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Coogan's Calamitous Concoction
on 14 January 2014
If the English never remember the Irish never forget. Unfortunately, the act of never forgetting turns facts into myths, myths into narratives and criticism of those narratives into the myth of supposed 'revisionism'. This is evident in 'The Famine Plot' which demonstrates the paranoia of those who determine their conclusions before they write. Coogan's argument is that the Famine was caused by a combination of amoral economic opportunism, long-held religious discrimination, a deliberate policy of food shortages designed to eliminate the Irish poor. He overlooks the fundamental historical practice of establishing the facts before reaching conclusions, attributing objectivity to anti-British historians and dismissing those who have alternative viewpoints. Laissez-faire economics and political indifference do not amount to a plot but are indicative of sincerely held beliefs. Blaming everything on the British is a cop-out from the proper study of history and as dishonest as Blair's artificial apology of 1997.
Coogan's ignorance leads him to suggest that 'it was the influence of the Irish Americans, led by the Kennedy family, whose ancestor Patrick Kennedy had fled Ireland during the Famine, that helped to bring an end to thirty years of strife and create a peace that still holds at the time of writing'. Apart from the fact that the Kennedy's played no part in the peace process, largely because Jack and Robert were dead before the 'troubles' began while Edward was following his brothers' example of screwing every available female while in office, he overlooks the role of the British, Ulster Unionists and paramilitary groups (except the Real IRA) in accepting military victory was unachievable and Irish civilians were the main victims.
Coogan moves from the specific to the general stating Nora Connelly was turned away from the workhouse because her name was incorrectly left off the list of recipients, claiming, 'Later it was discovered that she should have been on the food list but a careless official had given her a wrong name. There were many such officials'. Were there? Where's the proof? Coogan invents social history from one example. He claims some people were buried in mass graves while still alive but provides not one jot of evidence. He states the editors of 'The Great Famine', R Dudley Edwards and Desmond Williams, were both products of English universities. Yet Edwards was educated entirely at Irish Universities and Williams at University College Dublin. The dead are entitled to an honest account of what happened, they are not entitled to a fictional account written to preserve an idealised and mythical past. To support this fiction Coogan refers to historians who agree with him as 'respected'. He quotes John Mitchel's claim that God sent the blight but the English created the Famine but fails to mention Mitchel was an anti-British propagandist who stated that the Irish needed a 'Holy War to sweep this Island clear of the English name and nation'. The Ayatollah would have been proud.
Coogan fabricates evidence. He claims the Englishman Pope Adrian IV legitimised the Norman invasion of Ireland to impose the colonialism of Mother England and Mother Church. He described Adrian as being 'advised by another Englishman, John of Salisbury'. This conspiracy theory is nonsense. John of Salisbury went to Rome on behalf of Henry 11 not to advise but to obtain a privilege. Norman steel did not win Henry 11 rule over Ireland that was achieved by the ready acceptance of his over-lordship by Irish kings. Henry's failure was to recognise Irish loyalty was malleable and that the establishment of a semi-autonomous Norman force would lead to a conflict of interests, particularly as he spent most of his time in Europe pursuing the interests of the house of Angevin. His rule over England or Ireland was not his sole or even main concern.
He quotes Lord Chichester as being Elizabeth's chief adviser in his text but in the relevant footnote (not sourced) admits Chichester was writing to Elizabeth's chief advisor who was Robert Cecil. Chichester's views did not represent Elizabeth's policy. Earl Grey's critical speech to the House of Lords in 1846 (Appendix 5) is reproduced as 'it is only by this government that such evils could have been produced' when Grey actually said, 'it is only by misgovernment that such evils could have been produced'. Coogan has altered the text to support his plot theory. Throughout, Coogan ignores the political dimension, although he is aware of the consequences of changes in government and fails to carry out research of original material.
The facts are that Irish labourers lived in abject poverty which was exacerbated by the alienation between rulers and ruled (before and after 1800) and the absence of government by consent. Coogan acknowledges the influence of laissez faire but ignores English critics of the system of farming in Ireland. The Royal Commission of 1843 condemned landlords' agents for destroying the country for the sake of profit. It was not genocide it was unregulated economic theory providing evidence of its own inadequacy to people who refused to acknowledge it. It is and remains the essence of political rule throughout history. Included in the political culture of the time was the notion the Irish and English formed one nation, although objectively this was untrue.
Coogan records, but does not understand, the nature of the debate within the British government, preferring selective quotes to buttress his prejudices rather than recognising the limitations of government thinking within the orthodoxy of the day. The 'evidence' he produces is overwhelmingly from secondary not primary sources. Coogan's belief his failure to obtain visas to promote his book in the United States was caused by British 'spookdom' is paranoia. His claim The Famine can be equated with genocide is propaganda masquerading as research. Coogan's book is not about 'The Famine Plot' but describes his having lost the plot. As an academic source it is worthless, as anti-British propaganda it serves its purpose. Two stars.