Beal na mBlath
Мар 13, 2017 // By:maximios // No Comment
Béal na mBláth, Co. Cork (Usually translated as ‘The Mouth of Flowers’ or ‘The
Pass of the Flowers’.)
Collins’ fatal itinerary, 20‒22 August 1922:
Collins’ convoy left Portobello Barracks, Dublin, at 5.15 am on Sunday, 20 August
1922, and made its first stop at Portlaoise Barracks where Collins discussed transferring
some of the prisoners there to Gormanstown camp to relieve the overcrowded
conditions. Then the convoy headed to Roscrea Barracks for an inspection and
breakfast. At Limerick Barracks they were met by the O/C Southern Command,
Gen. Eoin O’Duffy, and the two men discussed Collins’ belief that the Civil War
would soon be over and that Collins wanted to avoid any rancour. The convoy
then headed through Mallow, and spent that night in Cork City, where he stayed
at the military HQ in the Imperial Hotel. There Collins met his sister, Mary
Collins-Powell, and his nephew Seán Collins-Powell who asked if he could accompany
his uncle. Collins replied ‘You have your job to do and I have mine.’818 The
rest of the evening was spent in consultation with the O/C of the area, Gen. Emmet
Dalton. Most of the escort spent the evening in the Victoria Hotel.
On Monday, 21 August, Collins again visited his sister, then he and Gen. Dalton
went to The Cork Examiner to discuss the general Free State position on publicity
with the editor, Tom Crosbie. After lunch at the Imperial, they headed out to
review the military in Cobh, and then returned to Cork in early evening.
Collins’ party left the Imperial Hotel, Cork, at 6.16 am on Tuesday, 22 August.
That day, the convoy included the following:
A motorcyclist, Lt John ‘Jeersey’ Smyth (from Enniscorthy). He was shot
in the neck while helping to move Collins’ body, but continued on his
A Crossley Tender under the command of Cmdt Seán (Paddy) O’Connell
(he said the Act of Contrition in Collins’ ear), Cpt. Joe Dolan, Sgt Cooney,
John O’Connell819 (the driver) and eight riflemen.
Collins and Emmet Dalton820 in a yellow Leland Thomas touring car.
The driver was Pvt. Michael Smith Corry (English born)821 and the reserve
driver was M. Quinn.
A Rolls Royce Whippet armoured car, named the Slievenamon. Jim
Wolfe was the driver, Jimmy ‘Wiggy’ Fortune the co-driver. The Vickers’
gunner on the armoured car was John (Jock) McPeake. (He deserted on
818 Maj. Gen. Collins-Powell vividly describes the meetings in Hang Up Your Brightest Colors, Video by
Kenneth Griffith, 1966. 819 O’Connell’s account provides the basis for the description of the day’s travels
of the convoy and the ambush as related in Taylor, Rex, Michael Collins, 1958, p. 242 ff. 820 Gen. Dalton’s
account was published in the Freeman’s Journal, 27 August 1922, and reprinted as Appendix J in Taylor, ibid,
p. 321. 821 Corry’s account is Appendix I in Taylor, ibid, p. 320.
2 December 1922 with Pat and Mick O’Sullivan and took the armoured
car to the IRA/Republicans; he said he did it for a woman. He was arrested
in Glasgow in July 1923 and was imprisoned in Portlaoise where he endured
an hunger strike). Cooney and Monks were the other members of the
armoured car crew.
The convoy went through Macroom, where Collins met Florrie O’Donoghue 822,
then to Crookstown and having passed through Béal na mBláth at 8 am it stopped
to get directions. At Bandon Collins briefly met with Maj. Gen. Seán Hales. At
Clonakilty the convoy stopped for lunch at Callinan’s Pub. In the afternoon the
convoy went to Roscarberry and Collins had a drink in the Four Alls Pub (owned
by his cousin Jeremiah) at Sam’s Cross where Collins declared: ‘I’m going to put
an end to this bloody war.’
(There was a sign over the pub door showing four pictures with the inscriptions:
‘I rule all [King]
I pray for all [Bishop]
I fight for all [Croppy Boy]
I pay for all [Farmer]’)
The convoy left Skibbereen at 5 pm and headed back to Cork. Collins met his
great friend John L. Sullivan on this journey.823 The convoy detoured around
Clonakilty on the way back because of a roadblock. It stopped at Lee’s Hotel
(Munster Arms) in Bandon for tea. Gen. Seán Hales was in command here. His
brother, Tom Hales,824 was the column leader on the other side and led the IRA/
The ambush party met in Long’s Pub (owned by Denis Long, who was the
‘lookout’ for Collins’ party as it passed through Béal na mBláth in the morning).825
Originally, the ambush party numbered between 25 and 30, including, according
to varying sources, Dinny Brien, Pat Buttimer, John Callaghan, Dan Corcoran,
Jim Crowley, Seán Culhane, Liam Deasy, Bill Desmond, Bobs Doherty, Mike (O’)
Donoghue, Sonny Donovan, Charley Foley, Tom Foley (he collected the gelignite
which had been taken for the mine and was hidden in John Lordan’s house),
822 Florence O’Donoghue Papers, Manuscript 31, p. 305, National Library of Ireland. Collins met
O’Donoghue in Macroom, and the notes in O’Donoghue’s papers include most of the names of those in the
ambush ‘party’. 823 See Griffith and O’Grady, Ireland’s Unfinished Revolution, 1982, p. 293-4. 824 Hales,
Tom. Witness Statement 20. 825 There is no consensus on who or even how many were in the ambush party
during the day or at the time of shooting. Early in the day, the party set an ambush with a cart across the
road, laid a mine, and waited all day for the column’s return, but then dismantled the mine and was in the
process of moving the cart when Collins’ column came upon them. It has been said there were many more
IRA/Republicans in the ambush party during the day, but by the time of the arrival of Collins it is thought
there were only 4 members left in the ambush party with 3 other groups of 2‒3 men ‘passing through’,
including Liam Deasy and his Deputy Tom Crofts who walked through about 7.00 pm.
Shawno Galvin, Tom Hales, Daniel Holland (O/C 1st Battalion), Jim Hurley, Seán
Hyde, Jim Kearney (an engineer, he helped set the mine), Pete Kearney (O/C 3rd
Battalion), Tom Kelleher (Cmdt Gen. 1st Southern Division), John Lordan, Con
Lucey, Jeremiah Mahoney, Con Murphy, Joe Murphy, John O’Callahan (he was
the 1st Battalion Engineer and was in control of the mine which was buried in the
road), C. O’Donoghue, Denis (Sonny) O’Neill (from Maryborough, Co. Cork, who
was to provide covering fire to retreating IRA ambush members), Jim Ormond,
Tadhg O’Sullivan, Bill Powell, Tim Sullivan (an engineer, he helped set the mine),
and Paddy Walsh.826 827 828 829
The ambush took place at Béal na mBláth (between Macroom and Bandon but
closer to Crookstown than Bandon) just before sunset, at 7.30 pm.
Most agree Denis (Sonny) O’Neill fired the fatal shot, however he never publicly
indicated he did so.830 831 832 833 834 835 836
On the way into Cork City, Dalton stopped the convoy at the Sacred Heart
Mission at Victoria Cross. Here Fr O’Brien administered the Last Rites to Collins.
Then the convoy headed back to the Imperial Hotel, where Dalton, Cmdt
O’Connell, Sgt Cooney and Lt Gough went into the Hotel to inform Dr Leo
Ahern and asked him to take charge of the body.
Maj. Gen. Dr Leo Ahern first examined Collins’ body when it was brought to
the Imperial Hotel, and then at Shanakiel Hospital. He was the first doctor to
examine the body and pronounced Collins dead. His examination found a large,
gaping wound ‘to the right of the poll. There was no other wound. There was
definitely no wound in the forehead.’837
From the Hotel Collins’ body was taken to Shanakiel Hospital in Cork, escorted
by Cmdt O’Connell and Cmdt O’Friel.838
Dr Michael Riordan was detailed by Dr Ahern to examine and prepare the body,
and they conducted the autopsy. Dr Christy Kelly was present during a thorough
second examination later and confirmed a huge wound on the right side behind
the ear, with no exit wound.839 (In contrast, Dr Patrick Cagney, a British surgeon
in the British army during the war who had a wide knowledge of gunshot wounds
and who examined the body later confirmed there was an entry wound as well as
a large exit wound.840)
826 O’Donoghue, Florence. Witness Statement 554. 827 Ryan, Meda. The Day Michael Collins Was Shot,
1989, pp. 191-92. 828 Twohig, Patrick J. The Dark Secret of Béal na mBláth, 1991, p. 16. 829 Ó Cuinneagain,
Michael. On the Arm of Time: Ireland 1916-1922. 1992, p. 79-105. 830 Ryan, Meda. Op. cit., p. 125, 145.
Throughout her book she identifies him as Sonny ‘Neill’. 831 Twohig. The Dark Secret of Béal na mBláth,
p. 284. 832 Coogan, Tim Pat. Michael Collins, 1992, p. 418. 833 Mackay, James. Michael Collins, 1996, p. 289.
834 Ryan, Ray. ‘The Man Who Stood Next to Collins’ Killer’, The Cork Examiner, 5 November 1985.
835 However, see also Twohig, Patrick J. The Dark Secret of Béal na mBláth, p. 106 and 158. 836 John Feehan
writes ‘It was certainly not Sonny O’Neill’. (Emphasis added). Feehan. The Shooting of Michael Collins, 1981,
1991, p. 129 ff, p. 133. He declines to name anyone in particular. 837 Ryan, Meda. Op cit., p. 138-9. 838 Cork
Examiner, 24 August 1922. 839 Ryan, Meda. Op cit., p. 138-9. 840 Feehan. Op. cit., p. 95.
Collins’ death was not officially registered.
Eleanor Gordon, Matron of Shanakiel Hospital, cleaned and attended to Collins’
wounds and also later testified to the nature of the wounds. His body was first
taken to room 201, then to room 121 after the autopsy where Free State soldiers
guarded it until taken to the ship for transport to Dublin.
The steamship SS Classic (later known as the SS Kilbarry) left Penrose Quay in
Cork and brought Collins’ body from Cork to Dublin841. Gen. Dalton sent this
handwritten telegram from the Cork GPO to The Dublin HQ:
CHIEF OF STAFF
COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF SHOT DEAD IN AMBUSH AT
BEALNABLATH NEAR BANDON 6.30 [sic] TUESDAY EVENING
WITH ME, ALSO ONE MAN WOUNDED. REMAINS LEAVING
BY CLASSIC FOR DUBLIN TODAY WEDNESDAY NOON.
ARRANGE TO MEET. REPLY DALTON.842 843 844 845
As the vessel passed down channel from Cork it passed the assembled remaining
British naval vessels, upon the decks of which the British sailors mustered, saluted,
and ‘The Last Post’ played.846
Though he was within a few miles of Béal na mBláth on the day Collins was
killed, Éamon de Valera had hoped to meet him, but no plan had been made.
Moreover, de Valera had had no involvement in the ambush; he had little political
influence on the IRA/Republicans at the time, and no military influence at all.
The most reliable evidence indicates de Valera went to Long’s Pub and tried to prevent
the ambush, but was rebuffed by the IRA. Liam Lynch, O/C of the IRA, specifically
had given orders that de Valera’s efforts to cease hostilities should not be encouraged.
Despite rumour and innuendo there is no evidence that de Valera was involved in
the planning of the ambush being laid for Collins. Later de Valera was quoted:
‘What a pity I didn’t meet him.’ And ‘It would be bad if anything happens to
Collins, his place will be taken by weaker men.’847
On the morning of 23 August Gen. Richard Mulcahy, as Free State Army Chief
of Staff issued the following message to the Army;
841 Ryan, Meda. Op cit., p. 117, 195. 842 Taylor names the vessel the SS Innisfallen. Taylor, Rex,. Michael
Collins, 1958, p. 255. 843 Younger also names it the SS Innisfallen. Younger, Calton. Ireland’s Civil War, 1968,
p. 444. 844 O’Farrell also identifies the vessel as the SS Innisfallen. O’Farrell, Padraic. Who’s Who, 1997,
p. 166. 845 Gen. Dalton wrote this telegram, and remembered the vessel as the SS Classic, but most sources
report the vessel was the SS Innisfallen. However, the SS Innisfallen was torpedoed and sunk without warning
by a German submarine, U-64, on 23 May 1918, 16 miles east of the Kish Light Vessel. She was on her way
from Liverpool to Cork, and 10 died. 846 Linge, John. ‘The Royal Navy and the Irish Civil War’, Irish
Historical Studies, Vol. XXXI, No. 121, May 1998. 847 Mackay. Op. cit., p. 286.
Stand calmly by your posts. Bend bravely and undaunted to your task.
Let no cruel act of reprisal blemish your bright honour.
Every dark hour that Michael Collins met since 1916 seemed but to steel
that bright strength of his and temper his brave gaity. You are left as
inheritors of that strength and bravery.
To each of you falls his unfinished work. No darkness in the hour: loss
of comrades will daunt you in it.
Ireland! The Army serves – strengthened by its sorrow.848
In Dublin, Collins’ body was taken to St Vincent’s Hospital where Dr Oliver
St John Gogarty embalmed the body849, and had Sir John Lavery paint Collins’
portrait. Albert Power sculpted the death mask.
Collins’ body was taken to the chapel in St Vincent’s on Thursday, 24 August,
then in late evening to Dublin City Hall for the public lying-in-state until Sunday
evening. On Sunday evening his body was removed to the Pro-Cathedral where it
remained under guard overnight.
His funeral Mass was said in the Pro-Cathedral on Monday, with several Bishops
celebrating the Requiem High Mass.
The gun carriage on which the casket was transported to Glasnevin Cemetery
had been borrowed from the British and used in the bombardment of the Four
Courts in June. The Free State Government specially purchased four black artillery
horses from the British to pull the caisson to Glasnevin.
At Collins’ funeral in Glasnevin on Monday, 28 August, Richard Mulcahy, who
would take Collins’ place as Commander in Chief of the Army, delivered the oration:
…Tom Ashe, Tomas MacCurtain, Traolach MacSuibhne, Dick McKee,
Micheal Ó Coileain, and all you who lie buried here, disciples of our
great chief, those of us you leave behind are all, too, grain from the same
handfull, scattered by the hand of the Great Sower over the fruitful Soil
of Ireland. We, too, will bring forth our own fruit. Men and women of
Ireland, we are all mariners on the deep, bound for a port still seen only
through storm and spray, sailing still on a sea full ‘of dangers and hardships,
and bitter toil’. But the Great Sleeper lies smiling in the stern of
the boat, and we shall be filled with that spirit which will walk bravely
upon the waters.850
(See also Appendix III for the entire oration).
The British Press acknowledged Collins’ part in Ireland’s freedom.
The Daily Telegraph wrote:
848 The Irish Times, 24 August 1922. 849 Gogarty confirmed that there were ‘two wounds caused by the fatal
bullet, entry and exit’. Connolly, Colm. Michael Collins, 1996, p. 94. 850 Irish Independent, 29 August 1922.
He was a bitter and implacable enemy of England while the British garrison
remained in Ireland and Ireland was not free to govern herself in
her own way….The dead man, beyond all doubt, was of the stuff of
which great men are made. 851
The Daily Chronicle called him a ‘young and brilliant leader’.852 The Evening
Post described his death as a ‘staggering blow’.853
The London Daily Sketch editorialised so:
The hand that struck down Michael Collins, guided by a blinded patriotism,
has aimed a blow at the unity of Ireland for which every one of
her sons is fighting. Collins was probably the most skilled artisan of the
fabric of a happier Ireland. Certainly he was the most picturesque figure
in the struggle; and in the rearing of a new State a popular ideal serves as
the rallying point to draw the contending elements. The death of Collins
leaves the ship of the Free State without a helmsman.854
The London Times printed the following
After the Treaty was signed Mr Collins showed himself quickly to be
something more than a fighting man. The debates in the Dáil proved
him to be a shrewd man of affairs, with a firm grasp of details, and, what
was very valuable in that hot-bed of sentimentalism, a saving sense of
humour. He was frank, mild, courteous in his dealings with men of all
parties, and even a brief conversation with him left one with the impression
that here was a man who, conscious of his burden of responsibility,
was conscious also of his limitations and would not be too proud to learn.
It is difficult to make any estimate of the effect of Mr Collins’s death in
the immediate course of affairs in Ireland. One thing however is certain.
There can be no further talk, or even whisper, of compromise with the
Republican extremists. This murder will dissipate the last fragment of sympathy
with their cause, will inspire the Army with new resolution, and
will rally the whole force of national opinion solidly behind the Government.
In one sense it is a stricken Government; in another sense it has been
reinforced, for now more than ever the people’s strength will be at its
service. Michael Collins’s blood will help to cement the foundation of
the Free State.855
In a message to William Cosgrave, General Sir Neville Macready, former GOC
851 Daily Telegraph, 23 August 1922. 852 Daily Chronicle, 23 August 1922. 853 Evening Post, 23 August 1922.
854 Daily Sketch, 24 August 1922. 855 The London Times, 24 August 1922.
British troops in Ireland, and the man who turned over Dublin Castle to Collins
earlier in 1922 wrote:
On the many occasions during the last year when we met on official
business I always found him ready and willing to help in all matters that
were brought to his notice in connection with the forces under my
command. I deeply regret that he should not have been spared to see in
a prosperous and peaceful Ireland the accomplishment of his work.856
Collins died intestate, leaving an estate of £1,950.9s.11d, which passed to his
Shane Leslie wrote the following lines:
What is that curling flower of wonder
As white as snow, as red as blood?
When Death goes by in flame and thunder
And rips the beauty from the bud.
They left his blossom white and slender
Beneath Glasnevin’s shaking sod;
His spirit passed like sunset splendour
Unto the dead Fianna’s God.
Good luck be with you, Michael Collins,
Or stay or go you far away;
Or stay you with the folk of fairy,
Or come with ghosts another day.