Civil War Photograph Is Dismissed as 'A Fake'

Daily Mail (London), July 27, 2012 | Go to article overview

Civil War Photograph Is Dismissed as 'A Fake'


Byline: Sandra Murphy

A PICTURE speaks a thousand words - but in the case of this evocative image of a Civil War patriot being shot, it is all lies.

The 1922 photo which caused a stir among historians earlier this week has been dismissed as a fake and it could even be 'the first case of photoshopping'.

Patricia Arnold, 83, believed that she had found a precious artefact among her family portraits at home. However, experts have branded the so-called final image of republican Rory O'Connor as 'propaganda'.

It shows five Free State soldiers cocking their rifles at the Republican who led a group of 200 men in the occupation of the Four Courts which sparked off the Civil War.

But critics say that the photo looks staged - among the problems are the soldiers standing too close to the victim, the man being shot doesn't resemble Mr O'Connor, and there are no sandbags to prevent ricochet.

Author Padraig Og O Ruairc said: 'They probably dressed up in Free State uniforms and got someone to stand in as O'Connor and then passed the photograph around.'

Further evidence against the photograph comes from a priest who witnessed the shootings and later wrote about them. Fr John Piggott says O'Connor was executed with three other men, by a firing squad of 20 - not on his own, by five soldiers, as the picture suggests.

O'Connor's execution, and the deaths at the same time of Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey, were in reprisal for the anti-treaty IRA's killing of Free State TD Sean Hales. Mrs Arnold's husband Jim received the photograph two decades after O'Connor was executed in the yard of Mountjoy Prison on December 8, 1922.

But although Mrs Arnold offered the item to the National Museum earlier this week on Joe Duffy's Liveline show, historian James Langton yesterday insisted the picture is of little value and is a fake.

'This could be the first case of photoshopping - there is no two ways about that. I have it up on a Facebook page and to date, everyone agrees it's a fake, but an original piece of propaganda. If it is put up on a museum wall, it cannot say it is of the execution of Rory O'Connor.

'This is part of folklore not history - and is definitely a fake.' Speaking to the Irish Daily Mail yesterday, the researcher with the Collins22 Society and The Irish Volunteers Commemorative Society insisted the staged execution was riddled with flaws.

'This is certainly not Rory O'Connor - nobody knows who it is but the real pictures of O'Connor look nothing like this man.

The order to shoot was also made by Hugo MacNeill - who wore distinguishing black-rimmed glasses and should be in the image if it was real.

'The picture is staged and a piece of republican propaganda to show the cruelty of the Free State... It was put out there to breed hatred and gain support.'

Mr O Ruairc agreed that the person purporting to be O'Connor bears no resemblance to him, and also said the execution scene was unrealistic.

The author of A Photographic History of Revolutionary Ireland 1913-1923 said capturing the controversial execution on camera would never have been permitted.

He said the firing party are far too close to the 'victim'. 'Normally they would stand back at least ten yards but they are just three or four yards away here. …

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