The ‘Bandon Valley Massacre’ as a Historical Problem


  • Peter Hart died on 22 July 2010 aged 46, before we had any opportunity to discuss this article. He was among the very brightest of our generation of Irish historians and perhaps its most talented writer. We disagreed on most things, oftentimes fundamentally so. But in our exchanges, at conferences and in journals, I greatly appreciated the keenness of his intellect, and sharpness of his responses. Among his peers, he was the historian I most enjoyed debating history with. I would like to thank Sean Kane, Deirdre McMahon, Brendan O'Leary, Jim Tomlinson, Richard McMahon and the journal's editors and referees for their critical comments on earlier drafts of this article. The ‘Protestant Identities Workshop’, organized by Linda Connolly at University College Cork on 26 May 2011, provided an appropriate testing ground for some arguments advanced in what follows.


Over three nights in late April 1922, eighteen people were killed in west county Cork, in Ireland. All save one of the dead were Protestants. This article re-examines one of the most iconic and contested pieces of Irish historical writing to appear in recent decades: Peter Hart's chapter ‘Taking it out on the Protestants’, published in his award winning monograph, The IRA and its Enemies (1998). It has long been acknowledged that there were problems in Hart's use of sources supporting his thesis, that the massacre was a sectarian-inspired event. But the extent of these problems only becomes apparent when the primary sources are examined in detail. Doing this allows us to deconstruct Hart's methodology and narrative, thereby identifying the criteria for his selection of evidence, alongside examining how he addressed anomalies in the evidence, which questioned whether what motivated the killings was indeed sectarian hatred. We cannot know what precisely happened in West Cork during the massacre. Nevertheless, it is possible to identify an ahistorical methodology at work in Hart's chapter, which props up an unambiguous, and for that, an equally ahistorical narrative of random sectarian murder. Recognition of this sends a stark warning to the wider community about the necessity of verifying sources when reviewing historical writing, in order to check interpretative problems and academic fraud.