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
Oliver St J Gogarty (signature)”
“The Assassination of Michael Collins:
What Happened At Béal na mBláth?”
by S M Sigerson
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