Saturday 21 October 2017

Eunan O’Halpin: If we're to learn from our history then we must not be afraid of it

Some members of the Clonmult IRA unit, which was active in Midleton, Co Cork, during the War of Independence
Some members of the Clonmult IRA unit, which was active in Midleton, Co Cork, during the War of Independence

'In the Name of the Republic' explores stories of the 'disappeared' of the Irish revolution. These people were abducted and killed, and their bodies secretly disposed of, by the IRA. Some were crown forces, some were civilians. Most died before the Truce of July 1921, but in Cork secret killings and burials continued until as late as June 1922. As the programme to be broadcast tonight (TV3, 9pm) shows, we still do not know exactly how many killings there were. It is, however, clear that far more people were secretly killed in Cork than anywhere else.

The information in the programmes was assembled in a major research project, 'The Dead of the Irish Revolution'. Funded by the Irish Research Council, it has identified, categorised and individually described almost all fatalities arising from Irish political violence between 1916 and December 1921. The first results were published by me last year in 'David Fitzpatrick (ed.), Terror in Ireland, 1916-1923'. In June I will provide data on the killing of civilian informers in 'James Kelly and Marian Lyons (eds.), Death and Dying in Ireland, Britain and Europe'.

Our research shows that crown forces definitely killed more civilians than did the IRA. In general, however, crown forces had no need to hide their victims because the law took their side. Crown forces sometimes massacred prisoners, as at Clonmult in Cork, and then claimed these had been shot after failing to halt when challenged or while attempting to escape. Over 300 such deaths in 1920-21, mainly of civilians, were investigated and invariably condoned by military courts of inquiry. In some areas crown forces also operated murder squads which carried out killings anonymously.

Please sign in or register with Independent.ie for free access to Opinions.

Sign In

Don't Miss