Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Alternative Facts

Barry Keane among the Freemasons

I was not aware until this week that last year Barry Keane had done Trojan work in trying to establish how many of my list of 32 Cork Freemasons who were struck off the membership rolls actually survived the 1921/22 period.[1] However, now that I am aware of it, I should at least take the time to check out what he came up with. After all, it is my book that he is criticizing. He says my book is ‘controversial’, yet the only thing controversial about it is that it dug up whole new sources of information that nobody had thought of using up until then. There is hardly a line in the book that is not sourced. This may make the book somewhat overdetailed but finding new sources is hardly controversial.

Some of these sources, such as the Valuation records of the south eastern suburbs of Cork city are still being ignored. Others are being checked and amongst these are the Freemason records held at the Grand Lodge of Freemasons in Dublin which have recently come online.[2] The missing Masons were mostly members of Freemason Lodge No. 71. My thesis was that some of these may have disappeared in view of the claims made by Cork city IRA men such as Connie Neenan, Mick Murphy and others that members of the so-called Anti-Sinn Fein League supposed spies were picked up in ones and twos and shot and their bodies dumped. I never suggested that anything like all of them disappeared. In fact, I believed at the time, and still do, that the majority of them fled, or were forced to flee.

The context of this was the shooting of James Beal, an Englishman shot by the IRA in Wilton on the western suburbs of the city in February 1921. Beal was a member of Lodge No. 71 and apparently had a list on him which was taken by the IRA and assumed to be a list of fellow ‘spies’. When I consulted the membership rolls of the Masonic Headquarters  in Dublin I was astonished to discover that Lodge No 71 had a large number of members who had been ‘struck off’ around 1925/26, something which was not replicated in any other lodge in Ireland over those years. They were struck off because they had failed to renew their membership fees despite being repeatedly requested to do so. So common sense suggested that, considering that the ‘master spy list’ as Ernie O’Malley called it, had been found on Beal and that up to half a dozen city IRA men claimed that people on this list had been lifted that there may have been some connect between this and the list of ‘struck off’ Freemasons.

So I published the list of ‘struck off’ Freemasons in the hope that people would rise to the challenge and establish exactly how many of them had survived the revolutionary period. I should point out that at the time of the writing of The Year of Disappearances the amount of genealogical information available online was significantly less than it is now. Thankfully this has been remedied and Barry Keane has been doing much genealogical work on these and related topics over the past several years. Such has been the explosion of genealogical material becoming available that I would suggest that it would be difficult for anyone from an English-speaking country to remain hidden from the all-seeing eyes of Ancestry.co.uk or Findmypast.com at least up until about 1980. So if someone leaves absolutely no record – of death, marriage, will, probate, passenger lists, telephone directories etc – after 1921/22 there must be some good reason for it.

So what did Keane discover? He claims to have established that 17 of my list of 32 definitely survived, that 10 more may have survived with greater than ‘50:50 certainty’ and that he failed to find any information on another five. Then he makes what may be a significant statement when he says that the latter were mostly in the military ‘and would have no reason to stay in Ireland after 1922’. ‘To be blunt’, Keane writes, ‘85% of Murphy’s disappeared either did not disappear at all or have left sufficient information to show that on the balance of probabilities they did not disappear’, if that makes sense. ‘If the military is excluded the outcome for virtually everyone on the list has been established.’ He suggests that ‘it is reasonable to ask Murphy to remove these people from his list and publish the full outcome of all those on Freemason lodges in Cork who were struck off by 1925. Inevitably, this new information calls into question Murphy’s claim of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in the south-eastern corner of Cork.’

Considering that I have never claimed there had been ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Cork city and this is on public record, the latter part of Keane’s statement is a bit odd. The first part is reasonable, however, and I would be more than happy to remove all those who were found to have had subsequent lives if that were proven to be the case. And if that meant everyone had to go, then then so be it. I have no axe to grind on any of this. In fact, I’d be happier if they could all be found. After all, no Irishman should rejoice in the fact that the views of someone like Father Dominic on the subject of Freemasonry might actually be acted upon. So Keane states in effect that no Freemasons disappeared, which is fine. But is this what his data actually says?

Because from my reading of his data it would appear that, far from being able to find information (post 1921/22 information, that is) on all those on the list, he failed to find it for no fewer 17 of the 32, not the other way round. These were:

Mungo John Smith,                 Captain, Royal Field Artillery
Thomas Morgan,                     Varnish Maker
Stanley Morgan                       Varnish Maker
Stanley Hunt,                          Mill Manager
Edward Collingwood              Lithographer
Henry A. Harris                      YMCA Organizer
John Reeves Hennessy           Accountant/Engineer
Alfred Hennessy                     Dockyard Coppersmith
Edward W Owens                   Clerk
Frederick J. Moffitt                 Clerk
Walter Roberts                        Dentist
John J. Carson                         Chief Petty Officer
William Highet                        Royal Navy Engineer
William B. Beamish                X (indecipherable) Agent
Edward Sparks                        Naval Police Sergeant
Frederick W.D. Leonard         Customs Officer
John Cottrell                           Accountant
George A. Stoney                    Lieutenant Royal Dublin Fusiliers

He did find information on the fifteen others on the list of 32 and there is no debate about that. In fact, I had found most of these fifteen myself and stated this in a previous blog. But what about the above names? How does Keane pare this list of 17 down to five, or even zero, depending on which one of his sentences you read? How does he, to borrow a hurling phrase, turn a 17 point defeat into a 17 point victory? Well, he employs various little tricks like changing people’s names or their religion. He states for instance that William B. Beamish is ‘more likely’ to have been William Henry Beamish of Glounthaune who died in England in 1927, rather than William B. Beamish who lived in the city and was an insurance agent. Likewise, he states that a John Cottrell who died in Cork in 1923 was the man of that name on the Freemason list, even though the former was a solicitor and a Catholic and the latter an accountant and almost certainly a Protestant. He moves people around. He states, for instance, that Walter Roberts, a dentist based in Cork, could not be the Walter Roberts on the list because in 1911 he lived in Dublin, as though he could not have moved from Dublin to Cork in the meantime.

He also makes unjustified assumptions. He states that William Highet ‘probably’ died in Scotland in 1927, just as Frederick Leonard ‘probably’ died in Bristol in 1954. Yet there is no reason for thinking that these are the same persons, especially given that Highet is a relatively common Scottish name and Leonards in England are two a penny. As for most of the rest, he claims that the military names on the list were not Corkonians and would have left Cork in 1922 and that would account for their having no further records. Or else they may never have been in Cork, despite Lodge 71 being based in Cork. However, even military men have to live somewhere and die somewhere and military personnel are the easiest of all categories to trace. Yet despite the gigantic resources available, he was not able to account for the five military personnel named above – and three others who clearly had military links.

This is not to say that all of the above disappeared. Edward Collingwood, for instance, died in Somerset in 1942, something which, unusually for him, Keane did not pick up. Neither does he pick up on John Reeves Hennessy who died in Surrey in 1974 – though there is no record of his brother, Alfred’s, death.[3] However, too many of the remaining men had military connections – I make it eight out of seventeen – fifteen if you discount Collingwood and John Reeves Hennessy – for us to dismiss the possibility that there was some connection between their military links and what happened to them.

There can be no doubt that Lodge 71 was targeted by the IRA. There is no equivalent for the number of ‘struck offs’ in any other lodge in Ireland. It is quite evident that most of those who were struck off had to leave Cork and in many instances Ireland, probably in a hurry. Thomas Stewart who was Warrant Master Junior for the lodge in 1921 stated that ‘of course, all the SF in this city knew that I was connected with Lodge 71 and was also WW Jnr for that year. So it made it doubly difficult for me.’[4]   We know that James Beal was killed, that the IRA had their list of supposed ‘spies’, that according to themselves the list was acted upon, we know that a disproportionate number of the ‘struck offs’ were military men. What this suggests is that there was no smoke without fire. What Keane’s analysis does confirm is that the vast majority left Cork, probably in a hurry and never came back.

Keane has done some good in establishing who exactly from my original list of 32 actually survived. This serves to focus on the remaining fifteen persons, over half of whom had links with the military. But suggesting that all of these survived when he can find no record for them is premature to say the least, if not downright disingenuous. Of course this all goes with the territory. Anyone has followed the various ‘debates’ revolving around Irish history and what happened in 1921/22 will be aware that ‘alternative facts’ are nothing new on this island.

[2] At Ancestry.co.uk.
[3] He says that an A. Hennessy lived at the family home in 1945. This is as likely to have been another brother Alan as Albert.
[4] Thomas Stewart, TNA CO762/14/21.