Collins and Politics

There has been debate regarding the political beliefs of Michael Collins as well as disagreement over how politically savvy he was. In a further effort to dispel the belief that Collins was politically ignorant, naive, and/or imprudent, I would like to discuss the role of Michael as a politician in this section.

Collins was not a country bumpkin.

As I mention in the Anglo-Irish Treaty segment of this site, Collins was not a raw hayseed who lacked political insight. Unfortunately, some of Collins’ admirers as well as his detractors have perpetuated this rumor either to kindle sympathy for Michael or to undermine his abilities. To coincide with the U.S. theatrical release of Michael Collins, Time magazine published a short, but fascinating article on the historical accuracy of the film. This notion of Michael as politically imprudent is discussed:

“As Jordan would have it—and some academic historians definitely would not—De Valera forced Collins to join the peace negotiations knowing they were bound to produce an agreement that would be unacceptable to many of his countrymen, hoping thereby to destroy a dangerous rival. But, says Charles Townshend, a professor at Keele University in England and a specialist on the British rule of Ireland, Collins was anything but the ‘simple rebel.’ He was, in fact, this shadow government’s minister of finance and perhaps the ablest politician in the cabinet. He was not gulled by his President into negotiating with the Brits or fooled by them into taking less than he could have got.” (October 14, 1996, page 85)

I don’t want to wander off the point by delving too deeply into the issue of the relationship between Michael and Eamon. If you desire to know more about this topic, please see Ireland’s Two Fellows on this site. Anyhow, I do think that Townshend’s comment about Collins not being tricked is highly relevant. Not only does the implication that DeValera tricked Michael make Eamon look more conniving and underhanded, it makes Collins look like a simpleton, a hat he certainly never wore. In “The Challenge of a Collins Biography,” (found in the anthology Michael Collins and the Making of the Irish State) J.J. Lee also tackles the misconception that Collins and his fellow Irish delegates were out of their depth politically: 

“There is a view that the Irish negotiators were out-maneuvered, out-witted, out-psyched, by more formidable and more experienced negotiators on the British side. The British were certainly more experienced. But what would more experience have achieved? The Irish delegates did, after all, achieve more than previous Irish representatives, including the vastly more experienced John Redmond between 1912 and 1918. If Sinn Féin were out-witted on the north, it had proved powerless to prevent the imposition of the Government of Ireland Act. And that wasn’t as much a question of being out-witted as of being out-gunned. The bottom line that is so easily forgotten in the welter of discussion about the diplomacy of the Treaty negotiations is that Britain carried far the bigger gun. Until 5 December it was kept more or less discreetly hidden. Then Lloyd George pulled it out, laid it on the table, and threatened to use it.”

Other authors choose to fuel the notion that Collins was a rough-and-tumble character concerned only with playing shoot ’em up and not with making legislative changes. I would point to a passage from Edward Norman’s A History of Modern Ireland as a good example of this:

“Michael Collins, on the contrary, was certainly not an intellectual. He was born in 1890 at Clonakilty, Co. Cork, and after a national school education emigrated to England to become a postal clerk. In 1916 he returned to Dublin and was in the GPO during the Rising. He was imprisoned for six months at Frongoch and then returned once more to Ireland where his revolutionary interests left no time for any sort of work. He was a member of the Supreme Council of the IRB. … He had no political ideas, seeking only the independence of Ireland. When asked about the future of his country he once replied that he looked to ‘the sort of life I was brought up in.’ He was a simple man of common sense, ruthless in the achievement of his ends. His emotional instability did not deter the loyalty of others, and from 1918 he was accompanied everywhere by Joe O’Reilly, a lad whom Frank O’Connot described as ‘slim, delicate, sensitive, had the stuff of the medieval page in him.’ He was also ‘courier, clerk, messenger-boy, nurse, slave’ to Collins.” (emphasis mine)

Proposing that Michael was a man of common sense is fair enough, but “simple” tends to unfairly connote that he was daft rather than suggesting that he was unpretentious. Margery Forester’s appraisal in Michael Collins: The Lost Leader is less harsh but still of the same outlook:

“Collins protested strongly (against DeValera’s suggestion that he go as an Irish delegate to hammer out the terms of the Treaty with the British). This, he felt, was a job for politicians, and he was none. He pleaded that his whole reputation as an extremist would make him far more effective kept menacingly in the background as a counter to unacceptable British proposals. De Valera, however, argued that Collins would elicit better terms by his supposedly intransigent presence at the conference table—a reasoning that makes his own proposal that, as a reputed extremist, he himself should stay at home, look a trifle odd.” (emphasis mine)

While it is entirely plausible, in fact I would say highly accurate, that Collins would have served an excellent purpose being kept in the background as a constant threat to the British if they failed to comply with the Irish negotiators, it is important to remember that Collins may have lacked the experience that other politicians had, but he did not lack the brain power. Perhaps what Forester is trying to say in that passage is that Collins did not have the kind of career politician goal that DeValera did.

Collins Juggled Four Major Jobs With Amazing Efficacy.

Collins held the four jobs of Adjutant-General, Director of Intelligence and Director of Organization for the Irish Volunteers and the Minister for Finance in the Dáil. Andrew McCarthy speaks in great detail on Collins’ post as Minister for Finance in his veritable tour-de-force “Michael Collins: Minister for Finance 1919-22” (again found in the anthology Michael Collins and the Making of the Irish State):

 “That any man has greatness thrust upon him is a myth; in truth fate merely presents the opportunity while ambition and ability determine the performance. So it was with Michael Collins, the unlikely Finance Minister who proved himself an administrator par excellence.”

“When the First Dáil appointed Collins to Finance, in succession to Eoin MacNeill, a more appropriate appointee could hardly have been visualized. For despite his relative anonymity and comparatively young age—at twenty-nine he was the youngest in a cabinet whose average age was forty-four years—he discharged his duties with considerable ease, incomparable efficiency and definitive purpose during the Anglo-Irish and Civil Wars.”

“His greatest achievement in finance was undoubtedly the successful organization of the first National Loan. Yet, amongst his cabinet colleagues, Collins was facile princeps, demonstrating an administrative flair that was both meticulous and perspicacious.”

“Apart from Finance, Collins also held three other important military positions: Adjutant-General, Director of Intelligence and Director of Organisation. He conducted his military duties from offices in Bachelors Walk and Cullenswood House, Ranelagh, while his covert Brotherhood operations were directed through verbal instructions, from secret locations, usually ‘Joint no. 3’ (Vaughan’s Hotel). Because Collins was extremely well organized and efficient, he was unwilling to allow social activities [to] impinge on his work. In January 1920, for example, as the head of the London office, Art O’Brien, was visiting Dublin, Collins advised him that ‘I am so busy at present that a few hours away from my work on an ordinary day means a serious upset to me.’”

“In overall terms, Collins’ performance in Finance was outstanding by any criteria. … Collins’ personal organization skills were exceptional, allowing him to hold four major positions simultaneously, prompting him to impose order and clarity on a world of disorder and confusion. If his unexpected death robbed the state of its most capable administrator, it also denies the historian the opportunity to compare him with his successors in Finance.”

Collins’ position as Director of Organization is discussed in the same anthology by Eunan O’Halpin  in “Collins and Intelligence: 1919-1923 From Brotherhood to Bureaucracy”:

“The characteristics which mark Collins out as a remarkably successful Director of Intelligence during the War of Independence include his evident appreciation of the importance of the collection and assessment of information as primary elements of intelligence operations which should precede action; his partial penetration of his adversary’s own intelligence system; the efficiency and ruthlessness with which action based on good intelligence was taken; and his success in preserving the security and efficiency of his own organization both in Dublin and in Britain despite the pressures it operated under because of the constant threat of raids, arrests and the capture of documents.”

Tom Barry recounts Collins’ pivotal role in the independence movement:

“But the outstanding figure in all G.H.Q. was Michael Collins, Director of Intelligence. This man was without a shadow of doubt, the effective driving force and the backbone at G.H.Q. of the armed action of the nation against the enemy. A tireless, ruthless, dominating man of great capacities to defeat the enemy. Versatile to an amazing degree Collins who had fought through 1916, had after his release from prison become one of the chief organisers of the volunteers. At the same time he was one of the Secretaries of Sinn Féin, the political wing, and was largely instrumental in the victories of Sinn Féin in the 1918 elections. While maintaining his hold on the political machine and becoming Minister of Finance in the first Dáil Cabinet of the Irish Republic, he was Adjutant General of the I.R.A., feverishly pushing the organisation of the armed resistance movement. Quickly realising the importance of the Army Intelligence Department, he took over that responsibility and built a splendid organisation from the ground upwards. 1920 saw Michael Collins Acting President of the Republic, while Mr. de Valera was in America and Mr. Griffith was in jail. Yet with all these Ministerial, political and administrative responsibilities his Army activities increased. There was no branch of the Army Headquarters into which he did not enter. Policy, training, organisation, arms, supplies, propaganda, all felt the impact of his personality and efforts.”

Clearly, a man with no political knowledge could not handle these posts, much less handle them as competently as Collins did. What makes these achievements all the more astonishing is that Michael had not been formally trained in political science or law. He was, for the most part, an autodidact.

“The most important of the new leaders was Michael Collins, who played a minor role in the Rising, was interned, and on release looked after ex-prisoners, thus drawing into his own hands the loose strands of what, for want of a better term, could be called ‘Irish-Ireland.’ In 1917, Michael Collins was twenty-seven years of age. He reorganized the IRB, then dominated its ruling inner circle. He had no formal education beyond primary school, had worked in the Post Office in London, was of small-farm background—a Ribbonman1 operating at national level. The Rising was a shock—too romantic, he told a friend” (Sean Cronin, Irish Nationalism: A History of its Roots and Ideology).

Michael Collins Was a Political Realist.

With the hindsight of several decades, Collins has been labeled by many historians as a realist. This can be viewed in two basic ways. On one hand, it can be taken literally: Collins had a realistic, pragmatic outlook regarding politics. Collins was a go-getter and a doer, not someone who sat around with his head in the clouds all day. He was a man of action, of military maneuvers, not of theories, and not of idle speculation. On the other hand, it can be taken to mean that Collins subscribed to political realism as a philosophy. If this is the case, Collins would see as the root goal of politics gaining and keeping power. He would also hold it paramount that Ireland pursue its own self-interests first and foremost2. For someone who had not been trained formally in political science, Collins had quite the well-defined viewpoint. In Irish Nationalism: A History of its Roots and Ideology, Sean Cronin discusses Collins the realist:

“Realists appealed to Collins. There would be no more glorious protests in arms, he decided. He built a cadre of realists around him, first in the IRB, then at Volunteer headquarters, where he took over Pearse’s old post as Director of Organization before becoming Director of Intelligence, finally in Dáil Eireann, as the underground government’s very effective Minister for Finance. Collins was a doer. Essentially a well-informed opportunist with very few scruples, his entire ideology could be stated in five words: ‘The Irish should govern themselves.’”

In Michael Collins, Rex Taylor makes similar observations:

“The one thing which he could not and would not tolerate was failure, even though sound reason was given for such failure. Harry Boland, aware of this peculiar insistence of Collins’, argued that circumstances often ruled the success or failure of a particular job. ‘Not at all,’ replied Collins; ‘More often than not it is the slipshod handling of the job which brings about the failure.’ … He never dealt in theory; he had no time for it; and he refused to listen to anything which dealt only in the theoretical. He took the standpoint of a practical man whenever plans were submitted to him for approval. No one was quicker to realize that great gulf which yawned between the possible success of a theoretical plan and the more probable success of a practical plan. He was a realist, as distinct from the idealists who have numerously abounded in Ireland. It may be thought that his judgment on Padraic Pearse and the Easter Rising in general was a harsh judgment (Collins thought the Easter Rising a most inappropriate occasion for ‘memoranda couched in poetic phrases’). … Collins was a realist to the point of bluntness. It was not that he lacked the finer points of etiquette—he himself was sprung from an ancient clan; but because of the conditions in which he spent the most fruitful of his years, he exorcised everything which might hinder quick, concise thinking.”

“There was a touch of the Napoleonic in Collins’ military brilliance. He used thorough, unorthodox methods to beat his enemy, giving tactical lessons which have not been lost since his time on other guerilla fighters in many parts of the world. Being, by natural instinct, acutely aware of the possibilities attached to situations, this instinct or flair allowed of a thorough, but quick and accurate, assessment; and by this means ‘on the spot’ decisions were a matter of second nature to him. ‘I have seen him,’ remarked one of his former lieutenants, ‘do no more than push his hand through his hair; yet in that quick action the decision was made.’ A general observation that ‘Collins was forever wanting to get things done’ fits well with the restless temperament of a man who had the idea that sleep was a waste of valuable time. The driving force of the energy within him was the reason for this while stong will-power kept his nerves under full control. Mr. Moylett (an Irish businessman, and a friend of both Collins’ and Griffith’s), speaking to [Rex Taylor], recalled that Collins appeared to be quite fresh, in contrast to most others, after a debate which had lasted for eighteen hours. The tag of ‘gunman’ which became attached to his name was a title for which he had a personal loathing. Collins never killed a man in his life, except perhaps during the actual fighting operations in 1916. It was given to him, principally, by the press chiefs of Britain, who sought to glamorize a ‘wanted’ man. The events of ‘Bloody Sunday’ provided a field-day for them, and they piled on the horror. Further attempts have made in recent times to restore that old and untrue legend of ‘Collins the gunman.’”

Author Ronan Fanning commented that Collins held vital and valuable “the reality of independence, not the rhetoric of republicanism” (“Michael Collins: An Overview” Michael Collins and the Making of the Irish State). In the end, this sentiment is worth remembering. To Collins, it was more important to see real freedom from British rule than to get caught up in semantics. If nothing else is thought of Collins’ role as a politician, let it be that he did indeed attain the “freedom to achieve freedom.”

Thousands of people went to Collins’ lying in state, including British soldiers. Joe O’Reilly, the loyal friend of Michael’s, fell into irrepressible crying when he saw the body. Painter Sir John Lavery was having difficulty fighting back his own tears while painting Love of Ireland. He reported that several mourners wept and one woman even kissed Collins’ dead lips. The funeral cortege was three miles long and many people lined the streets to pay homage. The only flower allowed on Michael’s coffin was a white lily from Kitty Kiernan.

Tom Barry, friend and comrade to Collins, noted what happened after the news reached him.

“I was talking with some other prisoners on the night of August 22nd, 1922, when the news came in that Michael Collins had been shot dead in West Cork. There was a heavy silence throughout the jail, and ten minutes later from the corridor outside the top tier of cells I looked down on the extraordinary spectacle of about a thousand kneeling Republican prisoners spontaneously reciting the Rosary aloud for the repose of the soul of the dead Michael Collins, President of the Free State Executive Council and Commander-in-Chief of the Free State Forces.”

The identity of Collins’ assassin remains uncertain, although there has been much speculation regarding this subject. Meda Ryan’s The Day Michael Collins Was Shot reveals the author’s perspective and research. The film The Shadow of Béal na Bláth is an excellent documentary concerning the assassination. It includes re-enactments and family interviews. With the breakthroughs in medical technology since Collins’ death, it would be feasible to discover the identity of the assassin but this would involve exhuming the body, a step Collins’ family is not prepared to take. They feel that this would only ignite old hostilities and that Michael would not support any measure disrupting Irish peace. For more information found on this website, please see the section titled A Grisly Business.

Lavery’s Love of Ireland

Collins is still remembered for his role in Irish independence. He is buried at Glasnevin Cemetery, a suburb of Dublin. He also has a memorial and a yearly service to commemorate his assassination. (For updates on the annual service, please refer to the Links section of this site.) He has been the subject of the film Michael Collins and numerous books that have been published since his death. In Tom Philbin’s The Irish 100, Collins is ranked second of the most influential Irish of all time, a title he truly deserves.

Miceal O Coileain

October 16, 1890 – August 22, 1922

“Collins was murdered by the opposition—men he had fought side by side with in the Easter Rising of 1916—on a rural crossroads… Many Irish felt he had capitulated to the British and betrayed them by getting them into an untenable arrangement. In September 1997 more than one thousand people and an honor guard gathered there to remember him, all standing silent as bagpipes keened, the Irish flag snapped in the wind, and the strain of a lone bugler mournfully played ‘The Last Post.’ Collins once said, ‘Individuals are imperfect, liable to error and weakness. The strength of the nation will be the strength of the spirit of the whole people.’ But it is individuals—such as Michael Collins—who are needed to lead the way” (Tom Philbin).

“Genius is a troublesome bedfellow. When it is absent we sigh for it, when it is present we grow weary of its violence and impetuousness. [Kevin] O’Higgins (a politician and friend to Collins) once said, ‘I have done nothing without asking myself what Michael Collins would have done under the circumstances’– which is as though I were to say, ‘I have written nothing without asking myself what Shakespeare would have written'” (Frank O’Connor).

“In political terms Michael Collins died intestate. While he bequeathed strong democratic institutions like the Garda Síochána he also left a legacy of conspiratorial politics and revolutionary institutions in what aspired to be a constitutional democracy. … Michael Collins died as he had lived, an enigma. But for all the questions about his democratic credentials—and they must be asked—it was his constitutional legacy which was triumphant at the expense of his conspiratorial intestacy” (John Regan).

“Collins’ career is a paradigm of the tragedy of modern Ireland, the suffering, the waste of talent, the hope, the bedevilling effects of history and nomenclature whereby one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Like Prometheus, Collins stole fire. Like Prometheus he paid for his feat and much of what he set about doing remains undone. But his name burns brightly wherever the Irish meet. Michael Collins was the man who made modern Ireland possible” (Tim Pat Coogan).

“Brains of lead and eyes of glass as the cortege, three miles long, moved swiftly with its army of wreath-laden, crepe-draped lorries, its seventeen bands moaning Handel’s Funeral March, its Archbishops and Bishops in solemn canonical robes, its advance guard of cavalry, its Generals, Captains and grey-green firing party, fifty strong, with rifles reversed, and buglers in the rear, its mourners afoot and in coaches, file after file of working men, clerks, students, clergymen, women, officials, all passing swiftly in the wake of the coffin on an eighteen-pounder gun-carriage drawn by six stable horses. The sun pouring down on six miles of spectators as the procession flashed by with mournful pride to Glasnevin, where O’Connell’s lime-white Round Tower soared sentinel to the newest corner and comrade in the Irish Pantheon. Mourners afoot, mourners lining the streets, mourners on the roofs, with the sun pouring down and the silence of doom over all as the Funeral March stops and Dublin follows, looks on in wondering heartache and stupefied anger, sobs quietly and pays a last homage to Michael Collins in his coffin drawn by six stable horses to an eternal sleep in the heart of his nation, dark hair quiescent now, vibrating accent stilled and determined jaw set forever” (Desmond Ryan).

“They were in a state of ‘stunned despair’ to quote an editorial in the Freeman’s Journal which was bordered (as was the newspaper custom of the time) in black. Citizens of the fledgling state would have read: ‘The terrible news we announce today will move Ireland as nothing has moved her in living memory. Michael Collins has fallen by the hands of his own countrymen. He had dared death so often in the struggle with England that men felt he could run all risks and emerge unharmed. That he should be killed by an Irish bullet is a tragedy too deep for tears.’ … But to the tens of thousands who lined the streets of Dublin on that occasion, the writer in the Freeman’s Journal said: ‘The gleam of hope on the gloom was the sight of Michael Collins marching at the head of the army. He has now been taken from us… It is difficult not to despair. Yet to do so would be treason to Griffith and Collins alike. Great men may pass but the nation remains. Michael Collins is dead for Ireland. It is for us, who believe in the cause for which he gave his life, to see that the new Ireland shall be worthy of the sacrifice'” (Gabriel Doherty and Dermot Keogh, quoting the Freeman’s Journal).

“At the moment of his death, he bore no rancour, according to the paper (the Freeman’s Journal): ‘Forgive them,’ were the last words on his lips. This theme of forgiveness was taken up by Frances McHugh in a surprisingly conciliatory piece in the pro-government paper, The Free State: ‘His last words were “Forgive them”; a beautiful and sentimental exit from this life? I cannot interpret these words so. No; he meant, this man who saw clearly and spoke his thoughts, “Do not assassinate any one of my enemies’ leaders to avenge me. For Ireland’s sake do not start an era of assassinatory politics.” Such last words must make his death new life to Ireland'” (Gabriel Doherty and Dermot Keogh, quoting the Freeman’s Journal).

“‘We bend today over the grave of a man not more than thirty years of age, who took to himself the gospel of toil for Ireland, and of sacrifice for their good, and who has made himself a hero and a legend that will stand in the pages of our history with any bright page that was ever written there. Pages have been written by him in the hearts of our people that will never find a place in print. But we lived, some of us with these intimate pages; and those pages that will reach history, meagre though they be, will do good to our country and will inspire us through many a dark hour. Our weaknesses cry out to us, “Michael Collins was too brave.” Michael Collins was not too brave. Every day and every hour he lived he lived it to the full extent of that bravery which God gave to him, and it is for us to be brave as he was—brave before danger, brave before those who lie, brave even to that very great bravery that our weaknesses complained of in him'” (Richard Mulcahy in his oration at Collins’ funeral).

“Michael Collins was, is, and is destined to be a national hero. By instinct, a sure and wise instinct, the nation hailed him its leader and champion… No enthusiasm about chief and leaders is likely to confuse my estimate at this day. I want to give testimony, the testimony of an older man, and my testimony is that Michael Collins was and is the greatest Irishman of our time” (Eoin MacNeill, Cabinet minister).

“Mary Frances McHugh wrote under the heading ‘The Dead Leader—with the Heroes of all Time’: ‘He was not afflicted by the damning taint of cynicism which threatened to afflict man… He believed and hoped and ardently loved his hope and belief. He was selfless and he had a nobility of mind. A simplicity of aim and a genius for method, allied with whole-hearted and indeed joyous enthusiasm, were the distinguishing qualities of the dead Commander-in-Chief; a brilliant quality of thought and action translated, through an emotional capacity partly into achievement. He loved Ireland not in theory but in practice. He was a man of the people and for the people, yet a born governor and wise leader of men. That divine authority to guidance was his. Such a man must be set up in the lawgiver’s seat, and the veriest fools, though they had knees of brass, would kneel down and worship. Not foolishly or weakly, but with the instincts of a race, which are the fount of all order, to choose their leader. He was chosen as a leader living, he is buried as a dead leader. God rest him'” (Gabriel Doherty and Dermot Keogh quoting Mary Frances McHugh).

 “Alice Stopford Green wrote about his death: ‘All men wondered as he took up his Herculean task. We know the bitter schism. But Collins was never embittered. He knew a good man, and to the end he kept his esteem and affection for those of his opponents whose honour he trusted. He himself had his cruel detractors—men with no eyes for the great facts of his genius. Their tales spread where they could do harm, among the ignorant… Whatever lesser men might say of him, in his great heart there was to the last no trace of bitterness. No leader before him in Ireland has borne away so immense a love and eternal devotion as has been given to him. Their grief will know no consolation… All alike now strive together to carry on the work from which he was torn so piteously'” (Gabriel Doherty and Dermot Keogh quoting Alice Stopford Green).

“The Minister for Home Affairs Kevin O’Higgins, who was to share the same fate as Collins, wrote about how he could not take in the brief telephone message he received telling him of the death: ‘“C-in-C shot dead in ambush, Bealnablath, near Bandon.” This thought I, is some fantastic devilish lie, for bullet could not still that great heart of his, still less bullet sped by an Irish hand, and even as I conveyed the brief staccato message from Cork to his colleagues—his fellow-toilers for eight crowded years—Dick Mulcahy, Gearóid Ó Suilleabháin, Sean MacMahon and Tom Cullen, my stunned brain kept drumming out its refusal to accept. “This is not true! This is not true!”’” (Gabriel Doherty and Dermot Keogh quoting Kevin O’Higgins).

“…I (O’Higgins) face the fact that Michael Collins, the greatest man that ever served this Nation’s cause, lies cold in death—slain by a fellow countryman in his native Cork… Michael Collins is dead. The tragic waste of it; the infinite pathos of it. That brain, with all its wonderful potentialities, dashed out by fratricidal bullet. That great heart stilled; that great frame, every nerve and sinew of which was bent unsparingly in loving service of his people, rigid in untimely and unnatural death. Mourn, people of Ireland, for there is gone from among you a great hearted man who loved you well and strove for you mightily. Mourn, for while ye mourn, read through your tears the lessons of his life—and of his death” (Kevin O’Higgins).

“His engaging personality won friendships even amongst those who first met him as foes and to all who met him the news of his death came as a personal sorrow” (David Lloyd George).

“My Dear Miss Collins—
Don’t let them make you miserable about it: how could a born soldier die better than at the victorious end of a good fight, falling to the shot of another Irishman—a damned fool, but all the same an Irishman who thought he was fighting for Ireland—‘A Roman to Roman’? I met Michael for the first and last time on Saturday last, and am very glad I did. I rejoice in his memory, and will not be so disloyal to it as to snivel over his valiant death. So tear up your mourning and hang up your brightest colours in his honour; and let us all praise God that he did not die in a snuffy bed of a trumpery cough, weakened by age, and saddened by the disappointments that would have attended his work had he lived” (George Bernard Shaw in a letter to Hannie, August 25, 1922).

“I think Michael Collins was the greatest Irishman who ever lived, greater than Brian Boru or Parnell” (W. T. Cosgrave).

“It’s my considered opinion that in the fullness of time history will record the greatness of Collins and it will be recorded at my expense” (Eamon DeValera).

“Tribute to the ‘Big Fella'”
By Humphrey Murphey

Bear him to that hallowed place,
Where our deathless dead are resting;
Where the spokesmen of our race
Gather for the final questing.

‘Mid the statesmen who have died,
‘Mid the orators and writers,
Make a splendid grave and wide,
For this peerless prince of fighters.

Press the kindly Irish earth
On the breast so broad and fearless,
Veil that laughing face, whose mirth
Vanished, leaves us poor and cheerless.

When the tempest lashed our land
And the feeble lights had dwindled;
He ’twas held the gleaming brand
Where the fires of warfare kindled.

Fearless, agile, unafraid,
Cool to watch and cordon tightening;
Rallying the half-dismayed,
Teaching how to strike like lightning.

God-like in the work achieved,
Sunshine flashed through clouds of terror
Still the captain unrelieved,
Strove with faction, pride and error.

Chivalrous, he fought his fight,
Kindly, patient, unrevealing;
Hopeful that the dawning light
Would reveal the nation smiling.

Lay his body in the earth,
Giant frame and soul are riven,
Think of Collins in his mirth
And his prayer, “Be they forgiven.”

Credit to –