Tim Pat Coogan

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 3 (Autumn 2004), Letters, Letters, Volume 12



,—Brendan Bradshaw’s interview technique in relation to Tim Pat Coogan (HI 12.2, Summer 2004) was anodyne in the extreme. The nationally minded renowned academic Professor Bradshaw afforded the green light to Mr Coogan in every sense of the word, allowing him to propagate, unchallenged, his Gaedhil distorted nationalist image of Irish history. Mr Coogan’s rant against revisionism was puerile, disingenuous, and akin to skeleton-rattling rather than a genuine critical onslaught. Inside the last twenty years or so, so-called ‘castle historians’, to use but one term of denigration, have succeeded in breaking through the hard-walled core of Irish nationalist historiography to reveal a complex, surprising, and untidy reality that challenges traditional assumptions about Ireland’s past. Mr Coogan’s emotive obsession with personality is very revealing of his attitude to historical inquiry. His avowed disdain of so-called ‘dehydrated, dull’ history allows him to place emotion at the heart of his ‘historical representation’, thus enabling him to obfuscate and relegate as background colour events, themes and trends which are normally more centre-stage in modern historical analysis.

For those people who like their Irish history piping hot, combined with a nauseating self-righteous, Anglophobic moral indignation, overlaid with a layer of very thick green sauce to sweeten their very sensitive Gaedhil nationalist palates, then Mr Coogan is for them. However, for those among us who spurn Whiggish history and seek a more balanced and rational view of Ireland’s past, then Mr Coogan has little to offer except, if I may continue with the culinary metaphor, food poisoning!


—Yours etc.,
Co. Kildare




—What on earth did Tim Pat Coogan mean by saying ‘. . . there’s an irreducible minimum quotient in unionism of absolute bigotry and sectarianism’ (HI 12.2, Summer 2004)? Did he mean that individual unionists are all bigots; scratch beneath the surface and every single one of them is sectarian? Perhaps he was referring to a particular grouping or strain within unionism, leaving open the possibility that there are some ‘good’ unionists untainted by the minimum quotient. Or is Tim Pat saying that the very union itself is intrinsically sectarian? Unfortunately his interviewer did not press him to elaborate. The comment was made in the context of attempts Coogan says he made to bring together northern Protestants and Catholics. Little wonder his efforts failed, given his sweepingly dismissive attitude to one of the parties involved. Tim Pat did not say whether he believes there are similarly sectarian attitudes on the part of nationalists. Of course, anyone with a familiarity with Northern Ireland would readily acknowledge the existence of ugly sectarianism on the unionist side of the tribal divide—though most people would acknowledge that such attitudes are found in both communities. Tim Pat speaks approvingly of the Good Friday Agreement. He may recall that just over half of unionist voters in Northern Ireland—some with the gravest reservations—took, from their perspective, the huge risk for peace of backing the agreement. That suggests to me an irreducible minimum quotient in unionism of quiet decency and willingness to reach an accommodation with their nationalist neighbours. Tim Pat’s interview was introduced with a description of his writing as passionate and angry. Some of that anger was directed at those wicked revisionist historians scurrilously re-writing Ireland’s story from their West Brit boltholes in Dublin 4 (God forbid that any of them should make their way into the list of patrons of History Ireland found at the beginning of this journal). Well, I’ve got Tim Pat’s book on the IRA on my shelf, and I thought it was a good read. But as long as he displays an irreducible minimum quotient of prejudice towards one section of the population of this island, I think I’ll stick to the revisionists, with their lack of anger and dispassionate, academic approach to telling us what happened in the past.



—Yours etc.,

In keeping with Mr Martin’s use of gastric imagery in his criticism of Brendan Bradshaw’s interview with me his letter can fairly be described as the emetic. The unfortunate fact is that Mr Draper’s assessment of unionist majority opinion being in favour of the Good Friday Agreement was rendered out of date by the triumph of Paisleyism at the last Assembly elections. I hope that some day the voice of moderate unionism will be the dominant one in the Six Counties, perhaps after Paisley retires, but even if he does go soon, an equally inconvenient fact for Mr Draper to ponder concerning unionism’s dark core is the demonstrable phenomenon that at this time of the year [July] in the imaginations of many Orangemen a Fenian burns in the heart of many a Belfast bonfire.


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