Last week I argued that the link between the killing of Paul Quinn of Cullyhanna in October 2007, and the killing of the two Pearson brothers at Coolacrease, Co Offaly in June 1921, was that both were carried out by people using the cloak of the IRA to cover what, in any normal society, would be seen as a cruel and criminal act.
On reflection I realise that there is a further link. In both cases a shocked society took refuge in denials which protect associates or descendants of the perpetrators. Official Ireland sacrificed Paul Quinn to the peace process in order to protect Adams & Co. The Pearsons were sacrificed to national and local pieties -- the claim that they were subjected to a "proper" IRA execution.
Denials do more damage than the original atrocity. When those in authority avoid naming names, decent people despair and fall dumb, the community closes in around the dirty secret, and civil society is clouded until the original offence against the moral order is brought out in the open and atoned for.
The Government and the Opposition were wrong to accept Sinn Fein assurances that the South Armagh IRA were not the perpetrators -- a fiction that Lord Laird blew apart in his detailed description of how eight of the attackers wore surgical gowns and gloves, the grim garb of the IRA butchers of South Armagh.
A notable exception to all this evasion was Senator Maurice Cummins of Fine Gael, who drew attention to Lord Laird's accusations. Cummins's courage contrasts with politicians who privately call Lord Laird "a loose cannon". How come the same politicos were happy enough to accept the accuracy of Lord Laird's attack on Frank Connolly?
Likewise, decent local people were not wise in accepting the dubious assistance of the Aubane Historical Society in casting a cloud over the Pearsons. Instead of an ecumenical service of atonement -- there was no clergyman at the Pearsons's burial -- we get increasingly incoherent attempts to explain away the murders. The latest lunacy on Indymedia is that the Pearsons were shot in the groin because IRA executioners were "inexperienced"!
Let me predict that the more decent locals let Aubane dictate how they handle this atrocity, the more the story will refuse to die. Because many Irish people simply do not believe that a pacifist Cooneyite family like the Pearsons would shoot and wound a member of the North Offaly IRA -- who, by all accounts, were a maladroit bunch that most likely shot one of their own members in the dark.
Similarly, many Irish people will never believe that it was a normal IRA execution -- not when it was carried out by 30 men in broad daylight who dragged the Pearson boys out in front of their crying mother and sisters, lined them against the wall, and shot them in the groin and abdomen rather than in the heart or head. Fiddle around with the facts of that for as long as you like and it still stinks to high heaven.
Paul Quinn's elderly parents and the community of Cullyhanna must feel that Official Ireland is fiddling around with the facts too. Apart from the moral factor, such fiddling simply makes no sense. Far from damaging the peace process -- to which the DUP is firmly signed up -- if the Irish Government had firmly blamed the Provisional IRA for Paul Quinn's murder, Adams & Co would have been forced to lean hard on South Armagh.
Finally, I can see why naff Irish nationalists need to believe the fiction that no sectarian act was ever committed by the Old IRA in the Irish Republic. But I can't see why Northern nationalists would want to deny that our Southern grandfathers could be as gruesomely sectarian as any of the gangs that roam South Armagh -- a point brilliantly made in a polemic by Danny Morrison a few years ago.
So I was bit baffled when Tom McGurk, a Northerner who makes no secret of his nationalism, came out so strongly in last week's Sunday Business Post against RTE's Coolacrease programme. In doing so, he leaned far too heavily on a long article by Pat Muldowney published in Indymedia, home of hardline nationalists.
The dangers of depending on Muldowney -- and Indymedia -- were pointed up when McGurk referred to Perry Ogden (a producer who wants to make a motion picture about the affair) as "British film-maker Philip Ogden". Muldowney, in his Indymedia polemic, also mistakenly calls the producer Philip rather than Perry Ogden.
More seriously, McGurk misleads us in the following two sentences. "University of Ulster academic Pat Muldowney -- whose new book on the period will be published soon -- is also said to be angry. As a historian, Muldowney is astonished that the programme ignored the only surviving documentary evidence of the incident -- the officially recorded inquest into the killings."
The close conjunction of these two sentences might lead the casual reader to form the impression that Muldowney is a University of Ulster academic historian. In fact Muldowney is a lecturer in mathematics at the university, and thus an amateur historian when it comes to weighing evidence. This causes him -- and thus McGurk -- to make elementary errors when evaluating evidence.
Quoting Muldowney, McGurk told his readers: "The inquest seemed to confirm the local version of what happened. For example, it said that at the British Military Court of Inquiry (in lieu of inquests) into the deaths of Richard and Abraham Pearson, held at Crinkle Barracks, Birr, on July 2, 1921, the CI [Chief Inspector, Royal Irish Constabulary] Queens County [reported] that the two Pearson boys, a few days previously, had seen two men felling a tree on their land adjoining the road. [They] Had told the men concerned to go away, and when they refused, had fetched two guns and fired and wounded two Sinn Feiners, one of whom it is believed died."
But Muldowney's (and McGurk's) interpretation is merely a terse summary by the Court of a one-page RIC Inspector's report which simply summarises all the rumours rife in a local community which is clearly shocked by the Pearson shootings and anxious to find some acceptable motives for the atrocity. The RIC Inspector's report on the rumours runs as follows
"Possible motives: 1. The acquisition of Pearsons land (para on this). 2. Revenge by Sinn Fein. It is said by the County Inspector Queen's County that the two Pearson boys a few days previously had seen two men felling a tree on their land adjoining the road. Had told the men concerned to go away, and when they refused had fetched two guns and fired and wounded two Sinn Feiners, one of whom it is believed died. It is further rumoured when the farm house was burning, two guns fell out of the roof." (My italics.)
I could go on and on. But I won't. Because in doing so I am only helping to muddy the waters even more. Sean O'Faolain defines evil as making a simple matter complex. So I am going to trust the Irish people to decide whether Paul Quinn or the Pearson boys were properly punished for "crimes" against the IRA.