The Dunmanway massacre of 1922

It is incorrect to reduce the reason for the killings, individually and collectively, to the single motive of sectarianism

Sir, – The Irish Times reported that the Dunmanway Discussion Group (DDG) has asked that the Government recognise the Bandon Valley murders of 13 Protestants in April 1922 as “sectarian acts” perpetrated by the IRA (Mark Hennessy, “Killings of 13 Protestants in west Cork in 1922 were sectarian acts, say descendents of victims”, News, January 30th).

This traumatic tragedy occurred after the ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, when the War of Independence was over.

The representation by the DDG in this report of historical research on the Dunmanway massacre is overly simplistic, in our view. The DDG’s assertion that”’no serious historian” has disputed Prof Brian Walker’s conclusions on the Dunmanway killings in 1922 is not accurate. We have debated such conclusions with our colleague Prof Walker and others in many forums. Questioning is the essence of our profession: historians can differ even when drawing on the same sources.

Since the late Peter Hart’s publication The IRA and its Enemies (1998), several historians have published original, peer-reviewed work using evidence to dissect and nuance a contentious topic that is particularly painful for the local community and must therefore be treated with great sensitivity and ethical practice. In contrast to what was suggested by the group, there is a general consensus among historians of a sectarian dimension to the killings, which in 1922 was immediately recognised by leaders of the pro- and anti-Treaty parties in Dáil Éireann and within the IRA, various churches (both Protestant and Catholic) and numerous contemporary commentators.


But some historians, including ourselves, believe that it is incorrect and unhelpful to reduce the reason for the killings, individually and collectively, to the single motive of sectarianism. Loyalist compensation claims for those targeted in the Bandon Valley reveal that some of the claimants’ families assisted crown forces in various ways, including intelligence. Undoubtedly a number of those killed were not informers. For others we simply don’t yet have sufficient information to make a call.

The Dunmanway Discussion Group has asked the Government to acknowledge that the killings were sectarian.

This is fraught with difficulty. How could the Government verify beyond all reasonable doubt that this was indeed the case?

Should the Government make pronouncements on the thousands of people killed between 1916 and 1923, or should this be reserved for “sectarian” killings alone?

Who would make the decision on what was sectarian and what was not? Should the Northern Irish administration be invited to pronounce on the hundreds of sectarian killings in Belfast between 1920 and 1922?

The important point is that all these killings and the impact on their families and communities should not be forgotten, but treated sensitively. We can best serve their remembrance by encouraging rigorous historical investigation and debate. – Yours, etc,


School of History,

University College Cork;


School of History,

University College Cork;



Co Kildare;


Carlow College,