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

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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

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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

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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

 

May 1922 – Leaders strive to prevent Civil War in Ireland

Photo 1922 meeting of pro- & anti-Treaty army officers, to avert Civil War: left to right Sean McEoin (Pro-Treaty), Sean Moylan (IRA), Eoin O’Duffy (Pro-Treaty), Liam Lynch (IRA), Gearóid O’Sullivan (Pro-Treaty) and Liam Mellows (IRA)

Photo 1922 meeting of pro- & anti-Treaty army officers, to avert Civil War: left to right Sean McEoin, Sean Moylan, Eoin O’Duffy, Liam Lynch, Gearóid O’Sullivan, and Liam Mellows

(Excerpts from the book
The Assassination of Michael Collins: What Happened at Béal na mBlath?“) 

The following statement, known as “The Army Document” was published on 1 May 1922, and signed by equal numbers of both pro- and anti-Treaty officers of the Irish Volunteers / IRA:

“We, the undersigned officers of the IRA, realising the gravity of the present situation in Ireland, and appreciating the fact that if the present drift is maintained a conflict of comrades is inevitable, declare that this would be the greatest calamity in Irish history, and would leave Ireland broken for generations.

“To avert this catastrophe we believe that a closing of the ranks all round is necessary.

“We suggest to all leaders, Army and political, and all citizens and soldiers of Ireland the advisability of a unification of forces on the basis of the acceptance and utilisation of our present national position in the best interests of Ireland, and we require that nothing shall be done that would prejudice our position or dissipate our strength.

“We feel that on this basis alone can the situation best be faced, viz.:

1) The acceptance of the fact – admitted by all sides – that the majority of the people of Ireland are willing to accept the Treaty.
2) An agreed election with a view to
3) Forming a Government which will have the confidence of the whole country.
4) Army unification on above basis ”

[Signed by:]
Dan Breen   Tom Hales    Owen O’Duffy  
H Murphy     S O’Hegerty
Gearoid O’Sullivan  
F O’Donoghue     Sean Boylan
Michael Collins
    RJ Mulcahy

Photo of Dan Breen

Dan Breen

The Civil War by no means broke out instantaneously or thoughtlessly. Tremendous efforts were carried on, for months on end, to avert the outbreak of hostilities. The Army Document (shown in its entirely at the head of this chapter) was only one statement, produced in one round of meetings.

Photo of Tom Hales

Tom Hales

Photo of Florence O'Donoghue (courtesy Irish Academic Press)

Florence O’Donoghue (courtesy Irish Academic Press)

Countless such parlays convened, from January (when the Dáil split) thru June 1922. The most painstaking debates were carried on interminably, by those who had risked every danger together for years. Many strove desperately to find some means of going forward without civil conflict.

Indeed, there is an awesome sense of tragedy, in reviewing the transcripts of these debates: to hear echo again the penetrating observations, poignant pleas, passionate oaths, of the greatest hearts and minds of that heroic era; many of whom would soon be silenced forever. Silenced by the outcome of their own relentless march: into the disaster which they all knew that this war would bring.

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:
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Tim Pat Coogan – historian of 20th century Ireland

photo of Tim Pat Coogan at work (courtesy of independent.ie)

Tim Pat Coogan at work (courtesy of independent.ie)

Tim Pat Coogan is generally recognized as Ireland’s foremost writer on its modern history; encompassing both the Revolutionary Era 1913 – 1923, and subsequent Troubles which continued throughout the 20th century. Being the leading authority in Ireland, it’s safe to say that would make him the greatest authority in the world on these topics.

Recent notorious efforts by certain academics to challenge that supremacy added nothing to their dignity; but served only to affirm Coogan’s unassailable stature as an historian, and popularity with the public.

Coogan is uniquely qualified indeed to explore this terrain. In his capacity as a journalist, he has interviewed, over decades, practically every surviving major participant from the War of Independence and Civil War. His books are the product of vast, minute original research; drawn not only from archival documents, but also from numerous personal contacts. His own family members, who themselves took part in these conflicts, included his father, Eamonn Coogan, who was active in the War of Independence, and served as a deputy commissioner in the post-Civil War government. His mother was among very few women who wrote for the Evening Herald in the 1920s, and was also active in the legendary Abbey Theatre: a hotbed of revolutionary ferment at the time.

Coogan got his start with the Irish Press, rising to the editor’s chair, which he occupied from 1968 – 1987. Yet while owing so much to the DeValera family (Irish Press owners) still his treatment of the Collins-DeValera conflict demonstrates penetrating integrity and fairness. Subsequent writers are deeply indebted to him for his sterling research, and painstaking examination of that controversy.

His landmark 1990 biography of Michael Collins remains, at this writing, head and shoulders above all others. It stands alone in being an authoritative compendium of all previous work on Collins’ life.

The mighty labour of such a detailed, full-scale biography, might necessarily preclude an exhaustive examination of any one particular day, however important. For this reason, despite the awe-inspiring stature of Coogan’s opus, this author has ventured to attempt to add something to his invaluable work, on that particular subject.

His very kind approbation of “The Assassination of Michael Collins: What Happened at Béal na mBláth?” represents for this writer the zenith of all possible praise. So much the more generous, in that the book he commends is by no means entirely uncritical of his own conclusions on the same subject.

 

photo of Tim Pat Coogan

 

www.timpatcoogan.com

http://timpatcoogan.com/books.htm

 

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