Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland, & Michael Collins: the unfinished business of Irish independence

photo of Martin McGuinness

It was through the lessons of Collins’ life & death, that Former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, with his colleagues & community, survived to achieve so much: in a lifetime struggle to repair what happened to northern* Ireland, following Collins’ death.


photo of Michael Collins at a rally in Armagh 1921

Michael Collins in Armagh 1921

In 1922, Dublin’s fledgling independent government was headed by the representative for Armagh in northern Ireland: Michael Collins, TD.

What links Collins with Martin McGuinness’ generation of Irish statesmen? These excerpts from The Assassination of Michael Collins: What Happened at Beal na mBlath? explore their connections:

“The 26-county Republic of Ireland, and the 6-county Northern Ireland statelet, directly owe their existence, their institutional structures, and much of their history, to Michael Collins’ life and times; to the controversies which culminated in his death; and to the travesties which his death enabled.

… Before the ink on the Treaty was dry, even among smiles, handshakes, and agreements, Winston Churchill was funding, directing and protecting military aggression in Ulster (both on and off the record.) Michael Collins, not to be outdone, cooperated without hesitation in republican units’ response there…

On 1st and 2nd August 1922, Commander-in-Chief Collins met with northern [IRA] officers at Portobello Barracks in Dublin. He told them, “The civil war will be over in a few weeks and then we can resume in the north. You men will get intensive training.” Collins explained that, until the Civil War was resolved, IRA in the north would have to remain defensive and avoid engagements. A small, specially paid “Belfast Guard” would be created to protect Catholic areas from sectarian attacks. The Dublin government in the meantime would apply political pressure. Said Collins, “If that fails, the Treaty can go to hell, and we will start again.”

… Following British soldiers’ killing of two adolescent girls near the northern border, an outraged Collins wrote to WT Cosgrave:

I am forced to the conclusion that we have yet to fight the British in the northeast. We must by forceful action make them understand that we will not tolerate this carelessness with the lives of our people.

In other correspondence:

[The north] must be redeemed for Ireland, and we must keep striving in every way until that objective is achieved. The northeast must not be allowed to settle down in the feeling that it is a thing apart from the Irish nation.

Six counties implies coercion. South and east Down, south Armagh, Fermanagh and Tyrone will not come into Northern Ireland.

… Coogan … agrees that Collins’ policy on the North was “unwelcome to his Cabinet colleagues and of course to the British.” [That is,] Collins was serving on a Cabinet with men whose agenda for the future of Ireland was closer to the British, than to his own.

… [Then, in August 1922,] Arthur Griffith and Collins suddenly died within two weeks of each other. And with them, all hope of an amicable settlement with honor to the Civil War. All hope of merging anti-Treaty heroes from the War of Independence into the leadership of the Free State Army. All hope of continuing armed resistance against unionist pogroms in the north.

It was then that the Troubles for Northern Ireland began.

The spreading [Civil War], marked by the cessation of IRA operations in the north, was correctly interpreted by the unionist government and armed loyalism as effectively removing the threat of concerted assault on the northern state.” **

… That threat was more real and present than most people, (including many historians,) realize … A shooting war between Irish troops and their British / loyalist counterparts in the northeast flared up continually throughout 1922. It included both IRA guerrilla actions and Free State regulars, British troops and loyalist paramilitaries combined. It moved Churchill to call for defense preparations against a Dublin-sponsored invasion of Ulster.

With Collins removed, subsequent Dublin governments were content, or reduced, to leave northern nationalists twisting in the wind.”

Dublin governments all too willing to “tolerate this carelessness with the lives of our people” and to allow the northeast “to settle down in the feeling that it is a thing apart from the Irish nation.” Until the north’s simmering apartheid regime exploded into thirty years of bloody conflict.

Would the north have been different, had Collins lived? Could Martin McGuinness have been born in a united 32-county Ireland? Could decades of mayhem and murder been avoided, had the appropriate governments and armies come to grips, in 1922?  photo of Martin McGuinness 1971

Could Collins, with his War of Independence army intact, have extended their victory throughout the north? With the aid of officers who, over Collins’ dead body, were later executed by the Dublin government of W T Cosgrave (founder of Finn Gael)?

Could the Troubles have been prevented, by Collins and company’s combination of political pressure from Dublin, plus sustained military response to British/loyalist violence in the north?

Ultimately, the story of Ulster is inseparable from the story of Michael Collins: who clearly saw, almost a hundred years ago, that peace might be won only at the cost of eventual armed conflict in the north; who perhaps died striving to make it possible for republican comrades to lay down their arms; and who died … as elected representative for the people of northern Ireland.


** Eamonn Phoenix Michael Collins – The Northern Question 1916-22

* “northern Ireland” is here used to refer to that region of the country, before partition; “Northern Ireland” (capitalized) refers to the statelet created by Partition.

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

by S M Sigerson

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A Michael Collins Christmas

photo of Michael Collins & friends at the Gresham Hotel

Michael Collins & friends at the Gresham Hotel

During the height of the Tan War, David Neligan, Collins’ “Spy in the Castle”, recounts the Big Fella inviting him to Christmas dinner at the Gresham Hotel. Collins asked whether Neligan would be there.

“No!” exclaimed Neligan, “And neither should you! It’s the most dangerous place to be tonight!”

Still Collins was determined to regale his closest associates with holiday cheer, in the best hotel in Dublin, as planned.

The festivities were in full swing when the party was raided by the notorious Auxiliaries. What’s more, it was not the most random spot check. They had a photo of Collins ready to hand, (probably snipped from the 1919 group photo of the First Dail,) and were looking for him there. An officer promptly fastened on the Big Fella, and dragged him off to the men’s room for interrogation. He was searched, and a small notebook from his pocket was scrutinized. One entry seemed to be a reminder to order “rifles”.

Collins persisted in taking all their questions with easy-going bemusement, as a tremendously droll mistake. He assured them they were reading his scrawl all wrong: that it really said “refills”. He kept up his good humor as they yanked back his head by the hair, staring at the photo & then at his face. It went on for half an hour or more.

photo of The Gresham Hotel, Dublin

However, at last they gave it up, persuaded that this must be the wrong fellow entirely. Collins went back to the dinner, and ordered drinks all around; while the Auxies continued to hover about, watching the party closely.

It was quietly decided that the wisest course under these circumstances was to get truly, indubitably, certifiably drunk. It was one of the only occasions throughout the war when Collins was seen to be visibly intoxicated.

And so the most wanted men in Ireland did uproarious justice to the good things before them, and all slept sound in their beds that night.

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

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The Spy in the Castle
by David Neligan


graphic of Christmas garland

2022 Michael Collins Centenary: What happened at Béal na mBláth?

photo of Michael Collins close-up in uniform 1922

 Michael Collins’ 2022 Centenary will offer unprecedented opportunities to examine, celebrate, and reflect on the meaning of his life and death.
How should it be observed?

The 1916 Rising was neither the beginning, nor the end of the movement for Irish independence; nor of the Revolutionary Era (whether counted from 1900 or 1913 through 1923.)

The Rising would always have significance in itself, even if it were a stand-alone event. Its greatest significance, however, is in those who survived it: who went forth from it to organize, to carry on the cause of independence, in the amazing achievements of 1919-1922.

Ireland’s “Decade of Centenaries” has so much to explore, celebrate, remember, between now and 2022: the centenary of Michael Collins’ death.

The Rising Centenary has brought to light a wealth of original materials, records, testimony, which had long languished unexamined, inaccessible to the public. The study of this period has thereby been greatly enriched, on countless levels; which may never be understood in our lifetime.

It opened a vast, new, fertile debate in Ireland, on the Rising’s meaning, causes, effects. How successful was that revolution? Is Ireland truly independent today? Has it ever been? Can Ireland yet be called independent while the UK still claims dominion over six counties in the North? Was violent conflict unavoidable? Did taking down the Union Jack & raising the Tricolor, as James Connolly warned us, in itself, solve none of Ireland’s problems?

These are questions still debated today. Most of us, inside & outside of Ireland, recognize the establishment of the Dáil & Dublin government, the conclusive departure of the British Army and British colonial administration from 26 of 32 counties, as a tremendous achievement; as Collins (a Rising veteran) himself said, “…beyond our wildest dreams in 1916.

Between now and 2022, we’ll have a chance to celebrate the achievements of those who survived the Rising: who raised the siege of 1919-1921, and forced the British to the negotiating table (a development they considered unthinkable in 1916.)

In this there is much to be learned: about what happened to the dream and promise of the 1916 Proclamation, and those who fought for it.

To ponder his death and his life eternally…

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The Assassination of Michael Collins:
What Happened At Béal na mBláth?”
by S M Sigerson
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Arthur Griffith & Michael Collins: Were their deaths connected?

Photo of Arthur Griffith (1871-1922)

Arthur Griffith 1871-1922)

(The following is an excerpt from the book
“The Assassination of Michael Collins: What Happened at Béal na mBláth?”)

Griffith, the founder of Sinn Fein, is considered by many to have been the leading strategist of Ireland’s 20th century independence movement … After ages of continual battle against British imperialism, it was his genius for uniting Ireland’s internal divisions, which brought nationalism into a new, ultimately victorious phase …

… The chances seem astronomical against there having been anything either “accidental”, “random”, or “natural” about the sudden death, within days of each other, of Michael Collins, Arthur Griffith, and Harry Boland. Even in the dangerous environment of the Civil War, it would be about equivalent to being struck by lightening while holding a winning lottery ticket.

P S O’Hegerty quotes Griffith himself as saying, in their interview on June 30, “Of course, those fellows will assassinate Collins and myself. DeValera is responsible for this, for all of it. There would have been no trouble but for him.”

[The Cabinet “junta’s”] first step was to isolate Arthur Griffith … shortly before his death [P Moylett] found Griffith sitting alone with not even a secretary or typist available to him.  –  John M Feehan 

Collins, who was working intimately with Griffith on a daily basis at the time, by no means took his death so much for granted as historians have been willing to do. As shown in his personal correspondence:

The death of poor Mr Griffith was indeed a shock to us all, more so naturally to those of us who had been intimate with him, and who thought that his illness was a very slight thing indeed. We shall miss for many a day his cheerful presence and his wise counsel … He had sounder political judgement than any of us, and in this way we shall feel his absence very keenly. 

Although no bounding youth like the C-in-C, Griffith, at 51, was hardly decrepit. The negotiations with Britain, the deterioration of the country into Civil War, certainly would place a tremendous strain on anyone in his highly responsible position. Yet, lest we forget, since the founding of Sinn Fein in 1905, Griffith had lived in the eye of a political storm. His life had consisted of unending controversy, continual persecution; in the course of which he endured years of imprisonment, and constant threat of arrest or assassination.

Yet P S O’Hegerty was even more shocked at Griffith’s demise:

Until the last few months, he never lay in a sickbed. Whoever else died, we felt sure that it would not be Griffith – Griffith with the iron will, the iron constitution, the imperturbable nerve. Griffith, whom we all thought certain to live to be one hundred and write the epitaph of all of us.  Griffith, upon whom we all leaned and depended.

At the time of Griffith’s death, the Civil War was in full swing. A list appears to have issued from some quarter, indicating that members of the Dublin government were to be shot on sight at the first opportunity. Government Buildings became for Griffith and other ministers “a place of internment,” for their own safety…

As for DeValera, that ambitious statesman would never have the most potent political voice in Ireland, as long as Griffith still lived.  Nor would any post-war government led by Griffith ever be supine to British interests …

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

Feallmharú Michael Collins: Cad a tharla ag Béal na mBláth?

This post is in the Irish language (Gaielge)
Read in English here:

photo of Michael Collins speaking on a podium

Michael Collins

Cad chuige an gá dúinn eolas a bheith againn?

Cad chuige a bhfuil ga le leabhar eile faoi Michael Collins? Cad chuige a bhfuil an ghné áirithe seo dá scéal mar fhócas leabhair?

Is duine é Michael Collins atá in inmhe daoine a spreagadh fud fad an domhain. Tá ceachtanna suntasacha le fáil ag gach náisiún mar gheall ar a choimhlintí, buanna agus tragóidí agus iad a bhí ag Éirinn chomh maith.

Is é ábhar a bháis mistéirigh a ghnóthaigh níos mó na leabhar amháin roimhe seo. Ach fós féin tá go leor ceisteanna gan freagra: nó gan freagraí sásúla. Agus ó thaobh an fhiosrúcháin a rinneadh tá sé lochtach go mór. Is fiú níos mó airde a thabhairt don díospóireacht mar a sheasann sé anois. Tá sé breis is tríocha bliain ó foilsíodh an leabhar deireanach a bhí dírithe air. Tá sé breis is fiche bliain ó bhí comóradh a bhreithe ann I 1990 a chuir tús le hathbheochan úr le staidéar ar a shaol. Nocht an athbheochan seo saibhreas iontach taighde agus anailíse.

Agus fós táthar ann a dhéanann díspeagadh ar fhiosrúchán den sórt seo. Maíonn cuid acu gur ag tógáil taibhsí ó aimsir chianda atá ann, ag tógáil ceisteanna atá caite srl. Ach is fada ó chaite atá na saincheisteanna a bhaineann le críoch Michael Collins.

Is mar gheall ar Collins agus saol a linne go bhfuil Poblacht na hÉireann, sé chontae is fiche ann chomh maith leis an stáitín, Tuaisceart Éireann a bhfuil sé chontae ann agus a gcuid struchtúr institiúideach chomh maith le cuid mhaith den stair na n-áiteanna. Tá baint acu leis na conspóidí a raibh a bhás mar thoradh orthu agus na mórmheancóga a lean é.

Níl sé fíor le rá gur bhain Collins é féin an troid ar son na saoirse ach ta sé fíor le rá gan Collins go gcaillfeadh Éire an cogadh.  – J Feehan

Tagann na struchtúir chumhachta dúchasacha anuas chugainn ón phointe sárthábhachtach sin. Mar a fheictear i “Réamhrá” an leabhair seo, chuir eilimintí atá diongbháilte in institiúidí náisiúnta, chuir siad bac ar phlé an tréimhse sin ó shin.

Cad é is féidir linn a thuigbheáil ó seo ach go bhfuil rún éigin atá le nochtú fós? Rún éigin a mbeadh tionchar nach beag aige fiú inniu dá nochtfaí é. Fírinne éigin ceilte atá chomh cumhachtach sin nár bhain sé a spriocdháta díola amach fós. Tá dreasacht éigin chumhachtach beo fós chun an plé seo a chosc; plé a bheadh pléascach.

Caithfidh meas a bheith ar an teaghlach marthanach agus an dóigh a ndéanann siad iarracht sean fhuathanna a chur ar ceal agus aontas náisiúnta a chur ina n-áit, rud a bhí mar phrióireacht ag Collins féin. Ach cé go meastar in áiteanna go bhfuil a bhás féin ina ábhar iontach conspóideach cruthaíonn seo nach ceist acadúil ná scéal lorgaireachta é (cé gur féidir leis seo a bheith amhlaidh.)

Is ionann náisiún a dhéanann dearmad ar phríomhphointí a staire féin agus duine a bhfuil galar Alzheimer air. Agus féadann sin a bheith ina thinneas sóisialta atá scriosach. Cé go bhfuil sé tábhachtach ó thaobh na réadúlachta, polaitíochta agus mothúchánacha de go stadann daoine de bheith ag argóint faoin am a chuaigh thart tá bás Collins ina ceist ollmhór staire gan fuascailt. Agus fós féin ní bhfuair sé an t-iniúchadh uileghabhálach atá tuillte aici.

How long shall they kill our prophets,
while we stand aside and look?  – Bob Marley

I measc na bpointí achrannacha a chruthaíonn an stair ghoilliúnach seo an cheist is mó le bheith mothúchánach faoi agus mé ag scríobh: in Éirinn nach bhfuil chomh fada imithe ón ghlúin sin chun a aicsin a mheas le cothrom na Féinne.  Taobh thiar de seo tá cosc sóisialta ann ag moladh ról Collins ar eagla ról De Valera a cháineadh. Tá sé béasach, glactar leis, gan tuairimí a nochtadh a chuirfeadh isteach ar dhaoine, go háirithe iad siúd a chaill gaolta, ar mhaithe le hargóintí a bheadh ciméarach.

Iad siúd nach gcuimhníonn a rinneadh tá siad damnaithe chun é a athdhéanamh.

Ní bhíonn an rud nua ann. Tá seo amhlaidh leis na modhanna a úsáidtear le ceannairí a fheallmharú, go háirithe iad a chruthaíonn fórsa láidir as a muintir le haghaidh dínite, cothrom na féinne agus féinchinntiúcháin.

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

by S M Sigerson
(Leagan leabhair gaielge ag ullmhú.)

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Nó iarr ar do siopa leabhar áitiúil.


Cén fáth Agus Conas Mar a Thosaigh An Cogadh Cathartha?


Forghabháil na gCeithre Chúirt 1922

Forghabháil na gCeithre Chúirt 1922

Sliocht as an leabhar (sa Gaeilge):

Le linn an tsosa cogaidh agus na gcainteanna faoin chonradh lorg na páirtiseáin, a bhain Cogadh na Saoirse, ceannaireacht pholaitiúil ón Dáil. Ní raibh a scoilt i bhfaicsin faoi airm ann roimh bhogadh ar bith ó na baill thofa ach ina dhiaidh sin.

… Is ionann na fachtóirí atá … na heilimintí a chuir an tír I gcontúirt an chogaidh. Mar sin is ionann ionsaí na gCeithre Chúirt agus an fiús, feallmharú Henry Wilson an splanc agus chuir an dá fhachtóir seo an lasair sa bharrach, a mharaigh an oiread sin daoine agus a bhris amach arís ó thuaidh ó 1970í go 1990í.

I measc uaireanta ar fad na cinniúna in Éirinn san 20ú haois is iad an dá chasadh seo is lú a bhfuil staidéar déanta orthu. Ag am scríofa an leabhair seo tá siad go fóill mistéireach, conspóideach.

Léigh seo níos mó:   
“The Assassination of Michael Collins:
What Happened At Béal na mBláth?”
le S M Sigerson

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le Diarmuid Ó Tuama

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