Protestants whose actions give the lie to ‘sectarian war’ theory

NIALL GINTY (Letters, November 19) and Eoghan Harris (Sunday Independent, November 11) both commented on my letter to you (November 9).

In that letter I addressed the issue of the killing of two young Protestants at Coolacrease, Co Offaly, in 1921, and maintained the killings were not indicative of a sectarian war of ethnic cleansing by the IRA, as had been portrayed in the RTÉ Hidden History programme.

I cited various examples of Catholic and Protestant co-operation during this period of conflict which were incompatible with a sectarian war.

While dismissing my argument, neither Mr Ginty nor Senator Harris made any mention of these examples. Mr Ginty stated that I offered “nothing new”. Senator Harris stated that I should view the war from “a Protestant perspective”.

As my letter was made up almost entirely of views from a Protestant perspective, I can only presume that Senator Harris did not read it too carefully. In order to facilitate his recognition of these Protestant voices, may I enumerate them, and some others, more precisely.

Firstly, the voice of Matilda Pearson, sister of the two victims, who asked the IRA men taking part in the attack on her home why they were doing it, and received the reply, as recorded by herself: “Don’t think we are doing this because you are Protestants. It is not being done on that account.”

Is this evidence from a Protestant voice compatible with a sectarian interpretation of the killings at Coolacrease?

Secondly, the voices of Robert Barton, Erskine Childers and Lionel Smith Gordon, all Protestants and all appointed by Dáil Eireann, in December 1919, to direct the fortunes of the National Land Bank.

Is it credible that Dáil Eireann would have placed Protestants, such as these in charge of land reform if they had wished to drive Protestants from the land?

Thirdly, the voices of Horace Plunkett and George Russell (AE), both Protestants, who continued to support the work of the Co-operative Society throughout the war. Is their solidarity with Catholic farmers compatible with the view of that war as sectarian?

Fourthly, the voices of the Church of Ireland bishops of Meath and Killaloe; Dr Kathleen Lynn, Alice Stopford Green, Albinia Brodrick, James Douglas and others, including the distinctive voice of Dr Herzog, the Chief Rabbi, who joined many Catholics in January 1921 to assist the White Cross Society.

Is it credible that so many Protestants would have joined in this charitable enterprise to redress the damages of war if that war had been sectarian?

Fifthly, the voices of Alice Stopford Green, John Griffith and James Douglas, all Protestants and all elected by Dáil Eireann to be the first members of the Senate in December 1922.

To their voices should be added those of WB Yeats and Douglas Hyde, also members of the Senate, and that of Sir James Campbell, Baron Glenavy, who was elected the first chairman of the Senate, despite his close association with Edward Carson’s campaign against Home Rule and his own declaration, in March 1914, that “civil war was the path of danger, but it was also the path of duty”. Is it really credible that the appointment of such a man as Campbell and the other Protestants could have been made if members of the Dáil were motivated by sectarianism?

Finally, a reflection on the observation of Eoghan Harris that I should accept the findings of Peter Hart, the historian whose work inspired Alan Stanley to write the book on the Coolacrease killings, which, in turn, inspired Niamh Sammon and the RTÉ Hidden History programme.

But can any value be placed on the conclusion of Mr Hart that the IRA was sectarian while he, like Senator Harris and Mr Ginty, continues to ignore the source evidence of the many Protestant voices I’ve mentioned?

Dr Brian P Murphy OSB

Glenstal Abbey


Co Limerick

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