Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Little Bit More Bureu of Military History by Ronan Killeen

This should give the reader more of a deeper look into the Bureu of Military History which has been featured in the article by Dr. Ferghal McGarrry - 'Too Many Histories: The Bureue of Military History' in the Nov/Dec issue of History Ireland which you can get in Burke's Newsagents.

WS = Witness Statement

In the case of the Irish Civil war 1922-1923 and the Treaty negotiations  were excluded from the Bureu’s sphere of activity, a practical decision given its ambition to secure co-operation from veteran’s on both sides of the civil war divide. Army officers were given the task of gathering ino off former revolutionaries.

  Then oral accounts were written by the witness but more frequently they were based on their oral testimony and composed into ‘coherent statements by the investigators before being approved and signed by witness statements.’
  After the archive of the WS were compiled they were sealed into 83 steel boxes in the strongroom of Government buildings where the documents remained unavailable for public or scholary scrutiny until the release in 2003 following the death of the last witness.

There are some problematic issues with the WS for example the bias of oral history, the shape of historical memory, the selective nature of the testimony collected and the reliability of the witnesses memories. In some of the content of the WS from the BMH some are 'egocentric, self-serving or others to justify actions or settle scores.
  What is interesting about the unknown volunteers according to Dr. McGarry's article is that the 'unknown volunteers believed  in the importance of recording th minor role they played in an event that they regarded  as he most important of their lives. They make no great claims as to the wider significance of their actions and are characterised by modesty rather than vanity or self-interest.'

Of course, there were some veterans who refused come forward for the reasons of betraying confidences or just wished to forget the past. One member of a 'Flying Column' explained that his memories were tainted with 'feeling aversion and self-disgust'. The well known √Čamon De Valera - the leader of the government that established the Bureu and the former IRA chief-of-staff Richard Mulcahy. Another reason why others refused to record a statement to the Bureu was perhaps their distrust of the project or their antipathy to the state.
   One lady, Elizabeth Farrell - who was best known for handing over Padraig Pearse offer of surrender to Brigadier General Low, declined on the grounds that 'all governements since 1921 had betrayed the Republic'.  Another lady Pauline Keating, who did submit a statement, was astonished by her former comrades the Cumman Na mBan that 'they would rather burn anything they had than give it to the Bureu...I suggested that the information might beof interest to future generations, but I did not succeed in convincing them'.

To read more read:

McGarry, Fearghal, 'Too Many Histories: The Bureu of Military History and Easter 1916, History Ireland, November/December 2011 issue, p26-29

McGarry, Fearghal, The Rising, Ireland, Easter 1916, (Oxford Press 2010)

Ryan, A, Witness: Inside the Easter Rising, (Dublin, 2005)

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