Michael Collins: “Threats” played no part in signing the Treaty

photo of Michael Collins speaking 1922 Clonakilty County Cork

Michael Collins speaking, Clonakilty, County Cork, 1922

A number of historians and biographers have reiterated the erroneous contention that the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 was signed in response to threats of extraordinary military action by the British.

However, this was roundly refuted by Michael Collins himself; who, excepting only Arthur Griffith, certainly carried the lion’s share of work, responsibility, and decision-making in those negotiations.

Others’ writings about Collins often seem to be more readily before the public these days, than the unquestionably more valuable writings of the man himself.

His own cogent statements on this issue are characteristically blunt and penetrating:

It has been variously stated that the Treaty was signed under duress.  

“I did not sign the Treaty under duress, except in the sense that the position as between Ireland and England, historically, and because of superior forces on the part of England, has always been one of duress.  

“The element of duress was present when we agreed to the Truce, because our simple right would have been to beat the English out of Ireland.  There was an element of duress in going to London to negotiate. But there was not, and could not have been, any personal duress.  

“The threat of “immediate and terrible war” did not matter overmuch to me.  The position appeared to be then exactly as it appears now.   The British would not, I think have declared terrible and immediate war upon us.  

“… The threat of immediate and terrible war was probably bluff. The immediate tactics would surely have been to put the offer of July 20, which the British considered a very good offer, before the country, and if rejected, they would have very little difficulty in carrying their own people into a war against Ireland.

“I am not impressed by the talk of duress, nor by threats of a declaration of immediate and terrible war.  Britain has not made a declaration of war upon Egypt, neither has she made a declaration of war upon India.  But is the conflict less terrible because of the absence of such a declaration?  

“We must not be misled by words and phrases.  Unquestionably the alternative to the Treaty, sooner or later, was war, and if the Irish Nation had accepted that, I should have gladly accepted it.  …

“To me it would have been a criminal act to refuse to allow the Irish Nation to give its opinion as to whether it would accept this settlement or resume hostilities.  That I maintain, is a democratic stand.  It has always been the stand of public representatives who are alive to their responsibilities

“The Irish struggle has always been for freedom – freedom from English occupation, from English interference, from English domination – not for freedom with any particular label attached to it.  

“What we fought for at any particular time was the greatest measure of freedom obtainable at that time, and it depended upon our strength whether the claim was greater than at another time or lesser than at another time.

“When the national stiuation was very bad we lay inert; when it improved a little we looked for Repeal of the Union; when it receded again we looked for Home Rule under varying trade names;  when it went still worse we spoke of some form of devolution.  When our strength became greater our aim became higher, and we strove for  greater measure of freedom under the name of Republic.  But it was freedom we sought for, not the name of the form of government we should adopt when we got our freedom.

(Excerpted from “Advance and Use Our Liberties” from the Treaty debates, 1922; included in:)

“A Path to Freedom
by Michael Collins

Read more:
The Assassination of Michael Collins:
What Happened At Béal na mBláth?
by S M Sigerson

Paperback or Kindle edition here:

All other e-reader formats:

Reviewed in Best Reads of the year – Rabid Readers Reviews

Or ask at your local book shop

Kitty and Michael: a revolutionary courtship

photo of Michael Collins

Michael Collins

photo of Kitty Kiernan

Kitty Kiernan

Some historians have been obliged to play down Michael Collin’s fiancé, Kitty Kiernan, in order to support their theories about his death.  However, Ms Kiernan cannot be relegated to a footnote here, but merits a few choice words on her own account (excerpt from the book): 

“There is no basis for the erroneous characterization of Ms Kiernan as politically naïve. It is, at best, a gloss of inexcusable carelessness. The contention that others would have had more capacity than Ms Kiernan, as a political confidante, is entirely refuted by the record.  Writers seem to have presumed on the fact that … Ms Kiernan was merely the proprietor of a small hotel and shops, in a modest country town, in rural Ireland; her name unknown to the public, outside of her relationship with Collins.  Collins biographers seem to have written off Ms Kiernan as clueless and useless politically, on this basis alone.

Clearly Collins did not think so; as an attentive reading of their letters illustrates. Such an assumption does not demonstrate adequate acquaintance with their correspondence, with her education, her family’s prominent, albeit secret role in the War of Independence; nor with the level of political sophistication general among Irish people of her time, place, class and social standing.  On the contrary, as muse, hostess, networker, companion and confidante, the Kiernan sisters and their hotel may be called the Irish nationalist counterparts, of a London lady’s political salon.  With Ms Kiernan, Collins could feel secure that he was not confiding in a British agent: the Kiernan hotel had been a key safe house for Volunteers throughout the War of Independence. In their correspondence, she and Collins frequently discussed the political situation; of which she demonstrated a keen grasp, often providing insight and encouragement. The C-in-C, for his part, explicitly declared that Kitty was more and more necessary to him in these stressful days, and that “there’s no one like you.”

Ms Kiernan came from precisely the same sort of background as he: a traditional Irish farming family, hard-working, upwardly mobile,  successful in business and adaptable to town life. Both were products of a progressive, republican education. Both were ambitious, modern and stylish. In Collins’ world, Ms Kiernan was an elegant lady, and the female of his own species.”

Read more:

The Assassination of Michael Collins:
What Happened At Béal na mBláth?
by S M Sigerson
Paperback or Kindle edition here:

All other e-reader formats:

Read reviews: “Best Reads”of the Year

Customer reviews:

Or ask at your local book shop

Conversing with our History

This totally awesome poem may be best thing I’ve read so far about 1916 and its Centenary. Bravo Stephen O’Brien!


How would they react,

Our Nation’s heroes,

If they could see our world?

And how would we act,

Walking their streets?

Would it mirror imagination?

Would they rejoice,

To see their flag flying,

In the Garden that we planted?

Or would they see our success,

A nation of numbers,

And lament their failed ambitions?

Would we shake the hands,

Of the names we’ve learned,

If we met them by the Liffey?

Or would their ancient minds,

Without the lessons of time,

Seem alien to our notions?

If we shopped their streets,

Would we love their war,

Their chaos and their cause?

Would they like our lifestyle,

And feel connected,

To the place we have in the world?

Would they look at Enda.

Take up their swords,

And declare a Second Republic?

Or would they happily settle,

For relative comfort,

Content with being contented?

How would their troubles,

Compare with our…

View original post 192 more words