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Eoghan Harris and John A Murphy fall out
history and heritage |
Monday October 19, 2009 13:51 by Ned Stapleton
Their friendship is history and Harris can't stick it
Between defending Junket John O’Donoghue and propping up the sales of Bertie Ahern’s biography, Eoghan Harris, has taken time out to fall out with his old UCC history professor, John A Murphy.
What is the spat about?
Eoghan thinks that 140,000, 60,000 or 40,000 Protestants (take your pick) were driven out of Ireland during or after the War of Independence. John A thinks it a fine old theory, but devoid of evidence, essentially codswallop. It is a view Eoghan has been peddling without fear of contradiction in the Sunday Independent, which is presumably why John A has tackled the appointed (by Bertie) Senator in the Irish Times. There, Murphy can get the former Karl Marxist and Rupert Murdochite, now Tony O’Reillyist, on a more even scribbling field.
Harris excels in the field of bombast and finds discussion based on evidence personally uncomfortable, as facts are not his friends. If he could accuse them all of being in league with the Provos, without at the same time appearing foolish, he would. Instead, Eoghan takes it all personally and thinks the venerable professor is out to get him. The normally ego fueled columnist ignored the issue in the Sunday Independent of October 18th. No doubt Harris will return to the topic, between supporting wage cuts and the IMF, when the heat has died off and Eoghan can pretend again that his are the only views that should be taken seriously.
Here are the letters
Irish Times, October 9, 2009
Madam, – On October 5th, I was a commentator on the RTÉ CSÍ: Cork’s Bloody Secret television documentary programme dealing with murders of 13 west Cork Protestants in April, 1922. Appearing on the same programme, Senator Eoghan Harris claimed that at least 60,000 Protestants were “driven out” of the new State in those years and that was a “conservative estimate”.
He stressed that the figure represented ordinary Protestants, “small farmers, small shopkeepers”, and did not include former servants of the ousted British regime such as disbanded policemen and demobbed soldiers. Neither did it include, presumably, those who left because they felt unable to accept the ideology and culture of the new dispensation.
Outside of these categories then, according to Senator Harris, at least 60,000 southern Protestants were subjected to an “enforced exodus” on a massive scale, to ethnic cleansing, in fact. He has made these unsubstantial allegations repeatedly (for example in the Sunday Independent , May 24th, 2009).
It has been well said that history is what the evidence compels us to believe. It is now time for Senator Harris to produce the detailed, documental evidence (no surmises or estimates, please) in support of his dramatic claims. He should do so in the interests of historical truth and of community relations. – Yours, etc,
JOHN A MURPHY, Emeritus Professor of Irish History, University College Cork.
Irish Times, October 10, 2009
Madam, – Prof John A Murphy (October 9th) claims to have two problems with my contribution to CSÍ, Cork’s Bloody Secret . First he wants me to support my claim that some 60,000 Protestants were driven out of the State with “detailed, documental evidence”. How can I do that that when the statistical work has not been done by professional historians like himself? But I am perfectly entitled to make an educated estimate. The Censuses from 1911 to 1926 show that a third of Irish Protestants left the State in that period. In the brief slots provided by the CSÍ programme I used the phrase “driven out ” to cover any categories of compulsion (from physical intimidation to cultural pressures such as compulsory Irish for State jobs) which caused what I called the “enforced exodus” of the 1921-22 period.
As nobody can say for sure what this enforced exodus entailed, I based my estimate of 60,000 on two figures. First, I rejected as ridiculously high a possible top figure of 146,000. On the other hand I thought the bottom figure of 39,000 a bit too low.
The latter figure comes from Dr Andy Bielenberg’s paper to the 2008 Cork conference, Understanding Our History . Excluding certain categories (RIC, first World War casualties, etc), Dr Bielenberg came up with a figure of 39,000 “involuntary emigrants”. This carefully chosen phrase is still close to my notion of an “enforced exodus”. As a professional historian, Dr Bielenberg is properly conservative in his calculations. However, if you add in the decline of Dublin working-class Protestants, those who made no claims, and those who hung on for a few years, I believe the true figure of the “enforced exodus” is far closer to 60,000. But if Prof Murphy insists that only professional historians can do the tots I will settle for Prof Bielenberg’s figure of 39,000.
This is still an appalling figure and warrants my use of the phrase “enforced exodus” – which a Prof Murphy trickily portrays as being the same as “ethnic cleansing”. But the CSÍ tape shows that I categorically reject making any such claim as follows: “I wouldn’t call it ethnic cleansing . . . and the IRA didn’t have a sectarian ideology, but there was a sectarian tradition in Ireland among rural communities that dated back to penal times, the prophecies of Pastorini . . .”
Finally, I ask your readers to reflect on Prof Murphy’s motives in distorting my contribution. This is his second personalised letter since I was appointed to the Seanad. But in pursuit of me he muddies the cleansing waters of the widely praised CSÍ programme and comforts the tribal patrols who police our past. – Yours, etc,
Senator EOGHAN HARRIS, Baltimore, Co Cork.
Irish Times, October 16, 2009
Madam, – In my letter of October 5th, I requested Senator Eoghan Harris to supply evidence for his dramatic assertion on CSÍ Cork’s Bloody Secret that at least 60,000 southern Protestants were “driven out ” of the new State in 1921-1923. His reply (October 10th) fails to provide the requisite details. He can’t do it, he says, because the statistical work has not been done. In other words, here are the conclusions, the research will follow!
In his letter, the Senator significantly revises his programme contribution. He did indeed reject “ethnic cleansing” as an explanation of the west Cork murders but the video later shows him wondering aloud whether the terms “pogrom” and “ethnic cleansing” might not be applied to the (alleged) 60,000-plus expulsion.
His letter also states he meant “compulsory Irish” to be included in the cultural pressures forcing Protestants to leave. But his programme contribution made no mention of this, while it exclusively emphasised the factors of intimidating violence. Having thus widened (and weakened) the definition of “driving out”, he then makes the fatal concession that “nobody can say for sure what this exodus entailed”, despite his pronouncements on the programme.
Having rejected “a possible top figure of 146,000” (what fantasy land did that come from?), he grudgingly settles for Dr Andy Bielenberg’s tentative work-in-progress estimate of “39,000 involuntary emigrants”. I’m not sure what “involuntary” means in this context, but I doubt if Dr Bielenberg supports the Harris thesis of a mass “enforced exodus”. In any case, each individual case would have to be documented.
Far from “distorting” the Senator’s programme contribution, I have simply exposed its inconsistencies and infirmities. He also claims I am muddying “the cleansing waters of the programme and comforting the tribal patrols who police our past”. In other words, I am accused of giving aid and comfort to tribal nationalists. This accusation is unworthy of the Senator.
Perhaps more than anybody else, he is aware that, in the critical years when it mattered, I steadfastly opposed sectarian terrorism and resisted the nationalist-victimhood reading of our history. I now find it ironic he should be championing another sort of victimhood.
Finally, he questions my motives for criticising his contribution to the programme. First, I was concerned that what purported to be a dramatic historical statement was being advanced without supporting evidence. Second, an “enforced exodus” of southern Protestants on a massive scale would have required the collusion and active involvement of great numbers of their Catholic fellow-Irishmen in such a persecution. I certainly will not accept that serious charge without rigorous historical proof. As for Senator Harris’s view that I am somehow pursuing him, he should lighten up. Otherwise when he reaches my age, he’ll be a very dull dog indeed. – Yours, etc,
JOHN A MURPHY, Emeritus Professor of Irish History, University College Cork.
A previous Harris sighting: http://www.indymedia.ie/article/77165