T. Desmond Williams

CriticismCommentary

Life

1921-1987: [Thomas Desmond; fam. Desmond]; b. 26 May, 1921, in Dublin; son of W. J. Williams and Angela Williams [née Murnaghan], his father being Professor of Education at UCD; attended Dominican Primary School as a boarder and suffered debility playing-field accident; educ. at home by his father thereafter; enjoyed virtuoso undergrad. career at UCD, graduating with multiple awards (history, law, pol. sci., German), 1941; wrote an MA thesis on the origins of National Socialism in Germany; winner of John Brooke Memorial Schol. (NUI), 1943, and proceeded to Peterhouse, Cambridge, 1944; member of British Intelligence with military rank in WWII;

appt. Cambridge Research Fellow, 1947; worked with Foreign Office, especially engaged in examining captured German documents in the Nuremburg Trials, 1948; appt. Prof. of Modern History, UCD, 1949-83; publicly charged Leopold Kerney, wartime Irish minister, with Nazi collaboration, in The Leader and the Irish Press, 1953; lost the case and settled out of court; co-ed. The Great Famine (1956); ed. The Irish Struggle 1916-1926 (1966); ed. with Kevin B. Nowlan, Ireland in the War Years and After (1939-51); ed. Secret Societies in Ireland (1973); contrib. to Kevin B. Nowlan and Robert D. Edwards [eds.], Ireland and the Italian Risorgimento (Dublin 1960);

settled at Wellington Rd., but afterwards lived at Wilton Place with Patricia Avis after her separation from Richard Murphy; experienced perennial health problems arising from his childhood trauma; 8 Jan. 1987. DIW

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Works
Ed., Historical Studies, Vol. 1 [Papers Read Before the 2nd Irish Conference of Historians] (London: Bowes & Bowes 1958), 99pp.; The Irish Struggle 1916-1926 (Routledge & Kegan Paul 1966), 193pp; ed., Secret Societies in Ireland (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1973), 207pp.

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Criticism
See obituary notice by James McGuire in Irish Historical Studies, 26, 101 (May 1988), pp. 3-7.

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Commentary
Eamon C. Kerney, writing of the 1953 libel action on the “Leopold Kerney” [memorial webpage]: ‘some of the German reports [in Documents on German Foreign Policy 1918 to 1945] may have ended up severely distorted partly due to the summarising and editing process and also no doubt due to the fact that those writing and transmitting the reports had their own objectives in mind and would not be averse to colour their reports accordingly. On the basis of this completely one-sided view Williams produced a heavily biased account of the events of 1941 and 1942 which was riddled with inaccuracies and, with only the slightest of reservations, made scathing comments attacking Kerney’s integrity. It is amazing that on the basis of documents, details of which have apparently never been revealed, Williams should have proceeded to indulge in character assassination of this kind.’ (Available online; see also under Frank Ryan, q.v.)

Note: In his commentary on the 1953 libel action, Eamon Kerney reproduces the ‘full apology and retraction of the damaging allegations’ which was presented at court as published in the papers: ‘Mr. James McMahon S.C. [...] who represented the Leader and Professor Williams, said he was instructed to state that Professor Williams wished to withdraw unreservedly the imputations on Mr. Kerney and to state that any such imputations were based on statements now proved to be wrong. Professor Williams accepted Mr. Kerney’s account and regretted the imputations and apologised for them.’ Eamon Kerney adds: ‘This would appear to have settled the matter once and for all, but - incredibly - historians since that time have repeatedly glossed over or ignored this libel action and its outcome and have uncritically accepted Williams’ unreferenced, unquoted sources, not even at face value but at the value which he assigned to them without any justification.’ (Ibid., - online; accessed 22.05.2014.)

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