Cabinet Counterrevolution? Ernest Blythe, WT Cosgrave & the death of Michael Collins

Free State Provisional Government Cabinet 1922 - Collins leaning forward on the left; Ernest Blythe opposite him, Cosgrave at the head of the table

Free State Provisional Government Cabinet 1922 – Collins leaning forward on the left; Ernest Blythe opposite him, Cosgrave at the head of the table

How did the Collins-Griffith government
the Cosgrave-Blythe government overnight?

And with what consequences for Ireland?

We find, then, two independent bodies with a very direct interest in getting rid of Collins, viz, the junta within the cabinet and the British secret service.
                                                   – John M Feehan

This blogger is a great fan of TG4’s Irish history documentaries: a type of production in which they are rarely excelled.

At the news of their new documentary on Ernest Blythe, (of the WT Cosgrave government ca 1922) this writer looked forward to TG4’s usual high standard of even-handed, circumspect historical chronicling.

Yet it’s hard to know what to call a program which categorically defends Blythe’s role in the shooting of prisoners without trial.  Ireland having those particular prisoners most to thank that self-government was ever won, one was surprised to hear no word on their behalf in the discussion.

Hoping to provide some of the alternative viewpoint which seemed uncharacteristically lacking in that interesting program, here are some excerpts from the book, on the relationship between the Cosgrave-Blythe government, and the death of Michael Collins.


“Coogan [pointed out] that Collins’ policy on the North was “unwelcome to his Cabinet colleagues and of course to the British.” In this he supports that Collins was serving on the Cabinet with men whose agenda for the future of Ireland was closer to the British, than to his own. This in itself speaks volumes.

“[John M Feehan further examined Collins’ relationship with some on that Cabinet]:

‘Collins never concealed his contempt for [WT] Cosgrave, whom he regularly referred to as “that bloody little altar-boy.”  He detested [Ernest] Blythe and distrusted Eoin MacNeill and the feeling on their side was mutual, although for political reasons he had to have them in the cabinet.’

“… Exactly one month before the C-in-C’s untimely demise, W T Cosgrave (former Minister for Local Government, and, until then, not a luminary in national affairs) became Chairman of the Provisional Government in Collins’ place… Think how convenient it was, one month later, that Collins’ successor was already sitting at the head of the Provisional Government when both Griffith and the C-in-C 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.

“The Collins-Griffith government became the Cosgrave[-Blythe] government, indefinitely. With a very different direction for Ireland indeed: from there, the Free State seemed to become everything the anti-Treaty side said it was.

“Was the Treaty and the Civil War which it ignited, in a sense, the ‘counter-revolution’? A strategy to put the breaks on the independence struggle; to extirpate its most effective leadership; and replace that leadership’s agenda? In this case, with a Dublin government less staunchly opposed to cooperation with imperialist interests: even willing to perpetuate old policies of colonialistic exploitation?

There are a lot of unanswered questions and mysterious
incidents which [the Cabinet] could have cleared up and did
not, and if the finger of guilt is sometimes pointed at them
they have only themselves to blame
                                – John M Feehan  “

TG4’s documentary is really quite revealing about Ernest Blythe’s role in these events; although, perhaps at times, unintentionally so.

Enigma De Blaghad / The Enigma of Blythe
a documentary by TG4
to air again 7:15 PM Sunday 19 April 2015
/ DeDonaigh 19 Abreann 2015
& might also be seen on the TG4 Player

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

Book Cover - The Assassination of Michael Collins: What Happened at Béal na mBláth?

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Read reviews:

Or ask at your local book shop

The Shooting of Michael Collins by Feehan cover image       “The Shooting of Michael Collins:
          Murder or Accident?
by John M Feehan


Michael Collins by Coogan cover image“Michael Collins
by Tim Pat Coogan