Michael Collins, He For She: his early support for women’s rights

 

 

photo of Maryann O'Brien Collins and family co 1900

Michael’s mother Maryann O’Brien Collins, a married sister, and his grandmother Johanna McCarthy O’Brien co 1900

Among the great volume of commentary on Michael Collins, of all shades and quality, his intimate personal relationships, especially with women, have been a favorite focus for the lamentable number whose appetite for lurid gossip exceeds meticulous adherence to facts.

In honor of International Women’s Day, this excellent overview of Collins’ close connections with strong women and the women’s movement of his time is by P Prowler.

The product of a household headed by a hard-working single mother (after his aged father’s death when Michael was no more than seven,) Collins needed no lectures on women’s leadership potential.  His own highly competent, nurturing mother managed the family farm, labourers, construction crews; while doing much to encourage and support seven of her children in pursuing successful careers away from the farm. All while earning praise as “a hostess in ten thousand.”  Four sisters, much older than he, all doted on “The Big Fella,” as they affectionately dubbed the baby of the family,

The formative role of these many strong, competent, loving women in his childhood and youth produced a man who deeply respected women and thrived on female company of all ages. It also sometimes manifested in sensitive, nurturing care toward those he was responsible for. His qualifications of this kind were exemplified in his appointment as aide-de-camp to 1916 Rising organizer Joseph Plunkett, whose chronic health problems were a challenge to his presence at The Rising’s headquarters in the General Post Office.

It is perhaps no coincidence, therefore, that we have a woman to thank for the role Collins subsequently played in national events. Following the Rising, it was Thomas Clarke’s widow, Kathleen Daly Clarke, who singled out Michael to head up a re-organizition of the Irish Volunteers, for another go.  A good call, as it proved; for during Collins’ tenure at the helm (and at no other time, before or since,) Ireland won its greatest victories to date against the British Empire’s unwelcome colonial occupation.

photo of Kathleen ClarkeCollins’ lifetime exactly coincided with a period of aggressive, mass agitation for women’s rights. The female suffrage movement was in Ireland often closely linked with the campaign for Irish independence. Many proponents belonged to both “camps”. Full enfranchisement for women became enshrined in the 1916 Proclamation, the legal founding document of the Republic of Ireland. It was the modern world’s first national declaration to do so. This was the political climate in which Collins grew up and prospered. Yet he remained one of the few great men of the time who did not omit to use gender-inclusive language in his speeches, and to explicitly acknowledge women’s contributions and concerns on a regular basis therein.

All of this belies the far-fetched “Mick the misogynist” quip which has been occasionally offered, (along with every vice and virtue that could be image of poster Irish Women's Franchise Leagueattributed to him.)

Collins’ predecessor in the independence movement, Charles Stuart Parnell, was defeated by a sexual scandal. Collins’ detractors have occasionally attempted to raise similar issues. Reported to have sown some wild oats during his teen career in London (albeit while living under the roof of an older sister,) no scandal concerning his sexual life has ever been substantiated.

His intimate connections appear to have been no less healthy, vigorous, and well-conducted than other aspects of his life: his relations with women affectionate and normal, providing no evidence either of inexperience, excess or aberration.

At the same time, he may be said to have been never without female companionship. He carried on dating and epistolary relationships with a number of women such as Susan Kileen and “Dilly” Dicker, who also worked with him in positions of great trust during the struggle for independence. Their correspondence shows that they remained on friendly terms until the end of his life.

In 1921-22, he became engaged to Kitty Kiernan,[36] and made plans for a normal family life after the war. Of their voluminous correspondence, more than 241 letters survive. They provide an important record, not only of their intimacy, but of his daily life.

Detailing his exhausting schedule, during the concurrent national crisis, their letters chronicle the challenges the couple faced in getting quality time together, under the circumstances. In so doing, they prove it quite doubtful that he could have simultaneously devoted much attention to any additional liaison. Allegations of affair(s) with English society women at this same time are unsubstantiated, and fraught with suspicious political connotations. Those concerning Hazel Lavery originate chiefly with that lady herself, and are unsupported by comparable evidence.

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

The Assassination of Michael Collins: What Happened at Béal na mBláth? by S M Sigerson - Cover Imageby S M Sigerson

Paperback or Kindle edition here:
www.amazon.com/dp/1493784714

All other e-reader formats:
www.smashwords.com/books/view/433954

Read reviews:
http://www.rabidreaders.com/2014/12/03/assassination-michael-collins-s-m-sigerson-2/

Or ask at your local book shop

Also see:
“Michael Collins and the Women Who Spied For Ireland”

Cover image for book "Michael Collins and the women who spied for Ireland"

 

 

 

 

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/157333.Michael_Collins_and_the_Women_Who_Spied_for_Ireland

“Michael Collins and the Women in His Life”

Book cover image: "Michael Collins and the women in his life"

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/157335.Michael_Collins_and_the_Women_in_His_Life

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Private John McPeak – the armoured car gunner

photo of Private John McPeak

Private John McPeak

Private Jock McPeak was the machine-gun operator in the armored car; which followed immediately behind Commander-in-Chief Michael Collins’ touring car, during the fatal ambush at Béal na mBláth. A British soldier himself right up until the Truce, he has been the subject of considerable speculation, for his central position at the much-disputed Vickers machine gun; as well as for extraordinary turncoat adventures and criminal convictions, in the wake of Collins’ death.  Following excerpts from the book “The Assassination of Michael Collins: What Happened at Béal na mBláth?” offer a nutshell of McPeak’s enigmatic story:

As the gunner who operated the Vickers machine gun in the turret of the armoured car, McPeak, his conduct, and the performance of that gun, are most central to events at Béal na mBláth. Upon close scrutiny, his actions and words cast conspicuous doubt upon his veracity and character; including the key question of whether McPeak’s gun worked fine, or malfunctioned.

McPeak was one of those most directly responsible for the protection of the C-in-C’s invaluable life, and physically nearest to him at the moment of his suspicious death. He was reportedly the object of acute suspicion among fellow Free State soldiers; suspicion which seemed justified soon after by his desertion and theft of the armoured car.

In view of all the mysterious factors connected with him, hardly any other conclusion would be reasonable but that, if Collins met his fate through the agency of traitors in his own bodyguard, then McPeak was either involved, or had some knowledge of what happened. If so, his account published in 1971 might be expected to contain inaccuracies, calculated to conceal something he knew. (That is, he would be one who may have lied, had more reason to lie than others, etc.)

There are a number of wild rumours about McPeak, ostensibly coming from former Free State soldiers. These include reports that he was accused, interrogated, beaten, and charged with Michael Collins’ murder (but that charges were dropped for lack of evidence.) Others said that, in his cups, McPeak boasted that he had killed Collins. Another witness claims that McPeak admitted the C-in-C fell “accidentally” to “friendly fire”.

The truth is the strangest tale of all: three months after the ambush, the Irish Civil War still raging, McPeak deserted the Free State Army, and joined the anti-Treaty side. In doing so, he just happened to drive away, not with just any armoured car, but that one in particular, which took such an important part in the ambush where Collins died.

A number of plausible explanations were offered for this extraordinary theft of army property. But none of them are nearly so likely, as that his absconding with that great hulking piece of evidence had to do with that single most important event connected with it, and with him: the C-in-C’s untimely demise.

Could an examination of the armoured car and its machine gun turret have cast doubt on someone’s version of what happened?

Read more
The Assassination of Michael Collins:
What Happened At Béal na mBláth?”
The Assassination of Michael Collins: What Happened at Béal na mBláth? by S M Sigerson - Cover Image

by S M Sigerson

Paperback or Kindle edition here:
www.amazon.com/dp/1493784714

All other e-reader formats:
www.smashwords.com/books/view/433954

Read reviews:
http://www.rabidreaders.com/2014/12/03/assassination-michael-collins-s-m-sigerson-2/

Or ask at your local book shop

Oliver St John Gogarty: Witness Statement #700 – Bureau of Military History

portrait of Oliver St John Gogarty (image courtesy of prabook.com)

Oliver St John Gogarty (image courtesy of prabook.com)

Dr Oliver St John Gogarty cut an enigmatic figure in Ireland’s early 20th century renaissance; turning up in the background of great works (such as James Joyce’ “Ulysses”) and great deeds (in the War of Independence.) A medical doctor, he counted W B Yeats among his patients.  After meeting Arthur Griffith, he became a founding member of Sinn Fein. A poet of the Irish literary revival, he also served as a Senator in Dublin’s early Senate; and was still writing and publishing in the 1950s.

His comments on the death of Michael Collins (included below) are particularly interesting to historians, not only as Collins’s personal friend and physician.  It was Gogarty’s melancholy duty to prepare Collins’ remains for burial.  Witnesses recount his penetrating remarks, as he pointed out to Collins’ family and friends the young General’s fatal wounds, before the lying-in-state.  Although reputed to have performed an autopsy as well, no report by him as medical examiner seems to have survived.  (One of many startling mysteries concerning records of the Commander-in-Chief’s untimely loss.)

Gogarty’s own views on this topic have been difficult to pin down; until the recent release of the Bureau of Military History’s files on the War of Independence and Civil War.  His Witness Statement (below) is the only official documentation of his assessment of Collins’ end.  It must carry considerable weight; especially in view of its having been made in strictest confidence, as not to be released in his lifetime.

(The text below constitutes Doctor Gogarty’s Witness Statement in its entirety.  Note the Bureau’s notation of his “Identity”.)

Identity: Close associate of Michael Collins

Subject: Placing of his home at Michael Collins’ disposal as a hiding place

June 19th, 1952

When the Black and Tans behaved in such an excited and unsoldierly way by endangering my daughter’s life when she was playing in St Stephen’s Green, I resolved to give all the help in my power to the Resistance movement headed by Michael Collins. His confidante, Batt O’Connor was a patient of mine. To him I gave whatever gold I could come by for his reserve which was in a metal box cemented into a wall at Donnybrook where Batt O’Connor was building at the time. I also gave him a latch key of my house, 15 Ely Place and prepared that apparently impassible cul de sac so that Collins, if hard pressed, could use my garden and appear in St Stephen’s Green. There was a passage between the Board of Works and the Church Representative Body house that, through a wicket, gave on to the Green. In order to facilitate the scaling of the wall I had some cases of petrol placed against it under a large ash tree in the garden. These preparations were passed on by Batt O’Connor to Michael Collins and his thanks conveyed.

Collins was an infrequent caller at my house. Emmet Dalton handed me back the latch key which he took from the blood-stained tunic of General Collins, who was murdered by the instigator of the Civil War.

You are at liberty to make whatever use of this you may find good.
Believe me to remain
With every good wish for you and the work
Yours sincerely,
Oliver St J Gogarty (signature)”

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

The Assassination of Michael Collins: What Happened at Béal na mBláth? by S M Sigerson - Cover Image

by S M Sigerson
Paperback or Kindle edition here:
www.amazon.com/dp/1493784714

All other e-reader formats:
www.smashwords.com/books/view/433954

Read reviews:
http://www.rabidreaders.com/2014/12/03/assassination-michael-collins-s-m-sigerson-2/

Or ask at your local book shop

Béal na mBláth Annual Commemoration

photo of Beal na mBlath Commemoration

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

Béal na mBláth Annual Commemoration
(Anniversary of the death of Michael Collins)
Sunday 19 August 3PM 2018
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?

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 Former President Mary Robinson, as well as (Collns’ grandnieces) former legislator Helen Collins, and former Minister for Justice Nora Owen (now presenter of TV3’s “Midweek”). In 2012, the 90th anniversary marked the first time that the oration was given by a serving Taoiseach.

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

Visit the Commemoration website:
http://www.bealnamblathcommemoration.comBéal-na-mBláth-book COVER

 

Commemorative edition: 90th Anniversary pictorial history
http://www.bealnamblathcommemoration.com/buy-the-book/

 

Book cover - Michael Collins & the Making of the Irish State

 

** Read the rest of Mary Banotti’s chapter in
Michael Collins and the Making of the Irish State
(Gabriel Doherty & Dermot Keogh, editors)
http://www.mercierpress.ie/irish-books/michael_collins_and_the_making_of_the_irish_state/

 

*** Read more:

“The Assassination of Michael Collins:
What Happened At Béal na mBláth?”
by S M Sigerson
www.amazon.com/dp/1493784714 
(Paperback or Kindle)

For all other e-reader formats:
www.smashwords.com/books/view/433954

 OR ASK AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSHOP
Assassination of Michael Collins COVER

(Note: This blog post may be updated annually, with the current year’s commemoration date & other information.  Thanks for visiting!)