Hindsight-assisted intelligence

Peter Berresford Ellis reviews British Intelligence in Ireland 1920-21: the final reports, edited by Peter Hart, Irish Narratives, Cork University Press, £7.50 pbk

THIS BOOK consists of the publication of two reports written after the truce of 1921. One is found in the papers of lieutenant general Sir Hugh Jeudwine, who commanded the 5th Division based at The Curragh. The papers are in the Imperial War Museum and anonymous intelligence officers wrote the report.

The other is the report made by the notorious brigadier general Sir Ormonde Winter who was deputy chief of police at Dublin Castle and director of intelligence of the Crown forces. His report is in the Public Records Office.

The book also contains a few explanatory footnotes and an interpretative introduction by professor Peter Hart.

What astonishes me is that Cork University Press, usually known for its academic sobriety and restraint, resorts to announcing publication of the 109pp book in the following intemperate fashion: “Casts a new light on the career of Michael Collins, challenging the belief that his tactical genius was the key to winning the ‘intelligence war’; reveals previously unseen secret documents and tells the inside story of British Intelligence in Ireland.”

Now, of course, there is nothing wrong with trying to sell books by a bit of sensationalism but this is a university press and the editor is an academic and this is supposedly an academic tool.

Winter’s report has long been known to historians and the public alike, indeed, he rewrote it as a chapter in his biography Winter’s Tale (1955) and there has been previous reporting access to the papers of general Jeudwine.

Both these reports were written in retrospect after the truce and are written with the knowledge of hindsight rather than what these worthies knew at the time. The book is more of a curious footnote to the period than anything of historical worth.

I am afraid I have not been impressed with Peter Hart’s previous work either -- The IRA and its Enemies: violence and community in Cork, 1916-1923 (Clarendon Press, 1998). I found it odd that a professional historian could dismiss the burning of the city centre by British troops in this earlier book in a throwaway line. There was not even a reference to this major event in the index.

Cork University Press claim the work “is a significant contribution to the study of Irish revolutionary history”. Not so. Not so.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2002-12-29 14:27:27.
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