Eoghan Harris – An tost fada by Tom Cooper

Eoghan Harris told us (Sunday Independent, 17 February 2019), not for the first time, that he made An Tost Fadafor RTE in 2012. The Irish language TV documentarypresented Cannon George Salter’s memory of his father’s alleged expulsion by the IRA from West Cork in April 1922, three years before the Cannon was born.

Modesty prevents Mr Harris from noting that RTE upheld two complaints I made about the programme. It misreported British compensation payments to Mr Salter as a loyalist and reported as a simultaneous event, the IRA execution 14 months earlier of two men as informers. The mistake was accompanied by the programme presenting as a gravestone of one of the men, that of an elderly woman with the same surname who died of natural causes in 1939. Additional complaints to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission were not considered, on the bizarre (even RTE thought it strange)basis that Mr Harris’s history, ‘did not have to comply with … statutory requirements for fairness, objectivity and impartiality’ (see pages 6-8 of West Cork’s War of Independence, at West Cork’s War of Independence: Sectarianism, Tom Barry, Peter Hart and the Kilmichael Ambush – a 2017 Southern Star, Irish Times, discussion between Tom Cooper, Gerry Gregg, Eoghan Harris, Cal Hyand, Barry Keane, Simon Kingston, Niall Meehan,

West Cork’s War of Independence: Sectarianism, Tom Barry, Peter Hart and the Kilmichael Ambush – a 2017 Southern Star, Irish Times, discussion between Tom Cooper, Gerry Gregg, Eoghan Harris, Cal Hyand, Barry Keane, Simon Kingston, Niall Meehan,The outcome of the first West Cork History Festival The advertising blurb for the First West Cork History festival this year told us that it, “… will span a diverse set of places, historical subjects and periods, from the local to the

Gregg, Eoghan Harris, Cal Hyand, Barry Keane, Simon Kingston, Niall Meehan,The outcome of the first West Cork History Festival The advertising blurb for the First West Cork History festival this year told us that it, “… will span a diverse set of places, historical subjects and periods, from the local to the

Mr Harris blamed his elderly interviewee for the mistakes and for the generally tendentious content of the programme. As always, he is blameless.

An Tost Fada’s larger propaganda claim was that the IRA targeted Protestants in a sectarian manner. There is no evidence that the IRA conducted, or even thought of conducting, a sectarian war during 1919-23. That obstacle does not deter Mr Harris, or his producer Gerry Gregg. In a Harris production, as he remarked in 2017, “facts are not fixed” (cited page 19, link above). The appearance of objectivity substitutes for its substance.

I debated An Tost Fada with Mr Gregg in 2017 in the Southern Star. As a result of my making contact, RTÉ insisted that the errors RTE admitted be edited out of An Tost Fada, before being shown at the first West Cork Film Festival (page 7-8, link above). The discussion is online at the address above.

A reason I bring up, yet again, this broadcasting fiasco is that now Mr Harris wants “a separate film”, though not one like RTÉ’s The Irish Revolution. A comment in part two from Louise Ryan on “rape by Crown forces” was not sufficiently “rounded” for Mr Harris. He wanted to hear her say, as he put it, “The IRA was as bad, if not worse”. Had Mr Harris made the programme I’m sure that assertion could have made it to screen, though there is no evidential basis for it. Facts are not to be trusted, you see: they need to be ‘fixed’ by experts like Mr Harris.

Another thing Mr Harris wants on us to be aware of is alleged “sexual pressure on Protestant women caused by IRA billeting”. As it is unlikely that unadorned facts could sustain this innuendo, Mr Harris informed us on 17 February that he intends un-archiving some comments from Cannon Salter on the subject. Subject matter considered too bizarre, even for An Tost Fada, is proposed for the next instalment of Mr Harris’s historical imagination. For Mr Harris, Protestants experience sensitivities foreign to the Roman Catholic population. Mr Harris would not fantasise long, if at all, on alleged “sexual pressure” on Roman Catholic women “caused by IRA billeting”. We know the word Mr Harris wants us to associate with “sexual pressure”, conjoined with “Protestants” and “Women”. It is one he used earlier,“rape”. Mr Harris’s job is done when that association is planted in readers’ heads. 

Mr Harris also desired a “fast footnote” on the RIC assassination of Cork’s Sinn Féin Lord Mayor Tomas Mac Curtain, in March 1920, and the retaliatory shooting of the main culprit, District Inspector Swanzy, in Lisburn in August 1920. It would be enriched, he thought, by telling us that Swanzy’s first cousin Mary afterwards left her house in Dublin’s Merrion Square, because “she didn’t feel safe”. No footnote for the enraged unionist mobs in Lisburn who burned nationalists from their homes for three days after Swanzy’s killing (See History Ireland: Reprisals against Catholics in Lisburn and environs, July–August 1920

Reprisals against Catholics in Lisburn and environs, July–August 1920n July 1920 the IRA shot dead Lt Colonel Brice Ferguson Smyth, who had earlier made an infamous speech in Listowel, where police justified shooting people .
Reprisals against Catholics in Lisburn and environs, July–August 1920 n July 1920 the IRA shot dead Lt Colonel Brice Ferguson Smyth, who had earlier made an infamous speech in Listowel, where police justified shooting people .

As between those feeling unsafe and those not safe,while under sustained murderous attack, Mr Harris opts for sectarian innuendo and elision of salient facts, every time.

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