Coolacrease review

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 3 (May/Jun 2009), Letters, Letters, Revolutionary Period 1912-23, Volume 17


—In his review of Coolacrease (HI 17.2, March/April 2009) JoostAugusteijn presents himself as a neutral arbiter between the authors ofthe work and the writers of the tradition it criticises. In fact, it isclear that he is as committed as Philip O’Connor and his contributors,only from an opposing pole and in a more subtle manner.
On the one hand, he agrees that the RTÉ documentary The Killings atCoolacrease, broadcast in autumn 2007, presented ‘a false portrayal ofevents’, and he gives Peter Hart a mild rap over the knuckles for‘unfortunately too lightly’ dismissing the charges against his findingsin The IRA and its Enemies. In fact the basic charge against Hart isserious enough to invalidate the assumptions that have been erected onits foundations: that, in using an intelligence document showing ageneral situation, he excludes a passage that negates his argument onthe precise events (the Dunmanway murders of April 1922) with which hedeals. It seems probable that Hart is trying to be astute by lying low.
On the other hand, Augusteijn criticises the contributors to the bookreviewed more stringently for ‘uncorroborated statements’, a chargerepeated in various forms throughout the review. He accuses them, too,of being ‘republicans’, though, to this correspondent’s knowledge,O’Connor and some of his contributors are not only not of thatpersuasion but would have been counted by Augusteijn among therevisionists one or two decades ago.
Of course, as the reviewer says, ‘both sides felt justified in whatthey did’. The trouble is, however, not that there is a conflictbetween ‘revisionists’ and those who uphold (and try to develop) themore traditional nationalist descriptive analysis, but that there was,and is, a real division, going back to the Acton–Creighton polemic andbeyond, between what might be termed the libertarians and theauthoritarians. Both have causes for their stances. In this debate,both the Pearsons and Augusteijn are for authority: the Pearsonsopenly, Augusteijn more subtly.
The danger comes when a member of one party claims that his side isreally the other’s. This is the problem with Augusteijn’s subtlety. ThePearsons seem to have believed in the empire, regardless of anyquestion of an Irish mandate, but, in trying to justify his positionfor a more democratic age, Augusteijn ties himself in knots. The natureof the democratic basis for Dáil Éireann can be debated indefinitely.What is certain is that it represented by far the largest politicalgrouping in Ireland and that both its rivals (Unionists andconstitutional nationalists) were too divided against each other toprovide an alternative. Had the colonial regime been as democratic asis claimed, it would have been at least ready to open negotiations withthe rebellious assembly. Instead, it chose to try to dictate asettlement that was less satisfactory to Irish nationalists than thesuspended Home Rule Act and to enforce its dictates by armed force, upto and including, as we see in the same issue of HI, murder gangs.
This may have been a lesser evil. What it was not was democratic, andJoost Augusteijn does himself and history no favours by suggesting thatit was.

—Yours etc.,
Dublin 5


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