Harry Boland

Published in Issue 4 (Winter 2004), Letters, Revolutionary Period 1912-23, Volume 12

Sir,

—In his response (HI 12.3, Autumn 2004) to my review of his Harry Boland’s Irish Revolution (HI 12.2, Summer 2004), David Fitzpatrick states that he ‘could not afford the academic luxury of anodyne “impartiality” (as distinct from “multipartiality”)’, having made the tu quoque argument that ‘the reviewer who sets out to expose political prejudice is always at risk of betraying a contrary prejudice’. I can hardly take offence at that, since I have always been unashamedly polemical in my own arguments about the historical data brought to light by both myself and others. And when, over the course of time, my partisan views have changed, as they have on James Connolly, I myself have felt obliged to publicly explain how this came about. One problem with Fitzpatrick’s partisanship, however, is that it can devalue the results of his own superb capacity for research, even to the point of setting it at nought in at least one instance. This is where my call for a more serious consideration of the strong possibility, if not probability, that Harry Boland had indeed been murdered is dismissed as ‘O’Riordan’s airy conjecture, not shared by Eamon de Valera or myself’. But it is Fitzpatrick’s own research that demonstrates how Dev’s conclusions were based on the ill-informed assumption ‘that the raiders were men who had not been accustomed to having guns in their hands and that they got excited and fired’. And it is Fitzpatrick’s own research that also leads him to the contrary conclusion that, far from being an inexperienced raiding party, ‘their revolutionary and military credentials were impeccable’, and that ‘Harry had been struck down by his own kind’.

 
Fitzpatrick states that Boland was ‘driven by beliefs and allegiances far removed from one’s own’. Fair enough. The principal problem with Fitzpatick’s partisanship, however, is that it represents an unacknowledged radical shift in his publicly stated approach to writing Boland’s biography. When he responds to my reference to his ‘declared aim of impartiality’ by stating that he ‘declared no such aims in the book itself’, I must reject any suggestion that I ever misquoted him by putting into his mouth words that had never been there. The book itself demonstrates such partiality by listing the Great War and the Civil War without any qualification, but then, by way of contrast, going on to list the Irish ‘War of Independence’, with Fitzpatrick’s inverted commas suggesting that this is a misnomer for the cause for which Boland fought when Britain refused to recognise the mandate of the 1918 general election. All very different from the politically, no less than personally, reverential tones in which Fitzpatrick publicly announced in the Irish Times on 22 September 1997 that ‘at the request of his nephew, Harry Boland, I am preparing a biography of this key figure in the fight for independence’, and went on to solicit information and documents for what he himself designated as his ‘impartial account of an outstanding life’. Fitzpatrick was, of course, quite entitled to change his mind afterwards. But it should not have been left to a reviewer to announce that fact.

 

—Yours etc.,
MANUS O’RIORDAN

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