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Kilmichael Controversary Continues

Liam O Ruairc • 5 December 2004

Between 1500 and 2000 people attended the 84th Kilmichael commemoration on November 28th to listen to historian Meda Ryan’s oration. Last December, she published a biography of Tom Barry (1) that refuted Peter Hart’s allegation that Barry’s account of the Kilmichael ambush was ‘riddled with lies and evasions’. A year later the whole issue is once again at the centre of a major controversy. The re-emergence of this debate (2) was sparked by the repetition of Hart’s view in Diarmaid Ferriter’s new survey of Irish history, without any reference to the substantive published critique of that view (3). The 1998 correspondence between Hart and his critics, Padraig O Cuanachain, Meda Ryan, and the historian Dr Brian Murphy in the letters section of the Irish Times concluded with Hart retreating from his allegations; and Meda Ryan’s biography of Tom Barry refuted Hart’s allegations point by point. As far as we are aware, Peter Hart has not reviewed her book or published a single word to defend his case against Ryan's refutation.

Since the publication of her book, not only has Ryan’s argument not been refuted, but new research by the historian Brian P Murphy strengthened her case (4). Murphy has uncovered documents in the British national archives that reveal the workings of a British black propaganda unit run by Basil Clarke and Major CJC Street that invented “official reports” of events between 1919 and 1921. This was a highly organised unit divided into three sections and located at army headquarters in Parkgate Street, in Dublin Castle and in the Irish office, London. Many of these reports, as well as forged IRA documents, have been accepted as historical fact, according to Murphy. For example, Hart accepts with little critical examination the ‘official’ British version of the Kilmichael incident. Hart also accepts British documentation claiming to be the unsigned typewritten report of the battle by Barry to his superiors. Again, this is disputed, not least because significant errors of detail that Barry would not have made. If Tom Barry wrote this report he would surely have got the number of men under his command correct. The first sentence has the time incorrect; the second has 32 men, instead of the correct 36 men. That sentence also mentions 100 rounds of ammunition per man. With that amount Barry could have stormed Macroom Castle! The report says that two IRA volunteers died later and one on the spot. The opposite is the case. This and other inaccuracies leaves the authenticity of that report and the official British account open to question; and that there are good reasons to think they were produced by Clarke and Street’s black propaganda unit.

Despite this, Hart’s view has prevailed through media repetition and promotion; for example John Bruton’s repetition of Hart’s allegations in a book review in the Irish Independent (Irish Independent, September 25). A cogently argued alternative account of the Kilmichael ambush has thus been effectively censored out of academic and media existence. This shows that the ‘revisionist’ debate is far from over.


(1) Review of: Meda Ryan Tom Barry: IRA Freedom Fighter (Cork: Mercier, 2003) in History Ireland (Spring 2004).
Available on this website

(2) Of particular interest, see ongoing debate on; to which Peter Hart himself contributed: Aspects of British Propaganda Jack Lane, Saturday, Sep 4 2004, 8:15pm; and John Bruton looks into his own ‘Hart’ - to see what the Irish people should be thinking Niall Meehan, Tuesday, Oct 12 2004, 8:55am; as well as Kilmichael Commemoration (November 28) breaks through media silence Barry McGarry, Friday, Nov 26 2004, 2:31pm; also Meda Ryan Speech at Kilmichael Commemoration (Nov 28 2004) Barry McGarry, Sunday, Nov 28 2004, 1:28pm; and finally The War of Independence 1919-2004: What Is The Dispute About Kilmichael And Dunmanway Really About? Niall Meehan, Friday, Dec 3 2004, 3:31pm. Check also the BBC coverage (BBC Northern Ireland Radio, Good Morning Ulster programme, November 26 2004 and

(3) See Kilmichael: The False Surrender. A discussion by Peter Hart, Padraig O'Cuanachain, D.R. O'Connor Lysaght, Dr. Brian Murphy & Meda Ryan. (Belfast: Athol Books, 1999); and Meda Ryan Tom Barry: IRA Freedom Fighter (Cork: Mercier, 2003)

(4) See Mags Glennon, ‘Aspects of British Propaganda during the War of Independence: A talk by Dr Brian Murphy’; as well as Scott Millar, ‘British Army used spin to ‘confuse’ Irish’ (Sunday Times Oct 17 2004); and also ‘Saoithe na bolscaireachta’ le hEoghan Ó Néill (‘Lá’ 13 Oct).




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

6 December 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

The Fleece Process
Anthony McIntyre

Padraic Paisley
Anthony McIntyre

Revolutionary Unionism
Dr John Coulter

Official Secrets
Mick Hall

Kilmichael Controversay Continues
Liam O Ruairc

Turkish Man Beaten and Racially Abused by PSNI in front of Witnesses

Iraq is Not the Second World War
Fred A Wilcox

Dancing at the Edge of the Abyss
Karen Lyden Cox

2 December 2004

Questions - and Doubts - Remain
Tommy Gorman

Another Crisis for Trimble?
Dr John Coulter

No Gangster More Cruel
Anthony McIntyre

Love Your Enemy More Than Your Friend
Elana Golden

Mick Hall

The Biggest Mistake They Could Have Made
Áine Fox

Danilo Anderson and Condoleeza Rice
Toni Solo



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