The IRA Disappeared Of The 1920’s: Gerry Adams vs. Niall Meehan

Ed Moloney teases out tensions between the respective intellectual positions of two Sinn Fein figures, Dear Leader, Gerry Adams, and smear leader Niall Meehan. The piece appeared in The Broken Elbow on 8 November 2014. Niall Meehan has written and/or smeared on behalf of Sinn Fein under a number of pseudonyms including but not restricted to the following: Adam O'Toole, Mick Griffith, Mick Finnegan, John O'Leary and Harry W.

The IRA of that period disappeared scores of alleged informers – men and women. It is claimed this number may be as high as 200.
Following the conflict, there was no attempt to recover the remains – unlike republicans of this generation who have helped secure the return of 10 of the 15 who were secretly buried in the 1970s.

The two sentences above are the takeaway from Gerry Adams’ latest post on his blog Leargas, entitled ‘The Good Old IRA’. In what a report on the Ulster Television website describes as a critique of political opponents in the South, Adams slates Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour opponents of Sinn Fein for their hypocrisy in condemning the IRA of the recent Troubles while lauding ‘the good old IRA’ of the 1920’s and leaders like Michael Collins.

Much of what the Sinn Fein president writes is indisputable and well worth repeating (in fact I remember Danny Morrison* writing a pamphlet back in the 1980’s with the same title as Gerry Adams’ latest blog post): the old IRA, like its modern counterpart, did operate ‘kangaroo courts’, did execute informers, did import weapons from America, did rob banks and post offices and did levy taxes on civilians. In these important respects there was no difference in what Adams correctly calls “the brutality and violence” of the two groups. The founders of the Irish state had as much blood on their hands as the leaders of the Provisional IRA.

IRA members in West Cork, circa 1921

What he has to say about the old IRA ‘disappearing’ alleged informers is, however, a different matter. The historical evidence to support his assertion is, to say the least, strongly disputed. The only remotely reliable instance of any IRA victims being disappeared was in west Cork following the July 1921 Truce when, allegedly, unauthorised (by the national IRA leadership that is) killings and disappearances of suspected Anglo-Irish (i.e. Protestant) informers took place in circumstances which suggested old scores were being settled (although even this much is a matter of controversy and disagreement).

The allegation that the IRA of the 1920’s engaged in the same disappearing policy as its modern counterparts, that is a national policy endorsed by the IRA’s GHQ as opposed to unofficial and localised instances and implemented during the conflict not after it had ended, is a very new one. It was put forward as recently as March last year by Trinity College Dublin history professor Eunan O’Halpin in a two-part television documentary broadcast by TV3.

O’Halpin claimed that 200 alleged informers were killed and disappeared by the IRA of the Anglo-Irish war period and since Gerry Adams also cites the number ‘200’ as an estimate of those hidden away in secret graves during the 1920’s, it is reasonable to assume that the Sinn Fein leader is relying on O’Halpin for his evidence.

If so, then that creates a very interesting and, for Sinn Fein, delicate situation for Eunan O’Halpin’s thesis was comprehensively – perhaps brutally would be the better word – demolished by Niall Meehan, Faculty Head of Media and Journalism at Griffith College, Dublin.
Niall Meehan
Except Niall Meehan is not just an academic. He is a devoted and enthusiastic Sinn Fein supporter who some believe specialises in …. how shall I put this?….. delicate, back room work on behalf of the party. Whatever the truth about that it would be no exaggeration to say that the Griffith College lecturer is nonetheless an important cog in the Sinn Fein machine.

None of this subtracts from his masterly, lengthy critique of O’Halpin’s thesis which can be summarised in a short, pithy sentence: it doesn’t pass the smell test.

But it does put Meehan in an awkward position vis-a-vis his leader who desperately needs to establish that what the modern IRA started to do in the summer of 1972 when Joe Lynskey was driven down to Monaghan town to meet his maker in an anonymous hole in the ground was no different from the behaviour of the founders of the modern Irish state.

And it raises an intriguing question: will Niall Meehan now withdraw his critique of O’Halpin in deference to his leader, or will he stand over it?

Anyway here is Niall Meehan’s take on Eunan O’Halpin. Readers can make up their own minds - Gravely Mistaken History

* Correction: I am reliably informed that it was the late Mick Timoney, editor of An Phoblacht at the time, who wrote the pamphlet ‘The Good Old IRA’ and not Danny Morrison.


  1. Sure why would you let truth get in the way of the on-going sanitisation and rehabilitation of Sinn Féin's great 'statesmen'.

    Any more of that Ed and someone's liable to snatch your teddy-bear!

  2. Sailing full-steam-ahead into the realms of fantasy history. Surprised at O'Halpin. After reading that review I wouldn't be at all shocked to hear shortly that he and Tim Pat Coogan have become Ireland's first same sex-sationalist married couple.

    As for SF and the disappeared; they have more in common with the UK/USA axis of terror and renditioning through Shannon than they do with the 'Good Old IRA'.

    There seems to be more 'evidence' of excessive funding for pure junk disguised as research though. Was there not a case of a huge wad of dosh being put up for 'research' into the Dissident Republican groups by Liverpool University recently? Where there's MUCK-THERE'S BRASS Ashley lad...where there's muck there's brass lad!!

  3. Interesting article, i took a wander out to "Sing Sing Prison" yesterday east of cork city in a place called Knockraha, Kilquane cemetary to be precise. It was here that suspected informers and spies, and British troops that were captured were brought just before their execution. Brutal times.

    Some were buried in fields known as "the rea" while others were buried in various other places such as Glounthane. Its not known however how many were recovered if any at all.

    There have been many stories about the actual figures, Martin Corry estimated in one interview that there were 35 - "....Seventeen members of the cammerons regiment, seven black and tans and eleven other people loosely defined as people such as spies, informers etc"

    The above quote is taken from a local history called Foras Feasa Na Paroiste part 1 History of No.1 IRA Brigade E Company

    To see a photo of the crypt go to the following Facebook page

  4. 'But it does put Meehan in an awkward position vis-a-vis his leader who desperately needs to establish that what the modern IRA started to do in the summer of 1972 when Joe Lynskey was driven down to Monaghan town to meet his maker in an anonymous hole in the ground was no different from the behaviour of the founders of the modern Irish state.'
    So true, but conviently forgotten, particularly in the Party of Dev. which gave us Deputy Martin Corry, alleged to have killed several Cork protestants because they were touts, fair enough some may say, but precisely the same reason why the IRA of the 1970's, 80's and late 1990's killed informers.
    What is the difference between an informer in Cork and Armagh? Nothing but seventy years in the case of the infamous Eamon Collins.