Dr regan/mr snide replies

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 4 (July/August 2012), Letters, Revolutionary Period 1912-23, Volume 20

Eve Morrison, John M. Regan, editor Tommy Graham, David Fitzpatrick and John Borgonovo at the History Ireland Hedge School in the National Library, Dublin, on 11 January 2012. (National Library of Ireland/Lar Boland)

Eve Morrison, John M. Regan, editor Tommy Graham, David Fitzpatrick and John Borgonovo at the History Ireland Hedge School in the National Library, Dublin, on 11 January 2012. (National Library of Ireland/Lar Boland)

Sir—In articles published in History Ireland and History, I recently drew attention to the late Peter Hart’s presentation of an unambiguous sectarian explanation for the so-called ‘Bandon Valley massacre’ of late April 1922. In a public lecture given in Cork, and coinciding with the massacre’s 90th anniversary, Dr Andy Bielenberg argued for the impossibility of attributing motive where the perpetrators of a massacre go unknown. In my analysis of Hart’s work I argue that he did not know, with one possible exception, the identities of the massacre’s perpetrators. This poses difficulties for Hart’s attribution of motive. It may also identify a problem in David Fitzpatrick’s reply: ‘Regan neglects the complexity of Hart’s argument in his eagerness to denounce this or that pithy phrase’, Fitzpatrick tells us. The ‘sound-bite’ that Fitzpatrick has in mind is ‘These men were killed because they were Protestant’, and while I have always acknowledged that Hart advanced other, subordinate reasons for the massacre, the victims’ religion was, it is fair to say, always dominant. Fitzpatrick follows up by saying that in The IRA and its enemies (1998) Hart ‘accepted that the unnamed perpetrators were probably influenced by a medley of suppositions, mistaken or otherwise, about their targets [my emphasis]’. The words ‘unnamed’ and ‘probably’ are important because of Fitzpatrick’s later assertion that Hart knew the names of possible perpetrators and that, armed with this information, Hart was in a better position to speculate about motives.While Hart was strong on motive he remained vague about perpetrators. In the absence of identifying perpetrators by name or religion or domicile in his book he relied on five suppositions: (1) the massacre was carried out by Roman Catholics; (2) these were IRA Volunteers; (3) they hated Protestants for a medley of reasons; (4) the massacre was revenge for the killing of an IRA commandant, Michael O’Neill, on 27 April 1922 by a Protestant (ex-captain Herbert Woods); (5) several raiding parties moved independently of one another against the Protestants in random, spontaneous, ‘copycat’ killing sprees. The problem with Hart’s suppositions is the lack of evidence supporting them. For example, without evidence of who the perpetrators were, how could Hart assert that the raiding parties acted independently? The piling of one supposition upon another was critical to Hart’s narrative of Protestants being killed because of religious hatred.It is true, as Professor Fitzpatrick acknowledges, that Hart thought that he knew the identity of one of the massacre’s perpetrators. In his 1993 doctoral thesis Hart named Frank Busteed as a possible perpetrator. In the book published in 1998, however, no alleged perpetrators were identified by name. Inconveniently for Hart’s speculative interpretation, Busteed was the son of a Protestant father, and the accusation of sectarian motivation hangs uneasily on him. Surprisingly, perhaps, Hart never discussed Busteed’s attitude toward Protestants. According to Hart, about twelve hours before the killing started in the Bandon Valley, Busteed was involved in the abduction of three British intelligence officers at Macroom. Fitzpatrick says that any speculation about the abduction and later execution of three intelligence officers during the massacre is ‘strictly irrelevant’. Alternatively, once the connection (British officers–Busteed–massacre) is established it cannot be ignored in any discussion of motive. Hart’s response to this complication was twofold. In his doctoral thesis, supervised by Fitzpatrick, Hart guardedly acknowledged the connection but did not discuss it in the massacre chapter. In the book Hart deleted all references to Busteed’s involvement in the massacre. If motive is related to the identity of the perpetrators, then Busteed alongside the British officers should form part of the discussion. The problem is that neither Busteed nor the intelligence officers conform to the expectations of an unambiguous narrative of sectarian massacre, and so they are marginalised or deleted. This simplifies matters greatly for Hart’s story, but the suppression of this evidence remains an ahistorical procedure. Fitzpatrick writes in his reply to me:

‘As for Hart’s decision not to name Busteed and other reputed perpetrators of the massacre, I see no reason to doubt his own explanation: “I have not included the names cited by [Kevin] Myers or my own informants as some of this information is contradictory and the identifications are second-hand and unproven. The identity of these killers remains a hugely sensitive topic in West Cork.” The fact that names included in Hart’s thesis were dropped from the book does not betoken suppression of relevant facts, but enhanced prudence and rigour in the use of evidence [my emphasis].’

But this explanation of Busteed’s name alongside the names of other probable perpetrators being ‘dropped’ is unsatisfactory. At the History Ireland Hedge School in the National Library on 11 January 2012, David Fitzpatrick explained that references to Busteed’s involvement in the massacre were likely removed from the book owing to the publisher’s wish to reduce footnotes. This was challenged. The explanation Fitzpatrick now advances is more convincing. Fitzpatrick now states that Busteed’s name was removed from the published text as part of a policy of prudent revision and redaction. Hart, we are told, removed the names of the massacre’s ‘reputed perpetrators’ from the book because the evidence identifying them in the doctoral thesis could not be adequately substantiated. But Fitzpatrick misrepresents Hart. A problem arises with the quotation of Hart cited above by Fitzpatrick. This is not, as Fitzpatrick claims, Hart’s explanation as to why he deleted the names of ‘reputed perpetrators’ whom he had earlier identified in his 1993 thesis. Hart’s explanation, it is true, is in the book (p. 282, n. 67), but it appears verbatim in the doctoral thesis (p. 377, n. 46). Hart’s explanation does not relate to a revision of the original text. Hart never named the alleged perpetrators identified in 1989 by Kevin Myers (Busteed was not named by Myers), and elsewhere by his own interviewees. But Hart did cite a statement by Busteed in his doctoral thesis in which Busteed surrendered information identifying himself as a probable perpetrator of the massacre. Contrary to Fitzpatrick, Busteed is the only named ‘probable perpetrator’ of the massacre in the doctoral thesis removed from the text while it was being prepared for publication. This deletion is not an example of ‘enhanced prudence and rigour’; it is an example of elision—the simple expedient of ignoring the evidence. While it may be acceptable to say that the ‘perpetrators’ went ‘unnamed’ by Hart in his book, as David Fitzpatrick initially writes in his reply to me, this is not because their names were removed but because (excepting Busteed) they were unknown to Hart. Notwithstanding Busteed, there was no reliable evidence for the suppositions Hart made about perpetrators or the motives for the massacre. And any discussion of motive had to include Busteed, where Hart identified Busteed as the only probable perpetrator. Hart made bricks without straw, even when straw was to hand. It is, of course, possible that hastily re-reading Peter Hart’s doctoral thesis I have overlooked the naming of the ‘reputed perpetrators’ of the massacre to which David Fitzpatrick now draws our attention. But if these names can be identified, David Fitzpatrick can furnish History Ireland with a list of them, no doubt also identifying their religious and other affiliations. This brings us back to our original problem of attributing motive without identifying perpetrators. The removal of Busteed from the published text enhanced the credibility of four of Hart’s five main suppositions: (1) the killers were Roman Catholics; (3) they hated Protestants; (4) the murders revenged an IRA death; (5) IRA raiding parties acted independently and spontaneously. (According to Hart, Busteed was a highly effective IRA leader in a normally disciplined military organisation.) The best evidence identified by Hart linked British intelligence officers–Busteed–massacre. But reference to these connections weakens the plausibility of Hart’s suppositions and his narrative, and so the connection goes unmentioned. Speaking at Trinity College last September, I took the decision to label Hart’s approach ‘academic fraud’ for two reasons. First, Hart’s method employs elision, suppression of evidence and excessive supposition to advance a one-sided interpretation of sectarian-inspired killing. This renders what he writes ahistorical, in the sense of inadequately representing all of the available evidence. Second, the construction of a narrative of one religious community, Roman Catholics, murdering their Protestant neighbours because of religious hatred is unethical where that interpretation rests on gross misrepresentations of the evidence. That Hart’s narrative was carefully refined during a decade of horrific sectarian violence in Ireland underlines my second charge of unethical research. This brings us to the nub of the matter—Hart’s research is either acceptable or unacceptable to professional historians.For all I hear to the contrary, I do not advance ‘conspiracy theories’ in academic refereed journals or anywhere else. What I’m interested in exploring is the manufacture of consensus among Irish historians on contentious issues. The tetchy reception of my work in some quarters is an example of the kind of consensus I want to explain. Why do some historians resort to ad hominem argument, veiled threats and filibustering, when appeals to superior evidence would serve them better?  At Trinity College, for centuries honourably associated with an enlightened Protestant ethos (and not a few of Ireland’s greatest liberal historians), the charges levelled at Hart’s thesis may be disquieting. For what we witness in Hart’s interpretation is a reawakening of a species of religious propaganda that many believed was long extinct. It is in response to this observation that my intervention is explained. I make no apology, exitus acta probat. Elsewhere, propaganda’s intrusion into academic writing is monitored by senior academics possessing the experience and the skills both to write and to expose it. That some historians have, as I recently argued in Irish Historical Studies, contributed to the writing of ahistorical public histories may explain why detection sometimes did not happen. But if we cannot differentiate propaganda from historical writing, I contend, the discipline of history loses credibility and historians will deserve no funding inside our universities. Either the Irish academy is healthy, as David Fitzpatrick intimates, or things are very unwell, much as I say. History Ireland readers must judge for themselves. Meanwhile they can expect to see Fitzpatrick’s list of redacted ‘reputed perpetrators’, which explains Busteed’s disappearance from Hart’s massacre chapter. The c. 500 people who attended a public lecture on the massacre in Cork recently will be interested to know these names, as well as how Hart’s 1993 statement that Bandon Protestants were typically ‘reticent’ about spying against the IRA was ever reconciled with Fitzpatrick’s observation in 1977 that ‘a number of Protestant farmers near Bandon who did [spy] were killed by the IRA’ (thesis, p. 382; Fitzpatrick, Politics and Irish life, 1977, p. 31; 2nd edn, 1998, p. 27). Hart’s and Fitzpatrick’s source is the same British intelligence report. It says that espionage was rare among Southern Ireland’s Protestant loyalists, but that an ‘exception to this rule was in the Bandon area’.Into the long-untroubled communities of West Cork Peter Hart threw dragons’ teeth. The question now is not what we will reap but how we should respond.—Yours etc.,JOHN M. REGANUniversity of Dundee


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