Michael Collins’ “Squad”: “No man shot without full proof of his guilt”

 

Photo of "The Squad" ca 1920

                                Members of “The Squad” ca. 1920

Discussions about the history of Ireland tend to be fraught with political debate.  Sometimes with moral debate; sometimes with politics masquerading as moral debate.  While killings before 1922 by the British Empire in Ireland are rarely questioned, any corresponding blows struck by Irish forces seem to awaken an agonized conscience, from quite unexpected quarters.  “The Squad” is one of the hottest topics of this kind: Michael Collins’ elite unit for executing secretive “spies and informers” of a violent foreign occupation force.

Along with Liam Tobin and Tom Cullen, Frank Thornton was the third in Collins’ innermost team of associates at GHQ.  While the shooters themselves may have understood the reasons for any particular “job” in only a general sense, Thornton avers that each order had to be confirmed by a Joint meeting of the Dáil Cabinet.

The following excerpt from his 60-page Witness Statement (No. 0615), Bureau of Military History, bids fair to allay any ambiguity about how the Squad’s targets were chosen: .

“The British at this time, realising that the terrorism of the Black an’Tans’ burning and looting was not going to succeed unless they could actually put their finger on our Headquarters Staff and eliminate us in that way. With that end in view they aimed to set up a full time Secret Service outside of the army, working on proper continental Lines with a Central Headquarters and other houses forming minor centres scattered all throughout the city in which they operated…

“I had the honour to be in charge of that particular job of compiling all that information and got the very unenvious job of presenting my full report to a Joint meeting of the Dáll Cabinet and Army Council, at which meeting I had to prove that each and every man on my list was an accredited Secret Serviceman of the British Government. This, as everybody can realise, was not an easy task, but proves one thing: that is, that our Government and our Army were not going to allow any man to be shot without the fullest possible proof being produced of his guilt. Our men have been referred to as the “murder gang” from time to time by our enemy, but I can assure you that whether in the Brigades throughout the country or here in Dublin, no man was ever shot during the Tan War except in an open fight and a fair fight, unless he had first received the benefit of a full court-martial. Very often as you know it was not possible to have the man present at his own court martial, but what I mean to convey is that the proof had to be absolutely a full 100% watertight before any action could be taken.”

You can read more of Thornton’s fascinating inside story of Michael Collins’ GHQ operations throughout the War of Independence here:
Frank Thornton’s Witness Statement in full – Bureau of Military History

photo of Frank Thornton ca 1922

        Frank Thornton ca 1922

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

The Assassination of Michael Collins: Which ones lied?

photo of Cork Flying Column

Cork Flying Column

There are a number of reasons why Michael Collins’ death continues to be viewed by many as suspicious and unsolved. The most obvious is the eye-witness testimony: no two witnesses’ statements are alike. Each and every one contradicts the others.

Having enjoyed the honor to be both quoted, and flagrantly misquoted, in a recent work on the topic, the author of the book “The Assassination of Michael Collins: What Happened at Béal na mBláth?” offers the following excerpts of what it actually says:

“Well, here you have a fair collection of statements from eyewitnesses, each contradicting the other on vital and significant points, and none of which can be accepted as a completely reliable version.”     – John M Feehan

Some observations we can make with confidence at this point:

1) Not all these inconsistencies can be attributed to the lapse of time, differences of photo of gathering at Beal na mBlath day after death of Collinsperspective, or even carelessness. That is to say:

2) They cannot all be telling the truth, Which is to say:

3) Some of them were lying.

These answers, as answers often do, raise questions:

photo of John Mcpeak 4) Which one(s) lied?

5) Why did they lie?

6) Did some have more reason to lie than others?

7) If two mutually negating points are both corroborated by more than one witness, how can we tell which is correct? (i.e. The convoy came under machine gun fire; the convoy did not come under machine gun fire.)

8) Can we decipher the answers to these questions from the information before us?

photo of Emmet Dalton

Emmet Dalton

If we compare all the testimony’s various contradictions and corroborations, in light of the possible interests and pressures at work in each case, we may separate out some chaff: Which witnesses have adhered only to facts which

were within their own knowledge? Which ones report events which happened when they were not present? Does the statement demonstrate that they were “coached” as to what to say? Did some deponents have reason to lie? Did some others have less reason? Do they stray so far from verifiable facts as to invalidate their testimony altogether?

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

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

Béal na mBláth Annual Commemoration

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

photo of Beal na mBlath Commemoration

Michael Collins was one of the founding fathers of modern Ireland: soldier and statesman, chief strategist of the War of Independence, and co-author of the Constitution.  His official titles at various times included Chairman of the Provisional Government, Minister for Finance, Director of Intelligence, and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.

Why have people gathered at Béal na mBláth, every year, since he died there in August 1922?

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.

Annual Michael Collins Commemoration
2019
Sunday 25 August 3PM

by the monument, at the ambush site
Béal na mBláth
near 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) **

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”). Recent years have seen the first time the oration has been given by Ireland’s serving President and by the Taoiseach (Prime Minister).

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