Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Reply to Manus O'Riordan

The background to this letter is an article that Manus O’Riordan wrote for the Irish Political Review in which he suggested that I subscribe to the view that the IRA carried out ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Protestants out of Cork. This was to link me to the work of the late Peter Hart in the hope that, because some inconsistencies were allegedly found in the latter's work, that I could be tarred with the same brush. I was accused of not replying to David Fitzpatrick’s review of my book on the basis that I agreed with it. Mr.O’Riordan also produced some private correspondence I had with him a few years back when I was looking for information on a Jewish JP who lived in Cork in the early 1920s and who I thought may have disappeared. O'Riordan claimed that I was taking my cue from Hart and was looking for evidence that the IRA targeted Jews on the basis that Hart supposedly claimed that they did, which is nothing more than a bit of cheap pseudo-extrapolation from a single letter that he quoted. I include this here because it illustrates perfectly the peculiar and often poisonous level at which ‘debate’ on Irish historical issues operates.

Dear Sir/Madam,

I wish to submit the following reply to the letter by Manus O’Riordan on my book The Year of Disappearances, which appeared in the August edition of The Irish Political Review.

I suppose I should be grateful to Mr. O’Riordan for rallying to my defence for the ‘savaging’ I got from David Fitzpatrick (Letter to Irish Political Review, August 2011). However, I want to clarify one or two things.

I stayed out of the ethnic cleansing debate because I believe that the use of the term is inappropriate in the context of Cork city in 1921/22. As I pointed out, the Protestants who left the south eastern suburbs of the city were for the most part replaced by other Protestants. So the term is meaningless, which does not stop it being used to raise a hare to get people’s tempers up and their pulses racing.

The reason I was interested in the fate of Simon Spiro, a Cork Jew and JP who lived in Cork during the revolutionary period, was because I came across a missing persons file on him in Department of Justice records. I was also aware, from postal directories and valuation records that he had vacated his home on the Western Road in 1921/22. Initially, I thought the file was closed. I suspected something nasty may have happened to him – after all, three Cork JPs were assassinated by the IRA in 1921 and another half dozen or so were kidnapped. I contacted Manus O’Riordan who had written about the ill-treatment of Cork Jews at the hands of the Black and Tans. I also contacted several others on this matter. There was no trace of Spiro in subsequent Birth, Marriages and Deaths records for Cork, nor was there any record of him emigrating to Palestine. A few weeks later I was back in Dublin where I discovered that the Spiro file was in fact open and that the Civic Guard had checked up on his whereabouts and found that he was living over his shop on Bridge Street in 1924. I also found his name on a passenger list of a liner bound for the US in the late 1920s and that he was also an officer of residence at UCC until the mid-1920s. I contacted Manus O’Riordan out of courtesy to let him know that I had found my man. I tell this story merely to show that my search for Spiro had nothing to do with Peter Hart. I have never come across any evidence, from Peter Hart or from anyone else, that Cork Jews were targeted by the IRA. Of course, Manus is correct in one thing: if Spiro had disappeared he would of course have been included in The Year of Disappearances. But he didn’t, so he wasn’t.  This is another canard, like the ethnic cleansing issue.

I am surprised to learn that Manus would not have tried to help me if he had known I had an ‘agenda’. I would have thought that the fate of disappeared persons from a conflict almost 100 years in the past would be a legitimate historical subject. Would he object to a study on disappeared persons from the Spanish Civil War for instance? It is ironic that in a book of over 300 pages in which a lot of controversial material is uncovered that Manus should focus instead on a couple of (private) emails sent to him on a subject (Simon Spiro) and a topic (Cork Jews) that do not even come up in the book. Extraordinary! But this is the level at which much of Irish historical debate operates. This is a place where, to quote the cop shows, ‘anything you say, can and will be taken down and used against you’, a point neatly proven by Manus O’Riordan’s letter. As for Prof Fitzpatrick, I will be responding to his article in due course. In the meantime, perhaps Manus can assure the good professor that I do actually carry out some research. Hey, I even ‘dip into’ Births, Marriages and Deaths records from time to time.  

Yours etc

Gerard Murphy