Peter Hart and ethnic cleansing

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 2(March/April 2012), Letters, Revolutionary Period 1912-23, Volume 20

Sir,—John M. Regan (HI 20.1, Jan./Feb. 2012, pp 10–13) commits the same elision/omission for which he condemns Peter Hart when he writes, ‘Initially, Hart said that the 1922 West Cork massacre was what might be called “ethnic cleansing”’. This phrasing appears on p. 237 of Hart’s The IRA at war (2003). Regan then details some evidential changes and omissions by Hart and asserts that ‘on this spurious methodology rested Hart’s claims of “ethnic cleansing”’. However, he does not explain his use of the word ‘Initially’. This he omits to do because Hart a little later in that book (p. 246) definitively declares that ‘what happened in southern Ireland did not constitute ethnic cleansing’, and then explains why. So there is no doubt of his real and full view. (Usefully, Hart added that the conflict in the North also fails his ethnic cleansing test.) So Hart is not guilty of the charge of calling the massacre ‘ethnic cleansing’. What then of the ‘spurious methodology’ or textual changes that underpin a non-existent claim? They refer particularly to Frank Busteed, whose involvement in the Cork massacre Regan says moves in Hart’s thesis from the main text, is then relegated to a footnote and, in his first book, disappears. Busteed may no longer get a mention as a participant in the Dunmanway killings but he does get indexed on eight pages of the The IRA and its enemies (1998), with his ancestry and frequent military exploits well detailed. Regan says that Busteed was an atheist with a Protestant father and with siblings in the British Army. True. This is meant to explain Hart’s increasing difficulty with a Protestant IRA man, hence explaining his consequent textual marginalisation. But also true and critical are the facts that Busteed’s father died when he was two and that he was raised a Catholic by his nationally minded mother (as Hart says on p. 248), while the British Army brothers were brought up by a Protestant relative. Busteed was not a Protestant so there is no reason for elision or any deliberate omission. The execution of the four British intelligence officers at Macroom and whether there was a connection to the subsequent massacre of ten Bandon Valley Protestants remains a mystery to this day. It certainly confused Hart, who on p. 280 of The IRA and its enemies, in dealing with the massacre and the four deaths, mistakenly footnotes an erroneous news report of three officers being released. However, he cannot be accused of ‘ahistorically’ hiding a connection of which he had no knowledge, especially as he puts all these items on the same page.—Yours etc.,JEFFREY DUDGEONBelfast
P.S. For more information on the execution of the four British intelligence officers at Macroom readers are directed to ‘British Soldiers killed [in] Ireland 1919–21’, http://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/list-1921.html.

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