Peter Hart etc

Published in Letters Extra

More on this controversy

A chara,—Eve Morrison in (HI 20.6, Nov./Dec. 2012) states that I am ‘misreading’ Jack Hennessy’s Bureau of Military History statement. I suggest it is she who is ‘misreading’ Hennessy. While Hennessy does not put the name ‘a false surrender’ on what he witnessed at Kilmichael on that day he actually describes one. Hennessy wrote: ‘Vice Comdt. McCarthy had got a bullet through the head and lay dead’. The breech of Hennessy’s rifle got fouled with ‘blood dripping’ from his forehead; he dropped his own rifle, took up McCarthy’s and continued to fight. He, like other Volunteers responded to Barry’s ‘three blasts’ whistle-indicator to cease firing following the surrender call. Hennessy says:

‘I heard the three blasts and got up from my position, shouting “hands up”. At the same time one of the Auxies about five yards from me drew his revolver. He had thrown down his rifle.’

It was during this period that two volunteers were fatally wounded. (I inadvertently wrote three in my previous letter.) At the opening of the ambush Barry blew the whistle—a signal for specific volunteers to commence; this whistle was again an indicator to cease firing—an acknowledgement that the surrender was accepted.

Like Peter Hart, Ms Morrison believes that the ‘Rebel Commandant’s report’ was not a forgery but was written by Tom Barry. I note that Meda Ryan in her biography of Tom Barry (2003) analyzed this report in detail, and it is obvious Barry would not have written it. But the clincher is the final sentence in the PS: ‘…P. Deasy was killed by a revolver bullet from one of the enemy whom he thought dead’. Barry would not have written that. Pat Deasy was seriously wounded following the false surrender and died some hours later.

Since that November day it has been known in West Cork that volunteers were fatally wounded following a false surrender. A controversy arose because Peter Hart located a document in the ‘Rebel Commandant’s report’, alleged to have been written by Tom Barry. It did not mention a false surrender. Hart endeavoured, in his book (1998), to prove there was none.  Meda Ryan (2003) pointed out that Hart had interviewed an anonymous scout on 19 November 1989, and that the last known Kilmichael ambush survivor Ned Young died on 13 November 1989. During a Q & A session at a UCC conference I asked Peter Hart to disclose the name of this Kilmichael ambush interviewee. Before a large audience he hedged, did what he could to bluff. I put it plainly to him that he was lying, and that he did not locate any participant who would deny the false surrender story. Despite being asked on numerous occasions by historians over the years, he did not answer that question. In a TG4 documentary Scéal Tom Barry (Dir. Gerry O’Callaghan, 2011) Hart said:

‘…it’s possible that this was some sort of a hoax and he was a fantasist, but that seems extremely unlikely.

Eve Morrison is now defending Peter Hart’s flawed narrative of the Kilmichael ambush, which includes disputing Tom Barry’s and the 3rd Brigade flying column’s actions on that day. Ms Morrison wrote that I am not ‘prepared [like others]…to accept the reality of war and…acknowledge the true extent of the sacrifice made by the men’. Let me assure Ms Morrison that I accept the reality of war and fully understand the sacrifices made by the men of the flying column. Is she not aware of the involvement of my father, Tom Kelleher, in many of the engagements carried out by members of the 3rd West Cork Brigade?—Is mise,


Chontae Chorcaí



Sir,—In paragraph two of Eve Morrison’s letter on the November 1920 Kilmichael ambush (HI 20.6, Nov./Dec. 2012) IRA volunteer Michael McCarthy died during the fight. Yet, in paragraph three he was alive afterwards.

Replying to Seán Kelleher (HI 20.4, July/Aug. 2012), Morrison cited Kilmichael veteran Jack Hennessy’s Bureau of Military History statement that McCarthy ‘lay dead’ prior to a British false surrender (that Morrison says never happened). Ambush testimony from veteran Jack O’Sullivan and commander Tom Barry supports this sequencing of McCarthy’s death.

Most veterans reported that McCarthy and Jim O’Sullivan were killed during the engagement and that a wounded Pat Deasy died some hours later. The veterans include Tom Barry, Jack Hennessy, James Murphy, Michael O’Driscoll, Ned Young and Stephen O’Neill. Here, Morrison is on sure ground.

Peter Hart in The IRA and its Enemies mistakenly presented as Tom Barry’s view that all three IRA fatalities resulted from the British Auxiliaries’ false surrender. He and Morrison use this misreading to undermine Barry’s account of the fight, thus weakening Barry’s false surrender narrative in Guerilla Days in Ireland. In fact, Barry consistently identified two resulting fatalities, Jim O’Sullivan and Pat Deasy.

Despite its clear contradiction with the veteran evidence cited above, Morrison simultaneously supports the view of veteran Patrick O’Brien, echoed in a recent commentary, that McCarthy was wounded and died soon after the ambush. This second version of McCarthy’s demise also strengthens Hart’s misinterpretation of Barry, and it reinforces Hart’s championing of a disputed ‘Rebel Commandant’s report’ in British archives. That document reported, ‘P. Deasy was killed by a revolver bullet from one of the enemy he thought dead’ and that two volunteers ‘subsequently died of wounds’. It does not mention a false surrender.

Morrison simultaneously presents conflicting versions of McCarthy’s death without comment because she subordinates evidence to vindication of Hart. The publisher claimed Morrison’s Kilmichael chapter in Terror in Ireland 1916-1923 accomplished such vindication. In my opinion her contribution clarified problems with Hart’s methods. I explain this in my review and in a response to criticism from Morrison (

Besides misreading Barry, Hart’s methods included claiming access to anonymous interview testimony from five Kilmichael veterans: his two and three from Fr John Chisholm. In fact, Hart appears to have accessed just two (Ned Young and Jack O’Sullivan on the ‘Chisholm tapes’). In response to my review Morrison reported being on the trail of a Kilmichael ‘scout’, allegedly interviewed by Hart six days after the last known ambush veteran died. Should Morrison discover him that will make three. However, his evidential value is doubtful. According to Morrison in Terror, Hart ‘muddled’ citations by attributing to the ‘scout’ tape-recorded words said by Jack O’Sullivan. Is this a muddled attribution or a muddled existence? In addition, in Hart’s 1993 PhD thesis this same historical actor was not the unarmed ‘scout’ he mysteriously became in Hart’s 1998 book.

A reason the Kilmichael false surrender is still discussed (see Peter Connolly’s letter in HI 20.6, Nov./Dec.) is therefore because Peter Hart used questionable means to undermine it. These means were first noted in Meda Ryan’s Tom Barry IRA Freedom Fighter (echoed in John Young’s letter in the last HI). Irish Independence forces appeared as ethnically inflamed caricatures in Hart’s research. The inaccurate portrayal of Tom Barry as a lying ‘political serial killer’ fleshed out the portrayal. It links this discussion with that of John Regan and David Fitzpatrick on Hart’s equally problematic IRA sectarianism allegations (HI 20.1, Jan./Feb. 2012 to HI 20.6, Nov./Dec. 2012).

This debate long ago moved beyond determining the precise conclusion of a bloody battle in the November twilight of 1920. I am sure it will revive again when future commentators ponder why the Irish historical profession chose to remain silent about Hart’s distortion of ethical standards, and whether a systemic bias in favour of Hart’s conclusions facilitated such indifference.—Yours sincerely,


Griffith College

Dublin 8



Sir,—I write further to John Young’s letter (HI 20.6, Nov./Dec. 2012). In a statement dated 22 August 2012, Mr Young (one of the children of Kilmichael veteran Ned Young) takes ‘very strong exception’ to the account of our telephone conversation of 4 July 2012 that I gave in my response in Reviews in History to Niall Meehan’s long-winded review of Terror in Ireland.

I fully stand over my understanding of our 15-minute conversation (as recorded on my phone bill). As I already told Justine McCarthy of the Sunday Times, when I rang Mr Young I gave him my name and telephone number. I also told him I was an historian, and explained that I wanted to explore the veracity of a controversial claim that Peter Hart had lied about interviewing his father Ned. Mr Young does not recall confirming to me that Ned Young was mentally sound and could speak clearly on the dates Hart gave for his interview with him, whereas my notes indicate that Mr Young did do so. I asked Mr Young specifically if he was willing to go on record on this point, and he said yes. There was nothing confusing or ambiguous about our conversation, and further enquiries gave me no reason to doubt that Ned Young was well enough to be interviewed in the summer of 1988. John Young asserts that his father suffered a stroke in late 1986, but this evidently did not stop Ned Young participating in public events. In August 1987, for instance, the Southern Star published a photograph of Ned Young at Ballabuidhé (a local Dunmanway festival). In August 1988 the newspaper noted that he again attended the festival’s opening ceremony. Peter Hart had conducted his second interview with him several weeks earlier, in June.

Mr Young also maintains that the fact that the late Jim O’Driscoll SC, witnessed his signature on his 2007 affidavit imputes O’Driscoll’s support for the affidavit’s contention that Hart could not have interviewed Ned Young. Niall Meehan and others have styled O’Driscoll as one of the ‘signatories to the affidavit’. This is profoundly misleading. As solicitor Michael Malone, also a witness to the 2007 affidavit, explained to me, a ‘witness to signature’ merely verifies the identity and signature of the person making a statement, and does not imply any knowledge of or view on the contents of such a document. This was certainly so for Jim O’Driscoll. His widow Marion informed me that, contrary to what is being claimed, her late husband was clear that Hart did interview Ned Young, who was one of several IRA veterans O’Driscoll helped Hart to contact. She also confirmed that her husband had no reservations about Hart’s work, and in fact refused to join in attacks on Hart when approached to do so.—Yours etc.,


[Eve Morrison has asked HI to make the following correction. A Southern Star report she cited as being published in August 1988 was in fact dated August 1986. The article is mis-dated as ‘9 August 1988’ by the Irish Newspaper Archives.]



Sir,—I am saddened that a question has arisen again regarding the false surrender at the Kilmichael ambush on 28 November 1920. Eve Morrison in her letter (HI 20.6, Nov./Dec. 2012) has written that ‘relatives of Kilmichael veterans have become more active in promoting an alternative version of event’.

My father Pat O’Donovan was a volunteer in Tom Barry’s flying column and fought in section two, where volunteers were fatally wounded that day due to the deceitful actions of the Auxiliaries. He always said that following acceptance of surrender, the Auxiliaries took up and activated revolvers after they had thrown down their rifles. Tom Barry and the men who fought at Kilmichael have been wronged over recent years, and Peter Hart in his writing has created much annoyance for many family members of these men.

These men suffered much in their fight for independence. The agony that my father and ‘the boys’ in direct line of fire (section two) had to endure, on that freezing November day, and their account of the Auxiliaries’ false surrender, should be accepted. Otherwise future generations will continue to speculate. The result will be like Peter Hart’s story—distorted.

My mother died in December 2010. She was the last link to ‘The Boys of Kilmichael’. She was lucid to the end and whenever asked, would recall her husband’s (my father’s) account and that of the other volunteers and the trauma they had to endure, due to the Auxiliaries’ having accepted a surrender and then resuming action with revolvers.

My father participated in many engagements with the flying column. Between engagements he lived in a dugout in a field near his home. In later years he often returned to the ambush site, and with Fr O’Brien, he said the rosary for his comrades who were killed that day. He was the fourth last Kilmichael veteran. He died in 1981.—Yours etc.,



Co. Cork



John Young’s Response to Eve Morrison (History Ireland Jan-Feb 2013)


4 February, 2013


Eve Morrison states (HI Jan-Feb 2013), “I fully stand over my understanding” of her disputed telephone conversation with me.

The problem is, after cold-calling me, she should have put her understanding to me in writing prior to publication. I would have corrected it. Had she done so, Eve Morrison would not now be in the embarrassing position of claiming to know better my father’s state of health in 1988-89, than I do as his son who was responsible for his care.

In my response to the claims Eve Morrison published in reply to Niall Meehan’s review of Terror in Ireland, I mentioned that my father Ned Young ventured out of doors rarely after his stroke in late 1986 (22 August 2012,,). I instanced attendance at Kilmichael commemorations because that was most relevant. I did not mention another public event at which my father was photographed because it was irrelevant. Morrison thinks being photographed means my father was well. She is wrong.

To be clear (again), the views Eve Morrison attributes to me are not mine.

Morrison should also have noted that on I introduced into the discussion (for the first time) information that the late Senior Counsel, Jim O’Driscoll, dropped Peter Hart near my father Ned Young’s house in 1988 and that my mother reported then that she refused entry to a non-Irish person (presumably Hart) due to my father’s state of health.

Between 1987-89, Ned Young was the sole surviving veteran of the Kilmichael Ambush. He was incapable in 1988 of contributing the alleged interview material in Peter Hart’s The IRA and its Enemies (1998). One indication that Hart did not speak to my father is that he reported Ned Young (anonymously) in his book as an ‘87-year-old man’. In 1988 my father was 96.

As is clear, originally from Niall Meehan in Troubled History (2008) and latterly from Morrison in Terror in Ireland (2012), Hart’s alleged anonymous interview material came from other sources.

 Source one:

Troubled History (2008) reported that Hart had possession of Ned Young’s Bureau of Military History (BMH) Witness Statement, a number of copies of which I can confirm circulated in 1988.


Source two:

A 1969 taped interview with Ned Young in the possession of Fr. John Chisholm, but not available for inspection due to repeated denial of access to the tapes by Fr Chisholm (and Chisholm’s false assertion to me in writing that he did not possess an interview recording with my father).

After denying to me that he had it, Fr. Chisholm gave my father’s interview to Eve Morrison. On the tape Ned Young reports being informed by other veterans, immediately after the Kilmichael Ambush, of a British Auxiliary false surrender. Peter Hart failed to report this. My father did not personally witness the false surrender. As his Witness Statement reported, Ned Young was pursuing an escaping Auxiliary when it happened. Peter Hart and Eve Morrison failed to note this.

Significantly, as Meehan pointed out, Hart also did not report that in his book he presented Ned Young anonymously as two separate people: He appeared once as Hart’s alleged interviewee and was listed separately again on Fr. Chisholm’s tapes. Hart’s anonymous sourcing made this subterfuge (presenting one person as two) possible. Morrison originally failed to acknowledge and continues to ignore this clearly established and extraordinary fact.

I also note in passing that Morrison is tracking a Kilmichael ambush ‘scout’, also allegedly interviewed by Hart anonymously six days after my father died on 13 November 1989. She might as well give up. My father, Ned Young, was indisputably (apart that is from Morrison) the only Kilmichael veteran alive from 1987-89.

Eve Morrison offers an insight in relation to my Affidavit, that was published in June 2008. Her consultation with solicitor Michael Malone yields, “a witness to a signature merely verifies the identity and signature of the person making a statement”. This might have been self-evident to an academic product of Trinity College History Department, without wasting Mr. Malone’s valuable time.

The late Jim O’ Driscoll, another signatory, was an eminent Senior Counsel – Ar Dheis Dé go raibh sé – known for his pursuit of truth and justice.  When recommended to do so he extended his goodwill and hospitality, in his normal spirit of generosity, to the newly-arrived personable young Canadian Historian, Peter Hart, in 1988. As I revealed on Spinwatch, as requested he deposited Hart near my father’s address without any prior contact. Jim drove off about his business.

Hart never interviewed my father in the normal or any other sense of that term, as explained why not in my Affidavit. In his book Hart insisted he did (anonymously). Possibly (this based on a Morrison report) Hart also informed Jim O’Driscoll of his ‘success’.

By the time of my Affidavit in December 2007, Jim O’Driscoll had researched the Peter Hart dispute. He reviewed evidence from reputable researchers, including the historian Brian Murphy (in whom Jim expressed particular confidence), and my own intimate testimony of the Young family, of whom I was chosen representative in caring for my father. The multiple evidence presented by my sworn Affidavit had to be either truth on my part, or perjury. It is a monstrous offence to the unassailable reputation of Jim O’Driscoll SC, a man of the utmost integrity, to suggest that he would have had hand, act, or part – even as an identity-witness – in an affidavit based on perjury, particularly given Jim’s previous association with Peter Hart.

Peter Hart never offered a word of response to my sworn Affidavit published in June 2008. It was possible at that time for Hart to re-connect with Jim O’Driscoll and to attempt a correction of the record. He chose not to do so. That and his silence on its contents speaks volumes.

Morrison asserts that O’Driscoll “Refused to join in attacks on Hart when approached to do so”. Subsequent to the publication in June 2008 of my Affidavit of 14 December, 2007, I became aware that one letter had been sent to Jim O’Driscoll exhorting him, in polite terms, to confront Peter Hart publicly.  Ms. Morrison’s reference to Jim O’Driscoll’s reasonable refusal to engage in such “attacks” is further evidence of her penchant for exaggeration for effect, which can be reduced, in this example, to one letter.  The letter writer was unconnected in any way with my Affidavit.  I sent assurance to Jim O’Driscoll to that effect. I conveyed my displeasure to the letter-writer, predicting that the letter could be used negatively in future. And – voilá! – enter Eve Morrison.

Eve Morrison puts Peter Hart’s case passionately. However, Peter Hart failed, despite repeated challenge, to detail his methods adequately before he died tragically in 2010 – Ar Dheis Dé go raibh sé. As the evidence unravels, Morrison might begin to understand why Hart was reticent in his response to criticism.

Yours sincerely,

John Young

(Son of the last surviving Kilmichael veteran Ned Young, died 13 November 1989)



Response from Eve Morrison and Marion O’Driscoll 

9 April 2013

Dear Editor,

I write to clarify a few issues raised in John Young’s and Maureen Deasy’s recent letters.

1) Marion O’Driscoll, widow of the late Jim O’Driscoll, read over and approved my earlier response to History Ireland, and co-signs this one. Mrs. O’Driscoll asks, in the strongest possible terms, that Mr Young (and anyone else) refrain from associating her late husband with his accusations against Peter Hart. Jim O’Driscoll simply witnessed John Young’s signature, nothing else. Witnesses to signature usually do not even read the document being signed. Mrs. O’Driscoll states that her late husband greatly admired Hart’s scholarship, had no objections to his book, and had no doubt whatsoever that Hart had interviewed Ned Young. She further confirms that Jim O’Driscoll personally introduced him to Ned Young.

2) John Young contends that his father had ‘virtually lost the faculty of speech’ after a stroke suffered in late 1986. A November 1987 Cork Examiner report on the annual Kilmichael Ambush Commemoration directly quotes Ned Young’s words as he laid a wreath in honour of his comrades. This suggests that Ned Young was able to communicate effectively just a few months before Peter Hart’s first interview with him.

3) Ned Young, in his Chisholm interview, does NOT say he was told about a false surrender ‘immediately’ after the ambush.

4) Any concerns Maureen Deasy has about the Chisholm tapes are a matter for herself and her family. Father John Chisholm’s interviews were his own initiative, although carried out with Liam Deasy’s blessing. Despite the interviews being entirely his property, Chisholm nonetheless consulted the Deasy family about what to do with the tapes. The decision to give the recordings to Liam Deasy’s nephew and namesake (now sadly deceased) was agreed by Maureen Deasy’s two sisters, at a meeting with Father Chisholm in November 2007. Maureen, in a letter to Chisholm dated 31 October 2007, declined to attend: ‘I shall not attend your proposed meeting’. Decisions relating to the tapes since then were either taken by Chisholm and Liam Deasy’s nephew jointly (with Deasy having the final say), or by Liam Deasy’s nephew alone.

Sincerely, Eve Morrison and Marion O’Driscoll


The Editor, History Ireland

May 17th, 2013.

Dear Editor,

It was wrong of Dr Morrison to imply (History Ireland letter, April 9th, 2013) that the late Jim O’Driscoll did not read my Affidavit before witnessing my signature. He did just that when we met in Ballydehob in August 2007, as any sensible person would. At the time, as I pointed out earlier to Dr Morrison, Jim told me he had dropped Peter Hart near my parent’s home in 1988, but was too busy to go with him.

Before his untimely death, Jim O’Driscoll’s name appeared twice publicly in relation to Peter Hart. First, in Hart’s 1998 book that acknowledged Jim’s kind assistance. Second, in Troubled History (2008) as a witness to my signature on my Affidavit, that refuted Peter Hart’s claim: (a) to have interviewed my father; (b) to have interviewed a Kilmichael Ambush participant six days after my father, the last survivor, died. If Jim had felt so strongly about Hart’s “scholarship”, why did he associate himself, in any way, with a document critical of it? Why did he go out of his way freely to do so, having personally researched the issue? Readers may draw their own conclusions.

Dr Morrison also states in her letter:

‘Ned Young, in his Chisholm [tapes] interview, does NOT say he was told about a false surrender ‘immediately’ after the ambush.

Dr Morrison repudiates herself. She contributed the following to her Terror in Ireland ‘Kilmichael Revisited’ essay (p168):

‘Young told Chisholm he had seen [John] Lordon bayonet an Auxiliary, and that after the ambush members of the column had informed him that this auxiliary had surrendered falsely’.

A transcript would authenticate the point. However, aside from Dr Morrison and a chosen few, no one else has been given the opportunity to listen in full to the ‘Chisholm tapes’. Again, I would ask that, whatever convoluted way the tapes are being held, that they be released into the public domain. This is also the last published wish (in History Ireland) of the late Maureen Deasy, eldest daughter of Liam on whose behalf the tapes were made.

I do not remember my father speaking at the 1987 Kilmichael commemoration. The guest speaker that year was Fr Des Wilson from Belfast. The sole sentence “emotionally recalled” for the Cork Examiner reporter, attributed to my father, could have been given later (November 30th, 1987, p4). Dominating page one of that Examiner edition is a large photograph of my father sitting by the Kilmichael Ambush monument. Above that is a caption, “The Last Boy of Kilmichael”. If my father was openly recognised as the last surviving participant of the Kilmichael Ambush, how did Hart manage to ‘interview’ an “unarmed scout” six days after my father’s death? Significant silence so far on this point from Dr Morrison.

In her earlier essay Dr Morrison admitted (p161) that Hart “wrongly attributed” to the “unidentified scout” words on the Chisholm tapes said by Jack O’Sullivan (acknowledged as the second last Kilmichael veteran to die in 1986). Dr Morrison suggests (p173) that Hart’s “muddled… citations… do not undermine the authenticity of” his research. I beg to differ.

Based on newspaper articles, Dr Morrison assumes that my father was hale, hearty and quiet happy to talk openly in 1988 to a Canadian student, a complete stranger, about the Kilmichael ambush. Even in good health, my father was wary of who he spoke to on the ambush. He only agreed to be recorded by Fr. Chisholm in 1970 because of the Liam Deasy connection and, possibly, because, as Chisholm put it, he “trusted me as a priest”. I again give Eve Morrison my word that after his stroke late in 1986 my father was not well enough, “having virtually lost the faculty of speech” (my Affidavit), to be interviewed in 1988 by Peter Hart.

In an earlier letter to Maureen Deasy, Fr. Chisholm protested that Hart referred to the Chisholm tapes “without my permission”.  He obviously did not protest enough – for he allowed Hart just to do that. Hart had to refer to the tapes, as he had nothing of his own to fall back on as evidence for his “interviews”.

Ultimately, the reason Dr. Morrison attempts to discredit my Affidavit is that she has no actual evidence that Hart interviewed my father, other than hearsay. Why else did she contact me in the first place? Hart should have been able to produce authenticated notes, or even tapes, of these claimed interviews with my father and others. The excuses Hart used for not doing so, such as confidentiality or concerns for the families, were just a means of avoiding the issue. Hart never, at any stage, had contact with myself or my family, so how could he decide what our reaction would be?

Tom Barry, Ned Young and the Boys of Kilmichael have all gone to their rest. So too, unfortunately, have Peter Hart, Jim O’Driscoll and Maureen Deasy. I intend now to give the Kilmichael Ambush a rest. Perhaps Dr Morrison should do the same.

John Young


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