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Michael Collins visit to Macroom was ostensibly to meet two nuetral IRA commanders Sean Hegarty (brother of P.S. Hegarty) and Florrie O' Donoghue whose help he canvassed to use their influence and get a ceasefire arranged with the Antitreaty forces under Liam Lynch.
'When the Free State contingent arrived in Macroom the Castle was a shell smouldering with the redolence of dying fire' The spearhead of the advancing forces was a horse drawn crib manned by four men armed with rifles. And the force itself was in character with its vanguard. In dress, deportment, equipment, and transport, it showed that it was an impromptu detachment that had been recruited in haste and committed to active service untrained.
The spruce, trained, and comparatively well equipped Irish Army of today bears no resemblance to its progenitor of 1922' which was but a military baby in a green napkin. In the quasi-military footsore contingent that came to Macroom that evening many of the men wore ill fitting uniforms, and many in civilian attire, looked like freebooters. It was not in general easy to tell an officer from a private, for an officers' caste takes time to evolve. A small, hard core of British soldiers, who had temporarily discarded khaki for green, was conspicuous despite its disguise. Free State enthusiasts, watching that motley array as it made its way up the Main Street, felt that the "Entry of the Gladiators" would have been an appropriate air with which to herald its arrival. Republican sympathisers were of opinion that a dirge on a Pipe and Drum band would have been in keeping with the occasion. An impartial prophet would have recommended the overture to "The Mikado", for Macroom was not unlike the town of Titipu that night. There were Kokos and Pooh-Bahs in plenty, who would have stimulated the satirical streak in the William Schwenck Gilbert, and on the distaff side there were plenty of Yum-Yums, Petti-Sings, Peep-Bos, and Katishas, quite a few of whom were socially and sexually tipsy with visions of bridal processions under archways of drawn swords. And so the Irish Civil War began as a tapestry of tragedy whose weave was shot with threads of burlesque.
Dick Williams's hotel (now Buckleys 'Castle Hotel'), and some other buildings, were promptly occupied and fortified with sandbags. Defensive outposts were established at all entrances to the town. Liquor flowed freely that night, but no blood was shed, though a Republican grenade was thrown into the Main Street from a lane. The retreating I. R. A. had, here and there, in inaccessible positions overlooking the town, stationed marksmen armed with Mausers and those marksmen were for the time being content with making their presence felt by sniping.
On the twelfth of August the new Free State suffered a political set-back, for Arthur Griffith, President of the Provisional Government, died on that date. Griffith, a prosaic little man with good intentions, had initiated the Sinn Fein Movement on lines of passive resistance to British rule in Ireland. The Movement was formally christened on the twenty-eighth of November 1905. It was, perhaps, Ireland's tragedy that Griffith lacked the makings of a Krishna that Mahatma Gandhi had. Gandhi's spiritual iridescence, and strength of character, led India towards freedom, with a minimal shedding of blood. It is said that Griffith, on learning of the plan for Bloody Sunday in Dublin, rebuked Collins by saying:
"Oh no, Michael; not on a Sunday."
Griffith neither had money nor personal ambition. He had to decline a friend's invitation to lunch one day because his only pair of shoes was at the cobbler's.
When William Twomey our gardener came up the rectory avenue towards me the afternoon of the twenty-first of August '1922, I sensed that something unusual was afoot, for he was plainly excited. He was normally a taciturn man. "The Big Fellow is at Williams's Hotel," he said. "He's drinking where the Black and Tans used to drink. The Street is alive with soldiers and people. The world is gone mad." Whenever anything unusual occurred, William invariably ascribed the event to universal insanity.
"Do you mean Michael Collins?" I said, for Collins had come to be known as the Big Fellow.
William nodded, took out his pipe, and inserted its mouthpiece between his toothless gums. While he was preparing to sooth himself with a smoke, I left him and hastened to the Main Street. A military cavalcade, drawn up on the hotel side of the street, was surrounded by a milling crowd of soldiers and civilians. An eight cylinder Leyland touring car, with an armoured car ahead of it, stood in front of the hotel. I managed to squeeze my way into the premises. The bar at the rear of the shop was packed with military men standing at ease in groups, taking drinks at the long counter. As I looked at them, all clad sprucely in well tailored uniforms with shining brass buttons and polished belts,
I saw that the nucleus of an officers' caste was in being. General Michael Collins was standing at the head of the counter. His aide-de-camp Emmet Dalton was standing beside him. As I pushed my way forward I heard someone saying: "What are you having, Mick?',
“For once in my life I'll let the old country down," replied Collins with a smile. "A drop of the Scotch for me.
Writing now almost fifty-two years later I see Collins as he was that afternoonl an impressive, stalwart figure restless with dynamic energy, lithe still, but running to embonpoint. He had taken his military cap off; it was lying crown down on the counter. He was wearing a tunic above side creased breeches and polished brown leggings with boots to match. He raised a hand now and then, and swept back a fallen forelock. His expression in repose had a set look of determination and a shadow of underlying ruthlessness. From the way he glanced constantly around I gathered that he had not yet rid himself of the alertness inherent in a fugitive. Though he certainly cut a dash as a brasshat, the uniform seemed, in some way, to be out of character with his rebel past.
Dick Williams's barmaid Aileen Baker was a merry, comely girl with up-swung, pouting breasts. In the bar that afternoon Collins took her in his arms, carried her to the hall of the hotel, ran upstairs with her, as though she were weightless, and set her standing on the landing. We all clapped and cheered. Collins was laughing as he ran down. He had sensitively mobile features that would momentarily light up in a smile, or cloud in a frown. Collins had a dozen close associates who were known as his Twelve Apostles. I remember the names of three of them: Liam Tobin, Frank Thornton, and Tom Keogh. His aide-de-camp Emmett Dalton had, before dedicating himself to the fight for Irish freedom, served in the British Army during the First World War, and had won a medal for valour.
As I watched Collins leaving the hotel that afternoon, I heard the cheering, and saw the smiling faces of the milling crowd, but I did not see the shadowy grinning spectre in his wake. Next day the twenty-second of August 1922 at Beal-na-mBlath - the "Valley of the Flowers" - County Cork, not far from Sam's cross where he was born, he ran into an ambush, had his poll shattered by a bullet, and died in the arms of his friend Emmet Dalton.
His corpse was taken by sea to Dublin, for burial in Glasnevin Cemetery. He had not been long buried when an inscription was daubed on his headstone: "Move up Mick. Make room for Dick." Dick was General Richard Mulcahy who, under the Government led by William T. Cosgrave, continued the fight that had for Michael Collins come to an end in the "Valley of the Flowers". The spiders of time are still weaving webs of mystery about that event at Beal-na-mBlath. Nobody has dared to boast that he killed Cock Robin. As so Collins is likely to be remembered as a legendary leader; elusive in life, enigmatic in death.
The Free State contingent had not been long in Macroom when a sentry on the outskirts of the town challenged a man cycling in from the country. The cyclist having ignored the challenge, the sentry shouted:"By Christ, you'd stop, if I knew how to use this bloody gun!" Some of the men had come from the Aran Islands, and neither had seen nor eaten canned pears before. Having whetted their appetites with the fruit and the syrup, they armed themselves with tin-openers and made short work of all existing stocks. The contingent was under the command of a British ex-service man named Conlon, who proved to be a martinet so ruthlessly efficient in discipline and drill that he had in a short time transformed a corps of raw recruits into a reasonably effective fighting force. Bearing in mind that the Republicans were virtually in control of the countryside west of the town, he bespoke, and was supplied with, an 18-pounder British field gun, and had it housed in an archway under the Town Hall.
The I. R. A. had an outpost at a place called Carrigaphooka; the "Rock of the Fairies". Here with a landmine on the road to Ballyvourney they killed seven Free State soldiers on the sixteenth of September. The 18-pounder gun was trundled to the Castle grounds, and the elusive fairy force was shelled. And so the two, mute, truck mounted relics of Trafalgar found themselves temporarily in company with a vociferously lethal successor. The Republicans surrounded the town in September, and launched an attack with rifles and machine-guns. Though the assault was abortive, two Free State soldiers were killed, one near the spot where Bridie Cremin had tended the wounded Black and Tan. The attack on the town, and the landmine at Carrigaphooka, killed nine men. A Free State contingent commanded by Conlon, having intercepted a Republican youth, and riddled him with machine-gun fire, had the macabre satisfaction of having done something towards redressing the balance.
One tit for nine tats. Tears, idle tears, for ten men in boxes in holes in the ground. Requiescant in pace.
" O death where is thy sting?
Rat-a-tat-tat. Crack, crack. Boom, boom.
Killing, pillage, and destruction, went on sporadically for months. On the twenty-third of April 1923 Eamonn de Valera and Frank Aiken, called for a cease-fire on behalf of the I.R.A. And so the Irish Civil War sputtered to its close on the thirtieth of May. But years were to pass before the fires of hatred it had kindled died to unquenchable embers in the ashes of remembrance.