Michael Collins in the 1916 Rising

photo of Michael Collins as a young recruit 1916

Michael Collins as a young recruit 1916

Michael Collins is famous for his role in realizing what was “beyond our wildest dreams in 1916.”  Yet fewer are familiar with the part he played in the ill-fated Rising himself.

In 1906, shortly before his sixteenth birthday, Michael Collins took a job as a clerk in London, where an elder sister was already established.  Here he assuaged a keen homesickness for Ireland, by way of enthusiastic participation in London’s Irish community.  The Gaelic Athletics League, the Geraldines Hurling Club, ceilis, and friends from Cork helped create a welcoming social island in the British metropolis. Continuing to write, he presented papers at political societies which supported Irish independence; where he became known as “a Wolfe Tone republican” in his outlook.

By 1914 he was secretary to the London and Southeastern district  of the the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), a clandestine body organizing the struggle for independence. In April 1914, along with his cousin and close friend Sean Hurley, he enlisted with the London Brigade of the Irish Volunteers. When the Easter Rebellion of 1916 was in its planning stages, he and a number of his boyhood friends from home all volunteered together.

During the Easter Rising, Collins served as staff Captain and aide-de-camp to Joseph Plunkett, at the Rising’s headquarters in the General Post Office building (the “GPO”.) There he and his comrades underwent a crucible of fire. Hundreds of vastly outnumbered and out-gunned republicans held out against thousands of British troops, under brutal artillery bombardment, for a week. There, and in the Rising’s aftermath, he saw many of his mentors and closest friends lose their lives.

Following the Rising he was imprisoned with over a thousand others. The execution of the Rising’s leaders thrust young men like himself to the fore. As he boarded the boat with fellow prisoners, he was already discussing plans for “next time.” While still interned at the prison camp, he was instrumental in re-organizing the survivors: first in a campaign of non-cooperation with prison authorities.  Later planning the underground campaign, which would lead ultimately to Britain’s capitulation in 1921.

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“The Assassination of Michael Collins:
What Happened At Béal na mBláth?

by S M Sigerson
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As a history and mystery buff I couldn’t help but keep reading..”

“... a great read on a fascinating story …
The Assassination of Michael Collins is definitely a must-read if you have any interest in this period of Irish history, or any interest in Collins himself.”

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Michael Collins: The real meaning of the 1916 Rising

1916 Proclamation heading close-up

How Ireland Made Her Case Clear

Following are excerpts from Michael Collins’ own writings on 1916 and the struggle for Irish freedom

“The period from 1914 to 1918 is an important one in the struggle for Irish freedom.  It was a transition period.  It saw a wholesome & necessary departure from the ideas and methods which had been held & adopted for a generation, and it is a period which is misread by a great many of our people, even by some who helped that departure, and who helped to win the success we have achieved.

“The real importance of the Rising of 1916 did not  become apparent until 1918.  It is not correct to say now that the assertion of the republican principle which was stated by the leaders of the Rising was upheld as the national policy without a break.  The declaration of a Republic was really in advance of national thought, and it was only after a period of two years’ propaganda that we were actually able to get solidarity on the idea.

“The European War, which began in 1914, is now generally recognised to have been a war between two rival empires…Germany spoke frankly of her need for expansion, and for new fields of enterprise for her surplus population.  England, who likes to fight under a high-sounding title, got her opportunity in the invasion of Belgium.  She was entering the war ‘in defence of the freedom of small nationalities.

“America at first looked on, but she accepted the motive in good faith, and she ultimately joined in … ‘Shall,’ asked President Wilson, ‘the military power of any nation … be suffered to determine the fortunes of peoples over whom they have no right to rule except the right of force?

“But the most flagrant instance of the violation of this principle did not seem to strike … President Wilson, and he led the American nation – peopled so largely by Irish men & women who had fled from British oppression – into the battle and to the side of that nation which for hundreds of years had determined the fortunes of the Irish people against their wish, and had ruled them, and was still ruling them, by no other right than the right of force.

“There were created by the Allied Powers half-a-dozen new Republics as a demonstration of adherence to these principles.  At the same time, England’s military subjection of Ireland continued.  And Ireland was a nation with claims as strong as, or stronger than, those of the other small nations.

This subjugation constituted a mockery of those principles, yet the expression of them before the world as principles for which great nations were willing to pour out their  blood and treasure gave us the opportunity to raise again our flag of freedom and to call the attention of the world to the denial of our claim.

“We were not pro-German during the war any more than we were pro-Bulgarian, pro-Turk, or anti-French.  We were anti-British, pursuing our age-long policy against the common enemy.  Not only was this our policy, but it was the policy that any weak nation would have pursued in the same circumstances…

“We remembered that England’s difficulty was Ireland’s opportunity, and we took advantage of her engagement elsewhere to make a bid for freedom.  The odds between us were for the moment a little less unequal… We had made common cause with France when France was fighting England.  We made common cause with Spain when Spain was fighting England.  We made common cause with the Dutch when the Dutch were fighting England…

“Our position was our old position.  Our aim was our old aim.  Our intention was simply to secure liberation from the English occupation …

“The Rising expressed our right to freedom.  It expressed our determination to have the same liberty of choice in regard to our own destinies as was conceded to Poland or Czecho-Slovakia, or any other of the nations that were emerging as a result of the new doctrines being preached…

Our claim was to govern ourselves … It was a gesture to the world that there could be no confusion about. It was an emphasis of our separate nationhood and a declaration that our ultimate goal was and would continue to be complete independence...

“We were to learn that freedom was to be secured by traveling along a different road … that it was [the English] presence alone which denied it to us, and we must make that presence uncomfortable for them, and that the only question between us and them was the terms on which they would clear out and cease their interference with us.”

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Path to Freedom cover image
The Path to Freedom
by Michael Collins



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The Assassination of Michael Collins:
What Happened At Béal na mBláth?
by S M Sigerson
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No royals at 1916 commemorations

Irish Citizen Army 1916

The Irish Citizen Army 1916: “We serve neither King nor Kaiser, but Ireland!”

A major public debate is now in progress, concerning the suggestion that members of the British royal family might be invited to attend official commemorations of the 1916 Easter Rising. 

Permission has been obtained to re-blog here the following excellent analysis by an anonymous poster at an online forum.

If the royal family wishes to show respect for Ireland’s national independence day, the best way they can express that is to stay home. And write us a nice letter.

During President Michael O’Higgins’ state visit to the UK, we are informed that the Queen “invited herself” to Dublin’s official 2016 commemoration ceremonies. This immediately gave rise to controversy; and rightly so.

Because the question immediately becomes not shall we receive her, but can we refuse?

This is evident in that the Dublin mayor, in expressing his opposition to royals at Easter Rising events, has already felt it necessary to apologize for any offended feelings in the UK.

The Queen’s very manner of raising the question gives the game away. She’s already treating us like subjects. She’s already making herself at home, as if this were her domain.

‘Inviting herself,’ in her world, is to magnanimously send word ahead that one is to be honoured by the royal presence. That’s what she does in England. And at this resounding word, everyone scurries about, breathlessly preparing a suitable reception. Because it’s an honour they can’t refuse.

But she’s not at home here. This has slipped her mind. She must be made to remember it.

Because let a reigning British sovereign but once attend, and a precedent is set. Receiving royals at 1916 events will come to be seen as an obligation. And to refuse them would then be an international incident.

Overnight their presence at 1916 events will have become in effect obligatory. Where we are obliged to receive, they will reign. And the path they trod will be thick with their followers, official and unofficial, overt and covert.

If we already dare not refuse, for fear of giving offense, that is the greatest reason why her self-invitation to this sonorous national occasion must be declined.

The Dublin government must refuse: just to prove that it can.

The 1916 Rising is not an event to commemorate by clinking glasses with British royalty.

It marks an epoch on this island which is defined, above all, by our right to be entirely free from the British Crown and all its works.

It’s argued that it’s a statement of confidence in our independence, that we can now magnanimously put past conflicts aside, to entertain the Queen, as we would any other visiting diplomat.

But an English sovereign can never be any other visiting diplomat. Nor is Ireland’s independence so very complete or secure; as the international banking collapse has proven.

Relations between Ireland and England will always require great delicacy and circumspection; if the laudable dream of mutual respect is to be realized.

The Queen, as the UK’s number one diplomat, showed a sad lack of such delicacy or circumspection, when she condescendingly informed us to prepare to receive her.

No Irish man or woman should ever apologize to any UK citizen for our right to determine who we shall or shall not invite to our national events, or for any other decision taken by the Irish people, as a nation.

Thanks for inviting yourself, but no, you can’t come.  That’s all.  End of story.  No apologies.” 

This writer can only wonder … What would Michael Collins do?

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

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Michael Collins Commemoration 2014

photo of 1st Commemoration 1923

The first Commemoration, 1923

Béal na mBláth Annual Commemoration 2014
will take place Sunday 24 August 3PM
at the monument
Béal na mBláth, Crookstown
County Cork
Republic of Ireland

“…I grew up with a rich lore of family history and virtually total silence outside the family. … There was never a mention of his name in the discussion of national life, except on the occasion of a visit to Béal na mBláth in August. All of that changed …”
–  Mary Banotti
(grand-niece of Michael Collins)

Why do we gather at Béal na mBláth?

Michael Collins was one of the founding fathers of modern Ireland. His birth, in a quiet country farmhouse, caused no stir. Yet his death sent shockwaves around the world and down generations; which reverberate to this day.

The anniversary of one’s passing is an occasion very much observed in Irish culture; perhaps more than in any other country. Collins’ belongs to the nation. Yet he also belongs to people all over the world. “Because a story like his is for all people, everywhere, in all times.” **

The Commemoration’s annual oration is always delivered by a national figure of note. These have included Collns’ grandnieces, former legislator Helen Collins, and former Minister for Justice Nora Owen (now presenter of TV3’s “Midweek”); as well as Former President Mary Robinson (now UN Commissioner on climate change.) In 2012, the 90th anniversary marked the first time that the oration was given by a serving Taoiseach.

This year’s main speaker will be broadcaster / author George Hook, whose wit and wisdom are an institution on the airwaves.

If you’re a Michael Collins fan, and you’re in Ireland in August, it’s not to be missed.

Visit the Commemoration webiste:

Commemorative edition: 90th Anniversary pictorial history

Read more of Mary Banotti’s chapter in
Michael Collins and the Making of the Irish State
(Gabriel Doherty & Dermot Keogh, editors)

See George Hook’s latest book

Mary Banotti’s book: “There’s Something About Mary

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What Happened At Béal na mBláth?”
by S M Sigerson

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Harry Boland

photo of Harry Boland and Michael Collins

Harry Boland and Michael Collins

On the anniversary of Harry Boland’s controversial shooting, some excerpts from the book’s chapter re-examining Boland’s life & death, and its close connection with Collins’.

Harry Boland TD, a Volunteer since 1913, was a close friend and associate of Collins and, like him, a member of the IRB’s Supreme Council. He played a leading role in the War of Independence, and would have been expected to hold a Cabinet seat or other high office in the post-war government. Boland’s death took place in the very opening days of the civil conflict, before it had really developed into all-out war. According to Deasy, it was attended by “mysterious circumstances” and “was another serious blow to the moderate wing” of the anti-Treaty side. That is, it drove another nail into the coffin of hopes for a swift reunification of the victorious War of Independence army. …

The end of … Harry Boland, a national hero, so closely associated with Michael Collins, deserves much more anxious scrutiny, than it has yet been accorded.

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“The Assassination of Michael Collins:
What Happened At Béal na mBláth?”
by S M Sigerson
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cover image - Harry Boland's Irish Revolution



Revolution and democracy

Painting of the taking of the Bastille in 1789

The taking of the Bastille prison 1789

In honour of Bastille Day, some excerpts from the book examine the nature of modern republican revolutions, and the states they’ve give birth to.


“The debate is over: Statistics show that modern democracies, governed on principles of universal human / civil rights, the rule of law and separation of powers, are the most successful form of government. Such republics tend to be more prosperous and more stable than autocracies. Countries where the public has a powerful voice in decision-making are dramatically less likely to go to war, or to deteriorate into anarchy. Such stability fosters more flourishing trade, health, industry, learning and generally enhanced cultural and economic development, over longer sustained periods.


“The larger picture of republican revolutions in world history is very much a work in progress. We, the natives of modern Western democracies are the living products of that political maelstrom: the ending of which has yet to be written. What John Stuart Mill called the great modern social and spiritual transition. In this greater ongoing process, Ireland is indubitably a success story, not a failure.


I may not get there with you. But we, as a people, are going to make it to the Promised Land. 

– Martin Luther King (on the eve of his assassination)


“The leaders of great revolutionary struggles often do not live to see the fulfilment of their own handiwork. That is an occupational hazard. One which they all accept at the very outset. One which Collins, judging from his own words on the subject, was thoroughly prepared for every day.


“All great leaders of this kind take on a very old system: an ancient imperialist war and political machine, oiled by centuries’ experience in putting down popular revolutions. And in eliminating great popular leaders.”


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

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also see: http://bastille-day.com/

How and Why Did the Civil War Start?

photo of bombardment of Four Courts 1922

The Four Courts siege 1922

28 June marks the commencement of the Civil War in Ireland, 1922-23.


A chapter in the book examines these events, which directly led to the death of Collins


The Civil War by no means broke out instantaneously or thoughtlessly. Tremendous efforts were carried on, for months on end, to avert the outbreak of hostilities. … Many strove desparately to find some means of going forward without civil conflict.


… No war ever begins for just one reason. All the factors set forth so far … may be seen as a powder keg: the explosive elements which placed the country in danger of war breaking out. In that sense, the occupation of Four Courts was the fuse, and the assassination of Sir Henry Wilson the spark, which together set off the conflagration; which cost so many lives, and broke out afresh in the northern Troubles of the 1970s – 1990s.”


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What Happened At Béal na mBláth?”
by S M Sigerson


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