Saluting a fallen son of Ireland
Michael Collins died one hundred years ago this month on the 22th August 1922. A visit to Glasnevin cemetery will confirm that the man’s memory is very much alive and kicking. With the most visited grave, the greatest amount of fan mail and women regularly sending him roses (especially around Valentine’s Day), he eclipses Daniel O’Connell with his more grandiose crypt and tower as the cemetery’s top dog.
Thankfully, there is substance beyond the myth and adulation. The accompanying 2010 RTÉ documentary as told by Senator Michael McDowell is well worth a watch. The programme was made as part of Ireland’s Greatest series to determine the greatest Irish person to have lived. For once not top dog, Collins was beaten in the end by peacemaker John Hume.
The lesser celebrated Arthur G
That list of Ireland’s greatest has come in for criticism not least for some of the more frivolous entrants, but also for the lack of women. For me, the biggest blunder is that Collin’s colleague, and indeed mentor, Arthur Griffith, is no where on that list. He died only ten days before Collins, but I doubt too many readers went searching for his name! No commemorative stamp for him.
RTÉ Radio’s John Bowman Sunday 8.30 did a great programme on Griffith as well as on Collins. It took a one man campaign by 77 year old Donal O’Brolcháin to muster up some form of commemoration for the man who led the Treaty delegation that brought independence to Ireland. He effectively died of exhaustion with a heart attack aged just 51, but looked much older.
Events at Béal na mBláth in 1922
The gallows humour of Belfast has a joke that goes ‘How come there were no Mods in Belfast in the 1970s?‘ The punchline being ‘well, would you’ve walked down the street with a target on your back?“. In looking at a replica of the open top buttercup yellow Leyland 8 Collins was in without armour plating, you’d almost swear the man had a deathwish. All he was missing was a klaxon. Shouldn’t a master of guerilla warfare have moved about with greater care?
Maybe after Griffith went, his heart wasn’t in it anymore. There are a thousand theories as to who shot him – including how the Brits did it as they believed he’d take back the North. Our audio piece below is not the first time the name you’ll hear has been linked to that fateful day.
My original article from 2015 about Collins
On this day 93 years ago, the 22nd of August 1922, Michael Collins was shot and killed in a gun battle at Béal na mBláth. He was 31 years old when he died. Half a million people attended his funeral in Dublin. All parties to the conflict, both British and Irish, were temporarily united in grief. In his brief lifetime he had fought the British Empire to a stalemate, negotiated the first Treaty of Independence for Ireland and overseen its transition to democracy. He died paradoxically in an attempt to finally remove the gun from Irish politics.
From our Racontour Archive, hear our fascinating audio piece on the man who pulled the fatal trigger and why a nice quiet life in a regional town fitted the bill for lying low. Told by Nenagh Walking Tours very own raconteur, Kevin Whelan, Sonny O’Neill surely kept Ireland’s biggest secret for the rest of his life.
See Collins’s diaries in 2022
Besides a Glasnevin pilgrimage and raising a pint of the other Arthur G in the Gravediggers afterwards, anyone wanting to salute Collins can now see his diaries at the National Archives, some three minutes from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Find other known Collins sites in Dublin here.
Click below to read more on the incredible tale of the boy in the top photo of Collins in full military pomp. This early photo bomber has a story that is crying out to be told on the big screen. Just no Julia Roberts please!
Michael Collins: 16 October 1890 – 22 August 1922