Old IRA disappearances ‘off the scale’ compared with PIRA

Research calls into into question so-called moral superiority of old IRA, says historian

The old IRA disappeared almost four times as many people in Cork alone as the Provisional IRA did throughout the whole of the Troubles, new research claims.

A total of 62 people in Cork disappeared in 1920-1922, according to research carried out by Dr Andy Bielenberg, a historian at University College Cork. The equivalent number in the Troubles was 16.

Dr Bielenberg said the figure is based on his research carried out to document all disappearances in the county during the revolutionary period.

He suggested the scale of disappearances involving the old IRA was “off the scale” compared with the Northern Irish Troubles and the practice was the “skeleton in the closet” of the period.


He estimated the total number of people disappeared by the IRA nationwide between 1920 and 1922 to be greater than 100.

He told the West Cork History Festival that the disappearance of so many people was the “darkest aspect of the IRA campaign” and that it challenged the idea that the old IRA was morally superior in its actions to the Provisional IRA.

While a sustained campaign had been made on behalf of the disappeared of the Troubles to recover the bodies, no such campaign was ever started for those who disappeared in the revolutionary period leaving relatives without any place to mourn.

Executed as informers

Dr Bielenberg made his remarks during a talk about Mary Lindsay and her chauffeur James Clarke, arguably the most famous of those who disappeared in Cork during the War of Independence.

Mrs Lindsay, a well-connected loyalist living near Coachford, and Clarke were executed in March 1921 as informers.

She was accused by the IRA of revealing to crown forces that an ambush was imminent near Dripsey in Co Cork. Ten IRA men were arrested. Five were sentenced to death.

The IRA took Lindsay and Clarke hostage and warned that they would be killed if the IRA men were executed. When the British authorities went ahead with the executions, Lindsay and Clarke were executed too and their bodies were never found.

Dr Bielenberg said the Lindsay episode “exemplified the viciousness of the conflict in Cork at its peak and the unwillingness of either side to compromise”.

Targeting Protestants

Historian Cal Hyland told the festival that Protestants living in west Cork were almost five times more likely to be targeted during the revolutionary period than their equivalents living in Cork city.

Mr Hyland reviewed more than 3,600 files in the UK National Archives relating to the Irish Grant Committee, which was set up by the British government after the War of Independence.

It compensated those who had been loyal to the British state and those were perceived to have suffered financially during the War of Independence. By far the highest number of compensation claims (849) came from Cork city and county. Of those, 380 were made by non-Catholics, though they constituted just 10 per cent of the population of the country. A total of 468 compensation claims came from west Cork.

Mr Hyland said the chances of being subjected to intimidation in west Cork if you were a Protestant was one in 33. By contrast, in Cork city it was one in 158, north Cork one in 68 and east Cork one in 75.

An argument has raged for many years about the nature of attacks on Protestants, especially after the signing of the truce in July 1921. A total of 13 Protestants were killed in west Cork in April 1922.

Historians are divided over whether those attacks were based solely on religion or whether or not the Protestants were targeted because they were perceived to have helped crown forces during the War of Independence.

Mr Hyland said he had reached the conclusion that sectarianism was one of the motivations for the attacks.

He suggested there was no other motivation for the targeting of 83-year-old John Northridge near Ballineen, who was beaten up by a dozen men in October 1922, nor the intimidation of 60-year-old Jeremy Kingston and his two unmarried sisters.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times