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Response to a Charge of Plagiarism
There is currently perceived to be an epidemic of plagiarism, or unattributed use of the research of others, among university students in particular, and indeed even in the literary world there is currently debate over the ethics of 'appropriative creativity'. Most students of course are conscientious about properly citing the work of others when preparing assignments, but the actions of a not insignificant minority have obliged universities to put in place schemes to advise on the avoidance of plagiarism and to apply sanctions against those proven guilty of the offence. A charge of plagiarism is therefore a very serious matter, and not one to be lightly made, as it can damage the career of the accused.
As one who has argued for the necessity of adhering to certain standards in genealogical research, it has been a matter of concern to me that for a number of years several charges have been made against myself in respect of my work on the Mac Carthy Mór and allied scandals, most seriously an accusation of plagiarism. As detailed more fully in my book on the affair, Twilight of the Chiefs, I compiled a voluntary report on Terence MacCarthy's spurious claim to be Chief of the great Munster sept on 16 June 1999, and sent a copy to the Irish office of the Sunday Times, which followed up with a rather devastating exposé on 20 June. The Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland had issued a certificate of recognition as Mac Carthy Mór, Chief of the Name, to Terence MacCarthy in 1992, and although aware for many years that all was not well with his purported pedigree, had taken no action to withdraw the recognition. Within a month of the issue of my report, Chief Herald Brendan O Donoghue, who of course had also been provided with a copy of said report, withdrew recognition from Terence MacCarthy on 13 July 1999 and amended the records of his office accordingly. Mr O Donoghue also took time to place on the record on 5 July 1999 in a letter to a senior civil servant an insulting description of myself as the 'self-appointed saviour of Irish genealogy', allegedly prone to making 'extravagant claims' and to 'self-promotion' (FOI release).
It became obvious to me that in retaliation for my work in exposing its entanglement with bogus chiefs, the Office of the Chief Herald in particular was involved in a campaign of negative briefing. Several sources informed me verbally of this campaign, and as recently as 6 January 2007, Peter Kurrild-Klitgaard stated on rec.heraldry that from what he understood 'from people in Ireland and elsewhere', my credentials should I care to present them 'would not make much of an impression' (the poster subsequently apologised but will not state who provided him with his information, and in what I hope is an adequate response to this kind of attack, I have now placed my curriculum vitae online).
While most of the charges were spread via the medium of gossip, on 5 September 2000, Paul Gorry, a prominent genealogist associated with the Office of the Chief Herald, had posted the following charge on the discussion group alt.genealogy:
Mr Murphy's calculated release to the Sunday Times of details on the MacCarthy Mor case some weeks before the Chief Herald's decision was
announced suggested to me at the time that he got a helping hand from someone in the know. In the interests of freedom of information perhaps he would explain how he came on details other than those uncovered by research he personally conducted.
Of course I denied this false charge of unacknowledged use of the research of another, but Mr Gorry has never withdrawn this effective accusation of plagiarism, which remains on the record in cyberspace and can be accessed via the Google Groups archive. It may have been considered improbable that one who had no access to Office of the Chief Herald files and was blacked from contract work there, could possibly have devoted hundreds of hours of voluntary work and his own funds and succeeded independently in cracking the Mac Carthy Mór hoax. This is precisely what I did in 1998-1999. As Mr Gorry is not himself a university graduate, it is possible that he made the accusation of plagiarism casually, with no real awareness of how it might damage my reputation as a scholar or be taken up by others as a result of its permanent publication on the web. Taken up with a vengeance the charge certainly has been by Mr Thomas Sweeney, claimant to the Chiefship of Mac Sweeney Doe, whose ire I have also raised by questioning his right to the title. Taking advantage of my note that I had made some minor amendments to my Mac Carthy Mór report before publishing it on the Internet on 30 June 1999, Mr Sweeney has alleged that I had without acknowledgement quietly incorporated the research of 'another MacCarthy Mór investigator' (http://www.sweeneyclanchief.com/id27.htm).
Mr Sweeney is rather cryptic in relation to the sources of the plagiarism charge, but they would appear to include recent briefings rather than the above mentioned older allegation alone. Mr Sweeney does refer to an unnamed member of the Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland as the individual whose work I allegedly plagiarised: 'Therefore, on the face of it, it seems unlikely that Mr Murphy would do a backward somersault and combine the final version of his MacCarthy report with the research findings of a member of APGI, or is it?' I had subsequently discovered via a Freedom of Information application that Mr Gorry had submitted a commissioned report on MacCarthy's pedigree to the Chief Herald in March 1999. I had also corresponded and met with a leading critic of MacCarthy in 1999, Randal MacDonnell, contested claimant to the title of Mac Donnell of the Glens, a copy of whose anonymous report on MacCarthy I also managed to acquire in time. The reports of both Mr Gorry and Mr MacDonnell were useful but limited, played no part in the preparation of my report of June 1999 as I had not then seen them, but they were employed and properly cited in my subsequent book on the Mac Carthy Mór hoax (Twilight of the Chiefs, pages 87, 162-63). I understand that as well as working for the Office of the Chief Herald, Mr Gorry may also have performed research on the MacCarthy case for Mr MacDonnell. At least one can appreciate the unintentional humour of a situation where allegations of plagiarism emanate from a quarter where transparency is unknown, reports being either anonymous, subject to Freedom of Information applications or just simply kept under wraps, but nonetheless I have always taken care to cite all such material appropriately when it has come into my possession.
This then is the background to the utterly false charge that in my work exposing the Mac Carthy Mór hoax I myself have been guilty of the heinous scholarly offence of plagiarism. I believe that the fair-minded will realise that the accusation is baseless and proceeds from malice alone.
Sean J Murphy MA
Centre for Irish Genealogical and Historical Studies
1 December 2006, revised 5 September 2007