Michael Collins

Illustration of This Celtic cross monument set on an elevated railed red brick and limestone base marks the spot where General Michael Collins; commander-in-chief of the National Army and chairman of the Provisional Government (Realtas Sealadach) was shot dead during an ambush by anti-Treaty republican irregulars on Tuesday August 22nd 1922. The military convoy escort commanded by General Emmet Dalton comprised a motor-cycle outrider, a Leyland Thomas touring car containing Collins, a Rolls Royce Whippet armoured car (Sliabh na mBan) and a converted Crossley tender containing some twelve soldiers. That fateful morning the convoy had left the Imperial Hotel, Cork, proceeding to Macroom thence to Bandon via Bealnablath, next to Clonakilty, Rosscarbery and Skibbereen. Returning it stopped at Rosscarbery and Bandon before being ambushed at Beal na mBláth.

Detail

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Historians agree that Collins Cork tour had one or more main objectives; to boost the confidence of the populace in the midst of a bitter civil war, to bolster the resolve of the army as the irregulars retreated further west, to sort out misappropriated government funds in a Cork bank and to meet up with anti-Treaty leaders to end hostilities. In this latter regard many believe that the return evening route to the Macroom area was to meet neutral go-between republicans in the parochial house Lissarda. This would explain the circuitous route through Bealnablath since Collins´ principal destination was the Imperial Hotel to which he should normally reach via Innishannon or Crossbarry. The ambushing party was part of an anti-Treaty meeting near Bealnablath on the morning and when a scout spotted the Collins convoy driving south an ambush was set up should it return later. Believing that the convoy would not return by that route the engagement was called off with just a few men left taking up a road mine when the convoy suddenly appeared from the Mossgrove direction. Military experts now agree that Collins countermanding order to stop and fight as against Dalton´s “drive like hell” was militarily unprofessional and a dreadful mistake that cost him his life.

Collins' monument in Beal na BláthAnnual Commemoration in Beal na Bláth 2005

The convoy with its dead leader moved off as dusk fell stopping at Cloughduv Church to seek the last rites and Annesgrove, Aherla, where the mortal wound was washed. Overcoming various obstacles the convoy reached Cork City and Shanakeil Hospital late that night. Local historians believe that two irregulars were also fatal victims of this tragic ambush. Since this awful day theories abound as to who fired the fatal shot. These can be summed up thus; a direct hit from the ambushing party; a ricochet bullet from the ambushing party; an accidental ricochet from the convoy; treachery or shot by a plant of the British secret service in the convoy; and the most bizarre; suicide or para-suicide by Collins from remorse of conscience for signing the Anglo-Irish Treaty and turning arms against his former comrades. Following a huge funeral procession through Cork City, Collins´ remains were taken by sea on the funeral ship Classic to Dublin. Tens of thousands lined the streets as the horse-drawn gun carriage rumbled on its sombre way from the Pro cathedral to Glasnevin cemetery where the young founding father of the state was buried with full military honours.

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