Published in Issue 5 (September/October 2022), Letters, Volume 30

Sir—In a review of Eve Morrison’s Kilmichael: The Life and Afterlife of an Ambush (HI 30.3 May/June 2022), Gerry White wrote that Morrison ‘spoke to a number of people who had an interest in the ambush. Notable exceptions are the papers of Tom Barry himself to which Morrison claims she was denied access and insights of Barry’s biographer, Meda Ryan.’

In a review of Barry Keane’s Massacre In West Cork (HI 22.3, May/June 2014) Morrison made a similar claim. I repeat the relevant part of what I stated in my reply then:

‘As I had Tom Barry’s papers on loan, I returned them once my biography was completed. I do not know who refused Morrison “access” (as she does not say), but I have no control over those private papers. With regard to Morrison’s reference to my use of private collections and personal interviews, I feel fortunate that many families trust and have trusted me, to give me their private collections on loan, which I always return. I hold my personal interviews, as many historians do. Fortunately, most of my interviews have been with active participants (primary sources) in an important period in Irish history. I use them prudently for ongoing research and writing.’

In fact, I have used some of these interviews in my recently published book, The day Michael Collins was shot: revised & updated edition.

Morrison (as the review states) may have spoken to people with an interest to the Kilmichael ambush. However, speaking to interested parties and interviewing the ambush participants, as I have done, are very different things.

The reviewer states that Morrison ‘provides evidence to refute one of the main allegations made against [Peter] Hart—that he claimed to have interviewed Ned Young, a veteran of the ambush, several days after Young died’.

I still repeat that Peter Hart claimed he interviewed an ambush participant on 19 November 1989, though Ned Young, the last recorded surviving participant, died six days earlier. In an exchange between Peter Hart and myself in History Ireland in 2005 and 2006, he refused to address the problem.

Hart’s two anonymous interviewees were: AE rifleman, 3 April, 25 June 1988, AF scout 19 Nov. 1989. All scouts on site were dead by 1967 and all riflemen by 13 Nov. 1989, when Ned Young died aged 97. Hart says AF gave him a tour of the ambush site. Who was AF, who gave a graphic account of the ambush on the site to Hart?

There were only three scouts on the site during ambush. In areas of the county many companies placed scouts in distant locations on that day. As an example: Bill Powell, No.1 Bgde., told me he was one of a few men closer to the site, from his company as a stand-by scout. John Hourihane, (Dan Hourihane’s brother—rifleman ambush participant), from Ballinacarriga, was scouting at Granure, to where the men returned. Wm. Chambers was one of those on a distant Bridge, and other scouts from Enniskeane Company were on stand-by.

Morrison now claims that Willie Chambers is AF, Hart’s 19 November 1989 interviewee. If so, Hart interviewed someone about the ambush who was not at it.  She also tells us that Hart’s other interviewee, AF/Ned Young did not speak about the ambush to Hart. This may be because Young virtually lost the power of speech after a stroke in 1986. Hart’s claim in his book to have partly based his ambush account on his interview with Ned Young is therefore false. To sum up, Hart claimed to have spoken to an ambush participant, but not about the ambush, and also about the ambush to someone who was not there.

The reviewer states: ‘Morrison admits that it is impossible to know exactly what happened at Kilmichael’. But we know what has happened, as I have written. In my book, Tom Barry: IRA freedom fighter, I have demonstrated that there was a ‘false surrender’ at Kilmichael ambush on 28 November 1920, and that flying column commander, Tom Barry afterwards regretted not warning his men of the danger of this eventuality.

In the review it is also mentioned that Morrison has dealt with the relationship between Liam Deasy and Tom Barry. It is important to note that Fr John Chisholm claimed, in an interview with me for my Tom Barry biography that he ‘had a free hand’ while writing Paddy O’Brien’s account of the Kilmichael ambush for Liam Deasy’s book Towards Ireland free.

Due to reviewers questioning Barry on this account, Barry asked Fr Chisholm to explain why ‘they omitted … the salient historical fact of the false surrender of the Auxiliaries at one of the major military victories of its kind in 1920-1921, not alone in County Cork, but in all Ireland’. Fr Chisholm also said his account of a training camp prior to an ambush was one he imagined. Furthermore, he claimed that he alone wrote Towards Ireland free.

Unfortunately, this split a wonderful relationship between Barry and Deasy who, according to one of the many interviews I did, were ‘great, really great friends’. This entire episode, was the ‘spark’ that impelled Barry to write his 1974 booklet, The reality of the Anglo- Irish War 1920-21 in west Cork. A delay in the ‘printing industry’ held up publication. Deasy died on the day of publication.

Both men, with such close friendship, had worked together to bring bodies of former colleagues from abroad for burial, and also did various volunteer work together, as I have written in my biography of Tom Barry.—Yours etc.,



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