Kilmichael

Published in Letters Extra

The eldest daughter of Liam Deasy writes

Sir,—I am the eldest daughter of Liam Deasy whose War of Independence memoir, Toward Ireland Free, was published in 1973. My father died in 1974. I willingly typed up the manuscript from start to finish as a labour of love.

Part of my father’s research consisted of tape-recorded interviews with IRA veterans. These were undertaken with the help of Fr John Chisholm, who edited the manuscript under direction of my father, and with his introduction of Fr Chisholm to former veterans. After publication and after my father died, Fr Chisholm regarded the tapes as in effect his personal possessions. In 2007 I requested from him in a telephone conversation a copy of my father’s tapes for submission to interested historians, a request he abruptly rejected on the grounds of ‘priestly confidentiality’.

The tapes were subject to controversy due to Fr Chisholm allowing the late Peter Hart, author of The IRA and its Enemies (1998), to quote the recordings anonymously. Hart reported three veterans on the tapes speaking on the November 1920 Kilmichael ambush. Some years ago due to pressure from historians to make the tapes available for inspection, Fr Chisholm gave the tapes to a member of the Deasy family, a nephew of my father. On the basis that she was sympathetic to Peter Hart’s account Eve Morrison of Trinity College was given access to the tapes. She partially reported their contents in a chapter in Terror in Ireland, 1916-1923 (2012). She wrote that the tapes contained veteran testimony from two Kilmichael veterans.

In Trinity College on 26 October 2011 at a talk on Kilmichael by Eve Morrison, Fr Chisholm was questioned by TV producer Jerry O’Callaghan. O’Callaghan listened to and was allowed to report on the recordings but not broadcast them. He reported in Scéal Tom Barry (‘The Tom Barry Story’) on TG4 in January 2012 that the tapes contained just one Kilmichael veteran speaking on the ambush. Fr Chisholm answered that he had mislaid a final tape O’Callaghan did not hear. He subsequently found that tape and gave it to Eve Morrison. It contained the testimony played at the TCD seminar and it was from Kilmichael veteran Ned Young. That is a very strange fact. In response to a request from John Young, son of Ned Young, for a copy of his father’s tape, Fr Chisholm stated that he didn’t have a tape recording of Ned Young.

In addition to the Deasy/Chisholm interviewees, Hart claimed to have personally interviewed two more veterans in 1988-89. As Ned Young was the last Kilmichael veteran alive since December 1986 he had to be one. However, Ned Young suffered a stroke in late 1986 and could not communicate effectively (as sworn on affidavit by Ned’s son, John). Furthermore, Hart reportedly interviewed his second alleged additional veteran six days after Ned Young died. Therefore, as it stands currently there are now nine Deasy/Chisholm tapes containing two Kilmichael veterans speaking on the ambush, not three as Hart claimed. Hart’s two separate additional interviews seem fictitious.

This situation clamours for the production of all the Chisholm/Deasy tapes for the scrutiny of all interested historians. On 3 June 2009 I wrote as follows to my father’s nephew, the present custodian of convenience of the tapes, with a copy to Fr Chisholm:

‘It is my fervent wish that the tapes be placed in the public domain, where other scholars may have access to the contents. My father’s research should not be sullied by becoming a political football. The only way in which this may be avoided is by openly and transparently placing the information in a historical archive.  I suggest University College Cork as most appropriate.’

Professor Dermot Keogh, then Head of History in UCC, was in contact and expressed great interest in receiving and safeguarding the material. My plea fell on deaf ears, as the tapes are still held privately and are still denied critical scrutiny.

I am not in good health.  It is my fervent wish that Fr Chisholm make a thorough search for all material belonging to my father which he may also have mislaid, and that the material be given to UCC for use by researchers. This scandalous situation has to end and can only end with full disclosure of the tapes and their contents. Yours etc.,

MAUREEN DEASY

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