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Myth and the Irish State

John M. Regan

Timely and provocative debate on contemporary Irish history from an historian whose views have caused controversy and heated discussion. Considers troubling questions about the formation of the Irish State, and the role of Michael Collins amongst many vexed questions. Discusses the uses and abuses of public history and the role of the historian in interpreting controversial histories, as commemorations approach.

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When we read a history we believe ourselves to be reading cold, hard, facts of the events that took place and how they occurred. But there is no real, truthful way to know the approach our historian has taken with the historical sources. This book deals with the uncertainty in writing history in the context of Irish history in particular.

Regan argues in this book that the notion of elision, simply ignoring unhelpful evidence, threatens Irish history today. Regan believes that some historians have ignored unhelpful facts that perhaps do not further their point or perhaps contradict them altogether.

Each chapter focuses on a period of Irish history that Regan believes to be inconsistent or incomplete in its facts. He asks the controversial questions about the period of history such as ‘why do some historians deny or marginalise the British threat of war and re-conquest in 1922?’,  why do so many Irish historians describe Michael Collins as a ‘constitutionalist’ or a ‘democrat’ when the evidence argues otherwise?’ ‘Was the Irish Civil War really fought between ‘democrats’ defending the state, against ‘dictators’ attempting its overthrow? Did the new state briefly experience a military-dictatorship under Collins in 1922?

‘Thinking historically’ is not about learning history or accepting the past as it is presented to us – it is, as Regan argues in his thought-provoking work, about developing the critical skills to interpret history for ourselves.

Table of Contents

  1. The Birth of Irish Democracy
  1. Peter Hart and Meda Ryan: Problems with Sources
  1. The Sectarian Underbelly
  1. Southern Irish Nationalism as a Historiographical Problem
  1. Understanding Irish Nationalisms
  1. Addressing the Dictatorship
  1. Michael Collins, General Commanding-in-Chief, as a Historiographical Problem
  1. Irish Public Histories as a Historiographical Problem
  1. The Irish Revolution as a Historiographical Problem
  1.  The Bandon Valley Massacre as a Historiographical Problem
  1. The History of the Last Atrocity
  1. Irish historians and ‘das Herbert Butterfield problem’

About the Author

Dr John M. Regan studied history and politics at Magee College, University of Ulster, before completing a doctorate in Modern Irish History at Queen’s University Belfast in 1994. He was the first Irish Government Scholar at Hertford College Oxford, and later held research fellowships at Wolfson College Oxford and the University of Exeter. He published The Irish Counter-Revolution 1921-36 in 1999, and now lectures in British and Irish history at the University of Dundee.