Mary Collins Powell sister of Michael Collins
One of my grandchildren was asked a question in school some time ago – “Who was Michael Collins ?” She answered, “He was my Grannie’s brother and he was killed”, so she asked me to tell his story, and now, in the peace of my twilight, I shall try and record memories.
My earliest memory in 1887 when my sister Katie was born. We had cousins visiting us from England and they suggested she should be called “Kathleen Jubiletta” and they explained to me it was Queen Victoria’s Jubilee and Aunt Kate told me quietly it was all a joke.
I remember getting a very severe beating for telling a very white lie, as it would be considered nowadays. Aunt Kate made a pet of me and in her turn reprimanded the Aunt who had chastised me. My mother said nothing but a few days afterwards my father, who was supposed to know nothing of the incident, said;
“Plato calls lying the vice of slaves” so ever since I have despised rather than hated lying.
Our household then consisted of Uncle Pat, my father’s eldest brother, who was born about 1798; my father, mother and (counting the baby) seven children; 2 working “boys”; a working man was one who lived in a cottage on the farm and was supposed to be a skilled ploughman, and a girl who could be described as a ‘cailín aimsire’ was the great friend and comfort of the younger children. I mention this to contrast with present day where the place is desolate and there is nothing and nobody to speak of the seven generations of our family who lived there, My brother Michael was born in October 1890. We were almost completely self-supporting. A woman used to come to spin the wool which used to be sent to a local mill and sent back in beautiful long flocks – this was called carded wool – also to cut the potato seed and pluck the geese. I often wondered did the geese feel the plucking and was told the birds were moulting and the feathers would be lost if they were not collected off the birds alive.
In the Autumn when the work was slack my father was assisted by one of his nephews making baskets and panniers which were in constant use for bringing the fodder to the cattle and sheep. We had 12 cows and the work in the kitchen was endless. Milk pans had to be scalded with boiling water which was very often brought from the well, especially when the weather was dry and we had no rain water. I always loved going to the well. There was camomile and other sweet-smelling herbs growing near by. My sister Hannie and I played make believe stories there and we managed to do a fair amount of loitering and getting away from work and realities with the fairies at the well. We also loved the sally gardens, partly because our father allowed us to come with him while he cut the canes and told us more fairy stories.
My father was a remarkable character, I was afraid to be mean in his presence. He never sang rebel songs as most of the others did. His favourite was “The Irishman” I repeat what I can from memory :
The savage loves his native shore
Though rude the gale and chill the air
Then well may Erin’s sons adore
Their Isle which nature formed so fair.
What flood reflects a shore so sweet
As Shannon great or pastoral Bann
Or who a friend or foe can greet
So generous as an Irishman.
His hand is rash. his heart is warm
And honesty is still his pride
None more regrets his deeds of harm
And none forgiwes with nobler pride.
He seeks not safety, let his lot ‘
Be where it ought in danger’s van .
And should the field of fame be lost
It won’t be by an Irishman’,
I think till the day an Irishman shot him, Michael thought his countrymen possessed these qualities. My mother sang traditional songs milking the cows. .She gave me the curses of O’Sullivan Beare’s nurse: “Scully, thou dark one, you basely betrayed him in the hour of his need when thy right hand should aid him”, finishing with, “May the hearthstone of hell be thy best bed forever”, and I remember the tears running down my cheeks as she quoted O’Donovan Rossa’s “How Gillan Andy went uncoffined to her grave”. My mother was bl-lingual. She had learned Irish from her grandmother, whose maiden name was Murray, and who wrote Irish well. She never would teach us even the meaning of an Irish word. She had a passion for flowers which we have all inherited. When one day my sister Hannie and I were in charge of the baby then able to crawl, we carpeted a loft with moss and | planted daisies all over. Unfortunately, there was a trap door and presently baby and trap door disappeared. Our feelings may be Imagined and when we got through the kitchen without being given away we took it as another proof of Michael’s extra special qualities.
Work was very hard on the farm in these days as all the young people were going to America and a great many of our parties were ‘American wakes’. My mother carried the heaviest burden and at this time suffered greatly from pain in a broken ankle which I suppose was never properly set. I remember the night before Michael was born – I was then 9 – I held the strainer while she poured the milk, fresh from the cow, from very heavy palls into the pans for setting the cream. She moaned occasionally and when I asked her was she sick she said she had a toothache and would go to bed when the cakes were made for tomorrow. I was greatly troubled but said nothing as in those days children were to be seen and not heard. The next morning there was the miracle of the baby. No doctor, no trained nurse and mother and baby well and comfortable! To say that we loved this baby would be an understatement we simply adored him. Old Uncle Paddy said as soon as he saw him “Be careful of this child for he will be a great and mighty man when we are all forgotten”.
Some time before this I began to realise that there was such a thing as boycotting. My father had been beaten up by a very near relation of his for lending some farmyard machinery to the local Protestant Minister who had been boycotted for taking the farm of an evicted tenant. My father said that only the week before he had sent one of the children who had been severely burnt, to the Minister and that the child had been tenderly cared for and he pointed out that it was not long before that the same thing had happened in the case of his attacker’s child. His cousin beat him severely and threatened to boycott him. My father had, I feel, great moral courage for he lent the winnowing machine the very next day but as I am sure he felt that the boycotters had a case he built the machine into the barn which was then being erected, so nobody ever borrowed the machine again. After that I became very conscious of the Land War. Prices of produce were appallingly low; eggs 3d and 4d per doz., butter 6d to 7d per Ib., and the rent had to be paid even if the cattle had died or the pigs got swine fever, and I heard the elders talking about the running gale or the hanging gale – which seemed to be the terror of the lives of all our friends. As no doubt you never heard the word – we were told at the time it was a half- year’s rent which had to be paid to the landlord when first the land was leased to the tenant, so that when you owed a year’s rent you got a bill for one and a half year’s rent and a great many tenants were unable to pay and were evicted, their land being taken by grabbers, as they were called. I learned current history from the cartoons of the “Weekly Freeman” before I was able to read, I greatly admired T.D. Sullivan’s songs, which were the favourites of those days – “God Save Ireland”, “Paddys Evermore”, etc. – and in later days when I knelt behind him in Gardiner St. Church in Dublin I was surprised to see an ordinary old gentleman; I suppose I expected to see some label of the patriot about him. This was, I fancy, the period when the Plan of Campaign was being tried out in the National Cause. Mr. Parnell was often in the “Weekly Freeman” cartoon. Our landlord. Lord Carbery, was not boycotted but there was a very serious”skirmish”, headed by Father O’Leary” against a petty landlord, Bence Jones, near Clonakilty, the history of which I learned from a come-all”ye ballad
Come all ye noble Land Leaguers I hope you will draw near
And drop a tear of sympathy round Billy Jones’ bier
He died last night in Brighton at 12 o’clock (?)
From landleaguing and boycotting and all such land league woe.
We were greatly influenced by the songs of our Uncle Danny O’Brien, who sang in traditional manner sentimental and natural songs – never comic. He did not like defeatist songs, such as Moore’s or “Sean. O’Dwyer a Glanna”, and always the note of hope or Ireland resurgent came into his versions – note this last verse of the “Harp”
The Harp that rang in Tara’s Halls
Now neglected lies and dead
But the spirit of her music lives
Although the soul be fled
The God of Liberty hath struck
A chord by which she gives
The lamp of freedom to her sons
To show that still she lives,
There was one also about the Plan of Campaign in which William O’Brien and John Dlllon had been sent to jail. There was also a parody of The Plan, for we were a joyous,happy people:-
So here’ s to the Plan and let music divine
Waft us gaily along o’er an ocean of wine,
Till we land let us hope on an Island of Bliss
Where the days one and all have such evenings as this.
Tis the very best Plan to be gay while we can
For I know that to grieve is a very bad Plan.
From this you can gather we were were a gay happy family and the keevogeen’s nest with the cuckoo’s egg in it was of more concern to us youngsters than the Plan of Campaign and Emergency Men and the Land League. There was a rookery in the trees that sheltered the farm buildings and we were never allowed to interfere with the nests, though we suffered from the “curse of the crows” – and very nasty dirty things they were.
From the time Michael could walk he accompanied my father who, in his quiet way, told him how to become a man. One incident I must tell that occurred before Michael went to school. I was left in charge one day when all the grown-ups were at a fair. Having fed the calves and done other odd jobs I suddenly realised there were no potatoes for the dinner. I went to the garden and found that Michael had managed to dig a large bucketful. In later life when I heard of infant prodigies playing the piano and composing music at four years of age, I wondered could they dig potatoes as my small brother had done.
Michael was six and I was fifteen when our father died.  In later years Michael told me that he had no recollection of our father’s appearance but that he remembered many things he had told him about the “bad times” and how the land ought to belong to the people.
My father was an old man in years, over sixty, when he married my mother who was twenty-one. [About 1877]
He never looked an old man and never had an old age. He was well over seventy when Michael was born. It was a great surprise to us all when we learned his age as to us he was always the father who could do everything and who knew everything. He was the seventh son of a seventh son and in accordance with Irish tradition, he had healing powers, especially for the livestock, cattle and horses.
Throughout my childhood I heard about Parnell. I know now he had been working for many years and as a result of a political struggle in the British Parliament many Land Acts were passed which eventually resulted in tenant purchase. It was a hard and bitter struggle and there are only a few echoes in my mind of the split that occurred among the Irish leaders.
I fancy the “Weekly Freeman” must have been kept from my eyes but I do remember stories about Mr. Parnell having deserted Ireland for a bad woman. I think it was a good summary of the affair as years afterwards – about 1914, I think – the “bad woman” wrote the story of the fall of Parnell as if it were a high romance. Her articles were published in “The Daily Sketch” and from then on I never bought that paper. Parnell died in 1891, but the Land War was a success for there were various Acts of Parliament by which tenants purchased their land at so many years’ purchase – a loan having been floated by the Government to buyout the landlords – the tenants to pay back in installments called “Annuities.”
You will have to read the history of Charles Stewart Parnell, Michael Davitt, William O’Brien, Tim Healy and other giants of those days who, each in his own way, lived and worked for Home Rule and a free Ireland. I was not then very interested in Ireland or history, being occupied out of school hours in reading everything I could lay my hands on.
From this you can gather we were a gay, happy family and the keevougeen’s nest with the cuckoo’s egg in it was more concern to us youngsters than the Plan of Campaign and emergency men and the Land League. There was a rookery in the trees which sheltered the farm buildings and we were never allowed to interfere with the nests, though we suffered a good deal from the “curse of the crows” – and very nasty, dirty things they were. From the time Michael could walk he accompanied my father, who. in his quiet way, told him how to become a man. One incident I must tell which occurred before Michael went to school. I was left in charge one day when all the grown-ups were at a fair. I suddenly realised that there were no potatoes. Having fed the calves and done other odd jobs I went to the garden and found Michael had managed to dig a large bucketful. In later life when I heard of infant prodigies playing the piano and composing music at 4 years wondered could they dig potatoes as my small brother had done. Our father died when Michael was 6 and I 15. Michael told me he could never recall his father’s appearance but remembered many things he told him of the”bad times” and how the land ought to belong to the people. To Illustrate this: Here is the story as I was told it.
“Two members of the “landlord” class were hunting over our farm and my two uncles ordered them off as they were trespassing. The landlords used their hunting crops and my uncles snatched the whips and drove then off their land. The sequel was 12 months in Cork Jail for Paddy and Tom Collins. My father rode his horse to Cork on “visiting days” to see his brothers. It took 8 hours’ riding. My father was an old man in years when he married – over 60 – my mother was 21. He never looked an old man and never had an old age. He was well over 70 vhen Michael was born. It was a great surprise to us all when we learned of his age as we always thought our father could do everything and knew everything. He was the 7th son of a 7th son – and according to the Irish tradition had healing gifts, especially for the live stock, viz., cattle and horses.
At this time one heard of Parnell. Of course, I know now he had been working for many years and as a result of a political struggle in the British Parliament many Land Acts were passed which eventually resulted In tenant purchase. It was a hard and bitter struggle and there are only a few echoes in my mind of the split which occurred among the Irish Leaders. I fancy the”Weekly Freeman” must have been kept from my eyes but I do remember stories about Mr. Parnell having deserted Ireland for a bad woman, I think it was a good summary of the affair as years afterwards – about 1914, I think the woman referred to wrote the story of the fall of Parnell as if it were a high romance. The articles were published daily in the “Daily Sketch” and from that day I have never bought the paper. He died in 1891 but the Land War was a success, for there were various Acts of Parliament by which tenants purchased their land at so many years’ purchase – a loan having been floated by the Government to buy out the landlords – the tenants to pay back in instalments called -“Annuities”.
You will have to read the history of C.S, Parnell, Michael Davitt, William O’Brien, Tim Healy and the other giants of those days who lived and worked for a free Ireland and Home Rule in their own way. I was not then very interested in Ireland or history, being occupied out of school hours in reading everything I could lay hands on.
I remember preparing Michael for his first Confession and telling him he would have to say how often he stole sugar, jam, etc., and he argued that If he told that the priest would think he was a thief! My father died in March, 1897; when Michael was 6 1/2 years old, and my mother was left to try and work the farm and bring up eight of us. She built a new house, which was completed about 1900 and laid out a flower garden which was the joy of her life.
At 16 I was sent to an aunt in Edinborough to complete my education and during that time I lived through the Boer War. With one exception, all the nuns and pupils of the convent where I studied were “Empire minded”. This lady was a very brilliant student and she described her fellow- countrymen as robbers, stating that where they began as an expedition to explore and put territories on the map they ended by acquiring the whole region for the Empire on which the sun never set. This set me thinking of our own country, which was still, in bondage and one of the British Isles, Through the Influence of this fellow student I looked into the South African side of the question and was astonished when I came home on holidays to find all my family and friends “pro-Boers”. Then I first heard of Jingoes and guerilla warfare. The whole might of the Empire was used to crush the Boers or Dutch farmers but the main result of the victory was to show up British jingoism and to encourage other vassal states of the British fimpire to demand independence demand independence.
As you can Imagine, I did my fighting for the Boers in those days at school much in the minority and was particularly sarcastick during the Mafeking celebrations when, as I told my oponents we were celebrating the triumph of might over right fought for England, more’s the pity, at Waterloo to Dargai”. I remember telling Michael of my fights when home on the Summer holidays and told him how the gallant, farmers used to leave their work, take part in an ambush and return perhaps to milk the cows by early morning. Their weapons were crude and they had no great wealth but were rich in the justice of their cause –
Great faith I have in moral force
Great trust in thought and pen
I know the value of discourse
To sway the minds of men
But why should words ny frenzy
whet Unless we are to strike
Our despot lords who fear no threat
But reverence the pike
Oh, do be wise, leave moral force?
The strength of thought and pen
And all the value of discourse
To lily-livered men
But if you covet how to die
Of hunger in a dyke
If life we prize is liberty
A Pike – A Pike – A Pike.
And so I suppose, many a song and ballad was composed in those days praising Oom Paul Kruger – the leader of the Boers – which, no doubt, had a lasting impression on Michael’s young mind. Quean Victoria died in January, 1901. I believe she hated Ireland. She was Queen of the British Isles and when her Irish subjects were dying of famine and disease she sent £100 for their relief. I believe at the same time the Sultan of Turkey sent some thousands. King Edward was an old man when he came to be King. I never heard any stories of mean-ness about him but when he came to the Cork Exhibition in 1902. I heard the comment of one of my friends – “There let him !” -which meant he was not greatly interested. – King Edward created Baronets and Knights whose family still take pride in their titles.
In 1906 my mother told me she was going to allow Michael enter for the Boy Clerks’ examination, and I asked her why, She answered, “He is head of the class and I am afraid he will get into mischief”. Her health was failing and she had the greatest confidence in my sister Hannie who was in the Civil Service in London. Michael became a Boy Clerk at 15/- per week at the age of 15 and my sister had, of course, to supplement this princely sum as he was a growing boy with a good appetite. She saw to his general health and encouraged his taste for literature, poetry, music and drama. Mother died in March, 1907 – aged about 52 – and my sister Hannie was after this Michael’s mother, sister and friend. As time went on he became more and more involved in Irish Societies and when she found Ireland was the interest and passion of his life she warned him that Irishmen would let him down and betray him – he refused to believe her. In 1913 he thought he would like to go in for agriculture in Ireland and sat for an examination and actually got a scholarship, which, I think, was one of his most amazing achievements as his knowledge was founded on a small book on agriculture which was one of the text books for boys at national Schools. At this time he was in a Stockbroker’s office and in 1914 secured a position in a New York financial Co., which would give him the choice of working in U.S.A.
The first World War started in august. 1914, and by this time Michael was working very hard at organising Irish Societies, having become a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood at a very early age. He took prizes for the Long Jump and long distance running and was full of the joy of life at this stage and was as fine a specimen of Young Ireland as one could meet. He loved to tease people but I never knew him to belittle a fellow countryman. He always professed hatred for everything English, though actually he got on very well with English people. In Novermber, 1914 he tendered his resignation as he said he was going to join his “Regiment in Dublin”. With regard to events in Ireland – we first heard of Sinn Fein in 1913 Sinn Fein- as you know, means “ourselves alone”. It is a policy of self-reliance, initiated by a Dublin journalist Arthur Griffith. Each week it explained how we were being exploited by England. Cattle were being exported alive and hence our tanning industry and the manufacture of leather – shoes – was carried out in England and re-imported, here, our woollen industry had been ruthlessy destroyed by England; our cottage Industries could not compete with England’s mass production by machinery.
The Irish Industrial Development Association was formed at this time and people were asked to buy only Irish goods. Slowly but surely the young men and women were being taught to look to their own little country. Home Rule, which was hoped for in l891 was dangled as a carrot before the eyes of the Irish Members. During this year (1913) a Bill for Home Rule for Ireland was put on the Statute of the British House of Commons, givhng power to three provinces to make some of their own laws – Ulster to be under British rule. At this time I heard of Sir Edward Carson, who stated he would not obey this law if put into force and would bring out the Army. The Curragh of Kildare was the headquarters, of the British Army of occupation and, of course, he was not taken seriously. The people of Ireland were then divided into Redmondites and O’Brienites. Redmond was one of the Irish members under Parnell’ leadership and stated he would also advocate Parnell’s policy. William O’Brien was the member for Cork who was one of the most active in the fight for the land. When the people of Tipperary town were threatened with eviction he helped in the building of New Tipperary and eventually gave these houses free to the tenants of New Tipperary. I never quite understood the rights or wrongs of either side. Just after the Carson revolt the “Irish Volunteers” were formed and were approved by the British Government as being a Home Guard.
As I am trying to explain the events which led to the Irish Rebellion of 1916, I must try and tell a little of “Carson’s Rebellion”. A Home Rule Bill was being hammered out in the British House of Comnons. The leaders of the Orange Lodges came together and signed a covenant announcing their intention to oppose a Home Rule Bill if forced upon by every means in their power, With this end la vtev the Ulster Volunteers were formed. Sir Edward Carson and Mr F.E. Smith being their leaders, stating that Ulster will fight and Ulster will be right. The Ulster Volunteers received arms from unknown sources and it was wellknown that the Army of Occupation was on the side of the “Unionists”. Then it was that the Irish Volunteers were formed and guns were landed at Howth and other places.
In August, 1914 war was declared with Germany and recruiting for the Army was started on a very large scale, Mr. Redmond advised the Volunteers to join the Army as England was giving us Home Rule. This was resented by a minority and there were weekly papers to counter “Your King and Country need you” with the leading article “Your own little country needs you” and “Home Rule will come when I am dead and buried in Belgium”. The principal papers (weeklies) which I remember were “Sinn Fein” and “Cliab Soluis”. “Sinn Fein” was founded and edited by Arthur Griffith. “The Leader” was another – all advocated trying to be self-sufficient – there were slogans “Burn everything English except the coal”.
I remember going to my first public meeting in the City Hall, Cork. It was called by William O’Erien to state his policy with regard to the war. On his platform was Lord Barrymore with whom he had fought bitterly during the Land War. He stated that he believed the Kaiser had drawn the sword and that he had done a dastardly thing and that England’s war was Ireland’s war, There was strong disapproval expressed by the young men in. the back seats. Paddy Barry of Blarney told me, “I came here from the meeting and took a flake at William O’Erien’s picture in the parlour “with me ould stick. ‘Twas short till Tadg came in and says he ‘Where’s William O’Brien’s picture ?’ When he saw it in smithereens” on the ould tarpaulin he made a drive for it with his foot. ‘This war is Ireland’s war’, says he. ‘We are not going to join our country’s enemy in the Glen of Aherlow or anywhere else!”.
William 0’Brien was a true and devoted son of Ireland and was always absolutely sincere but the years of oppression could not be wiped out by a Bill for Home Rule either on or off the Statute Book. From that time on – though his paper, the Cork “Free Press”, became almost a Sinn Fein organ – his popularity – waned. A very great number of our young menjoined the British armed forces and who can say they were not good men and true – for “We fought for England, more’s the pity, at Waterloo from Egypt to Dargai” – and Mr. Asquith said in his speech announcing war “The one bright spot is Ireland”.
As I have said, in November, 1915, Michael came back to Ireland for good or ill.. Though he was a soldier of Ireland he never drew soldiers pay but secured a job with a Dublin. Accountant. During his time with the New York Co. he had studied for a Chartered Accountant’s position with his many other activities in G,A.A., I.R.B. and other Irish Societies. No one could suspect how wide was his reading, as an outsider would only know him as a “broth of a boy”, he was so full of boyish pranks.
And now I come to Easter, 1916. I expected Michael and Jack Hurley on Holy Thursday evening and I was going to accompany them to Woodfield when we would get Uncle Danny and Mickeen Rick in good form and have a night or two of song and dancing. Thursday, Friday and Saturday I looked out for them and in the Sunday “Independent” I read the order for Volunteers to remain at home as the Easter manoeuvres had been cancelled. Though I had no definite information, I suspected “something was up”. Wild rumous reached Cork on Sunday and Monday and on Tuesday, very worried and anxious, I tried to get in touch with someone who” had any information of the Volunteers. Everywhere I went I heard execration of these blackguards who were making the streets of Dublin run red with blood.
At the Carbery Dairy I met a young priest – Fr. Duggan. He assured me no one was taking part in the rebellion but the Citizen Army, who had refused to obey the orders of their leaders. “Well”, I said, “if my brother is not fighting with his own people I would consider him a renegade” but I had not the slightest fear that such was the case. I heard that the Cork Volunteers had gone out to the Macroom neighbourhood and had got their orders to return home. Terence McSweeney and Sean Hegarty were the leaders of the Cork Volunteers. Many years later Miss McSweeney wrote of her brother’s hunger strike – “It took the agony of Brixton to -wipe out the pain of Easter Week”, and from many Volunteers since I have been told the pain of frustration after so long preparation was not to be borne. Michael O’Cuill, one, at least, who had no money, started off on foot with his rifle to join his countrymen in Dublin. You see that in actual fact the Rebellion of 1916 was a revolt within a revolt – that all through the week secret S.O.S, messages were sent out for the country to join Dublin and there, surrounded on all sides, Pearse and his little band surrendered. I know that Michael, Jack Hurley and Gearoid O’Sullivan were very happy in those few days – it made up for the sorrow and disappointment which came after. Anyone who heard Michael saying
“I wish ’twas in Ireland
For there’s the place says Kelly;
we’d die by right
In the cradle of our soldier race
After one good stand-up fight.”
could see how proud and glad he was of that gesture which asserted, our right to be a nation, not a suppliant for our right. Many a boy and girl of Cork wished to do some small service to the Dublin Volunteers by cutting telephone wires and making even a feeble noise to show that Cork was awake. The ‘leaders thought that either you obeyed your superior Officer or you did not; and hence all that was done was to place the beloved rifles in the care of the Lord Mayor, but, in point of fact, they were seized, by the British Army and alas the days of the pike were over, We learned that a German vessel which was bringing us guns was capturedand sunk by the British and that our Rebellion was quashed before it started. In point of fact. the Germans scuttled their own ship and escaped In boats – being captured by a British gunboat.
The saddest of all the stories was that of Roger Casement who came in his rubber dinghy on Banna Strand in Kerry only to be captured by two of the R.I.C. The Cork Volunteers did not know of this, but it seemed to me this added to our lasting disgrace – this knight of ours, good and true, who got a knighthood from the British King for his advocacy of the helpless coloured races in darkest Africa, to be taken, tried and hanged for helping his own country. You should read “Trader Horn” and see what the author says of this good and true knight. Actually, he had tried to get Irishmen who were prisoners of war In Germany to join an Irish Brigade , but his efforts were fruitless. He was tried in England and he protested that he should be tried in his own country. The Attorney General of that time was F.E. Smith, who was so active in inciting rebellion in Ulster. Casement’s Counsel put up the strongest arguments in his favour but nothing availed and he was hanged.
Meanwhile, the Irish Leaders were being shot; week after week added to the toll and the result was Ireland was at last stirred to a sense of its own right as an old and oppressed nation.
I went on the first train that left Cork for Dublin to seek some information of Michael and a few of our friends. My sister-in-law accompanied me. We went to the various gaols and got definite information that Michael was alive on the Saturday before the surrender and that Sean Hurley, had been deported. The day after we arrived in Dublin, Sean McDermott was shot and Mr. de Valera was reprieved as he was an American citizen and could not be guilty of treason to England.
We returned with this scanty information but it was better than nothing. A few days afterwards two policemen called at my house, telling me they brought the possessions of my brother taken when he was arrested. They were wrapped in a handkerchief (the lack of which was more inconvanient than anything else, as Michael told me afterwards) and contained, amongst other things, mother’s mortuary card. We learned afterwards that Jack Hurley, Mrs. Collins’ brother, had been killed in Church Street.
Michael, after his release, told me of the night in the Rotunda Gardens when he tried to keep poor Tom Clarke warm. Tom Clarke was one of the Fenians who had been in.prison for about 15 years in England. He had a newspaper shop in Dublin, a rendezvous for the Volunteers. He had scorned the constitutional method of trying to gain freedom. He was loved and respected by all the boys who met in his shop.
The prisoners were hissed and jeered at as they were lead through the streets of Dublin and a poor woman from Moore Street threw him an overcoat which helped to save their lives.
He described how each prisoner was called and a statement read about them – some being sent one way and some another – some to be tried by Courtmartial and sentenced to death – other to be sentenced to penal servitude for life and others to be detained during the King’s pleasure. Michael was sent to Wandsworth prison and after some months to Frongoch, where those taken during the Rebellion and those suspected of sympathy with the rebels were interned. Here Friendships were formed which lasted ’till death and here was taught the Irish language and the history of Ireland’s many fights for freedom. Sean Hales came to know and love Michael at Frongoch and he received from him a gold medal won in one of the G.A.A, sports in London This medal Sean Hales had in his pocket when he was shot in December, 1922. But I am anticipating. Just before Christmas. 1916, the Irish prisoners were released. Irish public opinion, together with the influence of the Irish Members and the fear that Irishmen in the armies in Flanders would reconsider their allegiance and wonder what small nation they were fighting for, forced the British Government to allow most of the prisoners to come home, Michael arrived home in time for Xmas, 1916, and Grandma’s funeral. We were all greatly attached to her – she was so Innocent and guileless – she could not understate about the European War and one remark made in May 1916, comes to my memory: “I suppose Michael Collins is fighting for William O’Brien and James O’Brien (another grandson) is fighting for John Redmond”.
I was again visited in January, 1917, by members of the R.I.C , who wanted to know my brother’s whereabouts and stated he had been involved in some brawls in the city – which, of course, was untrue. It was tantamount to a warning to me not to take part in the helping of rebels.
Michael returned from home within about three weeks. He had had a rather thin time drinking Clonakilty wrastler on a Frongoch stomach, as he described it to me. He went to a Ceilidhe run by the Cumann-na-mBan in the City Hall and met the Duggan fatally and Nora M. O’Brien, who were useful in his activities at recruiting Young Ireland for the second round of the fight for self-government. He soon returned to Dublin and though his heart was torn at the loss of Sean McDermott,
Tom Clarke and Joseph Plunkett he was the gayest of the gay and never wasted a minute but started filling in the broken ranks of the Volunteers, By this time he got into touch with John Devoy, who was owner of the”Gaelic American” and an unconquered and unconquerable Fenian. A fund had been started for the relief of the relatives of the Irish Volunteers who fell in 1916. It was called the National Aid Fund and Michael was made Secretary at £5 per week. This was his only means of livelihood as he could no longer attend to any duties other than national. The year 1917 was a year of organisation. The Irish language had been having a great revival since the Sinn Fein movement of 1913 and there were Ceilidhe and Aeriocht every week and each town and village had its branch. The Gaelic League Organisers became organisers for the Irish Volunteers and when many of the more gifted speakers were arrested the hunger strike, as a weapon for recognition as prisoners of war was adopted. The authorities, harassed by the war in Europe, did not meet this war on the extreme Western front with kid glove methods.
I remember June, 1917 – Thomas Ashe and Michael were to stay with me on their way to a meeting in Skibbereen. During that week Tom Ashe was arrested and Michael caught a train for Clonakilty. The railway trains were the chief means of travel in those days. My sister Hankie had arrived from London on her annual holiday’ and though I had a baby two weeks old we both went to the meeting at Skibbereen. Before the meeting Michael told us he would attack Dr. Kelly, Bishop of Ross, who was bitterly opposed to the new policy. We tried to disuade him but I guessed by the gleam of mischief in his eye thst he was doing a bit of leg-pulling. The meeting was enthusiastic. To justify its description as Aeriocht, there were Irish songs and dancing. Sean O’Murlithe, a native Irish, speaker from the neighbourhood, gave us some traditional songs. He had been in Frongoch – also Barny O’Driscoll, Diarmuid Hegarty and Gearoid O’Sullivan – and they were all full of the joy of life and we were all elated with hopes for the future. When it came to Michael’s turn he cast all his mischief aside and the spirit of Emmett and Tone seemed to emenate from him. He gave a most reasoned, speech – told us to “bewail our patriot dead – they would live forever – and, becoming more and more serious, he stated, “We have been called murderers by a distinguished man – then all the patriots renowned in song and story were murderers” and then he went on to state that for one man killed in Dublin there could be ten Irishmen killed in Flanders in the space of a day with only their names on the casualty list. From this on the clergy and laity of Ireland were leaning towards the Volunteers.
The death on hunger strike of Tom Ashe very soon after this gave a great fillip to the Sinn Fein cause, In the latter half of this year things were going badly on the Western War front and the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, stated his intention to impose conscription on Ireland. This united all parties in Ireland and everybody became nation conscious. The next great event was the entry of the USArmy into the war. It was the last straw for Germany and after four weary years of slaughter peace was proclaimed. In 1918 Ireland was ravaged by a dreadful scurge, which was like a plague, and for some reason was called the “Black Flu”. Most of my family were attached, but, thank God, we all survived. In October, 1917 the Annual Convention or Sinn Fein Ard Fheis was held in the Mansion House.
Arthur Griffith had been the first to teach the doctrine of ourselves alone, had advocated passive resistance and a boycott of everything considered resistance. assembly. When the election of President of Sinn Fein came before the assembly Arthur Griffith rose and stated he wished to retire in favour of De Valera as he stated that in him we have a soldier and a statesman. De Valera had fought in Easter Week and was by thought by the Young Volunteers to be more likely to favour “action” In 1918 there was a General Election and only four of the old Parliamentary Party were elected. The elected Sinn Fein members were pledged not to enter the British Parliament and it was agreed that the elected representatives should meet in the Mansion House, Dublin, in January 1919.
It is hardly necessary to state that this result was achieved only by hard and constant work at organisation. Michael was by now recognised as one of the most important of the members He was chosen to make the valedictory speech at Tom Ashe’s grave. The Last Post was sounded and volleys fired over the patriot’s grave when Michael stepped forward and said “That is the last and best tribute to an Irish soldier”. The words were spoken with such an air of pride and joy, mingled with deep sorrow, that they impressed the crowd more than a long panegyric.
Rifles were “being smuggled by every means in the power of the leaders and the young people were constantly drilling, arming and preparing. There were the Volunteers, now styling themselves the Irish republican army, the Cumann na mBan, the Boy Scouts, and even little girls by way of giving a hand were being drafted into Girl Guides.
The English, who fought such a gallant fight for oppressed little Belgium, made themselves a laughing stock by their treatment of Ireland. Our young men were arrested by the dozen, charged -with this and that form of rebellious speech and when brought to trial by Courtmartial refused to recognise the right of the Court to try them. The gaols were filled and many were sent to English gaols.
The garrisons in Ireland were strengthened and the R.I.C, were augmented by a special force which we called the “Black and Tans”, as apparently they were recruited in haste before uniforms were made for them. The country was an armed camp and houses were searched for rebels, arms and documents nightly.
I remember & very unpleasant incident. Some students and other Volunteers called and asked to see me. They said they were leaving some revolvers as they expected a raid that night and did not want the landlady to be Involved. My husband held a fairly important post as a Civil Servant &nd we had a very large family. In addition to this, the local police knew my relationship to Michael. We kept the arms for nearly a fortnight and scarcely slept all that time. We were lucky as there was was no raid or visit from the R.I.C.
I remember another incident that gave me one of the worst frights I ever got. Michael was organising in the area west of Dunmanway and was expected in Cork the evening before the first Dail met. He was to arrive at my place about 1 o’clock and was to be sent out to Blarney to catch the night mail for Dublin ” transport to be arranged by the Cork Brigade. Messages vere coming all day and there was no trace of him ’till about 4 o’clock. He Had been travelling in a motor car of a friend and the met a car in distress and it took time to set it on its way. He arrived on foot and having waited for hours, playing with the children, he made up his mind to go by train from Cork, I went with him on foot and struck one of the worst floods in the flat of the city – we had to wade almost knee deep in water. We called to a place in Parnell Place where they tried to persuade Michael to don British soldier’s uniform as a disguise, – which he refused to do.
We proceeded to the Railway Station where the porter seemed to be under the impression that we were newly wed; the light was poor and I suppose I did not look so very old then. Just as the train was moving I slipped out and I met the young lady from Parnell Place. She was speaking to my friend the porter who informed her that J.J. Walsh, Sean Hayes and Liam de Roiste had travelled without being questioned. She said, “That was Micheal Collins – do you think they were looking for him ‘:” He said there were ‘Gmen about but not on the platform for that train’. We returned to Wallace’s shop where we met the O.C. First Cork Brigade, I pointed out to my friend that as she had undoubtedly been indiscreat it was much better to openly confess, Mr, O’K said “That fellow has a brother a Gman”. I actually fainted at this news. What if we had betrayed him! Fortunately nothing untoward happened on the journey and he was at the meeting of the Sinn Fein representation as arranged. This meeting took place on January 7th where a Committee was appointed to make arrangements for the public assembly of the Irish Parliament or Dail Eireann, as it was to be called. Can you imagine how these boys felt, about eighteen nonths after their comrades in arms had faced the firing squads in 1916, making preparations to a draft a provisional constitution. T.D. Sullivan’s dream came true –
Let them who scorned the mountain rill
Now dread the torrent’s roar
And hear our echoed chorus ring
We’re Paddies evermore.
At this meeting, with the utmost solemnity in the Mansion House packed to overflowing with enthusiastic spectators, a Declaration of independence was read in Irish, -English and French – the name of our Independent State to be The Irish Republic in English – Saorstat Eireann. in Irish. – Of the 69 members elected only about 27 were able to attend and vhen the roll was called, the reply in many cases was “Absent – imprisoned by the English”.
‘When the acceptance of the Declaration of Independence had been proposed and seconded, the Deputies rose and raised their right hands pledging themselves to work for this by every means in their power – the atmosphere was tense with emotion. It was considered that the matter of the utmost importance at this time was that we should be represented at the coming Peace Conference and to this end the names of Eamon De Valera, Arthur Griffith and Count Plunkett were appointed as delegates. Michael was in England during the public assembly of the first Dail – being engaged in assisting De Valera to escape from Lincoln Jail where he had been interned since the round-up of men suspected in taking part in the “German Plot” (This was a trumped up story to make an excuse for putting the Volunteers out of action). Michael, with the help of Harry Boland, prepared and carried out the plan for his release and every day there were fresh sensations in the papers of escapes from jails. Each escape would make a story in itself and no doubt you will find the personal stories of the boys who, greatly daing, broke through stone walls and iron bars in various records of this time.
Mr. De Valera decided that he would go to America, as we call the United States, as it vas the one place where he would be useful. It was felt that this was a mistake as the place for an Irish Leader was the Gap of Danger and might be misunderstood, this was pointed out to him but he did not agree and in June, 1919 with the assistance of Michael’s personal friend of the I.R.B., he was smuggled out of the country in the “Celtic”, Mr. De Valera had been leader of the prisoners in Lewes Jail after the Rebellion. He appeared to have extraordinary personal magnetism. At this time I thought he was entirely devoted to this country of his adoption. He was born in the USA; his father was supposed to be Spanish and his mother Irish, His name has a romantic sound and I doubt if a man whose name was Murphy could ever have been a hero in his own country, He was feted and treated like a royal person in the USA, vhile we in Ireland could not sleep for a single night vithout the fear of arrest or perhaps torture for the those we loved.
All the news I ever got from Michael was from the papers and a line from a messenger, who, of course, was working in the cause, with my name and address just to let me know he was carrying on. My ninth baby was born at this time and four weeks after my husband died. This was a terrible ‘blow – ten mouths to feed and the salary and everything gone. I could not let Michael know and he could not help me but I can truly state that in my darkest hour God helped me.
Early in 1920 I accompanied a traveller who was going to Dublin on the- night sail. I told no one where I was going. l arrived in Kingsbridge in the early hours of the morning and had to wait in the station ’till after curfew. These were terrible times as the Volunteers began to hit back and resist arrest. Casualties occurred on both sides. I think 1920 vas the worst year of the war – we had not got used to horrors. There was a price on Michael’s head at this time, How my heart beat vhen he came into the room, having pushed in his bicycle. He had got more serious since the last time I saw him. His anti-clerical phase had passed and one could tell he felt the seriousness and responsibilities of his position. I was fortunate enough to own a house and garden and he gave me advice’ as to the investment of my gratuity (1 1/2 years’ – I5 months – salary) and finished up with “Let Mt. Nebo be the last thing you will dispose of. Bring the children up there – they look out over the houses and the river to the country nearly ten miles away. It will have an effect on their character – they will have a wide outlook and have the right view of life”. He spent the night up with me and when I think of all the work he crowded into his day it was no small thing. Neither of us referred to the dangers that surrounded us. At parting he told me “Whatever happens to us, something is going to come of these efforts and I hope your children will be able to make a living in their own country, see to their education, as I know you will, and let me know how they progress”. At about this time my brother Pat in Chicago offered to help me to bring the whole family to U.S.A. or, failing that, to take two of them and educate them. I simply could not bear the idea of leaving Ireland just then or at any time and I think he misunderstood me for he never after helped, me in any way.
But I wander and must return to the events of this terrible time in Cork and elsewhere. They are now described by some of our present day authors as the “glorious years”.
The old Police Force – Royal Irish Constabulary – which was partly a military body, having been augmented by fresh recruits fron England and as they were sent here before their uniforms were ready they wore a blue trousers and khaki tunic. They were nicknamed the “Black and Tans”. The RIC forces were greatly depleted by resignations from the force and many of those left were secretly assisting the Volunteers, so in order to keep her grip on Ireland the British Government was forced to send another military force as auxiliaries to help the police and military. These generally wore Glengarry caps and were called “Auxies”. At this time It was realised that the strangle hold which England maintained for centuries on this country was controlled and maintained by Dublin Castle, where the system of spies and informers had its nucleus.
Michael had some staunch friends within the enemy gates end he had access to many illuminating records. The fight vas becoming more and more grim and spies had to be “removed” – the executioners being chosen by ballot from the Volunteers. We then learned the meaning of the dreadful word “reprisals”. For example, a member of the R.I.C. was shot in Cork, people said in error, and a force of R.I.C. raided a peaceful home in Blackpool where the Lord Mayor – Thomas MacCurtain – was sleeping with his very young family. He was shot in cold blood in the presence of his wife. I was told at the time that the police were actually in uniform. The circumstances were shocking – all those young children – and their mother, whatever her anguish, sending for the priest – the terrified young girls racing through the dark streets to get the priest – and he (Fr. Burts) trying to reassure them and jokingly saying their part was no mean one – even though none of them would ever be mentioned in history. And so, through the hushed, crowded streets, the body of the Lord Mayor was borne – a few days after he had visited the schools and given the children their Lord Mayor’s half-holiday – while men and women crossed themselves and dedicated themselves afresh to the cause of liberty.
This and similar events strengthened the resistance of the Irish people and a system of boycott was introduced. Young men were taken out of their beds nightly – some were shot out of hand and the reports were they were shot trying to escape. Shortly after this the hunger strike was adopted as a weapon of passive resistance and the newly elected Lord Mayor of Cork – Terence McSweeney – made the most valiant fight in history and died after many agonising weeks on hunger strike. The eyes, of” the world were now turned on Ireland – a little island on the Western Ocean – where a small band defied England to free their ovn small nation – as England had gone to war with Germany in defence of “small nations” – the truth was bitter, indeed.
During all this time the prisoners in Cork Goal had been making a gallant fight. Crowds came each evening to recite the rosary. So devout and emotional were our prayers that we felt St. Patrick was really coming to your aid and taking part in our battle. Two of the Cork prisoners died and the strike was called off but the war, for now it was in every truth a war……………………… Most of the young men who were members of the Dail, the Sinn Fein Courts or the Irish Volunteers thought it more prudent not to sleep at home. By this time the country was governed entirely by force and “curfew” was imposed. This meant that from a certain hour, generally nine or ten at night to about six in the morning, people had to remain indoors. A knock after curfew thus meant that you had to face an armed force of Black and Tans.
It was on one of these occasions that Father O’Callaghan was shot. He had been a very keen student of Irish and, having been appointed Chaplain to the Good Shepherd Convent, he was offered hospitality in the house of Liaim de Roiste, one of the Deputies for Cork City, a fluent Irish speaker. Their pleasant evenings, speaking the soft Irish tongue, were ended at curfew time and Liam went to the house of a neighbour to sleep. One evening, after the usual peremptory knock, the door was opened by Mrs. de Roiste and when Father O’Callaghan heard then ask were there men in the house he partly dressed himself and declared he was a priest. As you know, ‘we reverence priests by whose hands we receive the Body and Blood of Christ and when Mrs. de Roiste’s mother saw them attacking his sacred person in her feeble way she tried to protect him by attacking one of them with a clothes brush, She was over eighty – feeble and nervous – but her efforts were unavailing for Father O’Callaghan was shot and died next day, having given his life for the cause, he raised his hand over me in priestly blessing when he was on the threshold of eternity and I firmly believe it saved me from many dangers. I find it hard to continue the narrative of 1920. My house was surrounded at night a few times and I very often passed the whole night without sleep.
It was about this time the city of Cork was burnt. It was a sight never to be forgotten to see the inferno from my house on the hill. There were explosions from time to time which we thought were firing parties – and in the midst of it all one of the babies yelling about a chilblain on her toe, which set us all into hysterical laughter.
In the morning we learned that the City Hall, the Carnegie Library and the whole of one side of Patrick Street had been reduced to rubble. As nobody dared walk the streets at that time of curfew the facts that the shops had been looted before being burnt could not be verified – but it is common knowledge that fur coats were rather common wear in the months that followed. On that same night we learned that the Black and Tans broke into a house in Dublin Hill while the city was burning.
On St. Stephen’s Day, 1920, I was sitting up by the fire long after the children had gone to bed – “thinking long” as they say in County Down. Just after turning off the gas I heard a noise at the porch door. I opened the door and was met with the cry “Police, open the door”. There was a party of about 12, mostly in uniform. I felt so weak with fear I was obliged to sit down and tell ny visitors to light the gas as I could not find a match. They searched everywhere. behind curtains, etc, and went through all my Xmas letters and papers. The two elder boys stood at their bedroom door and looked like men in the dim light.
One of the police remarked, “I didn’t know you had such big boys – how old are they ?” I said, “I5 and l4 years” and he remarked “God bless them, you will soon have help” and I realised he was doing his best to restrain a murderer whose name was Chance – one of the party. I knew the kindly R.I.C. man and he did all he could not to frighten the children who were huddled together in one bed, having heard strange noises for hours before we came upstairs and were afraid to call out to me. They took about three hours to search the papers and letters in the house, fortunately, I was able to say truthfully I knew nothing about Michael’s whereabouts. If they took any letters or photos I cannot tell, as I was trembling with fear that the awful man, Chance, would shoot me or the boys in cold blood, especially as 1 could smell drink from some of the raiders. When they left I felt I had got through my first engagement not too badly in spite of my fears. I had been careful never to leave e letter of Michael’s in the house so I knew they had their trouble for nothing. I give you the details of this raid to show you what the women of Ireland went through in those days – and so I come to the end of 1920.
The New Year opened with all the voters pretty worn out from sleepless nights and worry. At this time the Bishop of Cork made a pronouncement against ambushes which greatly disturbed us all and made a terrible impression on the mothers and wives and in many cases on the Volunteers themselves. As time vent on we learnt that there was a difference of opinion among the clergy, some taking the view that -we were, in fact, engaged in a lawful war – as far as any war is lawful – that we were ourselves a “Mother Nation”, that we never identified ourselves with England, and that England only ruled us by right of conquest.
Others of the clergy were of opinion that we were in rebellion against the lawful Government – and so we had to take a strong view and continue with the war. The next important ambush was rather a disastrous one from the Irish point of view. It was an attack on a troop train between Cork and Bantry. There were many civilians on the train and the casualties were mostly among these.
As a member of Cumann-na-mBan, I was asked to claim the body of a Volunteer named Sean Hegarty. With another lady I went to the Military Barracks and there claimed the bodies of Sean Hegarty and Florrle O’Donoghue, who were supposed to be our sons. It was a terrible experience to go into an apartment with about 20 dead men but we survived and got the bodies for Christian burial. They were buried with military honours in St. Pinbar’s cemetery and the Bishop of Cork made no objection, so whether he had been converted to our view on the war the threat of excommunication was not carried out.
I here put in a note taken on the day of execution of some Volunteers.
A DAY IN CORK DURING THE FIGHT WITH THE BLACK AND TANS
The morning dawned cold and grey – the fatal day which was to see the last of our boys, Most of whom had been captured after the Dripsey and Clonmult ambushes. There was one from Tipperary, Sean Allen, whose crime had been that he had been found in possession of a revolver. His case had been tried in the English Courts and had gone to the very highest tribunal only to have the sentence of death confirmed.
Whenever there vas an execution it was our custom to gather outside the prison walls and say the prayers for the dying, as we felt our poor boys were greatly comforted by our prayers to help them on their way fron the cell to the range of the firing squad. I found on arriving outside of the detention barracks that the public highway was blocked by a huge tank and a party of soldiers forbade us to go near the gate. Mrs. McCurtain erected a little shrine and while we prayed the sharp staccato of the rifle shots, with which we had, alas, grown too familiar, told us that life was over for our dear young patriots. We prayed for another 15 minutes when an ambulance, guarded by soldiers, broke up our ranks and just as we were going to disperse we heard anther volley of shots. We cme to the conclusion that instead of shooting the six they had arranged to kill then one by one. In another 15 minutes there was another volley, which was again, repeated after an interval of a quarter of an hour. When four ambulances had left the gate there was no other incident until the tank moved off. I went to the gate of the barracks accompanied by Mrs. O’Mahony from Dripsey, one of the bereaved mothers, to demand the bodies of our dead for Christian burial, We were told that this was not to be entertained, so were denied the sad duty of composing their bodies and wrapping them in the flag for which they died. We then called on the Chaplain – who was himself almost in a state of collapse – and he told us that they had all faced the inevitable end with the courage and fortitude for which we had prayed.
I cannot describe the wonderful patience and heroism, almost to the point of elation, displayed by these bereaved mothers, three of whom had come from the country to Cork to be as near their boys as they could before the end and to claim their bodies after death. The reaction, no doubt, came later but that day they each felt it a privilege to have raised a son for God and Ireland.
As I am telling the story of this one day as it occurred to me – I returned hone to my domestic duties and in the afternoon a messenger arrived asking me to call at Miss McSweeneys to give an account of the morning’s grim tragedy. Having related the facts which I had jotted down, I vas proceeding home accompanied by a fellow member of the Cumann-na-mBan to whom Miss McSweeney had given a letter to be posted to brother Sean, then in gaol. as we left the house we were greeted by several bursts of firing. We had to cross a rather wide street which overlooks Patrick Street. We could plainly see a large gathering of men proceeding towards the Statue with their hands above their heads, At intervals there were bursts of firing from various parts of the town. Needless to say, we did not face the guns to post our letter but scurried home as quickly as we could without meeting with any “accident”.
We learned from a Fianna boy that there had been six British soldiers shot in various parts of the city as reprisals for the morning executions, some of these were mere children with gooseberries and sweets in their pockets, a few walking with the colleens, and with my capacity for always seeing the two sides of a matter I was sorely stricken with sympathy for those boys and also for the very young Volunteers who were unlucky enough to be drawn as executioners I am no soldier – I hate war – I know how hard it is to bear and rear a child – and I thought more of the effect this shooting would have on the character of the Volunteers who got orders to shoot unarmed men more than the immediate effect. With a very sore heart I looked down on the sleeping city and deplored the young lives lost – the young hearts that had to hide their mourning for the sweethearts they vould never meet again and I thought – freedom, what crimes are committed in thy name ! .And, I am not ashamed to say it, I shuddered with fear for the future which seemed to me not to be brightened by a single gleam of hope.
From this date the war in Cork became more grim. It was quite common for houses to be raided and men taken from the midst of their families and shot out of hand, the offical report being “shot while attempting to escape”.
The farmhouses where Volunteers were known to reside or be welcome were completely demolished. Our own family homestead was destroyed by fire, also the house of Sean Hales near Brandon. At this time, “Castle Bernard”, the seat of Lord Brandon, was occupied by Black and Tans. One day as the lorries left the Castle, with an array of guns pointed and ready for action, a small party of Irish Volunteers, under General Sean Hales, scaled the walls and placed Lord Bandon under arrest, informing him that the Lady and her retinue could leave unmolested while they burned the Castle. Lord Brandon remonstrated and said, “Why this awful waste? This Castle contains treasures of Irish antiquity which you will require when you get control of your own country”. Sean replied, “My castle was burnt and it is war to the death now”. He allowed as much time as he could spare, calculating for the return of the lorries, and then spilled a small bottle of spirit on the stairs and, as he said, “there must have been a curse on it for it burned like matchwood”.
Lord Bandon was taken to a comfortable farmhouse and put in charge of a nurse, but could not sleep in peace by night ‘till he had seen the tall fair Officer whom he trusted.
These events got great prominence in the press and we began to see that guerilla warfare could shake the power of the mightiest arms. Meanwhile, it was by no means comfortable for our family. My brother Sean was arrested on his way home from Cork on the day his house was burned and his family of 8 were without a roof over their heads or father or mother to care for them. Fortunately, the weather was very fine and, having been distributed among the neighbors for the first few nights, they bivouacked in the stables which did not burn, having corrugated iron roofs and scarcely any woodwork. The reaction of the children with regard to the fire was well described by the eldest, then about 10 years old: “Someone told us to cry but we couldn’t cry and a soldier took my little silver box – it wasn’t silver, it was only Woolworths – and the smell of the corn burning in the loft was very nice – and the soldiers drank up all the cream.”
Lisavaird Nation School built in 1887 where Michael Collins had Denis Lyons as his teacher.
Lieutenant-General Arthur Ernest Percival CB DSO* OBE MC OStJ DL was the British Army officer in charge of the Auxerillies who burned the home of the Collins family at Woodfield in 1920. He built a successful military career during the interwar period but is most noted for his involvement in World War II, when he commanded the forces of the British Commonwealth during the Battle of Malaya and the subsequent Battle of Singapore.
Percival’s surrender to the invading Imperial Japanese Army force is the largest capitulation in British military history, which undermined the United Kingdom’s prestige as an imperial power in the Far East. END