Published in 20th Century Social Perspectives, 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 4 (July/August 2010), Letters, Letters, Volume 18

Child clerical sexual abuse, denial and cover-up

Sir,—I read your editorial (HI 18.3, May/June 2010) with concern because it is upsetting to think of anyone who is usually positive expressing such despair at aspects of present-day life in Ireland. But I have to disagree with your suggestions regarding denial and cover-up of the sexual abuse of children. My life as a social worker in the UK was spent for twenty years trying to help people cope with reality, of one or another kind. It is not something that human beings are good at, as has been said before. But I don’t think that I have ever met anyone, apart from some abuse perpetrators, who deliberately set out to stage a cover-up for a colleague. The people I met were in a pitiable state of shock, unable to take in the possibility that someone they thought they knew well could be guilty of a most dreadful crime. Even when they had to believe it was true, they usually had no idea of what to do about it. Mistakes were frequently made, not only by bishops but also by school heads, police and even directors of social services. Not all mistakes received public attention.

Ambivalence did not help. The physical/sexual abuse of boys, particularly, was a commonplace feature of boarding institutions, workhouses, prisons, detention centres, schools (including public schools), and even the Royal Navy. A staple of the News of the World in the 1950s was crude jocular stories about naughty vicars and choirboys. The abuse of boys, especially, was viewed as a very minor offence, especially if the perpetrators happened to be famous or talented. In the 1970s, child sexual abuse was referred to at LSE, where I trained, solely in the context of incest, admittedly the most harmful form of abuse.

The situation was not worse here in Ireland than it was in the UK. But people here are perhaps more accustomed to denial. I found families able to ignore the literacy problems of children, the presence of mental illness, and the future needs of teenagers with disabilities.

Perhaps we need to look at our historical roots before we act traditionally and unload all responsibility onto figures of authority.—Yours etc.,


Books in Irish

A eagarthóir,—I read with interest Peter Hart’s review of Piaras Beaslaí’s biography of Michael Collins (HI 18.2, March/April 2010) and agree with him that the definitive work on Béaslaí is undoubtedly Padraig Ó Siadhail’s biography An Béaslaíoch (Coiscéim, 2008). If this is so, why has it not been reviewed in History Ireland? One has just to read the list of primary and secondary sources, including Béaslai’s personal diary, studied by the author to get an idea of the extent of his research. The book, however, has received very little publicity. Are there no historians with a sufficient knowledge of Irish to review it?

I also enjoyed Kevin Whelan’s most informative article in the same issue on the Dictionary of Irish Biography. I can only comment on some of the entries but I noticed the same practice of ignoring works in Irish in the entry by Maria O’Brien on Mary Ellen Lambert Butler, the woman cited by Arthur Griffith as having given the name Sinn Féin to his movement. If O’Brien had consulted Maire de Buitléir, Bean Athbheochana (Comhar, 1993) or even the 1911 census she would have discovered that Mary Butler was born in England, not Limerick as stated in her entry. She would also have learned from the biography, or from papers in the National Library, that her sister was a nun in Brittany in France, not in Rome where Mary Butler died, as stated in the entry. One can only compare this entry with the excellent entry by Patrick Buckley on Ernest Blythe (de Blaghd, Earnán), where the works of de Blaghd and others in Irish have been consulted.—Is mise le meas,

Maume’s Musings

79_small_1279718418Check out the latest additional feature on our website, Maume’s Musings, where Patrick Maume, the ‘Deep Blue’ of Irish history, will comment on each issue as it comes out. Click on the ‘blog’ button on our home page (https://www.historyireland.com/) and you will see his posts on the last issue. (This is not yet an interactive blog but it will be shortly.) In ‘John J. Horgan, the photographer in short pants’ Patrick gets to the bottom of the ‘remarkable photograph’, featured in last issue’s Letters pages, that was actually a still from the 1926 film Irish Destiny. In ‘Parallel Parnell II’ he responds to Daniel Mulhall’s contrafactual—on the course Parnell’s career might have taken if he had married in 1880 and never become involved with Katherine O’Shea—with some speculations of his own. (Pay particular attention to the footnotes.)

Another plot to murder Hugh O’Neill

Sir,—There was another plot to murder Hugh O’Neill in 1601 besides the one cited by Hiram Morgan’s article (HI 18.2, March/April 2010). This was proposed by Captain Laurence Esmonde and approved by Mountjoy. While a prisoner awaiting his ransom to be paid, Laurence (who was fluent in Gaelic) had learnt of his gaolers’ dissatisfaction with O’Neill. Laurence proposed that they murder O’Neill, for which the lord deputy would reward them handsomely. In April he went to Dundalk to contact the plotters, named as Patrick Mc Art, Hugh Oge O’Neill and a man called McGuire. At the same time, a Captain Blunt had been sent by Mountjoy to negotiate with O’Neill. By then the plotters had changed their minds, informing Laurence that they were sorry that they had made any promises to him, and saying that if O’Neill got to hear about it he was sure to take revenge on them. Thus Mountjoy pursued all options to bring down O’Neill, whether by war, negotiation or assassination.—Yours etc.,




Sir,—Roger Cole’s letter on Irish neutrality (HI 18.3, May/June 2010) prompts a further historical reflection. Many media convey the myth that Ireland’s neutrality materialised ‘out of the blue’ in the late 1930s. Not so. In fact the neutralist tradition is traceable right back to Wolfe Tone. In his pamphlet Spanish War! (1790), the patriot warns against any Irish entanglement in England’s expected resource war with Spain. Rather he refers to ‘a safe and honourable neutrality’.


Dublin 9
Four Masters monument

James McKenna’s Four Masters monument at the bridge over the River Drowes at Mullinaleck, Kinlough, Co. Leitrim. (Shiela Gallagher)

James McKenna’s Four Masters monument at the bridge over the River Drowes at Mullinaleck, Kinlough, Co. Leitrim. (Shiela Gallagher)

Sir,—I was delighted to see your article on the O’Clerys by Patrick Clark (HI 18.3, May/June 2010), illustrated by the Four Masters monument on the bridge at Mullinaleck, Kinlough, Co. Leitrim. I was disappointed, however, that you neglected to name the artist who created this fine monument. It was, in fact, James McKenna, a great artist who got little recognition during his lifetime but whose best, including the Four Masters monument, will undoubtedly endure.—Yours etc.,


Co. Limerick

The Irish and the East India Company

Sir,—My friend Brian Scott (HI 17.6, Nov./Dec. 2010) wrote that military cannon and balls supplied to Derry City included some from the East India Company (EIC). Such weapons were reportedly used only to ‘influence’ the peoples of India, as they were not considered very effective! This is surely the ‘tip of an iceberg’ in the connection later (1753–1853) between the EIC (HQ in London) and Ireland. A significant number of the colonisers in India who served that ‘company of merchants’ in high trading, military or administrative positions were or became landowners in Ireland, from the wealth they amassed serving in parts of Asia.

EIC history provides evidence of the more unseemly side of Anglo-colonisation, and those families who gained from it. Some of them were in effect ‘out of control’, most notably Richard Wesley/Wellesley, whom a recent author has described as breaking ‘just about every treaty with the Indian rulers’. He, along with his two brothers, embarked on such military excursions between 1798 and 1805 that they effectively led the company into bankruptcy for family self-aggrandisement. Lord Castlereagh was closely associated with this for he was president of the board of control of the company in 1801–6, and it has been suggested that he only took the job as a stepping stone in his personal advance. By 1805 it was too late to undo the damage done to the EIC by these autocratic men. Some possibly had held high-level positions in Freemasonry. Perhaps the greediest rogue of all was Robert Clive, of whom James Mill said that he was ‘never inattentive to his own interests’. He acquired an Irish barony with an estate near Limerick, as well as large houses in Surrey and Berkeley Square, but it was 60 years later before his reputation was rehabilitated by Lord Curzon in another period of Anglo-assurance.

In the great political battles waged within and without the EIC, between the royalist and progressive factions, there were others of significance with connections to Ireland: T. Babington Macaulay, chief secretary to the board of control of the company; Edmund Burke, leading the anti-royalist faction, showing concern for the Indians, with support from R.B. Sheridan and C.J. Fox; George Canning, president of the board, whose father was a ‘penurious scion of an Anglo-Irish family’ and whose son Charles married the niece of another president, H. Dundas, became president himself, and later viceroy of India; Eyre Coote, appointed by Clive to run his military arm, described as ‘an irascible Irishman’, with an ancestor claimed by US statesman Colin Powell, from Coote’s time serving in the West Indies; Mountstuart Ephinstone, who served as the EIC’s envoy to Persia at a critical time, and was followed there by his cousin General W. Elphinstone; H. Gough, who took on the Sikhs unnecessarily in battle in 1849 ‘because they put my Irish [sic] blood up’; E. Empey, first chief justice of the Indian supreme court; the Lawrence brothers, four sons of an obscure colonel in Ireland who spent many years in India, to great effect; W. Macnaughten, who served the company for sixteen years, mainly as a the senior political adviser; F. Rawdon-Hastings/Lord Moira, who became governor-general of India as a heavily indebted gambling friend of the prince regent; R. Temple, who as Prime Minister Palmerston became obsessed about Russia invading India, an issue that Wellesley had exploited; L. Sulivan, president of the board, who attempted to restrain Clive’s personal greed.

Perhaps some of these Irish links to India were known to those who murdered the last viceroy, Lord Mountbatten. This may be of interest or offer potential to some scholar to explore it further, if someone has not already done so.—Yours etc.,



Sir,—I enjoyed the article on nicknames by Colm Walsh in the last issue (HI 18.3, May/June 2010). He states that the nickname ‘Bocky’ refers to injuries sustained by soldiers in the First World War. I would suggest that it derives from the Irish word bacach, meaning ‘lame’.—Yours etc.,



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