicated also a problem with words attributed by Hart to this interviewee. In 2012 Eve Morrison confirmed he did not utter them.

Eve Morrison now states that IRA veteran William Chambers is the individual in question. He confirmed to his son that he was, ‘an unarmed, secondary scout at Enniskeane Bridge during the Kilmichael ambush.’

In that case, Hart seems to have put further words into this man’s mouth. Hart cited him saying, ‘he saw several (British) Auxiliaries surrender’ during the fighting ‘and then heard further firing, some of which came from the Englishmen’ (Hart, 1998, p35).

Eve Morrison will surely concur that such an audiovisual feat is not possible on a bridge at Enniskeane, approximately 15km from the ambush location. 

In 2012 in the edited collection Terror in Ireland, Eve Morrison suggested that Hart’s errors resulted from muddle and not misrepresentation. I tend toward the latter view, explained in ‘Examining Peter Hart’ (Field Day Review 10, 2014).

Peter Hart claimed that ambush commander Tom Barry was a vainglorious serial killer, who falsely stated that IRA casualties at Kilmichael were caused by an Auxiliary false surrender. 

Had he named his interviewees, Hart’s claims would not have been possible.

Hart made further claims with regard to IRA sectarianism. Unfortunately, in what seems to have been a pattern, he censored and misrepresented archival sources in making them. 

It is possible to believe what Peter Hart asserted, but his research is not a reliable support. In effect, his muddle appears to have been his method.

I echo Eve Morrison’s call that relatives with veteran interviews and other archival material should make them available, I suggest to a public archive. 

In Munster, UCC’s History Department is one logical place for hosting such material. It may then be evaluated equally by all scholars and other interested members of the public.

Yours, etc,

Niall Meehan, 

Cabra, 

Dublin 7.

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