Murphy's lecture examining the operation and consequences
of the British propaganda efforts during the Tan
War started with an unambiguous statement about
the conclusions of his research; that in addition
to their contemporary political influence on the
1920s, they still influence historical accounts
published ninety years later. Murphy claims that
his examination of the historiography has revealed
the over dependence of 'revisionist' historians
- he named Roy Foster and Peter Hart in particular
- on the 'official' version of events spun by Dublin
Castle during the War.
central function of the British propaganda efforts
in the period under examination was the planting
of stories in reputable journals which were supposedly
from non-aligned sources. Murphy cited an article
entitled 'Ireland under the New Terror, Living under
Martial Law', which appeared in a popular London
publication in the Summer of 1921. While purporting
to be a series of travellers anecdotes from Ireland,
it presented the IRA in a far less favourable light
than the British forces. However it was not revealed
that the writer, Ernest Dowdall, was in fact member
of the RIC Auxiliary and the article was directly
planted by the Propaganda Department in Dublin Castle
to influence public opinion.
main focus of British propaganda efforts was concentrated
in the final year of the War, from the summer of
1920 until the Truce in July 1921. Prior to this
there had been considerable official discontent
at the hostile treatment of British forces in the
press, which has been attributed to the success
of Sinn Féin publicity efforts not only in
Ireland but also by Republican supporters in the
USA and Britain. By mid 1920 Ireland was administered
under the 'Restoration of Order in Ireland Act'
and the Black and Tans and Auxiliaries were active.
However the activities of British forces were being
exposed in the daily Sinn Féin produced 'Irish
Bulletin', which provided a detailed chronicle of
British actions and was distributed to internationally
to press outlets and politicians. As a result the
British government was coming under pressure in
the Commons for it's actions in Ireland. In addition
Erskine Childers' book 'British Rule in Ireland'
had also been an influential
August 1920 Basil Clarke, a journalist, was appointed
head of the Department of Publicity in Dublin Castle.
Clarke had been a director of special intelligence
after World War I. Assisting him in Dublin Castle
was the new Press Officer, HBC Pollard. Pollard
is perhaps best known now as the author of 'The
Secret Societies of Ireland', in which he expressed
strongly racist views of the Irish. He became editor
of an internal newsletter circulated to each police
barracks in Ireland, a publication which at times
contained articles amounting to incitement of the
Black and Tans to carry out reprisals.
30th August 1920 the new Propaganda Department produced
the first issue of a 'Survey of the Weeks Activities',
aimed specifically at countering the impact of the
'Irish Bulletin'. The archives reveal that the work
of the Department was meticulously organised, with
a card index system containing possible headlines,
themes and outlines of anti-Republican articles.
The cards did not contain any sources for the articles,
no actual documentary evidence that any of the stories
were grounded in fact.
described Clarke and Pollard as 'consummate wordsmiths'
who pioneered the presentation of propaganda as
'News', rather than as 'Views'. Drawing on their
experience as both war and political propagandists
they developed the Department by ensuring that journalists
became reliant on Dublin Castle as a source of news.
Twenty or more journalists visited Dublin Castle
daily, to be fed the 'official' news. These journalists
became dependent on this source of news and they
received subtly worded material, which had the appearance
of truth. Special 'leaks' of papers and photographs
were arranged. Great emphasis was placed on labelling
the Dublin Castle sourced news as 'official', which
gave it the illusion of being authoritative and
outlined the main parameters of the British propaganda
mission Murphy cited several examples of how the
department operated in a number of cases in the
autumn of 1920.
of the first cases was that of John Lynch, who was
shot dead in a hotel bed at 3am on September 22nd
1920. Lynch was a civilian, a law clerk, and for
years mystery surrounded who would have murdered
him and why. The British denied any involvement,
although some historians speculated that the man
had been mistaken for the IRA leader Liam Lynch.
What the Propaganda Department successfully covered
up was that as part of his job John Lynch was working
on the case for the defence of two IRA men arrested
in connection with the escape of Sean Hogan at Knocklong
station. In this context Murphy believes that John
Lynch was murdered by an undercover British unit.
Clarke coup was his presentation of the British
version of the torture of Tom Hales in October 1920.
Hales had been badly tortured in British custody
and Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith had prepared
publicity material contrasting his treatment with
that of the British General Lucas, who had been
captured by the IRA and conceded after his release
that he had been 'well treated'. The Irish version
of the Hales story named the soldiers responsible
for torturing Hales and his fellow detainee Harte.
The Dublin Castle department issued strong denials
of the Irish story and produced a document entitled
'Thomas Hales - fiction and fact'. It denied that
any torture had taken place, backed up with supposed
'evidence' from a British enquiry. In his research
Murphy could not find any evidence that such an
enquiry had actually taken place. Nevertheless the
Irish Times, among other publications, carried the
Dublin Castle story as the official news, thus granting
Propaganda Department was also heavily involved
in the news management around the various events
on Bloody Sunday, 22nd November 1920. After the
execution of 15 British intelligence agents by Collins'
'squad' an emergency meeting took place at Dublin
Castle. The IRA action had had a devastating effect
on the intelligence capacity of the police, later
post War British accounts openly acknowledged that
the assassinations had temporarily paralysed the
Special Branch. However in the immediate aftermath
of the attacks Basil Clarke crafted the news to
present those killed as merely having had a legal
role in the preparation of cases for courts martial.
In fact only two of the men had any legal expertise
at all, the remainder had elite intelligence roles.
relation to the Croke Park shootings, on the same
day, Clarke had a more hopeless task. He attempted
to present the atrocity as being provoked by shots
from an IRA picket at the entrance to Croke Park,
to which British forces responded. Shades of a later
Bloody Sunday cover up were obvious here. Even the
London 'Times' found Clarke's version of events
ridiculous, as did a British Labour delegation visiting
Ireland at the time.
third major event of Bloody Sunday was the mysterious
deaths of Dick McKee, Peadar Clancy and Conor Clune,
who died 'while trying to escape' from Dublin Castle.
McKee and Clancy were senior officers in the Dublin
IRA, Clune was an uninvolved civilian. They were
actually killed as a reprisal for the deaths of
the British intelligence men that morning. Basil
Clarke presented and backed up the British version
of the deaths. He claimed that, due to lack of accommodation,
the three men had been held in a guardroom which
contained arms and ammunition. When the men seized
these items they were shot while 'trying to escape'.
To back this up fake photographs were taken of the
guardroom, with known Auxiliaries posing as civilians.
Clarke's version went out as the 'official' story,
though the 'Irish Bulletin' negated it.
example of Propaganda Department action which prompted
the most discussion at the lecture was the story
surrounding the Kilmichael Ambush of November 1920.
A number of audience members had obviously studied
all aspects of the Kilmichael action very closely.
Meda Ryan, author of the book ' Tom Barry IRA Freedom
Fighter' made a number of contributions and answered
questions from the floor.
Murphy has engaged in long correspondence, much
of it through the letters page of the Irish 'Times',
with journalist Kevin Myers and Peter Hart, author
of ' The IRA and Its Enemies'. Murphy claims that
Hart?s findings relating to the IRA during the War
of Independence are suspect. Hart's work mainly
relates to the war as fought in West Cork and repeats
with little or no examination the 'official' British
version of events. For example post-Kilmichael the
British claimed that the district was peaceable
and Pro-British, when in fact 2 IRA men had been
shot in Macroom a few weeks previously. Murphy outlined
the Propaganda Department's spin on the Kilmichael
Ambush, in which 17 Auxiliaries died. The British
presentation of this huge defeat at the hands of
the IRA concentrated on presenting the Auxiliaries
(really an Officer class division of the Black and
Tans) as mere 'cadets'. The claim was that the 'cadets'
were all killed by six shots to the head - implying
execution rather than death in battle. In addition
they had been 'terribly mutilated by axes'. The
ambush and this 'official' version of events received
huge publicity in 'The Times'. Within two weeks
martial law was imposed in Cork.
was strongly critical of the Peter Hart narrative
regarding Kilmichael, saying it depends almost exclusively
on an acceptance of the veracity of the official
British version of events. Hart accepts a 'report'
of Kilmichael which was supposedly written by Tom
Barry, despite the fact that the alleged document
is not signed by Barry.
also claims that the only document he has found
that could possibly have relevance to the mutilation
of bodies claim was a report from an Auxiliary (who
wrongly names the site as 'Kilpatrick') and reports
that the bodies were 'butchered'. Murphy believes
that this could have been the origin of an idea
later embellished by Clarke. The doctor's report
on the bodies makes no mention whatsoever of mutilation
lecture, which was attended by about 60 people,
concluded with an interesting and detailed question
and answer session where several contributors offered
further criticism of the writings of Peter Hart
on the IRA in West Cork. A number of speakers were
very insistent that the IRA in Cork was not sectarian
against Protestants, but only took actions against
those, of any religion, who actively aided the British.
There was considerable criticism also of the refusal
of Irish newspapers to review historical publications
which do not have a 'revisionist' bias. This lack
of mainstream coverage means the major bookshops
are less likely to stock such books. Some speakers
also made reference to the fact that the management
and 'spin' of news by pro-British interests is not
a development of the past 30 years of conflict but
had it's origins in much earlier 'Troubles'.
Mags Glennon is a contributor to Fourthwrite