Jude Collins

Monday, 3 December 2012

Tim Pat and 'Comrade' Kennedy

Maybe you caught it yourself. I missed the first half of the Sunday Sequence debate,  so I went into the Radio Ulster/Raidio Uladh site and listened to it all. It was like watching a couple of duellists, with a sword in one hand and a rapier in the other. I’ m referring, of course, to the debate on the Famine between Tim Pat Coogan and Professor Liam Kennedy from Queen’s University. 

The point of difference was clear:  Kennedy figured Coogan had written a book (The Famine Plot) which was narrow in its “evidential sources”, a book that was “out-dated and out-moded” and in which it was “terribly difficult to find any redeeming feature”.  The rest of us, gentle souls that we are, would have fallen to the floor, skewered for keeps in the face of such an authoritative attack. Not Tim Pat.  He cited AJP Taylor  ( a historian, he suggested, who might carry a bit more authority than Kennedy) who said that the Famine made Ireland  a kind of Belsen. The British welcomed the Famine, and led by the London Times,   looked forward to the day when “the Celt will be as rare on the banks of the Shannon” as the Red Indian in the US.  

Kennedy said this was misrepresenting the British, that it was in fact history as demonisation. He claimed that the British administrator Trevelyan acted “according to his own lights, trying to save as many Irish from starvation as possible”.  “I’m not defending the policies at the time” Kennedy concluded, which seemed a strange thing to say, since he’d been doing that with some energy for several minutes. 

Tim Pat’s book, it seems, centres on the question of whether the Famine was an act of genocide. He argues that according to the UN Protocol on genocide, the Irish Famine “ticks all the boxes”.  The English saw the Famine coming and did nothing. When it arrived they didn’t close the ports - grain was being exported as people died on the roadside. Yes, the government established soup kitchesn - but one year later cancelled them. He also noted, significantly, that the Famine commemoration committee, set up by the Irish government and of which he was a member, were not able to hold a meeting north of the border, such was the animosity displayed by some there.  

Who’s right? Well, maybe if you read Coogan’s book you can decide for yourself. Alternatively, you might like to read something on the subject by the man that Tim Pat referred to as ‘Comrade Kennedy’. That baffled me for a bit, until then I wondered if this  could be the Kennedy who ran with spectacular lack of success for the Conservative Party in North Down a few years back? Or maybe that was another of the Kennedys.

One thing’s for sure. The revisionist historians, exemplified by Kennedy, will find it harder to maintain the terrible-tragedy-nobody-could-have-averted line as more writers and historians like Coogan enter the field. 


  1. Does anyone outside nationalist Ireland and Irish America take Tim Pat Coogan seriously?

  2. Oh my goodness, what a howler.

    Jude thinks "Comrad [sic]" is an epithet associated with Conservative politicians and that Professor Liam Kennedy is Laurence Kennedy, former Tory candidate.

    Does Jude not have Google?

    No wonder the BBC dont use him anymore. How embarrassing.

  3. Kennedy ran in the 1997 and 2005 Westminster elections for West Belfast as an independent 'human rights' candidate.

    At a guess I'd say that "comrade" was an implication that Kennedy may have had some relationship with the Workers' Party at some point.

  4. Could someone remind us of Tim Pat Coogans academic credentials?

    1. What does an academic qualification have to do with his abilities as a historian?

  5. Dead on lads, argue about the use of the word comrade, slag Jude and TP Coogan and don't bother addressing the content which basically is the definition of genocide - compare if an African country did the same thing to a region it administered in 2012 - I think you'll find the UN and all the great and good might have a thing or two to say about it...

  6. Many Academics rise in their fields because they say & write things agreeable to those in power. Great article Jude. Must order a copy & as you say; decide for myself. D

  7. The target here seems to be "revisionist historians" whatever that epithet means.Does it mean anyone who challenges the Sinn Fein version of events?

  8. Is Kennedy just looking for a bit of attention with his revisionist nonsense? Lets face it negative attention is better than no attention at all! I think we all know the basic truth surrounding the Famine here, it started as a natural disaster; the English jumped on board to make the most of it and it easily turned to a handy deniable genocide mission. Kennedy's degree was in food science - surely then he should know that people need to eat to stay alive; if there's a shortage of food going on really it might be an idea not to export what food there is in the country!

  9. Genocide has always been a favored weapon in the WASP arsenal, be it in Ireland, India, China or Africa...indeed wherever Britland's "civilization" pillaged and plundered. That anyone would be so dim as to try to brush it away as normal for the times is astounding and testimony of the lack of morality in our current age of neo feudalism and corporate fascism. The apologists for such genocide are simply minor psychopaths of the tribe. Shame on you.