From Church & State: Autumn 2006

Protestant Refugees: Semantics Or Accuracy?

(Report: the following letters about the allegation that Protestants were driven out of Cork in May 1922 appeared in the Irish Independent)



Questioning Cork Pogrom

The claim by your correspondent Mr Myers (Irish Independent, June 28) that Cork Protestants and others fled . . . "the sectarian wrath of the IRA in May 1922. Many thousands of Protestants fled their homes in terror as a wave of murder, violence, intimidation and boycott convulsed the county, and many other parts of southern Ireland also" is put in question by details quoted in the Unionist Denis Kennedy's excellent book, 'The Widening Gulf'.

"In its first interim report in November 1922, the Hoare Committee said that in the period from 12 May to 14 October it had dealt with 3,349 applicants, many of them married men with large families.

"Not all of these were in need of immediate assistance, but of the 1,873 cases approved for emergency relief, about 600 were Protestant, and just over 1,000 Catholic. (Fewer than 100 of these cases were from Northern Ireland.)"

So, it would appear that a majority of those fleeing to Britain from the anti-Protestant pogroms which disfigured the birth of the Irish Free State were Catholics. Further to this, Mr Kennedy points out that aid from the Northern Parliament to Protestant refugees was almost non-existent.

"A private committee was set up under the Chief Whip in Craig's Government . . . There is no accurate record of the numbers who actually did flee North. In September 1922 Craig wrote to Churchill mentioning 'some three hundred and sixty (refugees) now being maintained by private generosity in Ulster'. The money spent by the Dixon Committee was limited; in October 1923 Dixon sent a certificate of money expended to date, for £495.0s.6d., to the Home Office, seeking a reimbursement."

That certainly does not bear out Mr Myers' extravagant claims.

And Mr Kennedy concludes his examination of this important matter: "What is clear is that there is no evidence of any large-scale transfer of population across the border at this period".

Joe Keenan (3.7.06)

The Facts About That 1922 Exodus

Joe Keenan, (Letters, July 3) quotes accurately, and at some length, from my 1988 book 'The Widening Gulf' in support of his criticism of Kevin Myers' assertion that many thousands of Protestants fled their homes in Cork and other counties of southern Ireland in the face of IRA murder and intimidation in 1922.

I should point out that the passages quoted refer, in the main, to refugees moving from southern Ireland into Northern Ireland.
Protestants in Donegal and other border counties were certainly subjected to violence and intimidation, particularly at the hands of the anti-Treaty forces, and numbers of refugees turned up in Enniskillen and other northern towns.

Contrary to popular belief, however, there is no evidence to indicate that there was any large scale transfer of population from south to north. While numbers of families settled permanently inside Northern Ireland, it seems many others returned within weeks to their homes.

The figures for refugees fleeing from southern Ireland to Great Britain are much larger, and are evidence of widespread violence against two particular groups, Protestants, and Catholics who had served in the army or the police.

The Hoare Committee dealt only with refugees crossing to Great Britain, and the total of almost three and a half thousand applications for support in the six months from May to October 1922 can represent only a portion of the numbers actually forced out of their homes.

Applications were normally made by the head of the family, so the figure would have to be multiplied several times to get an idea of the number of individuals involved.

In addition, only those actually seeking aid from the committee are recorded. Families with relatives in England, or with private means of support, may well have felt no need to apply to the committee.

Taking these factors into account, it would seem clear that the 600 Protestant refugee families actually assisted by the Hoare Committee in those six months are sufficient indication that the total number fleeing, not just their homes, but all of southern Ireland, in the middle of 1922, and crossing to England, must, indeed, be numbered in thousands.

I appreciate Mr Keenan's kind words about my book, but must decline the gratuitous and erroneous label of "Unionist" which he attaches to me.

Dennis Kennedy (5.7.06)

Protestant 1922 Exodus

I must thank Mr Dennis Kennedy for his response to my letter quoting his book 'The Widening Gulf' (Letters, July 5). I had not realised that the Cadogan Group of which Mr Kennedy is a member no longer wishes to be described as Unionist. Several of the other members of that group have very publicly acted as advisers to former UUP leader Mr Trimble, which is why I used the term.

But Mr Kennedy objects to being so described and I, of course, apologise for my error.

The figures I quoted from Mr Kennedy's fine book were intended to illustrate a simple thesis which has two strands.

First, that much of the Protestant emigration attendant upon the creation of the Irish Free State was an economic relocation of persons whose livelihood depended on the structures of the British state. When the only possibility of their continued employment in those spheres moved across the water so did they.

As Mr Kennedy acknowledges, these were largely members, both Catholic and Protestant, of the army and police services. I do not believe that any great proportion of this emigration was forced. Evidence other than raw figures will have to be brought forward to establish that, to my mind mistaken, contention.

Second, that the short lived movement across the border was just that, with the great majority of those concerned returning to the Irish Free State within a matter of weeks.

To me, this indicates that once the fears which occasioned their flight had been shown to be groundless these people were happy to return to their homes. Mr Kennedy does agree that a large proportion of this population movement was short lived.

Mr Kennedy is mistaken in his suggestion that the violence along the border in the Spring and Summer of 1922 was part of a campaign by anti-treaty forces. It was in fact directed by Michael Collins and Eoin O'Duffy. There was anti-treatyite involvement in gun-running for and training of the Northern IRA (Dan Breen and Ernie O'Malley, for example, were active in the Free State Army's training camps for Northern recruits).

But the organisation involved was a Free State body set up by O'Duffy on Collins' orders—the Army Council of the North.
Its commanding officer was future anti-treaty Chief of Staff, Frank Aiken. His deputy was the future Free State Major General Sean MacEoin, the heroic Blacksmith of Ballinalee. If he wishes I will be very happy to provide Mr Kennedy with appropriate references in this matter.

Joe Keenan (10.7.06)

Protestants Driven Out

Joe Keenan (Letters, July 10) distorts the debate by merging two distinct issues—the large exodus of Protestants from southern Ireland in the period up to and following partition, and the specific question of intimidation of Protestants in mid-1922.
My letter, and the quotations Mr Keenan used from 'The Widening Gulf', dealt with the second, narrower issue.

I repeat that there is ample evidence that large numbers of Protestants, probably thousands, did indeed leave their homes in some fear during mid-1922, and move out, mainly to Britain rather than Northern Ireland. There is sufficient evidence of acts of violence, including murder, against Protestants to suggest that their fears were not unfounded.

Mr Keenan misrepresents, or possibly misunderstands, my statement that the violence of mid-1922 was directed against two categories "Protestants as such, and secondly Catholics who had served in the army and police". I did not say, as he writes, that the people who left "were largely members, both Catholic and Protestant, of the army and the police services."

It was not my intention to imply that all intimidation of Protestants in border counties was the work of anti-Treaty forces, and I do not dispute Mr Keenan's contention that violence in the border area in 1922, presumably including attacks on Protestant families, was also perpetrated by supporters of the Treaty settlement.

Finally, the Cadogan Group has never claimed to be a Unionist group. It is not linked to any political party.

Dennis Kennedy (13.7.06)

The Protestant 1922 Refugees

In reply to Mr Dennis Kennedy (Letters, July 13), I was initially quoting the figures from Mr Kennedy's 'The Widening Gulf' in response to Kevin Myers' contention that "in May 1922, many thousands of Protestants fled their homes in terror as a wave of murder, violence, intimidation and boycott convulsed the county, and many other parts of southern Ireland also."

I do not believe that the figures which Mr Kennedy records in his well-researched book bear out this picture of floods of refugees fleeing the Irish Free State with their few remaining possessions on their backs.

In Britain, the Irish Distress Committee spent some of a fund of £10,000 on 1,873 cases, about 600 of the recipients being Protestant and just over 1,000 Catholic.

In Northern Ireland, where no official aid was forthcoming, a private committee spent £459.0s.6d on at most 360 refugees.

Those sums are paltry and simply do not bear out Mr Myers' claim of a flood of refugees fleeing "a wave of murder, violence, intimidation and boycott" (just who would flee a wave of boycott? what could such a thing be?). It remains to be explained how this flood of refugees left almost no official trace in either Great Britain or Northern Ireland. Are we to believe that the British and Northern Irish authorities left thousands of refugees to starve on the streets?

I did not say, as Mr Kennedy paraphrases me, that the border violence of 1922 "was also perpetrated by supporters of the Treaty settlement". I said that the border violence of 1922 was a campaign directed by Michael Collins and Eoin O'Duffy. Anti-treaty elements played an interesting role in the logistics of Collins and O'Duffy's border campaign but had no part at all in launching, fighting or ending it. That is a very different thing from the Free Staters being mere also-rans.

The unionism of the Cadogan Group is clearly a matter of definition. At this point I am happy to accept Mr Kennedy's definition.

Joe Keenan (19.7.06)


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