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LETTER: Insight into Peter Hart's methods

August 19th, 2017 5:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

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SIR – I regret that Dr Eve Morrison intends departing from our discussion. It gave readers an insight into the debate on Peter Hart's methods, when he wrote about the War of Independence in West Cork.

Dr Morrison has not pointed to a single pertinent inaccuracy, ‘wild' or otherwise, in my four letters to The Southern Star. In Morrison's five contributions, the goalposts shifted repeatedly. I followed and answered on each occasion, including on Morrison's unrelenting fixation with successful historian Meda Ryan.

In her latest (August 12th) letter, Dr Morrison tells us that, in 2011, the late Fr John Chisholm ‘accidentally, temporarily, misla(id) one of his tapes.' It contained veteran Ned Young speaking on the Kilmichael Ambush. Since Fr Chisholm possessed two such tapes, his ‘forgetting' Young's interview was surprising.

But Fr Chisholm went further. In 2008, he informed Ned Young's son John Young that he did not interview his father, but ‘remember(ed) him affectionately as a man of real character.' On the ‘mislaid' tape, Young twice referred to his comrades speaking afterwards of a British Auxiliary ‘false surrender' at Kilmichael, an event Fr Chisholm dismissed as fiction.

How do we, reasonably, assess Fr Chisholm's behaviour?

Think nothing of it, says Morrison. Raise the subject and be accused of engaging in ‘abuse'. That approach signals an unfortunate return to intemperate language in the Peter Hart debate (with echoes of a more censorious Ireland). Morrison's related traducing of the late Maureen Deasy's attempts at safeguarding her father Liam's tape recordings, in Fr Chisholm's possession, is particularly unwise.

In relation to the Kilmichael Ambush, I remain sceptical of Morrison's speculative attempt to suggest that William Chambers temporarily left his post on Enniskeane bridge, in order to get a better view of a simultaneous 10-minute ambush, 15 kilometres away at Kilmichael, that no one, other than the participants, knew was taking place. William Chambers did not say he went to the ambush in the ‘evidence' Eve Morison originally laid before us. 

She said Chambers is the anonymous ambush eyewitness Peter Hart interviewed (with one of his coloured pens?) six days after the last ambush participant, Ned Young, died. Consequently, Morrison has had to move Chambers off the bridge she told us originally he said he was on.

Dr Morrison justifies this approach partly because she extends ambush participation to volunteers who were not there. In her 2012 Terror in Ireland contribution, she included the ‘previously unknown' Cornelius Kelleher. At home on November 28th,1920 Kelleher saw flames in the distance. He set out to find out why. 

He discovered on the way that post-ambush burning of British Auxiliary lorries caused them. In this manner, Dr Morrison has assembled some veterans who never claimed to have participated in the Ambush, who she says did.

In attempting to convince us that ambush commander Tom Barry lied about a false surrender at Kilmichael, Peter Hart made many mistakes. One was a clear misreading of Barry, that Fr Chisholm and Eve Morrison shared. I helped Eve Morrison to correct that and other mistakes, some of which she no longer repeats. 

I look forward to Morrison's attempt to reconcile all of this in her book. I hope our exchanges have clarified her thoughts. I look forward to reviewing them.

For anyone interested in the background this discussion, my recently-published The Embers of Revisionism might supply some food for further thought. Eve Morrison, please note, does not feature.

Yours etc.,

Dr Niall Meehan,

Faculty Head 

Journalism & Media,

Griffith College, 

Dublin 8.

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