Fake history and ‘alternative facts’

Published in Editorial, Issue 5 (September/October 2017), Volume 25


Readers of this magazine are no doubt familiar with the controversy stirred up by Peter Hart’s The IRA and its enemies (1998), and in particular by his thesis of the underlying sectarianism of the IRA’s campaign in Cork during the War of Independence. The difficult questions posed by Hart were entirely justified, but in the fullness of time both his thesis and his research methods were questioned by other historians—an equally justified enterprise. For example, extrapolating from Methodist records, David Fitzpatrick (coincidentally Hart’s supervisor) in Descendancy: Protestant histories since 1795 (2015) tentatively suggested that Protestant demographic decline had little to do with the violence of the revolutionary period and was of a much longer durée.

The preliminary findings of the Cork Fatality Register for the War of Independence, which features in this issue’s Platform (pp 14–17) by Andy Bielenberg, one of its compilers (along with Jim Donnelly), also undermine the thesis that the IRA’s campaign in Cork was characterised (my italics) by sectarianism. But readers can judge for themselves. Another research project, the Protestant Folklore Project, also featured in this issue (pp 48–51), will no doubt cast further light on this issue.

Yet in the current climate of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’, certain bloggers (many anonymous) and media personalities persist in pushing the sectarian thesis. While at the outset of a particular investigation, historical or otherwise, opposing views may have equal validity, in the course of investigation and the uncovering of evidence one or other will fall by the wayside. There are no ‘alternative facts’.

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As we pause (briefly!) in the ongoing ‘decade of commemorations’, keep an eye out for the second of our stand-alone annual publications, ‘Changed utterly’—Ireland after the Rising 1916–18, in the shops from early October 2017 (details on p. 62). A third, A global history of the Irish revolution 1919–23, is planned for early 2019.

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