Tale of an Admiral (maybe)

Understanding the past is a tricky business . A recent commenter (is that the word?) to my blog on Patrick Pearse mentioned Ruth Dudley Edwards’s book on Pearse. I haven’t read it so I can’t be certain as to what it says.  But I could guess by looking at Ruthie’s track record, notably her admiring account of the Orange Order, The Faithful Tribe.  The fact that her late husband Paddy Cosgrove wrote an admiring biography of Margaret Thatcher might also give a hint of the flavour to be found in Ruthie’s thinking and writing. 
But it’s actually a book headlined by today’s Sindo  that’s caught my attention. The headline is ‘New book sheds light on dark deeds of republicanism’ (no surprise there) and the book’s called Voices from the Great Houses:Cork and Kerry.  It’s by a woman called Jane O’Keeffe, and she’s put together interviews done by her husband with people from those same great houses. The Sindo recounts the killing of Admiral Boyle Somerville by the IRA in the 1930s. The interview is with Tom Somerville, the admiral’s great-great-nephew, who tells how local young men who wished to join the Royal Navy would go to the Admiral to get a reference, which he cheerfully did. The IRA saw this as recruiting young men to serve in British navy and they shot him.
Those are the facts of the matter. His great-great-nephew goes on to give other reasons for his killing: (i) the IRA wanted to give some momentum to its flagging campaign of the time; (ii) he was an admiral and a Protestant, so his death would generate headlines. The great-great-nephew also claims the admiral “was simply trying to do a good turn in helping to get employment for local boys, rather than to recruit for the Royal Navy”.
The great-great-nephew may be right in his interpretation of the Admiral’s motives. He may, on the other hand, be wrong. How he knows them, he doesn’t explain. It certainly seems as though the Admiral was someone who was making it easier for young men living in the area to join the Royal Navy, which sounds like part of the recruitment process. Likewise, the IRA may or may not have wanted to generate momentum for its campaign through the killing; and the fact that the Admiral was a Protestant may or may not have been a factor in their decision to kill him. 
What’s at issue here is the interpretation assigned to the Admiral’s role in recruitment and the motivation ascribed to the IRA’s actions. His great-great-nephew goes with the decent man/morally bankrupt IRA interpretation, which allows the Sindo  to produce its usual anti-republican headline. But little or no attempt is made  to offer other possible interpretations to the thinking behind the event. The great-great-nephew gives no evidence other than his belief that the Admiral thought that way and that the IRA thought in another way.
History, Napoleon said, is an agreed myth – and, he might have added, a myth that’s used to shape the present and create the future. Never let it be said the Sindo  hasn’t done its little bit to nudge things its desired direction. 

10 Responses to Tale of an Admiral (maybe)

  1. Anonymous April 7, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    So the “Sindo” is anti-republican !What a surprise ?!There are few certainties in life but its hatred of republicanism is well established over the years and is hardly news to you.Some might be surprised that you included one of its main polemicists(Eoghan Harris) in your recent book.If history is an agreed myth,might you also have done your bit to “nudge things in the required direction ?

  2. Jude Collins April 7, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

    Anon 14:31 (why can’t you people give your names – so much simpler): I included Eoghan Harris in my book because I wanted a representation of a wide range of views on the centenaries. Besides, I kinda like him- he’s honorable, in my experience. As to my nudging history, I doubt it – but I’d certainly like to, since there are so many pushing the other direction. It’s a bit like (and not like at the same time) at the end of the premiere of one of Shaw’s plays, everyone in the audience was applauding wildly except for one guy. Shaw went over to him and said “I know, my friend. I agree with you. But what are you and I against so many?’ There are so many anti-republican voices, I feel pretty sure mine is lost in the roar.

  3. Anonymous April 7, 2013 at 10:28 pm #

    Are you not reading a bit too much into this?The story is on Page 4 of the Sindo and it seems to have been written by one of the staffers with,one assumes no great appreciation of history.The event happened around 80 yrs ago .If the book is ever reviewed by a professional historian,his/her conclusions may carry more weight.

  4. Catholicus April 11, 2013 at 9:22 am #

    The fact of the matter is the IRA murdered him. He didn’t murder them. There’s no balancing “there were wrongs on both sides” to this and trying to defend his killing, which is what you are doing is pretty vile.

  5. Jude Collins April 11, 2013 at 10:32 am #

    Thank you all for your thoughts. I hope you won’t feel slighted if I single out Catholicus and his. I’m particularly grateful for your thoughts. In future when I’m making the point that people read what they want to see rather than what is in fact written, I shall cite you. Go raibh cead maith agat

  6. Catholicus April 11, 2013 at 10:40 am #

    Well you see Jude I’ve been reading your blog for a long time and I know your style which is of honest broker, I’m just asking the question, I’m not making any point sort of thing. We’re well able to read between the lines. Just as the Sindo tries to nudge things in one direction, so do you. But you’re careful to never say “I support the murder of innocent people”.

  7. Jude Collins April 11, 2013 at 10:50 am #

    Catholicus (love the mask) – I’d love to spend more time discussing this and other issues but Life, I’m afraid, calls. However, I think you reinforce my point about reading what you want to see in my blogs rather than what’s there. I really hope I don’t present myself (or certainly not consistently) as an honest broker. I make no dark secret of my conviction that nationalism/republicanism makes a great deal more sense than unionism. Maybe you’re mistaking my giving both sides of an argument for detached arbiter? And I’ll now put your mind at ease on one point: I don’t believe in the murder of innocent people. But you presumably are a pacifist, it wouldn’t matter if they were innocent or not, would it?

  8. Catholicus April 11, 2013 at 11:59 am #

    I’m sorry I have to use the mask but there are good reasons why I have to be anonymous. I don’t just come on here to slag you off, I do enjoy your blog. I used to be more Republican in my views but have changed over the years. I believe in a united Ireland and I think the British should be held to account for their actions and inactions over the years. What drives me crazy is the attempt by the Irish establishment to draw lines of good Republicans and bad republicans with each group moving the line to suit their end. Fine Gael have good republicans before 1921/22 and everyone after is a terrorist. FF allow a few extra months for the civil war and then everyone’s a terrorist. Labour/Workers Party are confused and don’t know what to include. And Sinn Fein have good republicans before 1998ish and bad dissidents afterwards. My reading of things at this stage is that politically inspired violence in Ireland has never had a good outcome. My greatX5 grandfather was a United Irishman, hanged by the British. The result was not a coming together of Irishmen but the disastrous Act of Union. 1916 and the First Dail gave up partition. The Troubles gave us thirty years of misery. I’m not mentioning all the violence of the British and loyalists because it goes without saying that I don’t think that worked either.

    I’m sorry if I read more in what you wrote than what you meant. I know Cork well and there are a lot of old wounds there.

  9. Anonymous April 11, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

    Catholicus is clearly well able to answer for him/her self bit has not confirmed whether he/she is a pacifist.In any case,is it such a bad thing to be a pacifist?You indicated that you didn’t believe in the murder of innocent people and I’m sure we’re all glad to hear that.Do you believe in the murder of people who are not classed to be innocent?Who decides on the question of innocence?

  10. Jude Collins April 11, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    Anon 15:57 – Your last question is your best question and would logically be better placed as your first question.