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LETTER: Was ‘not insulting anyone's memory'

August 12th, 2017 5:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

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SIR – In relation to Barry Keane's and Niall Meehan's latest letters (August 5th), it should be noted that you published two letters relating to Dan Hourihan last week, by me and by West Cork-born local historian Don Wood, who came to the same conclusions I did, and was more critical. 

I am not insulting anyone's memory, and I did not deny that Hourihan took part in the Kilmichael Ambush. He helped prepare for it and was with the column at the ambush site that morning. 

Hourihan also unambiguously states that, as the column were taking their positions, he left (under Barry's orders) for Ballinacarriga to organise the withdrawal. He asserted that these activities qualified as taking active part in the ambush, and I agree. However, nowhere in the file does Hourihan or anyone else state that he was involved in the actual fight at Kilmichael. 

In fact, in March 1941 the pension board concluded that his ‘fighting service' began in the 7th period (April 1st to July 11th, 1921). In their August 1942 response, Paddy O'Brien and other members of the local brigade committee confirmed Hourihan's armed involvement with the flying column from January 1921, and no earlier. 

Meda Ryan's account of her 1973 interview, by contrast, suggests that Hourihan took part in the attack at Kilmichael, which is one of the reasons she should release her evidence. As I already stated, Willie Chambers was the scout Peter Hart spoke to in November 1989, and whom Hart cited in his Kilmichael chapter in The IRA and Its Enemies. Chambers' son Liam states that his father was a scout at Enniskeane Bridge. This is closer to the ambush site than Ballinacarriga, where Tom Barry sent Hourihan. Hart's interview notes suggest that Chambers witnessed part of the ambush, so he must also have left his position at some point and made his way to the ambush site.

It is perfectly reasonable to ask Ryan to release her interview notes. John Borgonovo and Andy Bielenberg of UCC have also, and quite rightly, made a public call for Tom Barry's papers to be made available. Keane himself has stated that ‘All oral history is expected to be deposited in a repository to be accepted as historical documents.' 

Using these criteria, how can Ryan's interviews be accepted as evidence until they become publicly accessible? Yet Keane and Niall Meehan employ Ryan's work entirely uncritically, and ignore several serious errors and inconsistencies in her Kilmichael account. Is this not truly staggering hypocrisy? 

According to Meehan, the late Fr John Chisholm's interviews are compromised by his scepticism (because of what veterans told him) about the false surrender. Yet somehow Ryan's unquestioning belief in it is unproblematic. 

Chisholm is abused at length for accidentally, temporarily, mislaying one of his tapes, but Ryan deliberately withholding her interviews is acceptable. For Meehan to besmirch Chisholm, who allowed more access to his interviews than anyone else involved in this debate, is outrageous but unfortunately not surprising. 

Meehan is fixated with discrediting Hart. He twists and misrepresents every bit of evidence that comes to light and conjures problems out of nothing. 

I can only imagine what new conspiracies he will attempt to weave around, for instance, the fact that Hart took his interview notes using two different coloured pens. 

Several of Meehan's latest assertions are so wildly inaccurate that I don't see much point in engaging with him anymore. Let's be clear, there was no rift between Chisholm and the Deasy family. Chisholm consulted them about all decisions concerning his (and they were his) interviews. 

While it is true that the late Maureen Deasy bombarded him with a series of bizarre letters, the rest of her family had no disagreements with Chisholm.  

I aim to make a fair-minded appraisal of all available evidence relating to Kilmichael, including Ryan's interviews (if necessary without access to the originals), using consistent standards. That is what historians do.

Yours etc,

Eve Morrison,

Trinity College,

Dublin.

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