"The "Singing Flame" Rekindled: The Destruction of the Public Records Office 30 June 1922"
In the opening engagement of the Irish civil war on the 30th June 1922, the irreplaceable archive held in the Public Records Office inside Dublin's Four Courts was destroyed by fire and explosion.
Immediately the opposing Free State forces and anti-treaty IRA blamed each other for the Public Records Office's destruction. In recent years some leading historians have claimed that the anti-treaty IRA deliberately destroyed the archive as act of vandalism before surrendering to the Free State Army. The evidence for this interpretation, as Dr John M. Regan explains in his lecture, is far from conclusive.
Regan revisits an iconic event of modern Irish history to open a discussion about the different ways history is written. Interpretations of the destruction of the Public Records Office, Regan argues, demonstrate how some historians reinterpreted the past in response to the recent 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland.
The reinterpretation Regan describes rewrites the past not as it happened, or the way we were taught it happened, but instead recasts history in a more desirable form better suited to our needs in the present. This approach to the past has sometimes been inaccurately called 'Revisionist History', but like other professional historians Regan's call the approached 'Invented History', where its aim is to amend, redefine, and 'improve' the publics' memory. Invented history, Regan says, has been a preoccupation of some Irish historians over recent decades, but he questions whether or not society is best served by it.
Dr John M. Regan is lecturer in Irish, British, and Public History at the University of Dundee, Scotland. His latest book Myth and the Irish State was published by Irish Academic Press in December.