A Man in a Million


by the late Col. Dave Neligan, R.I.P

DUBLIN CASTLE for ages past, the citadel of British power in Ireland, was the centre of British rule, espionage, and intrigue. Their spy system, perfected by Cecil Walsingham, in the time of Elizabeth I was the best in the world.

They spend money like water as they have ever done when vital interest are at stake. In Ireland this spy work system was a carefully nurtured and well organised network and defeated every attempt to end British nile here. Nor were informers wanting, to name but a few—the ‘Sham Squire’, McNally, Reynolds, Carey—all were trusted by those whom they betrayed and sold to the Castle.

I have first-hand evidence of this, as I, as a young recruit in the D.M.P. through a fluke, spend two weeks in the Castle in May, 1918, reading up their reports. The knowledge displayed therein astonished me.

In 1916, they picked out the rebel leaders after the surrender and gave evidence against them before a British courtmartial, according to P. Beaslie, each court-martial lasted five minutes! They handed down dozens of death sentences.

When Collins returned from prison in 1917, fortunately, he was appointed Secretary of the White Cross Association. This was a fund consisting mostly of money sent home by the Irish in the U.S.A. and used to help ex-intemees. It was an ideal spot for Collins for he soon met the best of the leaders and activists and started gathering together the volunteers and I.R.B. units. He had been initiated into the I.R.B. while working in London. A couple of the ‘G’ men were sympathetic to Sinn Fein, and one, Joe Cavanagh, and later Broy, helped a lot. No one, least of all, the ‘G’ men, yet realised that a genius, of such cunning, audaciousness, dalmonic energy and talent was now at the helm. It was soon made manifest. The British, of course, soon realised this. They flooded Ireland with the best secret agents available and also with Black and Tans and auxiliaries in their thousands.

From the uniformed police I joined the ‘G’ division, but soon resigned and went home to Limerick. Collins immediately sent word to me to return to Dublin where he persuaded me to rejoin the ‘G’ division. He had another ‘G’ man, working for him in the Castle, James McNamara, a friend of mine. The cleverest and most audacious of the British Secret Service was a man calling himself Jameson. His real name was Byrner, the son of an R.I.C. Inspector in my home town of Newcastlewest, Limerick. He left there and became a star operator for M15 British Secret Service. He turned up at the Gresham Hotel armed with a letter of introduction from a leading Sinn Feiner in London to Collins who met him several times. He promised to procure arms for the Volunteers from Russia!

All the men were paraded one night in the detective office, we were addressed by Asst. Commt. Redmond, he said to us ‘that it was astonishing that we were not able to catch Collins, when a man who had been here for only a few days had met him. On this being conveyed to Collins he of course knew that this man was Jameson. He was shot and so was Redmond.

The British Secret Service took over the Campaign from the ‘G’ men and were very active. It was decided to wipe them out! This was done on November 21st, 1920. Fourteen of them were shot in their lodgings. Panic ensued! We did not, however, escape unscathed. The auxiliaries had arrested Dick McKee, O.C., Dublin Brigade along with his Adjt. P. Clancy and a man named Clune on November 20th, 1920 the auxiliaries murdered all three in the Castle. Broy was arrested by the military, Kavanagh died. McNamara was sacked on suspicion. So I found myself alone in the Castle. It was the first time in history that, through the genius of Collins, the Castle machine was turned against itself. The British were mystified.

Collins had reflected on the fate of open rebellion. 1916 had taught him a fearful lesson; open battle against the might of Britain was out. From now on new strategy would be employed. First liquidate the spies; second, tear down and destroy the fabric of civil government and so smash the British power.

The police intelligence activity was, of course, only one facet of Collin’s work. He also had agents in the Post Office, the Railway, the Prison, and in the Sea Ports. Indeed, it would be difficult to name an outfit which was not covered. The head of the British Secret Service told me, when I was sworn in, that he would pay me £10,000 if I could capture Collins. Later that day, I met Collins in the library at Capel Street and we laughed heartily.

We were too near these events to gain a proper perspective of Collins and his actions. One thing is certain; there would be no Revolution, no Truce, no Treaty, no Freedom, but for Michael Collins. He was a man in a million. As a person, he was gay, warm-hearted with a wonderful personality. He had gathered about him true and gallant comrades. Sean MacEoin, S. Hales, D. Breen, Sean Treacy, Sean McMahon, P. Daly, Dick Mulcahy, D. O’Hegarty, T. Barry, L. Lynch, F. Thornton, Liam Tobin, Tom Cullen, all now, alas, with him, numbered among the dead.