Peter Hart and ethnic cleansing

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 3 (May/June 2012), Letters, Revolutionary Period 1912-23, Volume 20

Sir,—In reply to Jeffery Dudgeon (HI 20.2, March/April 2010, Letters), the debate about whether the late Peter Hart is guilty of calling the Dunmanway massacre ‘ethnic cleansing’ has gone on far too long. In his article ‘Class, community, and the Irish Republican Army in Cork’, in Cork: history and society (1993), he stated (p. 980) that ‘The gunmen wanted revenge, but they also wanted to exterminate or drive away all Protestants in the area. This idea of a final settlement of old grievances was a common one in 1921 and 1922.’ As far as I know, this particular article has not been referenced in the debate before, but in it Hart is far more certain in his conclusions than in any of his other published work. This certainty had been modified in The IRA and its enemies (1998) to ‘The gunmen, it may be inferred, did not seek merely to punish Protestants, but to drive them out altogether’. This was further modified in The IRA at war (2003) to ‘campaigns of what might be called “ethnic cleansing”’ (p. 237), before being denied on p. 246: ‘What happened in Southern Ireland did not constitute “ethnic cleansing”’. Finally, in 2006 Peter Hart wrote in the Irish Times: ‘I have never argued that “ethnic cleansing” took place in Cork or elsewhere in the 1920s—in fact quite the opposite’.


The United Nations definition of ethnic cleansing is ‘a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas’. As far as I know, this is the first time anyone has defined ethnic cleansing in this debate. While there is evidence that Peter Hart changed his opinion over time, readers should be able to draw their own conclusions without interpretation from me or anyone else. If any of these statements meet the United Nations definition, then Peter Hart called the Dunmanway massacre ‘ethnic cleansing’, even if he didn’t use the exact phrase. If what happened in West Cork meets this standard then ethnic cleansing occurred. Is it not time to leave Peter Hart alone?—Yours etc.,






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