The Minister for Justice and Equality is to give the oration on the commemoration of Michael Collins on Sunday the 23rd of August 2015.
The Life of Michael Collins (16 October 1890-22 August 1922)
Michael Collins was born on a Thursday 16th of October 1890, the youngest son of Michael and Marianne Collins , he was to be the last of eight children, three boys, five girls. He was born in a small Farmhouse known as Woodfield, which was in the Collins' family for seven generations.
Michael's Father was 75 years when he was born. Michael's Mother was a local girl from Sam's Cross and had married Michael Senior on the 26th of February 1876.
Michael attended Lisavaird National School just a few weeks before his fifth birthday.
In September 1903 a month before his 13th birthday he went on to study for the British Civil Service Commissions Exam for a temporary boys clerk at the male National School in Clonakilty. During the week he stayed with his Sister Margaret O'Driscoll and her Family in the Town Square, and later at a Farm in Clogheen a Townland near Clonakilty. Michael left West Cork forever, to join his Sister Hannie in London where she was working for the British Post Office in West Kensington. He spent the next 10 years living and working in London, he lived at four different addresses with Hannie, and his career progressed from working as a boy clerk for the Post Office Savings Bank in Hammersmith to working in the City for 3 different Financial Companies, from there he gained the knowledge and experience he would need on his return to Ireland in 1916. He also had a great interest in G.A.A. he joined the Gaelic Athletic Association and in 1910 became Secretary for the local Gerdalines Hurling Club, as well as playing for them.
He returned to Dublin to fight in the 1916 Rising. He was imprisoned at Frongoch Merioneth, but was released in December 1916. He became prominent in Sinn Fein and volunteer movements, and was a member of the Supreme Council of the I.R.B. Irish Republican Brotherhood.
In the General Election in 1918 Collins was elected for Limerick West as Minister for Finance in 1919. (2nd April to 9th January 1922)
He was also Director of Organisation and Intelligence of the Volunteers. Collins organised the supply of Arms and Ammunition for the Volunteers and set up the intelligence System. On the 22nd of August 1922 Collins was ambushed and shot in West Cork at Beal na Blath.
Michael Collins' Final Journey
On Saturday, 19th of August Michael Collins arranged to travel by Military convoy to inspect Provisional Government Troops in Cork, and to meet prominent Cork citizens to discuss peace talks.
Sunday, 20th of August, Collins's convoy left Portobello Barracks for Cork going through Portlaoise, Limerick, Charleville, Buttervant and Mallow. Major General Dalton the Officer in charge of Cork County was surprised with Collins's visit to Cork, and arranged the Imperial Hotel to be his HQ, and the rest of the convoy would take up quarters at the Victoria Hotel. Next day Collins visited a number of Banks seeking to trace £120,000 which had been appropriated by the Republicans, They also visited Macroom where he met Florence O' Dooghue who followed a neutral role , and had attended the Brigade meeting at Ballyvourney, which was addressed by DeValera. The convoy returned to the Imperial Hotel that evening. Collins returned to Macroom on Monday 21st of August.
Tuesday 22nd of August left the Imperial Hotel and headed westward via Coachford to Macroom where the Lewis Gun, forty Rifles and extra Ammunition were delivered to Commandant Conlon. The Collins convoy were informed in Macroom that the main road to Bandon was impassable as Bridges had been destroyed. Tim Kelleher a local Hackney Driver was ordered to board the Crossley Tender and guide them to Bandon. The convoy was fronted by Motor Cyclist Lt. Smith followed by the Cossley Tender containing 15 men under Commandant O' Connell, followed by the Leyland open Touring Car with its 2 drivers and Collins and Dalton in the back seat, the Slievenamon Armoured Car crewed by 5 Soldiers including Private Jock McPeake from Glasgow, was at the rear of the convoy.
took the convoy out the main Southern Road, over the partly-destroyed Lee
Bridge then via narrow by-roads, used by Horse and Carts with a grass stripe in
the middle, going through the Forge Cross, Toames and Doonisky, where he
entered Kilmurry parish past the I.R.A. Hospital, De Lacour Villa, where the
wounded from Crossbarry Ambush had been cared for.They then turned eastward on Beamish’s Line,
stopped at the foot of Ballymichael Hill, where the Armoured Car got stuck at
the top of the Hill, and the Soldiers got out of the Crossly Tender Car to push
the Armoured Car up the Hill.The convoy
was delayed again at Farran Hill where a man was breaking Stones, again the
Soldiers had to get out and push the Armoured Car.The convoy continued into the village of
Kilmurry, the motor cyclist who was some distance ahead of the convoy, knocked
at the Doors of 3 different Houses shouting “The Commander-in-Chief is coming”,
nobody came out except for one man who was worried about his Ducklings that had
gone on the Road, he ran out to usher them to safety shouting “mind my
ducks”.The convoy headed southwards
from Kilmurry to Beal na Blath, where there wasa man on sentry duty outside of Long’s Pub, Lt. Smith halted hesitated
to choose from the 5 narrow roads and asked the man which road lead to
Bandon, the man pointed the right road to take.The noise of motor-bike and the other vehicles alarmed the Republican
Officers in Long’s Pub , they crouched down inside the Pub until the convoy had
passed for Bandon.They identified
Michael Collins as one ofthe men in the
Leyland touring Car and immediately informed the Brigade staff, who showed
their annoyance that Collins should decide to drive through their home country.Brigade Commandant Tom Hales was the senior
officer at Murray’s Farm, when De Valera
accompanied by General Liam Deasy arrived by Horse and Trap around 9.30am.They were informed of the presence of Michael
Collins convoy heading towards Bandon.The Divisional officers, assuming that the convoy might return by the
same route , decided to lay an ambush at a site between Newcestownand Beal na Blath Cross.Two vehicles were commandeered one a
Brewery-Dray loaded with empty bottles was placed across the main road while a
Farm Butt was used to block the entrance of the Bohereen.It was a dry August day until a mist fell as
evening approached.The ambush party numbering
20 to 25 remained in position all day,although men left their positions for a quick snack from time to time
throughout the afternoon in neighbouring houses.
at Bandon Collins received a big welcome from his friend General Sean Hales,
who in addition to being in charge of Bandon was a brother of Tom, who was in
charge of the opposing forces at Beal na Blath.During the day Collins visited Clonakilty, Roscarbery, Skibbereen, his
own home and his cousins Public House, The Three Alls, where on the return
journey to BandonCollins stood 2 pints
of Wrestler, the local strong brew to every man in the convoy.
goodbye to his brother and friends, Collins and the convoy headed on its return
journey through Clonakilty and into Bandon where at Lees Hotel they met Provisional
Government army officers and stayed about half an hour. The convoy left the Hotel, where some of his friends expressed concern for his safety.
There was a choice of routes to Cork. The Bandon Inishannon road open, so was the Bandon Crossbarry road and the Bandon Kinsale road. It was decided to return the same route they took in the morning. The time was about 7pm, Lt. Smith, the Motor Cycle scout, was ahead, next the Crossley Tender, then the Leyland touring car followed by the Armoured Car, with Captain Dolan sitting outside the back. It was about 7.15pm and the light failing, when they turned a wide corner when a sudden and heavy fusillade of Machine-Gun and Rifle fire swept the road in front of them and behind them shattering the windscreen. Michael Collins said "STOP" jump out and we'll fight them", they leaped from the Car and took whatever cover they could behind the little mud bank on the left hand side.
Shots rang out everywhere, seconds later the Leyland touring car drove past. They fired at it from a distance of about 35 yards. Shortly after the Armoured Car drove into position. The Crossly Tender stopped, the soldiers dismounted and loosed machine gun and rifle fire at their opponents numbering 10 men armed with rifles and revolvers. They were outgunned and outnumbered by the soldiers who were armed with two Machine Guns and Rifles. According to Dalton's account firing by the Soldiers lasted "only a few minutes".
The Machine Gunner on the Armoured Car fired two loaded belts, each of 200 bullets, and was ready to fire the third belt when the Gun jammed. Dalton's account continues, "we continued this fire fighting for about 20 minutes without suffering any casualties, when a lull in the enemy's fire became noticeable. Michael Collins now jumped tov his feet and walked over behind the Armoured Car. Republicans said that when the machine gun fire ceased they began to creep from the bohereen fence to the shelter of an adjacent east/west fence and got along the lane. It was a potentially dangerous act for Collins to stand up and expose himself to enemy fire, but it gives some support to view that the Republicans had left their position. Suddenly Dalton heard Michael Collins say "Come on Boys there running up the road". Commandant O'Connell who had run up the road from the Crossley Tender, joined Dalton and they both went up behind the bend where they found Collins shot. Lt. Smith went up the road after the ambushers had been driven back over the hill he decided to get in touch with the others, crawled to the Leyland car where there was nobody and then crawled to a point opposite the Armoured Car . He saw Dalton and O'Connell attempting to bandage Collins' head. Dalton called him over to get Michael Collins on to the Armoured Car, as they were lifting the body Smith was hit. They eventually got the body on to the Armoured Car which then moved down the road to the Leyland Car, which was difficult to start , the Armoured Car pushed the Leyland car in front of it and after a while it started. They moved on, to where the Crossly tender was halted, those in the Armoured Car kept up the firing all the time. The body was then moved in to the Leyland touring car.
The convoy drove past the sharp turn for Macroom and as it approached Crookstown Village they stopped a local man, Ted Murphy, a former member of the London Metropolitan Police who told them that he was ordered to take them to the nearest Priest or Doctor. While guiding them two miles further down the east to Father Murphy at Cloughduv, Ted Murphy heard a soldier , in a low voice say "This is a night that will be remembered", Ted Murphy asked why and got the answer "the night Michael Collins was Shot".
Father Murphy told how a soldier carrying in his hand an old carbide lamp knocked at the Presbytery Door and that he went outside where he saw an Army officer holding what it appeared to be a dead person in his arms in the back seat of a car. He said the Act of Contrition over the body, he then went back to get the sacred oils, but when he returned the convoy had gone. Ted Murphy guided the convoy as far as Aherla where he was dropped off, and another local man guided them to Cork.
Ted Murphy walked home through Cloughduv to Crookstown, he told the news of Collins' death to a few people and it spread through the village. The body of Michael Collins was brought to the British Military Hospital at Shanakiel in Cork City. It was essential to notify the Government as soon as possible of Collins' death. There was no telephone connection working between Cork and Dublin, and the notification of his death was sent to Valentia Radio Station, relayed from there to New York, then to London where Thomas Jones, Deputy Secretary to the British Cabinet recorded in his diary that at 7.30am, on the 23rd of August he was informed of the murder of Michael Collins in the ambush at Beal na Blath and finally to Dublin. The news shocked the Provisional Government colleagues in Dublin. Military barracks were notified and everyone was in deep gloom. General Tom Barry, a prisoner in Kilmainham Jail recalled what happened when the prisoners heard of the death of Collins' death in West Cork. "There was a heavy silence throughout the jail and ten minutes later from the corridor outside the top tier of cells, I looked down at the extraordinary spectacle of about a thousand kneeling Republican prisoners reciting the Rosary aloud for the repose of the soul of the dead Michael Collins, I have yet to hear a better tribute to the part played by any man in the struggle with the English for Irish Independence. For Barry, it was also a very special day, he had been married on the 22nd of August a year earlier, and among the guests were Michael Collins, Eamon DeValera, Liam Deasy, Dick Mulcahy, Emmet Dalton and Harry Boland. A year later Collins and Boland were dead and the guests were raging war on each other. Liam Deasy would write in 1974, "When I first met Collins fifty six years ago I considered him to be the greatest leader of our generation and I have not since changed my mind. General Mulcahy composed his famous message to the Army and Country. "STAND CALMLY BY YOUR POST. BEND BRAVELY AND UNDAUNTED TO YOUR WORK. LET NO CRUEL ACT OF REPRISAL BLEMISH YOUR BRIGHT HONOUR. EVERY DARK HOUR THAT MICHAEL COLLINS MET SINCE 1916 SEEMED BUT TO STEEL THAT BRIGHT STRENGTH OF HIS AND TEMPER HIS GAY BRAVERY. YOU ARE LEFT, EACH INHERITORS OF THAT STRENGTH AND OF THAT BRAVERY. TO EACH OF YOU FALLS HIS UNFINISHED BRAVERY. TO EACH OF YOU FALLS HIS UNFINISHED WORK. NO DARKNESS IN THE HOUR, NO LOSS OF COMRADES WILL DAUNT YOU AT IT, IRELAND. THE ARMY SERVES STRENGTHENED BY ITS SORROW".
Who shot Michael Collins? Everyone involved at Beal na Blath wished they had never been there. To recapitulate the reason the I.R.A. were there was that it had been selected some days earlier as Cork I.R.A. No. 3 Brigade H.Q. and Liam Deasy of the First Southern Division had made the Brigade H.Q. the venue for an important meeting, called for the afternoon of 22nd of August. Officers and men of the 3rd Brigade had also arrived at Beal na Blath from the fighting at Buttervant on the evening of 21st of August. They didn't know that Michael Collins was in Cork, nor even in the South, until he was recognised in the military convoy which passed through on the morning of 22nd of August.
The I.R.A. men had gathered in Long's pub in the village, the natural reaction was that Collins and his convoy could not be allowed pass through their area unchallenged, many of the men at Beal na Blath had been close personal friends of Michael Collins, he had chaired the meeting at which the Brigade was founded. At the same meeting Tom Hales and his brother Sean were elected O.C. and Vice O.C. of the Brigade.
DeValera had learned of the mood of the men and remarked it would be a great pity if Collins was killed because he might be succeeded by a lesser man. The Divisional Staff however in accordance with general I.R.A. military policy, agreed that the convoy should be attacked, and they laid an ambush for them in the belief they would later return the same route. If the I.R.A. had a clear reason for being in the area of Beal na Blath, there was no clear military reason for Collins to be there. Furthermore Collins and Dalton must have known that the Beal na Blath area was predominantly Republican. When the first shots were fired at the convoy, Dalton had ordered the driver to "drive like hell" out of the ambush. Collins himself countermanded the order and said "stop we'll fight them". Even in the presence of the Commander-in-chief, Dalton was in charge and it was for him to give the orders. It could be said that Collins' death at Beal na Blath was a tragedy waiting to happen.
The mystery as to who fired the fatal bullet will remain. Still some conclusions can be drawn from the evidence set forth in this study and also in the substantial literature written about this modern hero. The tragedy should never have happened. Collins knowing not knowing it, had determined his own fate in being part of an ill-conceived foray into a hostile area. He had after all, on the signing of the Treaty said "I have signed my actual death warrant.
The I.R.A. did not know at the time that Collins had been hit.
No I.R.A. man then or since admitted firing the fatal shot.
The evidence does not pinpoint the exact position from which the shot was fired. With all the participants dead, the men who were there in that position, and which of them struck Collins will never be known.
Was he killed by the normal fortunes of an armed war.
Was he killed by one of his own side in bitter retaliation for shelling his comrades in the Four Courts.
If his death was just casualty of normal armed war, why was the Autopsy at Shanakiel Hospital vanished from official documents.
But there was a double irony on that fateful day.
Firstly, out of all the convoy, the most important man in Ireland was allowed to be isolated and killed.
He was also the one man in Ireland who could have finished the Civil War.
Secondly, the day of his death was also the day he earlier planned for his marriage.
Where Michael Collins met his Death.
The Michael Collins Memorial Monument stands in the town land of Gleannarouge West, where he was shot. Beal na Blath Croosroads is in Gleannarouge East.
The Road Signs now read Beal na Blath. Local people remember Signposts in the 1930's which read Bealnablath, and this spelling is used in Liam Deasy's Book "Brother against Brother"
All Signposts were removed in during Emergency years, 1939/1945. New Signposts were erected by Cork Co. Council in the late 40's which read Beal na mBlath. These were later replaced and read Beal na Blath.
Bealnablath Crossroads in Irish means "Beal na Blaithe," meaning the "Opening of the Ravine" or "Hollow between Hills," while Gleannarougwe is translated into "Glenn of the Rout." The Irish language description of BealnaBlath is particularly descriptive of the Townland. The area is not particularly noted for its Flowers. In fact, except for a seasonal flourish of Bluebells, Flowers are generally scarce, the Land being very bare. WE WOULD DO WITH SOME SIGNPOST NOW IN 2015.