Peter Berresford Ellis reviews Seán O'Hegarty: O/C First Cork Brigade, Irish Republican Army by Kevin Girvin Aubane Historical Society,ISBN 1-903497-30-2, €20/£15 pbk
I MIGHT be accused of becoming the Cork historical correspondent but, in recent times, there has been some excellent books produced about the war of independence in Cork. And now, just out, comes another that should not be missed.
Seán O'Hegarty was one of the most effective military commanders in the Cork area but his significance has long been overshadowed by other great Cork names, not the least Tom Barry.
Kevin Girvin of University College, Cork, has produced the first, and long overdue, biographical study of O'Hegarty, brother of the more famous P S O'Hegarty who earned an entry in the Cadogan and Falvey Biographical Dictionary of Cork while Seán, sadly, did not rate a mention.
No one trying to understanding the struggle in Cork during the period 1916-1923 can afford not to have a copy of this book and it is certainly a corrective to the trash being peddled as history by the likes of Hart and his fellow revisionists who have tried to paint the war of independence in Cork as a sectarian conflict with the Catholic fanatics (IRA) wiping out the southern Protestants (Unionists). Such claims are pretty bizarre and certainly, if notoriety was what Hart was after, by his appalling The IRA and its Enemies, he has gained that.
Thankfully, Kevin Girvin, has presented a thoroughly researched and fascinating work which has an addition of 114 pages of appendices, notes, bibliography and index.
What is essential to an understanding of the Treaty debate and descent into civil war, is the fascinating inclusion of the record of O'Hegarty's contribution to the Treaty debate in the Dáil in 1922 when he was allowed to address the Dáil as leader of a delegation of army officers.
Fascinating, too, is how the British intelligence saw O'Hegarty. Kevin Girvin has been able to access O'Hegarty's British military intelligence file, which is part of the appendices.
Another fascinating appendix is the inclusion of the text of Father Dominic O'Connor's letter to Cork No 1. Brigade giving the counter arguments to the Bishop of Cork's decree, threatening excommunication to the Irish Volunteers.
Father Dominic was brigade chaplain and believed the Bishop had no right in Canon Law to make this threat, giving a closely reasoned argument. But he added, in the circumstances, there was no need for anyone in Confession to even mention they were a member of the Irish Volunteers.
This is an essential book because, while it deals with the microcosm of Cork, it also deals with the macrocosm of the entire country not just in 1916-23 but it is a reminder that there is an attempt by certain so-called historians to denigrate and re-shape these essential years of Irish history.
It is a fragment of truth in the sea of neo-colonial propaganda now being peddled in Ireland.
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Copyright © 2007 Peter Berresford Ellis