I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.
Coolacrease: the true story of the Pearson executions – an incident in the Irish War of Independence, by Paddy Heaney et al Aubane Historical Society, 470 pp, €20.00, ISBN: 978-1903497487 Since the publication in 1998 of Peter Hart’s The IRA and its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork, 1916-1923, the experience of the Protestant community in Southern Ireland between 1919 and 1923 has become an issue of occasional study and debate. In 2005 I Met Murder on the Way1 by Alan Stanley was published; it told the story of the execution by an IRA firing squad of two Protestant brothers in South Offaly in June 1921. The brothers had previously been involved in an altercation with the IRA, a number of whom were wounded. The story provoked little attention until an RTÉ television documentary, partly based on Stanley’s book, brought the episode to wider public attention. Suggestions were made by some contributors to the programme that the killings might have been provoked or influenced by a desire to acquire the family’s land. There were also suggestions of a sectarian aspect to the incident, linking it to Hart’s earlier study of the IRA in Cork. These suggestions are strongly opposed by some commentators. To the fore is the Aubane Historical Society which, during 2008, published a booklet containing a hostile critique of Hart’s work2 and, later, Coolacrease – The True Story of the Executions3. The latter sets out to refute suggestions that the religion of the victims, or land-grabbing motives, influenced the killings. Coolacrease contains much detail concerning the events leading up to and following the Pearson killings. Some of the information is new, although some is of marginal relevance to the main story. It also contains background narrative on the War of Independence written from a staunchly nationalist perspective. The partisan, acerbic, sometimes vitriolic, tone of the writing may surprise those not familiar with the Aubane Society and its publications. The raison d’être of the society is to defend the received history of the national struggle against revisionism.4 All of us have beliefs, political orientations and experiences that influence our thinking, consciously or unconsciously. It is in this context that historians make choices about what events to focus on and what sources to use. When, as in this instance, there is no pretence at impartiality, the reader can at least apply the appropriate mental filters depending on their own predilections….
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