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on 8 September 2013
Simply put, if you have been following the debate on Cork spurred by Peter Hart's "The IRA and its enemies" then you need to read this.

It gives a huge amount more detail on the intelligence war between the two sides and its impact on the people of Cork. Borgonovo reveals details about how the IRA infiltrated British headquarters in Cork, penetrated the postal service and phone service, as well as secured the services of a number of double agents inside the RIC and Army. A lot of this was in the public domain before, but Borgovono was the first to publish it in a recent book, as far as I know. A key figure for example is Florrie O'Donoghue, head Intelligence Officer in the City, who wrote a book after the war.

I have to add something in relation to Hart. Although some of the findings of this book chime with Hart's work, the main thrust compromises Hart to some extent.
It is literally amazing that Hart saw fit to make such pronouncements on the IRA killing of informers without writing about the IRA's extensive counter-intelligence apparatus at this time. Ignoring such detail strengthened Hart's contention that such killings were simply sectarian tit-for-tat killings (I simplify, slightly) but seem to fly in the face of the evidence presented here. I looked at the "IRA and its Enemies" after reading this book and found there was not a single reference to Florrie O' Donoghue's intelligence work in the index.

One caveat - due to the nature of the topic there is a lot of supposition in the book - essentially around whether some of those killed were actual informers - however this is clearly stated.
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on 16 December 2006
This history of the spy wars in Cork City during 1919-1921 explains the IRA's campaign against civilian informers working for British forces during the Irish War of Independence. It puts a human face on a hidden but compelling aspect of the conflict. The book provides rare insight into the role of information-gathering in a guerrilla war, which seems especially relevant in the wake of the current Iraq War.
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on 20 September 2007
When I read the foreword to Spies Informers and the "Anti-Sinn Fein Society" by Prof. Eunan O'Halpin it struck me as rather sparing in its praise and I wondered if the professor was guilty of that scholarly trait of not wishing to appear too effusive or enthusiastic towards an academic text. Sadly after reading this extended thesis I suspect this is not the case, I fear this is just a badly written book and the professor knows it.

As a reference tool for names, dates and remembered first hand accounts I would agree that this book is a useful asset for anyone wishing to study history, this is a well referenced work.

However this book should be part of a wider body of research as I think it contains too many assumptions to be considered of any real worth, the main one being the author's opinion that a lack of overt support for the Crown forces within a society implies tacit support for the Dáil Éireann and the Cork IRA.

Very little of the book is spent on the fear instilled into the local population by the IRA. Having spent most of my adult life living in Northern Ireland both before and after the ceasefire in both nationalist and unionist areas I can say with some authority, as can anyone who has lived in this country, that often the local population will say and do nothing because they fear the wrath and retribution of paramilitary forces.

If the reader approaches the text with this in mind many of Borgonovo's assumptions are questionable. Couple this with the fact that in his own conclusions the author acknowledges his theories cannot be accurate, that he can prove nothing; one has to wonder, what is the point of this book?
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on 17 October 2014
Apparently the IRA got it right and there was virtually no hatred or sectarian tendencies in their ranks, that could predominantly be found only in the RIC, British Army and amongst Loyalists. However, the historical record shows the area was subjected to a kind of ethnic cleansing. Which no doubt Republican patriots are desperate to white wash, yet I had family from Cork and grew up with a great, great aunt who told me how it really was. The IRA grabbed the populous from the balls, their murder campaign was a way of suppressing a population that was not on their side, it's the same tactic they used in Northern Ireland and similar movements around the world have used to maximum effect. We are to some how believe that never happened in Cork and all those who contend it did, using a vast array of academic and other sources are "Revisionist Historians". I wouldn't buy this book as it's just another attempt to white wash the real history, which has been white washed for the best part of a century. It's time for the truth to out and it doesn't come out in this book!
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on 10 November 2009
John Borgonovo is among a handful of international historians to have studied Ireland's War of Independence with the focus on a specific part of the conflict, in this case the crucial Intelligence struggle in the south-western region of the country, notably in Cork City and County. This revealing new account shines a bright light on this dark and murky covert world of espionage and counter-espionage, of competing spy-rings and networks, and examines in detail the belligerent role played by sections of the British Unionist minority in Ireland, in particular through active collaboration with the British Occupation Forces both as spies and counter-insurgents. With many tens of thousands of Irishmen having served in the British military and paramilitary police forces, both in Ireland and overseas, and with the Unionist minority in Ireland reliant on continuing British rule in order to maintain their `colonial' privileges, it is hardly surprising that the British found a rich vein of sympathy and co-operation within this frequently militant population, as they struggled to control the majority of the Irish people and their support for Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army (IRA), mandated as both were by a string of electoral landslides - which of course the British refused to recognise.

Borgonovo's book will be a revelation to many readers unaware of the activities of the broad Unionist community in `southern' Ireland during the 1916-1923 Revolution, in stark contrast to their more obviously violent and infamously anti-democratic `northern' compatriots. While Unionist terrorist organisations like the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) are well known and documented their counterparts in other parts of the country are largely forgotten, and Borgonovo looks at the `Anti-Sinn Fein Society' as well as several other shadowy groups linked to the British Forces (plus numerous individual informers, traitors and collaborators). Their wide range of counter-insurgent activities, spying, kidnapping, torture, assassinations, house burnings and multiple murders, are presented in detail and with a great degree of fairness and contextual placement. Borgovono goes out of his way to present all arguments, often giving the benefit of the doubt to individuals where circumstantial evidence alone would point to guilt. His use of original source materials is scrupulously detailed and no statement or claim is made without solid backing. Where tentative suggestions are made, or facts remain unclear, he does not hide the fact but rather draws attention to it, clearly leaving it up to the reader to decide themselves based upon the evidence. This kind of academic honesty is highly refreshing and is one of the real strengths of the book.

Borgonovo also addresses the case made by others, most notably the controversial right-wing writer Peter Hart in several of his more infamous publications, that there was a sectarian and racist element to the Irish Revolution in the Cork region, and that the IRA deliberately targeted civilian members of the British Unionist minority in the area. This claim has been taken up by a number of British Neo-Colonial historians in support of Britain's case that it had the right to rule Ireland, to the benefit of the Irish people, and has been described by them as a campaign of `ethnic cleansing against Protestants'. To Borgonovo's lasting credit he methodically demolishes this particularly nasty and insidious web of anti-Irish propaganda, stripping it of all pretence to academic integrity, and showing it to be the politically motivated counter-factual history that most rational people know it to be. For taking on the lunatic fringe of British apologist historians, and their Irish offspring, and showing the false and worthless nature of their conspiracy theories we should be eternally grateful to Borgonovo.

We need more studies like this.

For those wanting to know more about the particularly bitter struggle in the Cork region between the Irish Republican Army and the British Occupation Forces during the War of Independence, Meda Ryan's award-winning 'Tom Barry: IRA Freedom Fighter' is an excellent place to start.

Tom Barry: IRA Freedom Fighter
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on 22 August 2015
Excellent book and great counterpoint to the falsehoods of propagandists like Peter Harte.
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