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19 of 31 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Coogan's Calamitous Concoction, 14 Jan 2014
This review is from: The Famine Plot: England's Role in Ireland's Greatest Tragedy (Paperback)
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.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 27 Jan 2014 13:12:24 GMT
Obviously this very full review contributes to what might need to be a wider debate. Just a couple of points, briefly: it's true that Dudley Edwards and Desmond Williams did first degrees in Ireland, but I believe that they both did postgrad studies in England, at Londond and Cambridge respectively. It's good to see a challenge in this forum nevertheless.

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Jan 2014 21:30:36 GMT
Neutral says:
Almost right. Both did undertake postgraduate studies in London and Cambridge respectively but Edwards' first two degrees were in Ireland, as was his fourth, while who awarded him the PhD is not clear. He was professor of Modern Irish History at UCD from 1944 onwards. Williams became professor of Modern History at UCD in 1949. Their postgraduate studies reflected their specific historical interests, Edwards on the inter-relationship between England and Ireland, Williams that of diplomatic history. Whichever way it is looked at Edwards and Williams were products of Irish rather than English Universities and deserve better than to be disrespected by a paranoid journalist who appears incapable of tracing objectively the long (and far from happy) relationship between England and Ireland.

That the subject deserves a wider debate is true, that Coogan fails to add anything of value to that debate is regrettably also true.

Posted on 1 Mar 2014 16:36:04 GMT
Briar says:
Thanks for such a full review.
Let me admit to my prejudices at the outset.
I get cold shivers down the spine whenever I see a title by Coogan because I believe he is an immature character with a pronounced paranoid streak and has done immeasurable damage.

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Mar 2014 01:41:08 GMT
Neutral says:
I was left with the same impression, not from prejudice but from reading this sorry tale which deserves proper historical treatment.

Posted on 3 Jun 2014 21:04:57 BDT
Neutral 'Phil' has commented that Tim Pat Coogan fabricates evidence. In reference to Adrian IV I would refer him to wikipedia which states 'Laudabiliter was a papal bull issued in 1155 by Adrian IV, an Englishman, giving the Angevin Henry II of England the right to assume control over Ireland and to enforce the Gregorian Reforms on the Catholic Church in Ireland' That is referring to documentary evidence.

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Jun 2014 21:37:01 BDT
Last edited by the author on 7 Jun 2014 21:38:06 BDT
Neutral says:
Try reading the review correctly please. The evidence that Coogan fabricated was not the papal bull issued by Adrian lV but his description of Adrian as being 'advised by another Englishman, John of Salisbury'. The latter did not advise Adrian in some English-inspired conspiracy as implied by Coogan. John of Salisbury went to Rome on behalf of Henry 11 not to advise but to obtain a privilege. As Wikipedia points out in its article on John, Henry considered him to be a papal agent.

In addition there was no contemporary term which described that part of France which was attributed to the Plantagenet Empire. It was only named the Angevin Empire in 1887.

As for the Laudabiliter being documentary evidence, it is not. Historians tend to regard it as a forgery which itself rested on the forged Donation of Constantine. The wording is substantially different from other papal bulls of the time. A papal bull was issued and discussed but its authenticity is doubtful.
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