Michael Collins’ 90th Anniversary

 According to media reports last Sunday’s Michael Collins commemoration at Beal na mBláth in North Cork, on the 90th anniversary of his tragic death on August 22nd 1922, was a high profile gathering which was attended by the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and other political and military dignitaries.

Apparently Enda was the first sitting Taoiseach to attend this annual commemoration ceremony at the spot where Michael Collins was shot all those years ago. In more recent times there has been a softening of attitudes between the descendants of the political enemies of those days when brave people on both sides who fought against each other and killed each other during the tragic civil war in which Michael Collins was one of the first major casualties. There were many who believed at the time and later generations who also were of the same opinion that if Michael Collins had lived that the Civil War, which had already started, would have been brought to an abrupt finish by negotiation and peace talks, rather than by the bomb and the bullet and the senseless killings which came later. There would have been no Knocknagoshel mine which killed half a dozen Free State soldiers and officers and as a consequence several revenge killings including the massacre of Republican unarmed prisoners at Ballyseedy Cross.

When we were young lads growing up in Kerry Republican homes we learned that many of the older generation even though they disliked the Free State Government of those days and voted to defeat it at the general election in 1932, still all this time many republicans still retained a soft spot and a certain amount of admiration for the memory of Michael Collins because they felt that had he survived he might have saved the country from the horrors of the Civil War.

Of course the election of 1932 changed the whole political landscape with De Valera and Fianna Fáil coming into power for the first time with its hopes of a new dawn and better times in Ireland. That many of those dreams went unfulfilled under Fianna Fáil is of course another story.

But in the meantime the Free State Party who had by now changed their name to Fine Gael continued to make the yearly pilgrimage to Beal na mBláth to keep alive the memory of the great Michael Collins who had done so much for to gain independence for our country and the freedom that this brought to run our own affairs. That is of course until we voted to join up with the European Common Market in 1972 which was the start of all our current loss of sovereignty and countless other self-inflicted misfortunes.

It was good to read all the glowing tributes that were paid to the memory of Michael Collins and that he still holds a special place in the more recent history of our country and his major contribution he made to the achievement of Irish independence and the difference it has made to all our lives in the past when we came to realise the benefits of a free country and the power of a free people to elect its own native Government. No doubt that power and that privilege has been ruthlessly abused by some of our own native Irish politicians since the end of the Civil War, but that was no fault of the people like Michael Collins and the others who took part in the 1916 Rising and its aftermath who had the highest ideals and the greatest ambitions for this country.

During my time working on the staff of Terenure College, Dublin in the late ‘forties there was a member of the Carmelite Community there, a Kilkenny man, called Brother Canice. He was a bit feeble at the time and some of the staff and other times the students would take him out for a walk. He was a great admirer and a former friend of Michael Collins. Once when accompanying him on a walk he told me that at one stage during the War of Independence he had sheltered Michael Collins and Harry Boland in the boat house alongside the lake in Terenure College grounds when they were hiding from the Black and Tans. He also told me that it was a British agent named McPeake who shot Michael Collins, whether this was right or just hearsay that Brother Canice heard himself, how is anyone to know? Brother Canice also used to tell us that one of his nephews played hurling with Kilkenny.

Michael Collins was one of a small number of those on the Free State side during the Civil War about which either books or ballads were written, but reading some of the stories about Michael in the books written about him enlightened some of us who had mostly been brought up on songs and tales of Republican times, it somehow gave us a glimpse into the other side of the spectrum, even though it never could really convince us that the Free State side was right. There was a great ballad written about Michael Collins a number of years ago in which in some of the lines the question was posed “who was right or who was wrong” regarding the Civil War and then the logical conclusion to the question, “though a thousand years may pass we’ll never know” and no doubt that is the way it will remain. In the meantime following Sunday’s Commemoration at Beal na mBláth, Kevin Myers, in his Irish Independent column on Wednesday, was rather disdainful when he described Michael Collins as a wretched failure, however this phrase entered his head. To refer to such a great National leader and even historical figure in such disparaging terms was surely the ultimate in revisionism of authentic Irish history. While we are all well aware that Kevin Myers is a fully fledged revisionist, one of a group of writers and so-called historians who since the late ‘seventies have been endeavouring to re-write factual Irish history as told by the people who made it particularly about the War of Independence. This small minority of revisionists have tried to sow doubts about the true versions of the happenings of those momentous years and replace them with myths and hearsay. Kevin Myers has contributed more than his share to such yarns and it is no surprise that last Wednesday’s target in his column was none other than the man who the previous Sunday had been praised, honoured and revered by some of the top people in the land. Mr. Myers in a futile attempt to strike some sort of a balance went off in a canter of a rigmarole in which he tried to equate Britain’s Second World War Prime Minister Winston Churchill with Michael Collins by mentioning some of the traits they had in common which of course in reality was pointless. Naturally Kevin Myers is entitled to write what he wants to in his column no matter how outlandish it might be, but it might appear better if he took on someone for his remarks and comments who is still alive and able to defend himself or herself, rather than some historical figure like Michael Collins who is long since dead and only whose memory the Irish people can still keep in their hearts by their attendance at places like Beal na mBláth and other such national commemoration monuments to those who died. Long may their memories live on.

Praise for Connie

Browsing through a copy of Ireland’s Own dated August 24th my attention was drawn to the “Cassidy Boys” article on page 3. This is of course a regular article in Ireland’s Own and is always entertaining. But on this occasion the theme was about the comparison between two hotels, one in North County Dublin and the other in Tipperary. That might not have been something any more than a run of the mill interest to those of us living in Athea but for the fact that the Tipperary hotel in question happens to be the Kilcoran Lodge formerly belonging to the Earl of Glengall a few miles outside Cahir which is now in the possession of our own Connie Herbert. But let me quote a few lines from the article by Mr. Cassidy if he won’t mind. “Charlotte greeted us and we got the run of the place in a very friendly manner. A well-turned out gentleman of the old school was in the vicinity of the check-in desk, it transpired that he was Connie Herbert the personable and charming proprietor.

He added to the warmth of the welcome and during the next few days he would make it his business, with extreme discretion, to inquire how we were and the room and the food. All was hunky dory and we felt so much at home that I think we will be making a return visit.

We were tempted to compare our two locations. You can guess which one was the favourite in our judgement. Other people will take another point of view, but for us, the small and intimate trumps the large and impersonal”.

High praise indeed for Connie and his newly acquired established hotel in Cahir. And this coming from a widely read national publication. Good for you Connie Herbert and it is our hope that you will have many more Cassidy kind of people staying at your homely hotel.


Sympathy is extended to the many local people who lost near relatives in recent bereavements during the past few weeks. May all the souls of their loved ones rest in peace.