Peter Berresford Ellis

Life
[Pseud. “Peter Tremayne”]; reviewer for Catholic Herald in 1977; author of political and historical works incl. Sixteen Dead Men (?1982), A History of the Irish Working Class (1985), The Boyne Water (1991), Dictionary of Celtic Mythology (1991) and The Celtic Empire: The first millennium (1990) and Celt and Saxon: the Struggle for Britain (1992); also issued the Sister Fidelma novels incl. most recently A Prayer for the Damned (2006); contribs. to Irish Democrat as “Anonn Is Anall”.

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Works
As Peter Berresford Ellis
  • The Cornish Language and Its Literature (London: Routledge 1974);
  • Sixteen Dead Men (?1982);
  • A History of the Irish Working Class (London: Constable 1985; rep. edn. with new pref. London; Pluto Classic 1996);
  • The Rising of the Moon (NY 1987), novel of Fenian invasion of Canada;
  • MacBeth, High King of Scotland 1040-1057 (Blackstaff Press 1990), 147pp.;
  • The Boyne Water (Belfast: Blackstaff 1991), 175pp.;
  • Dictionary of Celtic Mythology (OUP 1991; Constable 1992),
  • The Celtic Empire: The First Millennium of Celtic History 1000 BC - 51 AD (London: Constable 1990), 256pp., 16 of plates;
  • Celt and Saxon: the Struggle for Britain AD 410-937 (Constable 1992), 288pp.
  • The Celtic Revolution: A Study in Anti-imperialism[4th imp.] (Talybont, Ceredigion: Y Lolfa 1997), 218p.
 
Also, ‘Revisionism in Irish Historical Writing: The New Anti-Nationalist School of Historians’ (1989) [see infra].
 
As Peter Tremayne
  • Island of Shadows (London: Mandarin 1991), 317pp.;
  • Aisling and Other Irish Tales of Terror (Dingle: Brandon Books 1992, 1998), 256pp.;
  • The Haunted Abbot (London: Headline 2002);
  • Badger’s Moon: A Novel of Ancient Ireland (London: Headline 2004), 414pp.;
  • The Leper’s Bell: A Novel of Ancient Ireland (London: Headline 2004), 288pp.;
  • A Prayer for the Damned (Headline 2006), 316pp.
Reprint
  • The Whispering of the Dead (London: Headline 2004), 444pp.

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Criticism
also [ed.,] Aisling and Other Irish Tales of Terror (Dingle: Brandon 1992; ), [reviewed in Books Ireland, Oct. 1999]; interview, Books Ireland, Sept. 2004, p.173 [infra].

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Commentary
Lucille Redmond, reviewing Ruán O'Donnelly, ed., The Impact of the 1916 Rising among the Nations, in Books Ireland (March 2009): ‘Peter Beresford Eilis weighs in against the trendy notion that P. H. Pearse led his army into an orgy of blood sacrifice. “Ireland's long struggle to reverse the Engiish conquest” is one where historians, like dung-beeties, prefer “not only to sift out the dung and roll in it, but, when there is no dung to find, to devise their own myths”. He is astonished by revisionist historians: “What is surprising is that there are citizens of an independent state who still attempt to denigrate their ancestors' struggle for the rights they now freely enjoy.” But Beresford Ellis writes that there is no evidence of the “blood sacrifice” concept “except in some dubious remarks afterwards attributed to Patrick Pearse, usually quoted from family reminiscences and repeated in order to build Pearse up as some mystical character rather than a practical thinker” Beresford Ellis examines the plan for the insurrection by leaders who were “practical, political thinkers who believed that their plan could succeed”, and says it was a well-thought-out plan from a military point of view. [...] Beresford Ellis also disputes the popular story of how Dubliners jeered at the insurgents as they marched out under the British guns at the end of the rising. He quotes a contemporary report that surfaced in 1991. Canadian journalist Frederick Arthur McKenzie, “one of the best-known and reputable war correspondents of his day”, he writes, stated: “I have read many accounts of public feeling in Dublin in these days. They are all agreed that the open and strong sympathy of the mass of the population was with the British troops. That this was in the better parts of the city. I have no doubt, but certainly what I myself saw in the poorer districts did not confirm this. It rather indicated that there was a vast amount of sympathy with the rebels.” [...] Further, McKenzie described how, as he passed downt he street in his khaki war correspondent's uniform, he was mistaken for a British soldier and “cursed openly and frankly, and [they] cursed all like me, strangers in their city.”’ (BI, p.55.)

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Quotation
A History of the Irish Working Class (Pluto Edn. 1996) [rev. edn.]: ‘What is significant is the change of attitudes among politicians in the twenty-six counties. It must be admitted that there have always been apologists for Britain’s role in Ireland among the southern bourgeoisie. Yet during the 1970s political figures such as Conor Cruise O’Brien and Prof. John Murphy began to formulate a school of thought which overturned traditional attitudes towards partition: ‘Forgetting the undemocratic nature of the establishment of Northern Ireland, [340] they demanded that the will of the six-county “majority” must be sacrosanct. Anyone who did not respect this will be first, a sectarian; secondly, a fascist; thirdly, not acting in the best interests of Ireland. This total revisionism of Irish history became central not only to the Labour Party but to Fine Gael policy. The Govt. recognises that the aspiration to the unity of the people and territory of the island must be achieved only in peace and with the consent of a majority in both parts of the island.’ (pp340-41); Ellis further holds that ‘Northern Ireland was not created out of religious bigotry but that religious bigotry was fostered as a weapon to create it.’ (p.340); ‘The IRA began to conduct raids against the big property owners in Ireland. Many estates were still owned by absentee landlords and run through agents of the Captain Boycott variety. Evictions, sackings (for political beliefs) and other misuses of power took place. The IRA intervened, first by intimidation and then by more drastic measures. One estate manager, More O’Farrell of Sanderson Estate, Edgeworthstown, Co. Longford, had been warned a number of times by the IRA for evicting without just cause. On February 11 1935, IRA men attempted to execute him but the bullet was deflected by a cigarette case. His twenty-one-year-old son was fatally wounded when he tried to attack the raiders.’ (p.284); ‘Yet only by a British withdrawl from Ireland, only by Britain allowing the people of Ireland to sort out their problems, can any start towards peace and re-unification begin [goes on to quotes Wolfe Tone and Connolly].’ (p.342.)

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Revisionism in Irish Historical Writing: The New Anti-Nationalist School of Historians’ (1989) ‘[...] Let us, therefore, deal with the ‘nationalist’ historian. And perhaps in view of many people’s problems with understanding the word ‘nationalist’ I should begin with an interpretation of that word. To English ears, and perhaps because of their imperialist traditions, nationalism conjures up ideas of Chauvinism and jingoism. But, in the context used in Ireland, it simply means a policy of securing national rights, the claim of Ireland to be an independent nation. It is the advocacy of the freedom of national communities from the political, economic, social and cultural exploitation of other nations. It is a moral stance and one, in my opinion, which goes hand in hand with a socialist view of history - for national and social freedoms are not two separate and unrelated issues. They are two sides of one great democratic principle, each being incomplete without the other. How can one have ‘social freedom’ in a state wherein a majority nation keeps a minority nation from exercising its right to decide its own affairs? Such a situation is neither democracy nor socialism. / The ‘nationalist’ historian, therefore, starts from basic moral premise - the premise that no nation has any defensible right to invade, conquer and seek to destroy the political, economic, social or cultural fabric of another country. Having assumed this view, that imperialism is wrong in all its forms, the historian can commence to interpret Irish history. That history then ceases to be a welter of unrelated facts, a hopeless chaos of sporadic outbreaks of violence, intrigues, massacres, treacheries, murders and purposeless warfare. With this moral historical key, all things become understandable and traceable to conquer and dominate Ireland. / Then what of the anti-nationalist, our so-called ‘revisionist’ historian? [..]’ (See full text.)

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Pseud. (on reviewing Ellis Peter’s Cadfael novels in the Catholic Herald in 1977): ‘I felt I couldn’t write the review under my own name in case readers might think Ellis Peters was merely a reveral of Peter Berresford Ellis. So I decided to use a pseudonym for the first time, taking the name of one of my favourit places in Cornwall [i.e., Tremayne], and it proved to be a useful invention.’ (Interview, Books Ireland, Sept. 2004, p.173.)

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Reference
Internet: There is a website at www.sisterfidelma.com; see interview in Books Ireland (Sept. 2004), p.173.

Pseud.: writes fiction as Peter Tremayne , and journalism as “Anonn Is Anall” for Irish Democrat (Connolly Publications Ltd, 244 Gray’s Inn Road, London, WC1X 8J.) [online].

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