LETTER: Discrepancies in the number of alleged spies shot by IRA

August 20th, 2017 8:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

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SIR – I have carefully followed recent correspondence from Dr Niall Meehan, and Dr Eve Morrison, relating to the work of the late Professor Peter Hart on the Kilmichael ambush. Details about who Peter Hart interviewed, or didn't interview in the late 1980s, are of mind-boggling complexity.

Less confusing, is Dr Andy Bielenberg and Professor James S Donnelly Jr's research on the IRA executions of suspected spies and informers during the War of Independence. Peter Hart wrote in 1998, ‘…204 civilians were deliberately shot by the IRA in Cork in the course of the revolution (1917-23), the vast majority of whom were alleged to have been spies or informers' (IRA and its Enemies, Oxford, pp 295-6). 

So far, Bielenberg and Donnelly's online database confirms between February 20th, 1920 and July 11th, 1921, only 78 suspected spies and informers were executed by the IRA. The difference between Hart's 1998 and Bielenberg's and Donnelly's new figures are neither explained by IRA executions prior to 1920, nor those following July 1921.

Recently, I visited archives in Belfast, Dublin, and Cork. These archives contain data which in 1996, justified claims that nine counties in southern Ireland, including county Cork, experienced something Hart likened to ‘ethnic cleansing', and either side of 1922, a ‘mass exodus' of southern Protestants. Disparities between the archival evidence, properly counted, and Hart's inflated interpretation of this evidence is measured in tens of thousands.

Surprising many in recent years, professional historians have continued to identify previously unknown IRA ‘participants' in the famed Kilmichael ambush – some possibly Hart interviewees. It may be, these historians will now account for all of Hart's alleged spies and informers, alongside tens of thousands of unidentifiable refugees.

Yours etc,

John M Regan,

School of Humanities,

University of Dundee,


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