Peter Hart (historian)

For other Peter Harts, see Peter Hart (disambiguation).

Peter Hart (11 November 1963 22 July 2010) was a Canadian historian, specialising in modern Irish history.


Hart was born and raised in St. John's, Newfoundland. He studied for one year at the Memorial University of Newfoundland before moving to study at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. He graduated from there with an Honours BA degree. Subsequently, Hart completed a master's degree in International Relations at Yale University.

He then moved to Ireland to do PhD work at Trinity College, Dublin. His thesis was on the Irish Republican Army in County Cork, an epicenter of the Irish War of Independence, which was the basis of his first book, The IRA and its Enemies. After completing his doctorate, Hart accepted a five-year teaching and research position at Queen's University Belfast. In 2003, having completed this contract, Hart moved back to Canada to take up the position of Canada Research Chair in Irish Studies at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. He was also an associate professor at Memorial University.

In the 1990s he developed cancer and underwent a liver transplant - events which permanently affected his health. He suffered a brain haemorrhage early in July 2010 and died on 22 July 2010 in a St. John's hospital at the age of 46.[1]


Hart wrote several books on what he termed the "Irish Revolution" of 1916–23, arguing that events like the Easter Rising (1916), the Irish War of Independence (1920–21) and the Irish Civil War (1922–23) were parts of a greater whole.[2]

The first of these books, The IRA and Its Enemies, Violence and Community in Cork, 1916–1923 (1998), is a study of the organisation's social composition and actions in County Cork during the War of Independence. This book won several awards, including the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize (1998). It attracted significant criticism, "le[ading] to almost as much conflict as the events" described.[3][4][5]

Hart edited British Intelligence in Ireland 1920–21: the Final Reports (2002) a re-print of official British reports released to the British Public Records Office that detailed British military and intelligence postmortem critiques of policy during the Irish rebellion from 1919-1921; and The I.R.A. at War 1916–1923 (Oxford University Press, 2003), a collection of essays on various social, political and military aspects of the IRA in these years. The latter work represents, Hart wrote in the preface, "sixteen years' work on the history of the Irish revolution." Hart's last work was a biography of Michael Collins, Mick: the real Michael Collins (Macmillan, 2006).

Hart contributed to the volume The Irish Revolution (2002), a collection of articles by various historians of the period.[6]

Review and criticism

Times Higher Education suggested in 2008 that Hart's work "offers a revisionist version of events that proved highly controversial".[3] Hart denied he was a "revisionist", calling it "pejorative labelling".[7] In his review of The IRA and its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork, 1916–1923, John M. Regan wrote:

"Hart is neither a statist nor a southern nationalist, though the influence of both ideologies can be traced though his work. His research on localised and specialised topics subverts orthodoxy, but it is his willingness to embrace it when dealing with general explanations which surprises. His exploration of the plight of Protestants in the Free State illuminates the sectarian underbelly of the revolution that a nationalist historiography prefers to ignore. In escalating violence in Cork, Tipperary, or Dublin could Michael Collins, Harry Boland, or Ernie O'Malley be held accountable for raising sectarian tensions in Antrim, Down or Belfast? Was the cost of a southern state the institutionalisation of ethno-religious tensions in a compressed and reactionary northern state? Could revolutionary violence in 1922 and 1968 conceivably be part of one grotesque, protracted process? To accept this argument would, however, be to shatter nationalist icons important to a southern nationalist identity still rooted in its own glorious revolution."[8]

Some of Hart's published claims attracted criticism from other historians and writers,[3][9] including two incidents in The IRA and its Enemies. One was the Kilmichael Ambush of 28 November 1920. Hart challenged the account of commander Tom Barry who stated the Auxiliaries engaged in a false surrender that caused two IRA fatalities, after which Barry refused further surrender calls and ordered a fight to the finish without prisoners. Hart posited this never happened and alleged that Barry ordered the killing of all prisoners.[10]

Hart claimed he personally interviewed two anonymous ambush veterans in 1988-89 and listened to recorded interviews with three further unnamed Kilmichael veterans. The recordings (known as 'the Chisholm tapes') were made in 1970 by Father John Chisholm as research for Liam Deasy's Toward Ireland Free (1973).[11] Meda Ryan, author of Tom Barry, IRA Freedom Fighter (2003), questioned Hart's claim to have interviewed two Kilmichael veterans in 1988 and 1989, claiming only one, Edward "Ned" Young, was still alive from 1987-89. Ryan reported him too ill to have contributed to Hart's research. This assertion was supported in an affidavit published in 2008 by Ned Young's son, John.[12] Ned Young died aged 97 on 13 November 1989. According to Ryan (and 1980s newspaper accounts)[13] The second last surviving Kilmichael veteran, Jack O'Sullivan, died in December 1986. However, Hart dated an additional interview with his second anonymous Kilmichael veteran on 19 November 1989, six days after Ned Young died. Hart claimed his interviewee was an unarmed ambush scout, although the last ambush scout, Dan O'Driscoll, reportedly died in 1967. The last dispatch scout, Seán Falvey, died in 1971.[14] Hart's earlier 1992 PhD thesis, on which his book is based, did not describe this 19 November 1989 interviewee as an unarmed scout. In his thesis, Hart described touring around the Kilmichael ambush site with this interviewee, a claim withdrawn from the book.[15][16]

Niall Meehan, Head of the Journalism and Media Faculty in Griffith College, Dublin, questioned Hart's claims with regard to the "Chisholm tapes", in a review of David Fitzpatrick (ed.), Terror in Ireland 1916-1923 (2012). A chapter on the Kilmichael ambush by Eve Morrison was based partially on access to the tapes. She reported two, not three, as Hart stated, Kilmichael veterans recorded in 1970 by Chisholm speaking on the ambush. One of these two was Ned Young. The other recorded interviewee, Jack O'Sullivan, spoke words which were misattributed by Hart to the ambush scout he claimed he interviewed on 19 November 1989. Meehan asserted that "this misattribution... further questions the existence of Hart’s 1988 and 1989 veteran interviews".[17][18]

The second controversy surrounds the Dunmanway killings, in which thirteen Protestant men and boys were shot dead between 27–29 April 1922 during the truce. Hart wrote, "these men were shot because they were Protestant".[19] Others point to evidence suggesting that, while the IRA action was unauthorised, the men were targeted due to allegations they were informers, not because of their religion. Again, criticism centered on Hart's use of evidence. In his review of The IRA and its Enemies (The Month, September–October 1998) Brian Murphy noted Hart's citation of a British intelligence assessment in the Record of the Rebellion in Ireland that "in the south the Protestants and those who supported the Government rarely gave much information because, except by chance, they had not got it to give." Murphy pointed out that Hart had omitted the following sentence:

An exception to this rule was in the Bandon area where there were many Protestant farmers who gave information. Although the Intelligence Officer of the area was exceptionally experienced and although the troops were most active it proved almost impossible to protect those brave men, many of whom were murdered while almost all the remainder suffered grave material loss.[20]

As the April killings took place in "the Bandon area", Brian Murphy queried apparent suppression of evidence contradicting Hart's conclusion. This has been echoed in further discussion.[21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28]

Hart stood by his work, stating that critics have failed to "engage with the book's larger arguments about the nature of the IRA and the Irish Revolution"[3] and believing they are closed to "a real debate where people concede some things and put forward others or are skeptical about weak points and accept the strong points."[9] Hart's last known interview was in a TG4 Irish language programme on Tom Barry, broadcast in January 2011. The programme had access to eight of nine Chisholm tapes (in total) and questioned Hart's use of anonymous sources and other claims.[29]

In his 2011 book, Michael Collins and the Anglo-Irish War: Britain's Failed Counterinsurgency, author J.B.E. Hittle, a retired U.S. career intelligence officer-turned historian, acknowledged Hart's overall contribution in re-examining standard histories of the period, but concluded that Hart's historical method is "problematic". Hittle cited Hart's "overall naivete" about guerrilla warfare, in particular, what he viewed as Hart's underestimation of the importance of certain counterintelligence cases to the outcome of the war, as well as faulty methodologies.[30]


  1. Notice of death of Peter Hart,; accessed 11 March 2015.
  2. See esp. 'A New Revolutionary History', in The I.R.A. at War 1916-1923 (Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 3-29.
  3. 1 2 3 4 John Gill, Troubles and strife as IRA historian draws peers' fire,, 3 July 2008.
  4. Matthew Reisz, Between the lines of a tale of murder and motive,, 24 May 2012.
  5. Justine McCarthy, An Uncivil War in Academia, Sunday Times (Ireland), 10 June 2012.
  6. Joost Augusteijn, The Irish Revolution, 1913–1923, Palgrave Macmillan, 2002; ISBN 0-333-98225-8.
  7. Peter Hart, Author's response: The IRA at War 1916–1923, Reviews in History, retrieved 29 August 2009.
  8. John Regan, Book Review: The IRA at War 1916–1923, Reviews in History, retrieved 29 August 2009.
  9. 1 2 Diarmaid Fleming, "'War of words' over battle", BBC News, 26 November 2004.
  10. Tom Barry, Guerrilla Days in Ireland, 1949, pp. 40-46; Peter Hart, The IRA and its Enemies, 1998, pp. 34-35.
  11. Niall Meehan, "Kilmichael veteran's son challenges Hart",, 5 July 2008.
  12. Niall Meehan, Brian Murphy (OSB), "Troubled History - a Tenth Anniversary Critique of Peter Hart's The IRA and its Enemies",; accessed 11 March 2015.
  13. Niall Meehan, Reply to Jeffrey Dudgeon on Peter Hart,; accessed 11 March 2015.
  14. Meda Ryan, Tom Barry, IRA Freedom Fighter, Mercier, p. 69.
  15. Niall Meehan, "Distorting Irish History: the Stubborn Facts of Kilmichael", pp. 13-14,; accessed 11 March 2015.
  16. Niall Meehan, "Examining Peter Hart", Field Day Review 10, 2014.
  17. David Fitzpatrick (ed.), Terror in Ireland 1916-23 (including responses from David Fitzpatrick and Eve Morrison), p. 7,; accessed 11 March 2015.
  18. See also Reply to Professor David Fitzpatrick and to Dr Eve Morrison's responses to criticism of Terror in Ireland 1916-1923 (plus consideration of Dr Brian Hanley on "The Good Old IRA"), pp. 4-7,; accessed 11 March 2015.
  19. Hart, IRA and its Enemies, p. 288.
  20. In 'Peter Hart, the Issue of Sources', Brian Murphy (OSB), Irish Political Review Vol 20, No 7, reproduced in the 10th anniversary critique of Peter Hart's The IRA and its Enemies,; accessed 12 March 2015.
  21. Niall Meehan, "Distorting Irish History Two, the road from Dunmanway: Peter Hart's treatment of the 1922 ‘April killings’ in West Cork",; accessed 11 March 2015.
  22. Niall Meehan, "The Further One Gets From Belfast", a second reply to Jeff Dudgeon,; accessed 11 March 2015.
  23. John M. Regan, David Fitzpatrick response (plus letters), History Ireland, January-June 2012.
  24. John M. Regan, "The 'Bandon Valley Massacre' as a historical problem",; accessed 11 March 2015.
  25. John M Regan, "The History of the Last Atrocity",; accessed 11 March 2015. Archived November 9, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  26. Reply to John M. Regan and Eve Morrison
  27. John M. Regan, "West Cork and The Writing of History",; accessed 11 March 2015. Archived November 11, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  28. Niall Meehan, Examining Peter Hart, Field Day Review 10, 2014.
  29. Emmanuel Keogh, TV Review, Sunday Business Post, 23 January 2011.
  30. J.B.E. Hittle, Michael Collins and the Anglo-Irish War: Britain's Counterinsurgency Failure, Potomac Books, 2011.
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