A new mutation of revisionism

Published in Issue 5 (September/October 2020), Letters, Volume 28

Sir,—I welcome Dr Fearghal Mac Bhloscaidh’s timely analysis of the partial reading of the revolutionary period by earlier revisionist historians (HI 28.4, July/August 2020, Platform).

The limited ambition of the ‘assembly line of automatons’ emerging from our history departments during the Decade of Centenaries has facilitated the evolution of a virulent mutation of revisionism. This is marked by an excessive emphasis on localised ‘militarist’ aspects of the War of Independence and an obsessive focus on individual personalities, whether minor or major, to the exclusion of any consideration of the overall picture, not least the interplay of class issues or of the underlying economic dimension.

The welcome opening-up of the Military Archives, and their gradual migration on-line, has inadvertently facilitated this localism/personality mutation. The excessive official emphasis on the centenaries of events, the marshalling of these events into discrete years—to facilitate official commemoration—rather than seeing them as an evolutionary ebb and flow over several years, has led to an absence of any fresh insights into the conventional historical overview of that time. Swamped by detail, historians are failing to see the wood for the trees.

It is good to see the work being done in recovering the role of women, but the work of building a more complete, nuanced narrative still has dismal gaps. There has been little new light shed on the critical role of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in the years from 1913 to 1924, and even less on the important role and influence of the Labour movement—specifically the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, its radical organisers and its intuitively revolutionary female and male members.

Dr Mac Bhloscaidh aptly cites Connolly: ‘But history, in general, treats the working class … with contempt … Irish history has ever been written by the master class in the interests of the master class’. A century on, nothing much has changed.—Yours etc.,

LIAM CAHILL
Drumree
Co. Meath

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