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Critique and slander: D.R.O'Connor Lysaght and Irelandís Historical revisionists

21 May 2013

The death of Peter Hart in July 2010 saw the end of a leader of the current in Irish historical research known as the revisionists. Hartís later career had been dogged by accusations that he had falsified accounts of major incidents and Raynor, in a more general review of historical currents, commented on this at:
This year, in a book: Memory, Politics and Identity: Haunted by History, Dr Cillian McGratten, a supporter of Hart, launched a sharp attack on Raynor.  We provide space below for Raynor to reply.

Open letter to Dr McGrattan

Dear Dr McGrattan.

It has come to this writer's attention that you mentioned a piece by him as a chosen example of what you term the "shoddy triumphalism of the critics of the historian Peter Hart following his untimely death."

The writer finds this puzzling. He re-read the article in question and got the impression that it was less a critique of Dr Hart (or, even, of two known specific weaknesses in Hart's early book) than of those who survived Dr Hart and used him as prophet of a specific agenda.

In desperation, the writer turned to his pocket dictionary. There he found that "shoddy" is defined as something "made of old rags" and/or "cheaply derivative". "Triumphalism" is not given as such , but "triumphal" is given as the adjective  describing "the exultation arising from victory or success or conquest".

The writer fails to see how his article can be described in any of these terms. It was not "made of old rags". Nor did it express any "exultation" at the death from cancer of a fellow human being. If anything, it expressed a sadness that Dr Hart had not lived either to prove his contested points or to admit his error. Finally, while he raises matters that have been raised before, to call such a method "cheaply derivative" is to brand as such any summary of previously given arguments.

To do so again, "shoddily" or not, Dr Hart failed to either defend or apologise for two assertions in his early work, The IRA and its Enemies. The first was his report of interviews with veterans of the Battle of Kilmichael, when no such interviewee has been identified. The second was his copious use of a British security report to boost his argument as to the essential sectarianism of the Irish side in the Anglo-Irish War, while suppressing that part of the report that negated his argument. 

On the first, it is possible that Dr Hart was the victim of one or more aged chancer, though, even at that, he should have smelt a rat when his interlocutors asked that they remain anonymous; after all why would veterans of Barry's soldiers at Kilmallock try to hide their names any more than Shakespeare's English soldiers suppress their roles at Agincourt?  However, Dr Hart is entitled to the benefit of the doubt on it. In any case, this writer is so far from being imitative that, unlike other critics, he has made clear his view of the unimportance of the alleged false surrender at Kilmichael compared to the second matter, one more directly traceable to the doctor. 

This is his use of the British source to prove that the Bandon Valley murders of April 1922 were not those of alleged spies but of Protestants as such, and his suppression of the passage in this source that points at the precisely opposite motive. This remains as a major blemish on a promising career, a blemish that is not removed by those who would defend it.

The fact is that this writer would not have written the article of which you complain had it not been for the outpouring of mourning by Dr Hart's friends on his death. This was something else again: far greater than that mounted since then by the colleagues of R.B.McDowell or Kevin Nowlan. The writer's suspicion that this expressed a hidden agenda has been deepened since then. It is not just he who has noted a steady stream of publications, literary and televisual: the Collacrease fiasco, the symposium Terrorism in Ireland, Gerard Murphy's book on the alleged disappeared in Cork and, most recently, the programmes In the Name of the Republic. All these claim to prove, perhaps inevitably hamhandedly, that the Anglo-Irish war was above all a late episode in the Counter-Reformation, a portrayal of the overall issues involved equivalent to the distortions of Charles Dickens and Baroness Orczy on the French Revolution. The trouble is that the participants in the process are established historians not fiction writers.

The question is, Dr McGrattan: are you one of them?

Yours faithfully,
D.R.O'Connor Lysaght.

Interview with Raynor O'Connor Lysaght



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