10 THE CIVIL WAR
THE CIVIL WAR
On 13th April,1922 the Four Courts building in Dublin was seized by a splinter group of anti-Treaty forces headed by Liam Mellows, Rory O’Connor, Ernie O’Malley and Tom Barry. It was garrisoned by men from Dublin No. 1 and the South Tipperary Brigades. The prestigious First Southern Division, under Liam Lynch, held aloof from the occupation and officers from that Division remained in the Clarence Hotel, a short distance from the Four Courts. Both Lynch and Deasy were refused entry to the Four Courts.
At a meeting of the I.R.B. Supreme Council on 19th April further attempts were made by Collins, O’Donoghue, Mulcahy and O’Muirthile to prevent civil war. Collins told those present that the new Constitution would be available within two or three weeks and that in it would possibly be found the basis of unity. A committee consisting of three representatives from both sides was established to draw up peace proposals, bur the discussions proved abortive when Liam Lynch stated that “if the other side were not prepared to give a guarantee that they were going to maintain the independence of Ireland I do not think that there was any use in meeting any more ……….. and the Free State will never be allowed come into existence…..”
On 1st May a group of Republican Army officers including Sean O’Hegarty, Dan Breen and Tom Hales issued an appeal, warning of the imminence of the greatest calamity in Irish history and suggesting the acceptance of the Treaty as the basis for army unification and a non-contested election. Despite the opposition of Liam Mellows and the Four Courts group, truce terms – to hold until 8th May – were agreed. Collins and de Valera resumed peace talks and on 20th May Collins and de Valera signed a Pact thus easing tension and bringing hope of peace.
Under the terms of the Pact, a national Coalition panel of uncontested candidates for the General Election on 16th June was agreed and the proportion of the candidates chosen for the panel was to be in accord with their existing strength in the Dail. Non-Sinn Fein candidates, including eighteen members of the Labour party, twelve Farmers and seventeen Independents, also stood for election. Four more Independents were returned unopposed from Trinity College.
The British saw the Pact as a complete give-away of the Treaty position and regarded it as an “agreement full of disaster”.. The Provisional Government Cabinet, particularly Griffith, were critical of Collins for signing the Pact without their knowledge or agreement but the criticism itself had the merit of demonstrating to the Republicans his earnestness for peace and allowed the General Election to be held on 16th June.
The publication of the Pact coincided with the completion of the draft Irish Free State Constitution (not at this point made public) drawn up by a committee appointed by the Provisional Government with Collins as Chairman, Dr. Figgis as Vice-Chairman and including Dr. O’Rahilly of University College Cork. The draft Constitution was Republican in character and was modelled on de Valera’s concept of association with the British Monarchy rather than allegiance to it. It dropped the Oath, reduced the Crown to a symbol and did not recognise the special position of Ulster.
In the months of May and June, Collins and Griffith were summoned to London on a number of occasion in connection with the draft Constitution and, after hard bargaining, Collins and Griffith were forced to accept major British amendments which brought the new Consitituion into conformity with the Treaty. These discussions had delayed the publication of the Constitution until the morning of the General Election.
The objection of the British to the Republican-type Consitution forced Collins to the conclusion that the Republicans would not accept the Constitution as amended and that his Pact with de Valera was doomed. Two days before voting day, he made a speech in Cork which, in effect, broke the Pact. He said “I am not hampered now by being on a platform where there are Coalitionists, and I can make a straight appeal to you to vote for the candidate you think best of”.
The election, based on proportional representation, was a massive defeat for the anti-Treaty group. The pro-Treaty candidates won 239,193 votes out of 620,283, non-panel candidates got 247,246 and anti-Treaty candidates came last with 133,864 votes. The pro-Treaty panel of candidates won 58 out of 125 seats while the anti-Treaty group won 36 seats. A measure of the actual popular support of the anti-Treaty candidates was that they won slightly less than 20% of the votes cast. Collins was elected as T.D. for South Cork where, with over 17,000 first preference votes, he topped the poll. Many observers at the time thought that the large vote for the non-panel candidates was also a vote for stable, peaceful and pro-Treaty Government. The result gave the Provisional Government the authority to act as a National Government and the intention was to formally dissolve the second Dail on 12th July. The first meeting of the Dail which had been returned after the General Election was scheduled for that date.
On Thursday 22nd June while the votes in the election were being counted, there occurred another very important event in Irish history, the assassination of Sir Henry Wilson by Reginald Dunne, the senior officer in the London I.R.A. and Joseph O’Sullivan. Both Dunne and O’Sullivan were also ex-World War veterans, O’Sullivan having lost a leg at Ypres. Dunne could have ran from the chasing crowd and escaped but decided to stay with O’Sullivan.
The killing shocked the British public. A newspaper had the headline “Hang the butchers of Wilson”. The influential London Times newspaper – the mouthpiece of the British Government wrote:
“Field-Marshall Sir Henry Wilson, the famous and gallant soldier, was murdered yesterday upon the threshold of his London home. The murderers were Irishmen. Their deed must rank among the foulest in the foul category of Irish political crimes …….. In horror it has not been approached since Lord Frederick Cavendish and Mr. Burke fell victim of Fenian hatred more than a generation ago. Like the Phoenix Park murders, it will arouse deep and lasting indignation. A crime like this rouses the righteous wrath of a nation”
In Belfast, Sir James Craig adjourned the Northern Parliament, having declared “Sir Henry Wilson laid down his life for Ulster”….. Lady Wilson let is be known that no one who had negotiated the Treaty would be welcome at her husband’s funeral. All the British ministers were assigned armed bodyguards and the public gallery in the House of Commons was closed.
It is not certain who gave the order for the assassination of Wilson nor when it was given. Reginald Dunne had been a friend of Collins in the London I.R.B. organisation and there is other evidence to link Collins and Rory O’Connor with the deed. Dunne had met both of them when in Dublin earlier in the month.
Sir Henry Wilson, who had been born in County Longford, was late Chief of the British Imperial Staff and Unionist M.P. for North Down. He had accepted appointment as official security advisor to the Northern Government on the organisation and control of the Special Constabulary. He had also become an influential and vocal critic of the Treaty and of conditions in Ireland. In many respects – charm, deviousness and organisational ability – he was, ironically, a mirror image of Collins, but, in contrast, was a convinced imperialist. His sectarian speeches had inflamed the Northern situation. Collins, who was also the member of Parliament for County Armagh was strongly committed to the Republican struggle in Northern Ireland and held Wilson mainly responsible for the atrocities against Catholics.
Churchill, worried about the stability of his own Coalition Government, became extremely impatient with the Irish Provisional Government in regard to the occupation of the Four Courts. In his parliamentary speech he said “The presence in Dublin of a band of men styling themselves the Headquarters of the Executive is a gross breach and defiance of the Treaty… if it is not brought to a speedy end, then it is my duty to say on behalf of His Majesty’s Government that we shall regard the Treaty as having been formally violated… and we shall resume full liberty of action in any direction..”
The statement was greeted with loud cheers. A wave of rage against the Irish swept England. Collins at last fully realised that, unless he acted against the Four Courts, the British Army would be ordered back to control the country.
The Truce of July 1921 was perhaps least observed by the Northern Unionists, and sectarian outrages continued. Nevertheless, in late November, when there was considerable rioting in Belfast, the British handed over responsibility for security and justice to the Northern Authorities and an immediate programme of cracking down hard on Republicans was initiated.
The situation in the North was causing Collins major worries and he continued to support the cause of the Nationalists there. The Local Government Act of 1919 which allowed for Proportional Representation in Ireland despite strenuous Orange opposition had become law, but one of the first acts of the Craig Goverment was to set about repealing the Act. This would prejudice the Catholic and Nationalist position. Collins raised the issue both orally and in strongly-worded letters to Churchill on several occasions. Nevertheless, Craig succeeded in repealing it without any serious objection from the British. Churchill said that the continuing refusal of the Catholic minority to recognise the Northern Government robbed much of the substance and possible validity from Collins arguments. Collins had pointed out as an example that as a result of the gerrymandering of the Tyrone consitituency an admitted Catholic majority of over 15,000 had been manipulated to produce a local government council with an Orange majority. In vain did Collins warn that this Bill would exclude Catholics from their rightful place in the Community. He got no satisfaction. The pogroms and killings continued. Collins, without British knowledge, continued to support the resistance campaign in the North. The Unionists reacted by introducing flogging, by interning Catholics and by arson, intimidation and murder. Curfew was introduced. Orange mobs attacked Catholic areas. In response, Collins got approval from the Provisional Government for Eoin O’Duffy to arm and pay a Belfast group of Republicans but they were totally outnumbered by the nine thousand British soldiers and forty-eight thousand R.U.C. and Special Constabulary and were unable to protect the Catholic population. The historian Dorothy Macardle, calculated that in the two years ending June 1922, 428 people were killed and 1,766 wounded and that 8,750 Catholics driven out of employment and 23,000 driven from their homes.
Collins wrote to Churchill protesting about the slaughter but to no avail. By this time, he had realised that Frank Aiken and his men had no hope of defeating the forces of Northern Unionism. In early August he met the officers of the Northern Divisions in Dublin at Portobello Barracks. He told them that with Civil War on his hands he could not give any further help, that he was calling off hostilities in the North and would try the effect of political pressure. He also said that, in the event of political pressure failing, he would start covert hostilities again. Shortly afterwards, large numbers of Volunteers from the Northern Divisions enrolled in the Free State Army. Many of these had been among the 500 already training at the Curragh. One such Volunteer was Sean Haughey, father of Charles J. Haughey who would, almost seventy years later, engage in talks with the British government on the position of the North.
In the meantime on Thursday 22nd June, Lloyd George sent an urgent letter to Michael Collins stating that the occupation of the Four Courts could no longer be tolerated. He also said that evidence had been found on Reginald Dunne connecting the I.R.A. with the assassination of Sir Henry Wilson but did not state the nature of the evidence found.
Meetings of the British Cabinet were held on 23rd and 24th June with Irish matters on the agenda. General Macready, Commander-in-Chief of British troops in the South who attended the first of these, saw no great difficulty in taking the Four Courts by using the British troops still stationed in Dublin, but expressed concern at the possible political effects the operation would have of rallying public support to the Republicans.
The Cabinet conference did not go beyond discussing an attack on the 23rd June but already British public had reached explosion point. This and newspaper calls for immediate action caused the Cabinet at the meeting of the 24th to make a definite decision to mount an attack with British troops on the Four Courts the following day. Lord Cavan sent the order to General Macready, “proceed Sunday”. The First Lord of the Admiralty was also ordered to have ships available at Kingstown (later restored to its old name Dun Laoghaire) to transport any prisoners taken in the attack to Britain.
On the day of the proposed operation General Macready, who had returned to Ireland, continued to have grave worries about the political consequences and, instead of attacking the Four Courts, sent a military representative, Colonel Brind, to London to express his serious misgivings and advised the British Government to give the Provisional Government a further chance to take the building. The Cabinet in London accepted the advice. This outcome was not what Mellows, in charge of the anti-Treaty forces in the Four Courts, had hoped for since it was highly likely that, had the British attacked, Republicans of all shades of opinion would have united and attacked the British forces. The Treaty would have been violated and the Anglo-Irish war would have recommenced. The proposed British attack on the Four Courts was called off and the naval ships which had already left port recalled. Churchill was instructed to write to the Provisional Government to point out that the Treaty could not be proceeded with unless the Four Courts was cleared. Field Guns, rifles and ammunition were offered for the attack
On 26th June, as a reprisal for the arrest by the Provisional Government forces of Leo Henderson – the Director of the “Belfast Boycott” – the Republicans kidnapped General J.J. (Ginger) O’Connell, the Provisional Government’s Army Deputy-Chief-of-State and imprisoned him in the Four Courts. Collins saw that the return of the British was a strong possibility and, reluctantly bowing to pressure from his own colleagues and from the British Government, finally agreed to attack the Four Courts. The kidnapping of O’Connell provided the final public justification for the attack but it is probable that the actual decision to act on the British ultimatum was already made before the kidnapping. It did, however, help to justify the attack as regards Irish public opinion. A final ultimatum was presented at 3.30 a.m on 28th June to the Four Courts garrison to evacuate the building and at 4.15 a.m the Four Courts building was attacked by Provisional Government Forces commanded by Major-General Emmet Dalton.
Rory O’Connor issued a press statement from the Four Courts which charged that “the enemy is the old enemy, England … Mr. Churchill cracked the whip in his speech .. when he ordered the Provisional Government to attack the Four Courts”. English soldiers, he said, “were prepared to rush our position”. De Valera was quoted as saying that Collins had broken his election pact with him “at the bidding of the English”.
Collins and Griffith retaliated – “Statements that British troops are co-operating … are false and malicious. None but Irish forces, with the co-operation of citizens, who are loyally and enthusiastically supporting the Government, are engaged in putting down the disordely element who attempt to tyrannise over the people and defy their will”. The attack was seen by many as an attack on Irish Republicanism. At a meeting in the Clarence Hotel attended by de Valera, Liam Lynch, Cathal Brugha and others it was agreed to resist the attack.
Initially the two eighteen-pounder guns supplied by the British from the Phoenix Park depot, were ineffective against the strong walls of the Four Courts. The British had also offered sixty-pounder howitzers but, before they were delivered, the sustained barrage and the explosion of two mines within the building brought about a surrender of the garrison in the afternoon of 30th June. Its destruction, like that of the Custom House, also caused the loss of invaluable records and documents. Men from Dublin No.1 Brigade proceeded to occupy buildings on the east side of O’Connell Street and other parts of the city. These positions were then also attacked by Government guns and troops under Dalton. On 5th July, with a major part of O’Connell St. in flames, a white flag was hoisted over the Hamman Hotel, near the present Gresham Hotel. Oscar Traynor, the commander of the Dublin Brigade ordered Cathal Brugha to surrender. Brugha, realising that further resistance was futile, ordered his command on the east side of O’Connell St. to surrender. Once this was done, he rushed from the burning Granville Hotel with a pistol in each hand. Ignoring calls to surrender from both friends and foes he fired his revolvers and fell before a volley of shots. He died two days later, thereby tragically removed one of the obstacles to Collins’ policy. Initially, Collins and himself had been friends but Brugha’s distrust of Collins’ I.R.B. association and influence had destroyed the friendship.
Casualties from the eight days of fighting numbered sixty-five killed and hundreds wounded. About four million pounds worth of property was destroyed. The Provisional Government was now fully determined to assert its authority. On 3rd July, the Government decided that the army should be increased by an extra 20,000 men. Within weeks, thousands of new recruits, many of them demobbed, unemployed ex-British army personnel, had enlisted and soon the Army numbered 35,000 men. Some of those newly-recruited men were not held in very high regard. The Poblacht na h-Eireann War News editorial said: “Mulcahy………has raked into his army every scoundrel the British discarded”. The great advantage seen in enlisting ex-British and American army men was that, as trained men, they could be used immediately. Collins took over the position of Commander-in-Chief of the Army on 12th July and W.T. Cosgrave became Acting Chairman of the Provisional Government. The meeting of the new Dail called for 12th July was postponed.
The fighting in Dublin was by now largely over but the Republicans remained strong in the rest of the country, particularly in what sometimes was known as the “Munster Republic”, where the anti-Treaty Army Executive with Liam Lynch as Chief-of-Staff was determined to fight on in the hope of establishing a thirty-two county Republic. Under his command, the 1st Southern Division, numbering 33,550 officers and men, the majority having taken their solemn oath to defend the Republic, were strong supporters of the Army Executive. Liam Deasy, formerly of the Cork No. 3 Brigade, was O.C. Ist Southern Division, representing the geographical area of Counties Cork and Kerry and part of County Limerick.
The initial major mistake of the Republicans was to adopt a defensive strategy. At the time of the attack on the Four Courts, Provisional Government forces numbered about 10,000 while the Republicans had potentially about 80,000 anti-Treaty Volunteers scattered throughout the country with a reasonable supply of arms and ammunition. In practice, thousands ceased membership and some twenty thousand joined a break-away movement which called itself the Neutral I.R.A.
The Republicans allowed the Provisional Government to assert its authority in Dublin and the independent Republican divisions gave only limited, late help by concentrating a small relieving force around Blessington, County Wicklow
Limerick City was to become the next crucial centre of the struggle. A truce arrangement had been arrived at the 7th July but was subsequently broken. The Republicans adopted a defensive strategy and, with large numbers of troops on each side engaged in the fighting, the Republicans were defeated by 21st July and retreated southwards towards Kilmallock and Buttevant. On 5th August the Provisional Government troops entered Kilmallock.
The Civil War was proving very unpopular with the majority of the people. The Republicans appeared to have no clear political policy or offensive strategy. The public press, the clergy and influential business people were openly critical and the seemingly large-scale wanton destruction of property appalled the people. De. Valera vainly tried to impress on Liam Lynch the advisability of ceasing the fighting while the Republican organisation was strong, but Lynch could think of no alternative policy except that of fighting on and he mistakenly thought that the outlook was favourable. Meanwhile Collins, who had recovered his spirit, devoted his immense energy and organising ability towards establishing the authority of the Provisional Government although, at the same time, many of his colleagues in Government thought that he was sympathetic to bringing about an accommodation with his former republican comrades.
On 2nd August, in a clever strategic move which struck the Republicans in the rear, Collins ordered 500 Government troops under General Paddy Daly to be landed by boat at Fenit Co. Kerry and they quickly occupied Tralee and Listowel. The remaining major stronghold of the Republicans was Cork. Collins and Major-General Dalton determined to take control there. One the morning of 7th August two boats – “The Lady Wicklow” and “The Arvonia” – loaded with troops, armoured cars and eighteen-pounder guns, left Dublin docks and, avoiding the block ships sunk by the Republicans on the sea channel leading into Cork, made a surprise landing at Passage West on Tuesday 8th August and within three days Dalton had taken control of the city. A huge convoy of lorries and confused, demoralised Republicans retreated westwards towards Macroom, burning barracks and destroying bridges as they retreated. The loss of Cork City was a major blow to the hopes of the Republicans and within days, the towns of Macroom, Inchigeelagh, Bantry, Bandon and Clonakilty were occupied by Provisional Government troops. Fermoy, the last big town held by the Republicans fell on 11th August and General Liam Lynch was forced to move into the countryside.
Arthur Griffith, President of Dail Eireann, died as a result of a cerebral haemorrhage on 12th August. William T. Cosgrave took over his responsibilities. Collins, who was on a tour of inspection of the Kerry area, returned from Tralee to attend the funeral on the 16th August. On the same day Dunne and Sullivan were hanged in England for the assassination of General Wilson. Colleagues of Collins remarked that at this time he seemed listless and dejected and Joe Reilly, his “guardian angel” on asking him how he was received the reply: “Rotten”. On Saturday, 19th August Collins made arrangements to travel by military convoy to inspect Provisional Government troops in Cork and to meet prominent Cork citizens to discuss peace initiatives.
Joe McGrath and others strongly advised him against going but he retorted “my own fellow-countrymen won’t kill me”. At the same time he dispatched Frank Thornton to Clonmel to make arrangements for safe conduct of anti-Treaty leaders for peace talks. That night, as he was returning from a meal at Sir Horace Plunkett’s house in Dublin, the car in which he travelled was ambushed but, fortunately, no one was injured.
On Sunday morning, 20th August the Collins’ convoy left Portobello Barracks for Cork. He was accompanied by an escort commanded by Commandant O’Connell, consisting of two officers (Captain Conroy and Dolan) and twelve men in a Crossley tender. Collins himself accompanied by Fionan Lynch, travelled in a yellow Leyland open touring-car with the driver M. Corry and co-driver M. Quinn. An armoured car, the Slievenamon, whose crew included two drivers, a machine-gunner, Jock McPeake – a Scotsman – and an assistant gunner brought up the rear. The convoy was well armed; two of the Crossley tender men were trained machine-gunners and at least three were ex-British army. None of the convoy had experience of rural guerilla warfare and the means of communication between individuals while travelling was by hand signals.
The convoy travelled via Portlaoise, where the party had a meal, and met a prisoner, Thomas Malone, an I.R.B. man and former friend of Collins. After Collins had talked with Malone he said “the three Tom’s will settle it” Obviously he was despairing of making peace arrangements with Liam Lynch and thought that Tom Malone, Tom Barry and his old friend, Tom Hales – the man about whom on one occasion he said “I would rather Tom Hales with me than any twelve men” – could be got to see thing his way.
Collins’ diary – a duplicate, numbered notebook – which allowed him to keep a copy of the instructions issued shows his movements and the instructions he issued on 21st and 22nd August.
The convoy arrived at Limerick barracks at 2.35 pm and after discussions with his military officers Collins issued instruction that ciphers on the following matters be sent to Dublin – the removal of 200 prisoners, an order to supply 100 revolvers to General Eoin O’Duffy, a request to the Government to station Civic Guards (the newly constituted police force) in Limerick and to make an ambulance available.
They left Limerick at 5 pm stopping at Charleville, Buttevant and Mallow where they arrived at 7.45 pm, met Fr. Roche, and some local citizens. At Mallow, Collins wrote out a number of instructions including an order to send the engineering corps to Mallow to repair the bridge over the Blackwater river and to make good a passage over the Awbeg river. Collins had been informed that a number of bridges on the main road to Cork had been destroyed. A Cork guide, Private Sean O’Connell, joined the convoy and guided it along by-roads into Cork city where it arrived as darkness was falling.
Major-General Dalton, the officer in charge of Cork County, was delighted but surprised at the unexpected visit of his Commander-in-Chief. Collins made the Imperial Hotel his headquarters while the escort took up quarters at the Victoria Hotel. At 9.30 am the next day, 21st August he sent a wire which read:
Ask Cosgrave to wire at once who used to take charge of letting places like Moorepark, Kilworth, also representative Home Affairs must be sent here regarding ordinary prisoners, courts, justices.
C. in C. Troops Cork”
The first official appointment Michael Collins had on 21st August was at 10.30 am with Mr. Crosbie, the owner of the Cork Examiner newspaper. The relevant entry reads: “Meeting Dail – Suggestions, Leading article today. Peoples Rights and Peace Offers etc = The writing up of the situation”.
He visited the Hibernian Bank at 11.00 am, the Bank of Ireland at 11.15 am and the Land Bank at 11.45am in an attempt to trace £120,000, mainly Excise Duty, which had been appropriated by the Republicans and put on Bank deposit (Some £38,000 was later recovered).
At. 3.30 pm he sent the following report to Mr. Cosgrave – the President –
“1. The Bank position here is obscure. It will require a full investigation and combined with the investigation, there must be an examination of the Customs and Excise position – all moneys paid in and out must come under this. We shall require three first-class independent men. Unfortunately Brennan had gone to London. (Joseph Brennan, Auditor General and a native of Bandon).
2. It would be very desirable to make an examination of the destination of certain drafts on the London County Westminister, Paris, London. Childers (Mr. and Mrs.) kept and keep an account or several accounts at the Holborn (I think) Branch of the Bank. I am sure the Bank will give full details of any recent transactions.
3. The people here want no compromise with the Irregulars.
4. It is wise to postpone the Dail meeting as already suggested.
5. You might get before your minds eye three persons under par. 1, but don’t announce anything until I return”
The armoured car – the Slievenamon – was sent for servicing to Johnson and Perrott’s garage in the city and that evening the convoy, with the “Dublin Liz” armoured car as a substitute, travelled out the northern road via Coachford to Macroom, an important I.R.B. centre, and stayed about an hour there. The Macroom post was on the border between the Republican and Government-controlled areas and its commanding officer, the newly-promoted Commandant Conlon, who had taken a leading part in the capture of Cork city, complained that, as the post was being attacked almost nightly, he needed more fire-power to hold it. He was given a Lewis machine-gun and some ammunition. A further forty rifles, ammunition and a Lewis gun were promised for the following day and a local Provisional Government supporter – M. O’Brien – travelled with the convoy on the return journey to Cork to make the necessary arrangements. In Macroom, Collins also spoke with Florence O’Donoghue, a member of the Supreme Council of the I.R.B. who had been active in trying to reconcile the pro- and anti-Treaty leadership.
The convoy returned to Cork and, that night, Collins had a meal with his sister, Mary Collins Powell, and other relatives. Some prominent Cork citizens, holding neutral views and including Sean O’Hegarty, former O.C. Cork No. 1 Brigade, Tim O’Mahony of the same Brigade, Dr. A. O’Rahilly of University College, Cork and Fr. W.P. Hackett S.J., a friend of Erskine Childers, sought to meet Collins to discuss possible peace proposals. The following letter to Father Hackett written in Collins’ own handwriting and perhaps the last letter he wrote, read:
A Athair, a chara,
I received your note this evening but was engaged when it was handed to me. Mr. Mehigan was to arrange for you to see me but through some misfortune you were not informed. I am sorry that I missed you.
Others writers suggest that, Collins had agreed to meet a group of prominent Cork citizens at Desmond’s Hotel in Cork on the night of 22nd August. Tim O’Mahony, a neutral officer of the Cork No. 1 Brigade, stated that he waited in vain at the Imperial Hotel that night for a meeting arranged between Dr. O’Rahilly of University College, Cork, Collins and himself.
In addition to Collins, other key men were also on the move on 20th August. Liam Deasy, O.C. First Southern Division, returned from the Limerick fighting and arrived at Hydes of Toureen – the home of Sean Hyde (Intelligence Officer of the First Southern Division), a recently qualified veterinary surgeon who had won an All-Ireland medal in hurling with Dublin. Next morning, Deasy visited his mother at Kilmacsimon Quay and then set out by bicycle for Joe O’Sullivan’s house in Gurranereagh (near Kilmurry) where, as he had previously informed his Chief-of-State Liam Lynch, he intended establishing temporary headquarters. Joe was an old Fenian and it was to his house that the 3rd Brigade Flying Column under Tom Barry had retreated and rested after the famous victory at Crossbarry in March, 1921. At this time, however, O’Sullivan was critical of the Republicans for their anti-Treaty activities. Nevertheless, Deasy records that he received the same welcome as always.
Among the dispatches waiting at Gurranereagh was one from Liam Lynch. It informed Deasy that de Valera had been at Lynch’s headquarters advocating the making of peace and seeking to meet Deasy. He was advised to take no notice of de Valera’s suggestions. The O’Sullivan home was a busy place those few days with lots of visitors including Tom Hales, Brigade Commandant Cork No. 3 Brigade, dressed in his officer’s uniform, and Sonny Donovan, a dispatch rider. That afternoon Deasy sent a dispatch to all officers of Cork No. 3 brigade to attend a Brigade meeting at Bill Murrays, Beal na mBlath, on the afternoon of 22nd August.
On 20th August, de Valera left James O’Leary’s farmhouse at Gurtafludaig in the parish of Inchigella to attend a Cork No. 1 Brigade meeting at Ballyvourney. In the absence of Sean O’Hegarty, who was involved in peace negotiations and pursuing an uncommitted role, the meeting was chaired by Dan “Sandow” O’Donovan, Vice O.C. Cork No. 1 Brigade, who had commanded the Brigade Column in the successful Coulnacahera ambush. Others at the meeting included Dick Langford of Milltown, County Kerry, and Ist Southern Division Commandant Pat O’Sullivan, Mick Murphy, 1st Southern Division, Commandant Tom Hales, Dan Corkery T.D and F. O’Donoghue, Adjutant 1 st Southern Division who followed a neutral policy. De Valera pointed out that control of the towns and cities had passed into their opponent’s hands, that the people were no longer enthusiastic supporters of the organisation and that it would be more advantageous in the long-term to seek peace while their organisation was strong. Tom Hales agreed that without the support of the people their cause would fail.
It was agreed that de Valera’s proposal was a political matter which should properly be discussed with their senior officers and the meeting decided to block roads and defend their area while awaiting the result of the planned 3rd Brigade meeting.
On Monday morning, 21st August, de Valera and his A.D.C. Jimmy Flynn left the O’Leary home and escorted by Captain Bill Powell of Cork No. 1 Brigade were taken by pony and trap,a then common means of transport, to Muinegave, a tiring 14 miles journey that entailed crossing two mountain ranges and along narrow roads to arrive safely at Ellenville, the home of Richard Wood’s family, Protestants of Elizabethan stock with a long tradition of acceptance and respect in those parts of West Cork.
There were five children in the family, so accommodation was limited. The only vacant bedroom was already taken by Liam Deasy and Sean Cullinane of the First Southern Division. De Valera had an evening meal, called to O’Sullivans and had a conversation with the old Fenian, Joe O’Sullivan. Deasy described his conversation with de Valera in his book “Brother against Brother”.
“We discussed the war situation far into the night. His main argument was that having made our protest in arms and as we could not now hope to achieve a military success, the honourable course for us was to withdraw. Although agreeing in my heart with this argument, I countered that we had at least one thousand men under arms in the First Southern Division and I felt sure that the majority of them would not agree to an unconditional cease-fire”.
It is of interest to note that when captured by Government forces in the following January, Deasy signed a document which was published and read: “I accept and I will aid an immediate and unconditional surrender of all arms”.
De Valera slept that night on a couch in the kitchen of Wood’s and breakfasted there on the morning of 22nd August. The girl who served him his breakfast in the kitchen told the author more than fifty years ago that she served him two boiled eggs, brown bread and tea.
In the Walsh home in Muinegave, close by, were lodged Erskine Childers and his cousin David Robinson – an ex-British Army Officer. Here was produced the propaganda bulletin, Poblacht na hEireann War News. Among Childers aides were Lena Corcoran, a local girl whose brother was badly wounded in the Crossbarry Ambush, Kathleen Barry, the sister of the executed Kevin Barry and Michael Donovan, destined to be a distinguished author under his adopted name of Frank O’Connor. Bob Langford, brother of Dick, organised the printing, initially at Macroom Printing Works and subsequently in Ballyvourney.
Also located at Walsh’s was the horse and trap of Canon Tracey, pastor of the neighbouring Kilmurry parish. They had been commandeered from the Canon who had made a name for himself as a regular, consistent denouncer of the I.R.A.. The horse and trap were kept busy on Republican work and were also used to bring de Valera to Beal na mBlath on the morning of 22nd August. Several weeks later the over-worked horse in poor body condition was returned to the farmyard of the author’s father. He publicly criticised the irregulars for their treatment of the horse. The animal would have to be given a couple of months’ special feeding to bring it back to full health and the author’s father incurred a warning from the I.R.A. for his pains before taking the animal back to his friend the Canon.