Editorial from Irish Political Review, November 2007
by Brendan Clifford
"It was here at Coolacrease that on the 30th June 1921, a band of thirty, perhaps forty armed and masked men descended on the house, torched it, then in the courtyard shot the two eldest sons of the household" (Alan Stanley, I Met Murder On The Way, p13).
A third young man, a cousin of the two who was shot, saw the armed group approaching the meadow where they were working and ran away. He was caught the following day by the armed group but was let escape. His name was William Stanley. Alan Stanley, who wrote the book on which the sensationalist, and systematically falsified, account of the incident broadcast by RTE was based, is his son.
The two young men who were shot were the sons of a substantial farmer, William Pearson, who was a Protestant. Alan Stanley suggests that they were shot by land grabbers who were also inspired by a "blood lust" against them because they were Protestant "interlopers". But in conflict with this he reports a local informant (Tom Mitchel of Kinnity) as telling him that:
"The Pearsons were sociable people…, great ramblers, i.e. fond of visiting and receiving friends and neighbours, a widespread practice in Ireland at the time".
The armed group that rounded up the Pearsons, shot two of the sons, and burned the house, was a company of the IRA, which was the Army of the elected Government of the country.
There was also an unelected Government in the country at the time. It was a Department of the Government elected in Britain in 1918. It did not hold a single elected seat in the relevant part of Ireland on 30th June 1921. Such electoral base as it had in Ireland had been separated off from the rest of the country by the Partition Act of 1921. Sinn Fein held every seat in the 26 Counties, barring those in the gift of a handful of Trinity graduates.
The IRA existed because the British Government continued governing Ireland in defiance of the verdicts given by the Irish electorate in the General election of 1918, the Local Government Elections of 1920, and the General Election of 1921.
Alan Stanley invariably refers to the unelected Government as "the authorities" and to the elected Government as "the rebels".
Assuming that his father and the Pearsons of Coolacrease House also regarded the unelected Government as the legitimate governing authority and gave allegiance to it, and regarded the elected Government and its agents as rebels, and therefore criminals, there is nothing improbable in the allegation that they gave information to the British administration about criminal activity that came to their notice, or that they took action to prevent such activity when they were in a position to do so.
The Pearsons were murdered by criminals because they gave information about criminal activity to the legitimate authorities and resisted it, OR they were executed because they gave allegiance to a usurping power and assisted it against the democratically elected, and therefore legitimate, authority. That is what it comes down to.
What they did to resist the rebels and whether they did actually give information about the activity of the elected Government to the unelected Government is a secondary matter. The evidence is that they did. But the primary question is whether the elected or the unelected Government was legitimate.
Miscarriages of justice do not invalidate the system of justice under which they happen, and I have never seen the execution of somebody subsequently found to have been innocent described as murder and a murder charge brought against the hangman.
The primary matter at issue with regard to Alan Stanley's book, and the RTE programme based on it, is whether the ground of legitimate government in Ireland in 1921 was Democratic or Imperial.
Alan Stanley, without giving any reasons, takes Imperial authority to have been legitimate authority in June 1921, even though neither the British Government nor its Opposition held a single seat in the 26 Counties outside Trinity College. He dismisses democracy without a thought. But his book is essentially a family chronicle. It is a kind of act of family revenge against what he sees as an alien Government, even though it was elected by his neighbours, possibly, but certainly by those who were his father's neighbours—and against the Persons Unknown who did the shooting, whose names he was unable to discover. And it was published privately by himself.
Left to itself Alan Stanley's book would have been a private act of retaliation against the Irish disturbance of Imperial authority in a bygone generation. Although he says that his purpose was "to propagate the seeds of unease" and to disturb "the collective conscience" (p13), his range of fire would have been narrow and local, if the book had not been taken up, and added to, by the national broadcasting authority. Having taken part in the RTE programme based on his book, he must now put up with the consequences of success.
It seems probable that the Reform Group (which is dedicated to de-legitimising the democratic sources of Irish sovereignty in the elections of 1918, 1919 and 1921) played a part in getting the RTE programme made, if not the book itself. But it is the programme of the book, and the book therefore cannot be let rest as a private act of retaliation against a neighbourhood. It has become a national event.
The book was given national publicity in the first instance by Eoghan Harris in his paper, The Sunday Independent. And it is obvious that Harris was also a lose collaborator with Niamh Sammon in the making of the television programme.
What Harris added to Stanley's book was the allegation of sexual mutilation. He said repeatedly that the Person brothers were shot in "the genitals".
The doctor who examined the Pearsons, both before and after they died, said that they had wounds in various parts of the body, including "the groin" in the case of one of them.
A shot in the genitals may be more embarrassing and humiliating than a shot in the groin, but it is likely to be less deadly. Castration was widely practised throughout the ages without fatal consequences. The groin is the point of junction between the blood vessels of the body and the legs No doctor, least of all a military one, is likely to confuse the groin with the genitals.
The reports published in the papers at the time, and the report of the British military Court of Inquiry released much later, refer to wounds in the groin. They make no mention of genitals. That is Senator Harris's invention.
Eoghan Harris was a fanatical anti-Unionist and a fanatical opponent of the Provisional IRA on the only occasion that I ever encountered him in debate. It would not be right to say I met him. He would not be met by me. His purpose was to denounce me. He did so in characteristic manner. I did not know at the time that it was his characteristic manner. I knew nothing about him at the time, except that he was denouncing me on behalf of the Official IRA. I later saw him on television denouncing others in similar manner but for opposite reasons. My offence was that in 1969, after doing a small bit to help defend West Belfast against Unionist assault, I published an article urging nationalist Ireland to negotiate with the Unionists as a distinct nationality, and insisting that they were not a brittle feudal remnant that would crumble under pressure.
Harris saw that as national treason and denounced me as a national traitor. He did not argue the factual detail of the matter with me. I have noticed that it is a thing he never does. I described his method of dispute at the time as "poisoning the wells", which was a term used by Cardinal Newman in his argument with Rev. Charles Kingsley. I rather surprised myself in doing so as I have never been religious, but the term described Harris's method as aptly as it did Kingsley's. (I will go into that in a later instalment.)
After that I forgot about Harris for many years, during which he was a dogmatic Leninist and an admirer of Sir Nicolai Ceaucescu. Then, after the fall of Sir Nicolai, I noticed that Harris was denouncing others for holding the opinions that he asserted against me, and denounced me for not holding, in that debate in Limerick under the auspices of Jim Kemmy's Labour group.
The war that the 'Official Republicans' fought in the early seventies has been all but removed from the record by means of the influence that the 'Officials' (or Stickies) in their later metamorphosis came to hold in RTE and the Dublin media. But I cannot forget it because it came close to me. A friend of mine, Noel Jenkinson, a Dublin Protestant, was drawn into the fringes of it, with its mixture of Marxist fantasy and wild nationalism. He was found to have played a very minor part in a bombing in England, sentenced, I think to 20 years, and he did away with himself in prison.
The Official Republican war, waged in rivalry with the Provo war, was in my opinion an exercise in lunacy. But it passed muster for a while in the atmosphere of those times when a large bubble of Left ideology parted company with social reality. The consequences when the bubble burst are to be seen on all sides in the form of personnel of the Dublin media who are doing well for themselves. In their groundless idealist phase they had developed propaganda skills that were of great advantage to them in their careerist phase.
I did not support the Provo war, but neither did I consider it lunatic. I opposed it for twenty years while living in West Belfast. The only threats made against me from the nationalist side were made by the Officials.
Some years ago Harris half acknowledged that he had not been entirely right in the 1970s, but excused himself by saying that nobody told him he was wrong. Well, I told him so so in our debate in Limerick. And he gave every appearance then of being a fully grown man with a head.
This matter peeped up briefly on the Joe Duffy Show (RTE Radio 1) on 6th November when Tom Carew began to counter Jack Lane with a weary comment about all that old BICO stuff being rehashed. Duffy intervened to say No, we can't do that; BICO was a legitimate party. That incident almost seemed to have been rehearsed. BICO was referred to, but then the reference was not pursued, and listeners were left to gather that BICO was an ominous body which could not be dealt with for some technical reason.
BICO was never a party and never pretended to be one. And the reason it would not have been prudent for Joe Duffy to pursue it was that pursuit would have brought the attention of the listeners to the awful truth that in the main the people who were exposing the misrepresentation of historical fact by RTE about the Coolacrease incident were not a disgruntled sub-group of Republicans left behind by events, but were the people who had put themselves out of court with prevailing nationalist opinion around 1970 by presenting a case in defence of the Ulster Protestants, and that Senator Harris had denounced them as national traitors for doing so.
And where would that have left the Taoiseach's unelected nominee to the Senate?
Harris was engaged in a campaign to de-legitimise the democratic sources of Irish sovereignty long before the Taoiseach made him a Legislator and made him a gift of something in the region of half million Euros. It is what he has been about since the early 1990s. His Coolacrease programme, which the RTE authorities stand over, presents the Imperial authority as the legitimate authority in 1921, and the Republicans as land-grabbers and bigots. Free invention was applied in a reconstruction of the incident. Imagination was freed from the burden of documentary evidence.
The documentary evidence will be listed next month and compared with the RTE programme. I will end here with a paragraph from the British Military Court of Enquiry held on 7th July 1921, a week after the incident. Alan Stanley wrote his book without reference to this document produced by his own side which contradicts his account of the incident. It was given to the programme makers to take account of, but they decided to ignore it:
"It is said by the C.I. [County Inspector] Queen's County [Offaly] 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 wounded two Sinn Feiners, one of whom is believed dead."
Ireland Is In The Imperialist Camp.
Boycotting The Cenotaph.
Letters To The Editor.
Seán O'Casey's Songs Against Sommery.
Shorts From The Long Fellow.
Old Irish And The Market (Part Three).
End Of History.
The Killings At Coolacrease.
Hands Off Venezuela.
Philosophy Of Nationalism.
High Court Ruling Against Irish Times Deserves
Kevin Myers' Niche.
Hezbollah Denied Entry To Ireland.
Corporatism And Trade Unionism
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