PTE SÉAN O’CONNELL’S ACCOUNT
We arrived in Cork at half-past eight. Collins stayed in the Imperial and some of the escort stayed at the Victoria Hotel. There were no anti-Collins demonstrations, but there were chalked notices on the wall – ‘Collins marches through Cork – why not Belfast?’ The City was controlled by members of the Cork Civil Police (Cork Civic Police).
(The morning of the 21st was spent in inspecting military posts in the city and in meetings with various prominent citizens).
That evening (the 21st) we were told to be ready to move out at four a.m. the next morning. In the morning the cars were brought round to the Imperial.
The route was by Skibbereen and from there by by-roads to Bandon. From there we went through the Bandon demesne towards Clonakilty.
About a mile outside Clonakilty, near the workhouse, occurred the first hint of trouble, the way being blocked by newly felled trees. (Author’s italics). Collins, mentioning that the following day was fair day in Clonakilty, ordered the removal of the trees and himself lent a hand. Eventually he decided that the work would take too long. They then retraced their route, going by another road to Clonakilty where they breakfasted. To the commander of the garrison Collins gave orders for the removal of the trees.
Proceedings from Clonakilty we travelled over four miles of mountainous road to Sam’s Cross. There Collins pointed out the heap of grass and stones, all that remained of his former home after its destruction by the ‘Black and Tans’. At the public house run by his cousin Jeremiah Collins treated each of us to two pints of the Clonakilty Wrestler, the local stout. Here Collins drank his last drink. We stayed about half an hour at Sam’s Cross, while Collins talked with members of his family.
At six o’clock that evening we went back through Skibbereen where Collins reviewed the local garrison. Then he had a conference with his officers and decided to return to Cork.
We went through Bandon towards Clonakilty and found the way still blocked by trees. Meeting some solders Collins wanted to know why they hadn’t been removed. The soldiers told him that they had been attacked by a force of Irregulars from which they had retreated. But the convoy saw no force of Irregulars, either before or after the meeting with the detachment.
We travelled fairly fast and reached the valley of Bean na mBlath, a place north-west of Bandon, but nearer to Crookstown than Bandon.
The road narrowed, zig-zagging into a series of blind corners. On one side of the road there was a swampy stream in which water-cress grew. On the other side scrub following the slope of the hill.
The touring car was now travelling ahead of the Crossley tender. From the tender Barry (a soldier from Athlone) and myself could see that Collins had lifted his rifle from its customary position at his feet to lay it across his knee. The gloomy valley seemed a likely place for an ambush.
And so it proved. Coming out of a blind corner and with a straight road in front, we saw an old four wheeled dray lying across the road with two of the wheels removed. The dray was loaded with cases and bottles – it was a brewers dray – and immediately in front of it the road, was strewn with broken glass.
Almost at once machine-gun fire commenced, coming from the brush. There was a haze on the road and the light was fading quickly. Seeking cover we returned the fire.
At the time of the beginning of the action the armoured car was almost half a mile behind the rest of the convoy. After a while it arrived but it wasn’t very useful. Shortly after the guns began to fire the belts fell off.
For a while the firing continued and then there was a a lull during which we saw the attackers retreat in the direction of Cork. (Author’s italics).
Lt. Smith and myself began a survey of the area and we found a black oil (oilskin) coat and a bag with black powder in it. There was more firing at this point coming from the direction of a farmhouse on the hill.
Again the firing died down. Collins stood up to see how things were going. He was in the middle of the road, looking round, reloading his rifle. There was a single shot and Collins went down. A number of men went to help him but with that the firing around us intensified. It was nearly ten minutes later when we reached Collins. He was dead. There was a bad wound near his left ear. There was no more firing from the enemy. We put Collins in the back seat of the car ……..
In the darkness we took the wrong road back to Cork and got lost. Eventually we had to go across country and the Crossley got bogged down. We made a ‘carpet’ of coats and blankets and got the tender onto the road. But the armoured car got bogged down and the touring car wouldn’t start, so we carried Collins across the tender and went to Cork in that. We arrived at Shanakiel hospital outside Cork at three o’clock in the morning………