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   
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www.amazon.com/dp/1493784714

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

 

1949: The Republic of Ireland as we know it becomes official

April 1949 Irish independence headlines

 

18 April 1949, Ireland took the step into a new era: ending the “Irish Free State” as a Dominion within the British Commonwealth (the semi-independence compromise which had ended the Anglo-Irish War 1919-1921 (aka War of Independence / Tan War). Dublin’s new international status went far to vindicate Michael Collins’ position on the controversial 1921 Treaty.

In 1922, just as Ireland rightly revelled in its astounding military and political victory over British occupation, Eamonn DeValera had led the shattering of Ireland’s fledgling independent legislature. He had called on his faction within the Dail to follow him in leaving the new Dublin establishment en masse.

Their issue? They declared that it was traitrous for Irish nationalists to accept the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, as a stepping stone toward complete self-determination.

That disastrous split earned DeValera the notorious tag “architect of the Civil War”: that horrific debacle which transformed Ireland’s brilliant triumph into tragedy, slaughtering many of the War of Independence’ greatest leaders and activists. It profoundly undermined the young nation’s unity, integrity, and social justice; leaving “Ireland broken for generations.”

1949 Dublin celebrates Republic of Ireland declaration

Yet 1949 at last saw the formal, complete withdrawal from the British Empire of Irish soil (excepting the six counties of Northern Ireland.)  Interestingly enough, no single political party of the time can claim credit. It was Dublin’s very first Inter-Party Government, headed by John A. Costello, which acheived that bold stroke on the pages of history.

This largely proved the validity of Michael Collins’ arguments, that the 1921 Treaty be used as a stepping stone in the on-going struggle for complete national independence.

Meanwhile that firebrand of freedom, Mr DeValera, although having dominated the Dublin establishment for the preceding 16 years (1932-1948,) had not brought Ireland one millimeter closer either to breaking ties with England; nor to ending the partition of Northern Ireland; (another of the key points over which he had incited the Civil War.)

Soon after the 1949 declaration, DeValera discreetly retreated from Irish soil; to embark on a worldwide tour lecturing about partition. (Perhaps not unlike his previous retreat from Ireland for the duration of the War of Independence; also for an extended speaking tour overseas.)

And how is it that in 1922, Mr DeValera had just happened to be at the very same obscure, back-country crossroads, within hours of Michael Collins’ being shot down there?

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/

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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/

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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:
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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

 

Harry Boland and Michael Collins: were their deaths connected?

photo of Harry Boland

Harry Boland

 

Harry Boland TD, a Volunteer since 1913, was a close friend and associate of Michael Collins; and, like him, a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (“IRB”) 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.

(Following are excerpts from the book “The Assassination of Michael Collins: What happened at Beal na mBlath?“)

Chances are about a million to one 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…

Boland’s death took place in the very opening days of the Civil 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 Ireland’s victorious War of Independence army…

TDs are not to be shot  **

During the dreadful first week of civil war [Boland] was constantly moving between DeValera and Collins trying to patch up a truce.” And the Free State authorities were still pursuing a “policy of moderation” in “hopes of a negotiated settlement.”

On 17 July 1922, shortly before Boland’s death, the Provisional Government had made a unanimous decision “on advice from Collins“, not to arrest elected representatives, propagandists, nor “mere political suspects … except of course, those actually captured in arms.” The date of this resolution, particularly urged by Collins, was just days before the incident which took Boland’s life.

Official policy was in place: no arrests of TDs, nor of unarmed political opponents. Boland was unarmed when taken. This was never disputed by either side. Why then was a military manoeuvre mounted to seize him?

Collins’ well-known letter to Harry of 28 July explicitly states that he “cannot” bring himself to have his friend arrested.

Yet two days later, on the 30th, Boland was taken: apparently as part of an elaborately well-planned siege, which could not have been mounted without considerable advance preparation.

What happened is only discernible through a haze of conflicting reports. (A confusion which resonates disturbingly with the tangle of tales around Béal na mBláth.)

[ ** “TD” is the abbreviation for the Irish term “Teachta Dalá“, which means deputy to the Dáil, a member of the Irish national legislature: equivalent to a Member of Parliament (MP) in Britain, or Congressman in the USA.]

Read moreBook cover image - 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

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:
cover image - Harry Boland's Irish RevolutionHarry Boland’s Irish Revolution

by David Fitzpatrick

https://www.corkuniversitypress.com/Harry-Bolands-Irish-Revolution-p/9781859183861.htm

 

Related post at this blog: “Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins: were their deaths connected?

https://collinsassassination.wordpress.com/2015/08/12/arthur-griffith-…deaths-connected/

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The coverup of Michael Collins’ assassination continues

photo of Michael Collins courtesy of Collins Press

courtesy of Collins Press

Like myths, books can either illuminate facts, or obscure them.  In the run-up to the Centenaries of Ireland’s War of Independence (1919-1921) & Civil War (1922-1923), the battle of ideas has begun.
Are some new books part of the same old coverup? How to tell good books from other kinds? S M Sigerson, author of “The Assassination of Michael Coliins: What Happened at Béal na mBláth?” (and of this blog) asks and answers these questions; and talks about the experience of chronicling the death of Collins.

Writing about Michael Collins tends to fall into three categories: The first (and best) is by authors whose aim is to enable the public, and future historians, to better understand what happened: by providing information, perspective, analysis, and other investigative tools. Such authors present their own opinions on the case in this context, as opinions, while encouraging further research and critique.

The second category would be by authors whose chief purpose is to focus on their own particular theory of what happened; who aim to persuade us that their theory is the right one. Whether it is or not, they, too, often unearth valuable research and raise important issues.

Within the second is a third, more suspect group, such as often crops up where politics are concerned: written with intent to discredit an individual, a political movement, etc. Created, that is, in order to obscure the facts. These may come disguised, to attract an unsuspecting public: proclaiming themselves as fearless exposés; and/or masking their intent with dulcet language of objectivity, scientific method, etc.  Some have even come decorated by academic credentials from lofty institutions.

As we approach the 2022 Centenary of Michael Collins’ death, this third type of commentary has begun to rear its ugly head. Much in the style of “fake news” and outrageous fabrications with which powerful and dangerous elements have lately bombarded the public, from the highest places, such sprurious studies aim to create general confusion. Confusion which, in turn, disarms criticism and resistance. Resistance to … most questionable proceedings indeed.

Such works and the writers thereof, being otherwise beneath our notice, shall remain nameless here.

Writing about the death of Collins

What I here make public has, after a long and scrupulous inquiry, seemed to me evidently true … Whether it be so or no, I am content the reader should impartially examine.      – George Berkeley

This writer came to Michael Collins’ story with a mind as nearly completely open as could be found, in anyone who cares enough to write about it at all. Not having grown up in Ireland, there was no pressure of Civil War loyalties to either side, in my background.

Nor had I any preconception whatever as to how he died. At first, I accepted the sketchy standard version which appears in most biographies of him. As my interest and acquaintance with the topic grew deeper, I gradually became dissatisfied with that version. Initially, only a little dissatisfied; until at last I grew convinced that his death had not been adequately investigated; neither at the time it happened, nor subsequently by historians.

It also became clear that Collins’ end can only be discussed intelligently, with a working understanding of both sides in the Civil War. In my own writing, I sought to present both sides, in a style digestible not only for general readers, but also for enthusiasts who might sympathize with either the pro-Treaty or anti-Treaty viewpoints: trying to give equal time to both, and letting them speak for themselves in their own words, as much as possible.

It is the practice of some more cynical commentators (described above,) to attack anyone who tries to do so, as a dangerous, wild-eyed partisan; that is, anyone who does not participate in silencing one side of the discussion.

People in Ireland are well-used to this technique; with which they have been sadly acquainted ad nauseum throughout The Troubles of the 20th century; and in the surrounding debate, ever since.

S M Sigerson’s work, obviously written from the heart, is a valuable contribution to the literature on Michael Collins and should be available in any self-respecting Irish library.             – Tim Pat Coogan

I trust in the public, in future generations, and in the passage of time, to ultimately sort true from false, among conflicting claims about the life and death of Michael Collins.

I call for a full catalog and compendium of Collins’ own letters and writings, which are infinitely more valuable to history than anything that subsequent writers can say about him. Looking forward to the 2022 Centenary, I again urge all individuals and institutions holding such materials, to cooperate in realizing this, with speed.

I also repeat my call for an independent forensic examination of his remains; which could conclusively answer many points now debated in theory.

I encourage those with an interest to examine all writings about Michael Collins.
Then, you be the judge.

Read more:
The Assassination of Michael Collins:
What Happened At Béal na mBláth?”
Book cover image - 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/

Or ask at your local book shop

Also see:
“Studying the death of Michael Collins:
Deception, evasion, and perception”
www.academia.edu/34795377/Studying_the_death_of_Michael_Collins_1890_-_1922_.rtf