|Consul General Noel Kilkenny, Jean Kennedy Smith and
Tim Pat Coogan at Coogan’s launch party on Friday night. (Photo by James Higgins)
Tim Pat Coogan is an iconic figure in Irish journalism and a well known historian. He has had a long absence from this side of the Atlantic, but made a welcome appearance around New York last week.
Chances are you have read his definitive works on Eamon de Valera or Michael Collins, but his new book on the Great Hunger entitled ‘The Famine Plot’ may be his best yet, laying out in scalding terms the British government’s responsibility for Europe’s greatest tragedy before the Holocaust.
Incredibly, earlier this year he had been denied a visa to promote his new book by an American Embassy factotum, whose knowledge of Irish history and current affairs must have matched that of a toddler.
After intervention by powerful friends such as Senator Charles Schumer in New York, justice was done and Coogan made his long awaited trip across the Atlantic.
At his book party launch hosted by New York Consul General Noel Kilkenny on Friday night, a large crowd turned up to hear the man who has shaped perceptions on Ireland for millions of Irish Americans for decades now.
At age 76 Coogan has lost none of the fervor and commitment that make him a controversial figure among revisionist historians, and a beloved one among Nationalists.
His remarks on Friday night at his book launch were typically uncompromising, laying out the truth about the Famine in stark, clear terms. He urged all Irish Americans to understand how their collective experience in America was shaped in the first place through the massive exodus that occurred during the Famine years.
During the worst years of The Troubles Coogan stood alone often, defending the Nationalist perspective on Northern Ireland. He warned about the devastating impact of the 1981 hunger strikes in the H Block long before Bobby Sands fasted to death.
When the peace process came along he played a major behind the scenes role in both activating his longtime friend Father Alex Reid as a critical go between, and enlisting then U.S. Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith in the cause, no easy task given the blanket opposition to her participating from her own State Department and many other agencies of government.
Along the way Coogan became the bête noir among the revisionists who wanted to portray the Republican movement as a bastard child of nationalism and excoriate all who tried to understand and explain their position.
Coogan was directly in their sights, and for decades he was a lonely voice fending off the view that nationalism was the only problem with Northern Ireland, not partition.
Coogan was a fearless adversary. As editor of the late lamented Irish Press newspaper he provided a cogent voice of reason for much of The Troubles when other newspapers adopted a slavishly revisionist line.
As an author he took on the entrenched, almost mystical belief in de Valera as a latter day saint of Irish nationalism, and his lengthy biography debunked many of the myths that had grown up around de Valera.
Equally, he rehabilitated Collins from his lesser place in history than de Valera, and proved that de Valera’s intentions towards Collins were malign from the start.
Now he has tackled the Famine, and his conclusion that it was effectively genocide has sent the revisionists screaming into the night again.
Tim Pat Coogan may have been put on this earth to afflict the comfortable and the revisionists who have tried to hijack Irish history for a generation now. Thank goodness he is around as there is much more work to be done.