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  • IAN MCBRIDE (a1)


Peter Hart's monograph, The IRA and its enemies: violence and community in Cork, 1916–1923, has been the subject of a rancorous debate in Ireland since its publication in 1998. In academic journals, in the press, and in the electronic media, Hart has been accused repeatedly of deliberately distorting evidence. The controversy turns on Hart's depiction of Irish revolutionary violence, and in particular upon a chapter entitled ‘Taking it out on the Protestants’, in which the IRA was portrayed as fundamentally sectarian. This article seeks to address a question that must occasionally trouble all of us: what are historical disagreements really about? To achieve a wider perspective on the Peter Hart affair it considers the famous row over historical ‘fabrication’ ignited by David Abraham's The collapse of the Weimar Republic (1981) and Keith Windschuttle's assault on Lyndall Ryan's book The Aboriginal Tasmanians (1981; 2nd edition 1996). The comparison suggests that when historians fall out over footnotes there is more involved than scholarly propriety.


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Hertford College, Oxford, ox1 3bw


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1 Hart, Peter, The IRA and its enemies: violence and community in Cork, 1916–1923 (Oxford, 1998), p. 288 .

3 See, for example, Historians clash over Protestant massacre’, Sunday Times (Irish edition), 13 May 2012 .

4 Keane, Barry, Massacre in West Cork: the Dunmanway and Ballygroman killings (Cork, 2014). The emergence of a more balanced view is clear in two other recent accounts: Howe, Stephen, ‘Killing in Cork and the historians’, History Workshop Journal, 77 (2014), pp. 160–86; Bielenberg, Andy, Borgonovo, John, and Donnelly, James S. Jr, ‘“Something of the nature of a massacre”: the Bandon Valley killings revisited’, Éire-Ireland, 49 (2014), pp. 759 .

5 I am grateful to John Regan for permission to quote this passage from an unpublished paper presented at Trinity College Dublin on 28 September 2011. The comment quoted is aimed at Prof. David Fitzpatrick (Hart's supervisor) and Prof. Charles Townshend (who examined Hart's Ph.D. thesis).

6 Hart, Peter, ed., British intelligence in Ireland, 1920–1921: the final reports (Cork, 2002), pp. 49 and 102 (footnote).

7 For reasons of space, I will not consider here John Regan's speculative attempt to connect Dunmanway to the abduction of three British intelligence officers in Macroom on the afternoon of 26 April 1922, just twelve hours before the massacre began. Regan suggests that Dunmanway Protestants might have been named as informers during the two-day interrogation of the British officers. It should be noted, however, that his case rests partly on the identification of the Dunmanway victims as the same ‘brave men, many of whom were murdered’ recorded in the Record of the rebellion as cited above: see his The “Bandon Valley massacre” as a historical problem’, History, 95 (2012), p. 88 . But as Eve Morrison, David Fitzpatrick, and others have pointed out, Regan has misdated the Record of the rebellion. This document was in fact written before April 1922 and explicitly covers the events of January 1920 to July 1921.

8 Witness statement by Michael V. O'Donoghue, p. 227, Bureau of Military History, 1913–21,

9 This paragraph is based on Keane, Massacre in West Cork, chs. 4–6, quotation on p. 137.

10 The original is in University College Dublin: Ernie O'Malley notebooks, P17b/112, pp. 74–83. It should also be noted that Busteed is, by general consensus, an unreliable source: see Meehan, Niall, ‘Examining Peter Hart’, Field Day Review, 10 (2014), pp. 126–33. There is no reference to the April killings in Busteed's application for a military service pension: see the Military Service Pensions Collection (, file reference MSP34REF4903.

11 Macardle, Dorothy, The Irish republic: a documented chronicle of the Anglo-Irish conflict and the partitioning of Ireland, with a detailed account of the period 1916–1923 (London, 1937), pp. 733–4.

12 Sisman, Adam, Hugh Trevor-Roper: the biography (London, 2010), pp. 191, 194. For an assessment of Stone's significance, see Cannadine, David, ‘Historians in “the liberal hour”: Lawrence Stone and J. H. Plumb revisited’, Historical Research, 75 (2002), pp. 316–54.

13 McCullagh, C. Behan, ‘What do historians argue about?’, History and Theory, 43 (2004), pp. 1838 .

14 Howe, Stephen, Ireland and empire: colonial legacies in Irish history and culture (Oxford, 2000). But see also the exemplary introduction to Brady, Ciaran, ed., Interpreting Irish history: the debate on historical revisionism, 1938–1994 (Dublin, 1994), pp. 331 .

15 Regan, John M., Myth and the Irish state: historical problems and other essays (Sallins, 2013), p. 2. To avoid confusion, it is worth clarifying that Regan's objection is not to the empirical method itself but rather to the undeclared political animus he detects in the academy.

16 Ibid., pp. viii, 5, 6.

17 Ibid., p. 1. Hugh Kearney recalls that this was a favourite dictum of his colleague and supervisor, Edwards, Robin Dudley, in the 1950s: ‘Preface: on being a historian in four countries’, Ireland: contested ideas of nationalism and history (Cork, 2007), p. 15.

18 Contrast Oakeshott's legacy with the continuing interest in his contemporary, R. G. Collingwood, most obviously in Quentin Skinner's work: see n. 29 below.

19 Three of the best studies are Novick, Peter, That noble dream: the ‘objectivity question’ and the American historical profession (Cambridge, 1988), esp. ch. 15; Iggers, Georg G., Historiography in the twentieth century: from scientific objectivity to the postmodern challenge (Middleton, CT, 1997), chs. 8–10; Fulbrook, Mary, Historical theory (London, 2002).

20 Regan, Myth and the Irish state, p. 6.

21 Munslow, Alun, The new history (Harlow, 2003), p. 2 .

22 Desmond Fennell, ‘Against revisionism’, in Brady, ed., Interpreting Irish history, pp. 183–90.

23 See Bradshaw, Brendan, ‘Nationalism and historical scholarship in modern Ireland’, Irish Historical Studies (IHS) , 26 (1989), pp. 329–51, reprinted in Brady, ed., Interpreting Irish history, pp. 191–216.

24 These quotations are taken from reflections composed fifty years later: Edwards, R. W. Dudley and O'Dowd, Mary, eds., Sources for early modern Irish history, 1534–1641 (Cambridge, 1985), p. 208 . Incidentally, this chapter (‘Historiography’) seems to have been framed as a deliberate counter-narrative to Moody's stock-taking exercises on the same subject, not least in stressing the achievements of historical studies before 1938.

25 Clarke, Aidan, ‘Robert Dudley Edwards (1909–1988)’, IHS, 26 (1988), p. 126 . In Edwards's case there was, by all accounts, a lot of self to be effaced.

26 Bradshaw, ‘Nationalism and historical scholarship’, p. 341.

27 Lake, Peter, ‘Retrospective: Wentworth's political world in revisionist and post-revisionist perspective, in Merritt, J. F., ed., The political world of Thomas Wentworth, earl of Strafford, 1621–1641 (Cambridge, 1996), pp. 252–83.

28 There is now a daunting literature on the Cambridge School including Hampsher-Monk, Iain, ‘The history of political thought and the political history of thought’, in Castiglione, Dario, ed., The history of political thought in national context (Cambridge, 2001), pp. 159–74; and Bevir, Mark, ‘The contextual approach’, in Klosko, George, ed., The Oxford handbook of the history of political philosophy (Oxford, 2011), pp. 1123 . The key texts are reprinted in Skinner, Quentin, Visions of politics, i: Regarding method (Cambridge, 2002); and Pocock, J. G. A., Political thought and history: essays on theory and method (Cambridge, 2009).

29 Skinner, Quentin, ‘Meaning and understanding in the history of ideas’, History and Theory, 8 (1969), pp. 353 . A revised version appears in Skinner, Visions of politics, i, pp. 57–89.

30 Deane, Seamus, ‘Wherever green is read’, in Dhonnchadha, Máirín Ní and Dorgan, Theo, eds., Revising the rising (Derry, 1991), p. 100 .

31 Deane, Seamus, Strange country: modernity and nationhood in Irish writing since 1790 (Oxford, 1997), p. 193 .

32 Ibid., pp. 194–7; Deane, ‘Wherever green is read’, pp. 94–5.

33 Deane, Seamus, ‘The position of the Irish intellectual’, Cambridge Review, 94 (1973), pp. 134–5.

34 Joe Cleary offers an assessment of Deane's career in Dark fields of the Republic: Seamus Deane's sundered provinces’, Boundary 2, 37 (2010), pp. 168 .

35 I am grateful to David Hayton for permitting me to read his forthcoming article, ‘The laboratory for “scientific history”: T. W. Moody and R. D. Edwards at the Institute of Historical Research’, the first systematic examination of this subject.

36 Canny, Nicholas and Kupperman, Karen Ordahl, ‘The scholarship and legacy of David Beers Quinn, 1909–2002’, William and Mary Quarterly, 60 (2003), pp. 843–60.

37 Drayton, Richard, ‘Imperial history and the human future’, History Workshop Journal, 74 (2012), pp. 156–72.

38 Edwards and O'Dowd, eds., Sources for early modern Irish history, p. 209.

39 For this argument, see McBride, Ian, ‘The shadow of the gunman: the IRA and its historians’, Journal of Contemporary History, 46 (2011), pp. 686710 . A comprehensive account of the origins of revisionism would include the training in Cambridge of a later generation of scholars such as Ronan Fanning and Michael Laffan (see ibid., p. 692).

40 See Moody, T. W., ‘A general survey’, in Moody, T. W. and Beckett, J. C., eds., Ulster since 1800 (London, 1954), p. 133 : ‘Both Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State thus owed their origin not to the force of argument, on which the nationalist movement from O'Connell to Redmond had relied, but to the argument of force, and their history bears the marks of that tragic but inescapable fact.’

41 Bentley, Michael, Modernizing England's past: English historiography in the age of modernism, 1870–1970 (Cambridge, 2005), p. 221 .

42 See Garvin, Tom, ‘The strange death of clerical politics in University College Dublin’, Irish University Review, 28 (1998), pp. 308–14.

43 Mandler, Peter, History and national life (London, 2002), pp. 124–30.

44 Vinen, Richard, ‘The poisoned madeleine: the autobiographical turn in historical writing’, Journal of Contemporary History, 46 (2011), pp. 531–54.

45 Cleary, ‘Seamus Deane's sundered provinces’, p. 2. Incidentally, the most striking thing about Peter Hart's stance on the Irish revolution is its nuances: see Hart, Peter, ‘On the necessity of violence in the Irish revolution’, in Farquarson, Danine and Farrell, Sean, eds., Shadows of the gunmen: violence and culture in modern Ireland (Cork, 2008), esp. his identification with the advanced nationalist Eoin MacNeill on pp. 23, 27.

46 Martin, F. X., ‘Eoin MacNeill on the 1916 rising’, IHS, 12 (1961), pp. 234–6.

47 Nobody did more to reconceptualize the Irish revolution than Peter Hart himself. See, for example, A new revolutionary history’, The IRA at war, 1916–1923 (Oxford, 2003), pp. 329 .

48 The best general accounts are Wiener, Jon, Historians in trouble (New York, NY, 2005); Novick, That noble dream, pp. 612–21; Evans, Richard J., In defence of history (London, 1997), pp. 116–23. See also Kishlansky, Mark, ‘Historian's yardstick’, History Today, 35 (1985), pp. 45 . For a harsher treatment of Abraham than the one offered here, see Hayes, Peter, ‘History in an off key: David Abraham's second collapse’, Business History Review, 61 (1987), pp. 452–72.

49 Feldman, Gerald D., ‘A collapse in Weimar scholarship’, Central European History, 17 (1984), p. 159 .

50 Novick, That noble dream, p. 617.

51 Grafton, Anthony, The footnote: a curious history (London, 1997), pp. 1718 .

52 Maier, Charles S., ‘The vulnerabilities of interwar Germany’, Journal of Modern History, 56 (1984), pp. 8999 . By German historian, I mean historian of Germany. Maier is based at Harvard and is the author of The unmasterable past: history, Holocaust and German national identity (Cambridge, MA, 1988).

53 For Eley and others, see The David Abraham case: ten comments from historians’, Radical History Review, 32 (1985), pp. 7596 .

54 Novick, That noble dream, pp. 612–21. My discussion is no doubt biased towards defenders of Abraham, not for political reasons but because Charles Maier, Geoff Eley, Natalie Zemon Davies, and Arno Meyer are all innovative historians known very widely outside their own fields.

55 Macintyre, Stuart and Clark, Anna, The history wars (Melbourne, 2003), p. 1 . An account of the Windschuttle/Ryan spat can be found in ibid., pp. 160–70. See also Curthoys, Ann and Docker, John, Is history fiction? (Sydney, 2006), pp. 229–32.

56 My understanding of the Australian case, such as it is, owes much to conversations with Graeme Davison of Monash University, regarded as a moderate in the history wars.

57 Kansteiner, Wulf, ‘Mad history disease contained? Postmodern excess management advice from the UK’, History and Theory, 39 (2000), pp. 226–7.

58 Windschuttle, Keith, The killing of history: how literary critics and social theorists are murdering our past (New York, NY, 1996), ch. 4, ‘The deconstruction of imperial history: poststructuralism and the founding of Australia’, anticipated his later work but was principally concerned with Paul Carter's The road to Botany Bay (1987).

59 Windschuttle, Keith, The fabrication of Aboriginal history (Sydney, 2002), pp. 3, 130.

60 Ibid., p. 386.

61 Ryan, Lyndall, ‘Who is the fabricator?’, in Manne, Robert, ed., Whitewash: on Keith Windschuttle's fabrication of Aboriginal history (Melbourne, 2003), p. 230 .

62 Ibid., p. 234.

63 Wiener, Historians in trouble, p. 96.

64 The issues raised by Kilmichael are also less interesting. When I asked an Israeli post-graduate some years ago for her response to the Kilmichael controversy she shrugged and said, ‘show me a war where nobody gets shot in the back’.

65 David Fitzpatrick's measured verdict is surely right: Hart was not always sufficiently careful ‘in his rush to be interesting, original and provocative’. Fitzpatrick, David, ‘Ethnic cleansing, ethical smearing and Irish historians’, History, 98 (2013), pp. 135–44.

66 Townshend, Charles, Political violence in Ireland: government and resistance since 1848 (Oxford, 1983), chs. 6–7.

67 This trend can be seen in different types of literature, but one early example of what I have in mind is Christopher R. Browning's unforgettable Ordinary men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the final solution in Poland (London, 1992).

68 Kalyvas, Stathis N., The logic of violence in civil war (Cambridge, 2006), pp. 54, 79, 95n, 189–91, 343–4, 357, 375n.

69 This is not true, however, of Gemma Clarke's Everyday violence in the Irish civil war (Cambridge, 2014), esp. ch. 5.

70 Kalyvas, Logic of violence, pp. 60, 246, 274, 304–9.

71 Hart, IRA and its enemies, pp. 17–18, 79, 88.

72 Kalyvas suggests that the targeting of informers is often highly inaccurate but nonetheless effective. ‘To achieve deterrence’, he writes, ‘political actors must convince the targeted population that they are able to monitor and sanction their behaviour with reasonable accuracy. In other words, they need to cultivate a perception of credible selection’ (Kalyvas, Logic of violence, p. 190, his emphasis).

73 Townshend, Charles, The republic: the fight for Irish independence (London, 2013), p. 164. Townshend provides an excellent analysis of this whole issue on pp. 161–71.

74 See n. 10 above (my emphasis). What is not clear is whether this remark was made by Busteed or O'Malley, or to which shootings it refers.

75 Moody, T. W., ‘A new history of Ireland’, IHS, 16 (1968–9), p. 251 .

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