FLORENCE O’DONOGHUE PAPERS M.S. 31, 305 NATIONAL LIBRARY
On the evening of Tuesday 15th February 1964 seven of us sat down at the Metropole Hotel, Cork to try to record the circumstances in which Michael Collins was killed so far as they are known to the surviving members of the Republican forces who participated in the engagement.
There was present Liam Deasy, O.C. First Southern Division; Tom Kelleher, O.C. Fifth Battalion Cork No. 3; Jim Hurly, Brigade Commandant Cork No. 3; Dan Holland, O.C. 1st Battalion Cork No. 3; Pete Kearney, O.C. 3rd Battalion; Tom Crofts, Adjutant 1st Southern Division and myself (Florence O’Donoghue). All except myself were at Bealnablath at the time and I was asked to be present to record what could be established as the truth and because I had been given an undertaking by Capt. Sean Feehan of the Mercier press that he would not publish Eoin Neeson’s book on the Civil War until we were satisfied that the part of it dealing with the death of Collins was in accordance with the facts.
The first information the Republican officers received of the presence of Collins in the area came to them on the morning of 22nd August. Denis Long was on sentry duty at Jehr. Long’s public house on the night of 21st-22nd. Tom Crofts stayed at Murray’s and Con Lucy stayed at Long’s that night. In the morning, Denis Longs saw the Free State convoy pass in the direction of Bandon and reported it. Liam Deasy and de Valera, who had stayed at Gurranereagh on the night of the 21st, arrived at Béal na mBláth next morning. De Valera, in company with Sean Hyde, went on apparently to Ballyvourney but Liam Deasy remained. Four officers of Cork No. 3 Brigade assembled at Bealnablath in the forenoon to attend a Brigade council meeting called for the afternoon. This meeting was called without any reference to the possibility of an ambush and in fact it was not held until 11 p.m. that night.
Before these officers arrived at Bealnablath the decision had been take on Divisional initiative to lay an ambush 400 yards south of the cross for the Free State convoy on the assumption that it would probably return later in the day by the same route. When the four Cork No. 3 Officers arrived, the position was in the process of being prepared and occupied.
Statements which have been made to the effect that the Division and Cork No. 1 Brigade were aware of Collins’ intention to visit posts in Cork and that a general order was issued to kill him and are without foundation and completely untrue. His presence in the South was known to the officers in the Division and of the 1st and 3rd Brigades only on the morning of 22nd and no order had been issued by either of the commands. The ambush was decided on as part of the general policy of attacking Free State convoy
The ambush party numbered between 20 and 25. It included, Liam Deasy, Tom Kelleher, Jim Hurley, Pete Kearney, Dan Holland, Tom Hales, Tom Crofts, Con Lucey, Sean Culhane, John Lordan, Bill Desmond, Dan Corcoran, C. O’Donoghue, John O’Callaghan, Sonny O’Neill, Paddy Walsh, Sonny Donovan, Jim Crowley, Tady O’Sullivan and Jerh Mahony.
A mine was laid and a mineral water lorry with one wheel removed was used as a road block. A farm butt was also placed as a road block on the bohereen running almost parallel to the road on the eastern side..
The ambush party remained in position during the day but no action took place. In the afternoon a message was received from Bandon that Collins was there. It was considered unlikely that the convoy would return through Bealnablath and the decision was made, probably by Liam Deasy, to call off the ambush and evacuate the position.
When the main party moved, a Cork No. 3 section remained to cover the withdrawal and clear the road. This group consisted of Tom Hales, Jim Hurley, Dan Holland, Tom Kelleher, Sonny O’Neill, Paddy Walsh, John O’Callaghan, Sonny Donovan, Bill Desmond and Dan Corcoran. They had left their prepared positions and were helping to clear the road when the noise of a motorbike and lorries was heard approaching from the south. They realised that the main party moving back towards Bealnablath cross-roads were in a ravine and in a very dangerous position. They could not have reached the cross-roads before the convoy overtook them.
Immediately on hearing the noise of the approaching vehicles, seven or eight of the Cork No. 3 section took up poor positions on the bohereen west of the road and opened fire on the oncoming convoy. Jim Hurley fired at the motor cyclist and missed him. Tom Kelleher fired at the following vehicle. The convoy stopped and opened fire. The Republican party were armed with rifles and revolvers only, they had no machine guns, but there were two machine guns in the convoy and fire from them raked the section of the fence from which the Cork No. 3 section were firing. The action lasted between 20 and 30 minutes and, before it ended, darkness had fallen to the extent that it was possible to see the flashes from the gunfire. Conditions were such that it was not possible to get off an aimed shot.
Firing stopped at almost 8 o’clock. The Cork No. 3 section remained in position and the Free State convoy withdrew under fire. No one in the Republican party knew that Collins had been killed or that the convoy had suffered any casualty. It was only when Sean Galvin came to Bealnablath about 11 o’clock that they got their first report of his death.