OPINION: No punches pulled in critique of revisionist

July 24th, 2017 12:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

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MOCKED by the satirical Phoenix magazine as the ‘West Brit History Fest,' the forthcoming West Cork History Festival in Skibbereen could turn into an old-fashioned dog fight should umbrage be taken at the obscurantist stance of certain revisionists invited to address the €180-a-skull event.

According to the Dublin magazine, participants include well-known anti-Republican critics who have a habitual liking for historian Peter Hart's contention that Tom Barry ordered the execution of British soldiers (Auxiliaries) after they surrendered at Kilmichael. It is expected that revisionists will advance their unique and narrow interpretation of the freedom struggle in West Cork.

All this will take place against a background of accusations by the North Cork Aubane Historical Society, which says that the deceased historian, Peter Hart, broke the rules of historical scholarship by blatantly distorting, censoring and misrepresenting historical sources. It maintains he used anonymous interviews – one with a dead participant in the Kilmichael Ambush. 

Worse still, ‘by innuendo and insinuation, Hart alleged that sectarianism and ethnic cleansing were the driving forces behind the War of Independence.'

No soft punches in that critique!


Ethnic cleansing

Tom Cooper (cathaoirleach, Irish National Congress), set the ball rolling in letters to this newspaper when he drew the attention of readers to the controversial revisionist line likely to be promulgated at the Festival. While welcoming West Cork's first history festival, he feared efforts would be made to resuscitate the false sectarian notion that a bigoted engagement with Protestantism was a characteristic of the IRA's activities.

Certainly, accusations relating to the so-called sectarianism of the IRA in West Cork, and to what the organisers provocatively refer to as the Bandon Valley Massacre, have been a feature of the ‘revisionist' line pushed by media pundits who at one time were prominent in the Workers' Party.


Intellectual mess

Generally accepted is the fact that when historian Peter Hart tragically died he left an intellectual mess behind him, particularly with respect to his allegations that sectarianism played a part in the murder of Protestant farmers, and that Tom Barry and his men butchered prisoners at Kilmichael.

Over the years such assertions contributed to irrelevant political sideshows that diminished the value of genuine historical scholarship relating to the armed struggle in West Cork. 

Ominously, to judge by the history of  bizarre ‘revisionist' comments made  by those pencilled-in to address the Skibbereen event, more allegations of sectarianism may surface as a tool with which to denigrate the achievements of the IRA.   

Yet, as Tom Cooper has pointed out in his letters to The Southern Star, ‘there is no solid evidence of religion-based targeting' by the IRA. 


Discreet curtain

Intriguing too is that in the case of Ireland's premier revisionist who set the standard for others to follow, Hart's former disciples have drawn a discreet curtain over his controversial opinions, including (it seems) the organisers of the History Festival. They do not mention or include a single session on his work.  

The Aubane Historical Society wonders why and asks if his opinions are now those of a non-person, ‘almost unmentionable by his previous admirers.' To help solve the mystery, they've published a contribution to the Festival, ‘The Embers of Revisionism,' which deals with Hart's controversial legacy.

However, a possible explanation for the absence of any reference to Hart may well reside in the fact that his type of crude revisionism is out of date, superfluous to current political and propagandistic needs, and manifestly wrong. 

After all, he based his claim of butchery at Kilmichael on an alleged conversation that he had with the last surviving member of Barry's Flying Column, a person who died six days before the interview took place!

Which seems to support the truth of the old adage that ‘all matters of history are matters of rumour and that well-documented history is well-spun rumour'!


Wild claims

Of course, pseudo-historians (mainly Sindo/Indo ‘revisionists') have a tendency to move furtively at the edges of legitimate historical research, particularly when they try to rewrite the historical record in order to make it ‘fit in' with contemporary politics (such as supporting Northern Loyalism and condemning Republican aspirations).

In recent years, there were no better practitioners of political chicanery than the Workers Party-Official IRA which was embedded in RTÉ and popular newspapers. The party engaged in mythmaking on a grand scale as it developed a reactionary political agenda, which then was fed with the repetition of wild claims. 

In pursuit of a North Korean-style society, they threw logical consistency, relevancy, fairness and honesty out the window. Fortunately, Irish people copped on to their antics and politically gave them the bum's rush. Thankfully, political action has moved on since the WP infiltration of RTÉ, the Ned Stapleton Cumann, Section 31 and other nefarious activities.  

Maybe the ‘revisionist' leopard at last has changed spots even if some of its former media stars, including those likely to speak in Skibbereen, remain caught in a time warp?

The North now is entering a new political phase, unification in the Brexit context makes sense for pragmatic unionists and hardline unionism is decaying. All of which is a challenge for our beached ‘Southern Ireland revisionists' who have to make a greater effort if they want to be intellectually consistent with the historical record. Hence, possibly, the reason for the history festival in Skibbereen. 


Wacky ideas

Tempora mutantur (the times change) and, with change in the air, who trusts in ancient revisionist myths fabricated by the Workers Party and the Indo/Sindo? To believe the fabricators would be like swallowing the myth that once involved the killing of Michael Collins at Béal na mBláth. 

He is supposed to have said with his last breath:  “Let the Dublin Brigade bury me”.  (Forensic medicine can show that having had most of his skull blown away it would have been particularly difficult for him to have said anything).

And let's not forget the myths concerning Sonny O'Neill's elephant gun that did the trick for Collins and the myth that, no, Jim Hurley wasn't responsible. And the story that Collins was shot by one of his own men (Emmet Dalton)!

Fact is that in a time of political flux, people believe anything but the myths currently manufactured by Indo/Sindo revisionists have run their course. They're useless because no one likes being lumped alongside people who support the goofy idea that the Virgin Mary was inseminated by aliens.

And although sometimes Indo/Sindo myths are grist to the folklore mill, they contain as much indisputable facts as the tale of IRA ethnic-cleansing in West Cork.

So, with a feeling of expectation and a desire for something important to happen, is there a possibility that Skibbereen's history festival will clean up revisionism's political junk, its mythmaking, so that tall tales are no longer confused with fair-minded historical commentary? We await the outcome with bated breath!

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