Peter Hart and Frank Busteed

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

Sir,—Jeffrey Dudgeon’s reply to John M. Regan (HI 20.2, Jan./Feb. 2012, Letters) raises the possibility that Frank Busteed was an IRA officer partly responsible for killing ten loyalist Protestants from 26 to 29 April 1922. While evidence is tenuous, Peter Hart’s withholding of this and other (more crucial) evidence indicating a non-sectarian explanation in The IRA and its enemies (1998) demonstrated remarkably poor judgement. That discussion continues. It is pursued by Regan in the academic journal History (Jan. 2012) and was also raised by Niall Meehan in a debate with Dudgeon about this issue (plus the Kilmichael ambush) in the Irish Political Review.

 

Dudgeon paraphrased Regan on Peter Hart’s ‘increasing difficulty with a Protestant IRA man, hence explaining his (Hart’s) textual marginalisation of Busteed’. But Regan never claimed that Frank Busteed was Protestant. Dudgeon alleged, however, that Busteed’s paternal Protestant ancestry was insignificant in his life. That is not accurate. I know because I have researched it and because Frank Busteed was my grandfather.

 

Frank’s father, Samuel, died when Frank was two and he was raised a Catholic by his nationally minded mother, Norah. Frank’s older brothers, Jack and Bill, were brought up by their Protestant (and strongly unionist) grandmother, Margaret, at the family farm outside Cork city. Although she later became a Catholic, she remained staunchly unionist. Both brothers joined the British Army, one stationed in Blarney, where their mother, Norah Busteed, lived; Jack and Bill visited her regularly. Frank often visited his grandmother’s farm from childhood. She and Frank got on very well, as did his older brothers and he.

 

Frank was also on good terms with his Busteed aunts, one becoming a godmother to one of his daughters. He also knew and visited Busteed cousins throughout West Cork. He stayed in contact with a number of these relatives after the War of Independence, after returning from the USA in 1936 (he also knew Busteed cousins in the USA, when he and his wife Anne lived there) and as an Irish Army officer from 1941. These were predominantly Protestant. He was also on good terms with his mother’s Catholic family. It is difficult to construe such a person (who became an atheist) as sectarian. He used to say that ‘he was related to half of Protestant West Cork’ and it is clear that he possessed both understanding and empathy regarding that part of his heritage.

 

Seán O’Callaghan’s Execution (1974) details Frank’s participation in the Dripsey ambush, the subsequent execution of five captured IRA volunteers and the consequent execution of the spy Mary Lindsay. It also deals with the killing of British intelligence officers captured in Macroom on 26 April 1922. Frank alleged that they were responsible for his mother’s death after a raid on her house. He stated that the hunt for these officers was a joint enterprise with his loyalist brother, Bill, who rejoined the British Army for this purpose.

 

Frank’s having Protestant relations was not unusual in the IRA owing to ‘mixed marriages’ going back generations in a relatively stable community. It is another aspect of life here that Peter Hart (who Dudgeon defends) failed to appreciate, alongside many unpalatable (to him) facts that he managed either to distort or to withhold from his readers. Hart grafted the sectarian Ulster context on to the War of Independence in Cork.—Yours etc.,

 

BRIAN O’DONOGHUE

 

Cork

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