Peter Hart (historian)
Hart was born and raised in St. John's, Newfoundland. He studied for one year at the Memorial University of Newfoundland before moving to study at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. He graduated from there with an Honours BA degree. Subsequently, Hart completed a Masters degree in International Relations at Yale University.
He then moved to Ireland to do PhD work at Trinity College, Dublin. His thesis was on the Irish Republican Army in County Cork, an epicenter of the Irish War of Independence, which was the basis of his first book, The IRA and its Enemies. After completing his doctorate, Hart accepted a five year teaching and research position at Queen's University Belfast. In 2003, having completed this contract, Hart moved back to Canada to take up the position of Canada Research Chair in Irish Studies at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. He was also an associate professor at Memorial University.
In the 1990s he developed cancer and underwent a liver transplant - events which permanently affected his health. He suffered a brain haemorrhage early in July 2010 and died on 22 July 2010 in a St. John's hospital at the age of 46.
He wrote several books on what he termed the "Irish Revolution" of 1916–23, arguing that events like the Easter Rising (1916), the Irish War of Independence (1920–21) and the Irish Civil War (1922–23) were parts of a greater whole.
The first of these books, The IRA and Its Enemies, Violence and Community in Cork, 1916–1923 (1998), is a study of the organisation's social composition and actions in County Cork during the War of Independence. This book won several awards, including the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize (1998). It also attracted significant criticism, "le[ading] to almost as much conflict as the events" described.
Hart then edited British Intelligence in Ireland 1920–21: the Final Reports (2002) a re-print of official British reports released to the British Public Records Office that detailed British military and intelligence postmortem critiques of policy during the Irish rebellion from 1919-1921; and The I.R.A. at War 1916–1923 (Oxford University Press, 2003), a collection of essays on various social, political and military aspects of the IRA in these years. The latter work represents, Hart wrote in the preface, "sixteen years' work on the history of the Irish revolution." Peter Hart’s last work is a biography of Michael Collins, titled Mick: the real Michael Collins (Macmillan, 2006).
Hart also contributed to the volume The Irish Revolution (2002), a collection of articles by various historians of the period.
Review and criticism
According to the Times Higher Education, Hart's work "offers a revisionist version of events that proved highly controversial." However, Hart disputed that he was a "revisionist", calling it "pejorative labelling". In his review of The IRA and its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork, 1916–1923, John Regan wrote, "Hart is neither a statist nor a southern nationalist, though the influence of both ideologies can be traced though his work."
Two incidents discussed in The IRA and its Enemies are particularly controversial.
One is the Kilmichael Ambush of 28 November 1920. Hart challenged the account of ambush and IRA Flying Column commander Tom Barry in Guerrilla Days in Ireland (1949). Barry stated that surviving Auxiliaries were shot after engaging in a false surrender that caused two IRA fatalities. Hart stated that this did not happen and alleged that Barry ordered the killing of Auxiliary prisoners.
Especially controversial is Hart's evidential sourcing. He claimed to have personally interviewed two anonymous ambush veterans in 1988-89 and to have listened to recorded interviews with three further unnamed Kilmichael veterans. The recordings (known as 'the Chisholm tapes') were made in 1970 by Father John Chisholm as research for Liam Deasy's Toward Ireland Free (1973). Meda Ryan, author of Tom Barry, IRA Freedom Fighter (2003), disputed Hart's claim to have interviewed two Kilmichael veterans in 1988 and 1989, as only one, Ned Young, was reportedly alive from 1987-89. Ryan reported him too ill to have contributed to Hart's research, an assertion supported in an affidavit published in 2008 by Young's son, John Young. Ned Young died aged 97 on 13 November 1989. According to Ryan (and 1980s newspaper accounts listed in ), the second last surviving Kilmichael veteran, Jack O'Sullivan, died in December 1986. Hart dated an additional interview with his second anonymous Kilmichael veteran on 19 November 1989, six days after Ned Young died. Hart claimed he was an unarmed ambush scout, though the last ambush scout, Dan O'Driscoll, reportedly died in 1967, the last dispatch scout, Seán Falvey, in 1971. Hart's earlier 1992 PhD thesis, on which his book is based, did not describe this 19 November 1989 interviewee as an unarmed scout. In addition, in the thesis Hart described him touring Hart around the Kilmichael ambush site, a claim withdrawn from the book.
Niall Meehan questioned Hart's claims with regard to the 'Chisholm tapes', in a review of David Fitzpatrick (ed.), Terror in Ireland 1916-1923 (2012). A chapter on the Kilmichael Ambush by Eve Morrison was based partially on access to the tapes. She reported two, not three as Hart stated, Kilmichael veterans recorded in 1970 by Chisholm speaking on the ambush. One of these two was Ned Young. The other recorded interviewee, Jack O'Sullivan, spoke words misattributed by Hart to the ambush scout he claimed to have interviewed on 19 November 1989. Meehan asserted, 'this misattribution... further questions the existence of Hart’s 1988 and 1989 veteran interviews'. In effect Hart's five claimed anonymous witnesses were cut to three, including the problematic scout, two if he is excluded.
The second controversy surrounds the Dunmanway killings, in which thirteen Protestants were killed between 27-29 April 1922 during the truce. Hart wrote, "these men were shot because they were Protestant". This then was a sectarian massacre. Others argue that, while the IRA action was unauthorised, the men were targeted due to their perceived role as British informers. Again, criticism centered on use of evidence. In his review of The IRA and its Enemies (The Month, September-October 1998) Brian Murphy noted Hart's citation of a British intelligence assessment in the Record of the Rebellion in Ireland. Hart wrote (p.305-6),
|“||the truth was that, as British intelligence officers recognised, “in the south the Protestants and those who supported the Government rarely gave much information because, except by chance, they had not got it to give".||”|
Murphy then pointed out that Hart omitted the sentence following, stating,
|“||An exception to this rule was in the Bandon area where there were many Protestant farmers who gave information. Although the Intelligence Officer of the area was exceptionally experienced and although the troops were most active it proved almost impossible to protect those brave men, many of whom were murdered while almost all the remainder suffered grave material loss.||”|
As the April killings took place in 'the Bandon area', Murphy queried apparent suppression of evidence contradicting Hart's conclusion. This has been echoed in further discussion.
Hart stood by his work, stating that critics have failed to "engage with the book's larger arguments about the nature of the IRA and the Irish Revolution" and believing they are closed to "a real debate where people concede some things and put forward others or are skeptical about weak points and accept the strong points." Hart's last known interview was in a TG4 Irish language programme on Tom Barry, broadcast in January 2011. The programme had access to eight of nine Chisholm tapes (in total) and questioned Hart's use of anonymous sources and other claims.
In his 2011 book, "Michael Collins and the Anglo-Irish War: Britain's Failed Counterinsurgency," author J.B.E. Hittle, a retired U.S. career intelligence officer-turned historian, acknowledged Hart's overall contribution in re-examining standard histories of the period, but concluded that Hart's historical method is "problematic." Hittle cited Hart's overall naivete' about the nature of war in general and guerrilla war in particular, Hart's simplistic overall assessment of intelligence activities by both sides during the Anglo-Irish War, failing to take into account strategic political events that dramatically handicapped British intelligence services. Hittle further critiques Hart's underestimation of the importance of certain counterintelligence cases to the outcome of the war, as well as Hart's faulty, politicized methodology of using his own personal contemporary socio-political beliefs as his measuring stick to pass judgment on events of 1919-1923, resulting in a distorted analysis. </ref>
- See esp. 'A New Revolutionary History,' in The I.R.A. at War 1916-1923 (Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 3-29.
- John Gill, Troubles and strife as IRA historian draws peers' fire, Times Higher Education, 3 July 2008.
- Between the lines of a tale of murder and motive, Matthew Reisz, Times Higher Education, 24 May 2012.
- An Uncivil War in Academia Sunday Times magazine (Ireland), Justine McCarthy, 10 June 2012
- Joost Augusteijn, The Irish Revolution, 1913–1923, Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. ISBN 0-333-98225-8.
- Peter Hart, Author's response: The IRA at War 1916–1923, Reviews in History, retrieved 29 August 2009.
- John Regan, Book Review: The IRA at War 1916–1923, Reviews in History, retrieved 29 August 2009.
- Diarmaid Fleming, 'War of words' over battle, BBC News, 26 November 2004.
- Hart, IRA and its Enemies, pp. 34-35.
- Kilmichael veteran’s son challenges Hart, Niall Meehan, Southern Star, 5 July 2008
- Niall Meehan, Brian Murphy, Troubled History - a Tenth Anniversary Critique of Peter Hart's The IRA and its Enemies
- Niall Meehan, Reply to Jeffrey Dudgeon on Peter Hart
- Meda Ryan, Tom Barry, IRA Freedom Fighter, Mercier, p69.
- Niall Meehan, Distorting Irish History [One, the Stubborn Facts of Kilmichael, pp13-14]
- Terror in Ireland 1916-23, David Fitzpatrick (ed) - review by Niall Meehan (including David Fitzpatrick, Eve Morrison, responses), p7.
- See also Reply to Professor David Fitzpatrick and to Dr Eve Morrison’s response to criticism of Terror in Ireland 1916-1923 (plus consideration of Dr Brian Hanley on 'The Good Old IRA'), pp4-7
- Hart, IRA and its Enemies, p. 288.
- In 'Peter Hart, the Issue of Sources', Brian Murphy, Irish Political Review v20n7, reproduced in Niall Meehan, Brian Murphy, 2008, Troubled History - a tenth anniversary critique of Peter Hart's 'The IRA and its Enemies'
- Distorting Irish History Two, the road from Dunmanway: Peter Hart’s treatment of the 1922 ‘April killings’ in West Cork Niall Meehan
- 'The Further One Gets From Belfast', a second reply to Jeff Dudgeon Niall Meehan
- The Two Histories, Dr Jeykl & Mr Hyde, John M Regan; Dr Regan & Mr Snide, David Fitzpatrick response (plus letters), History Ireland, Jan to June 2012
- 'Bandon Valley Massacre' as a historical problem John M Regan
- The History of the Last Atrocity John M Regan
- Reply to John Regan Eve Morrison
- West Cork and The Writing of History John M Regan
- http://www.thepost.ie/story/text/ojmhsnsngb/ TV Review, by Emmanuel Keogh, Sunday Business Post 23 January 2011
- Peter Hart homepage at the Memorial University of Newfoundland.
- Obituary to Hart in the Newfoundland Globe and Mail
- Irish Times obituary
- A review of Hart's historiography by John Dorney
- A review of Hart's historiography, part one by Niall Meehan
- A review of Hart's historiography, part two by Niall Meehan
- Troubled History - A Tenth Anniversary Critique of Peter Hart's The IRA and its Enemies, by Brian Murphy and Niall Meehan
- JBE Hittle, Michael Collins and the Anglo-Irish War: Britain's Failed Counterinsurgency ([Washington, DC: Potomac, 2011)