Raising the First Loan
Raising the first Dail loan
by the late WILLIAM D. O’CONNELL, R.I.P.
Literary Editor, Cork Examiner (1982)
NEVER was a national loan raised in such circumstances and by such a Minister for Finance. Michael Collins was not yet 29. His formal training had been in the British Post Office Savings Bank in London, then as a clerk in the London office of the New York Guaranty Trust. Later he was a clerk in the Board of Trade and when he returned to Dublin after his release from Frongoch internment, he served for a short while in Craig Gardners in Dublin. Collins had fought in the G.P.O. in 1916, had risen rapidly in the volunteer movement and Sinn Fein, and was now a leading figure in the secret l.R.B.
He had become Director of Organisation of the Volunteers, of which body a convinced opponent of the l.R.B.—Cathal Brugha—Was Chief of Staff and here began the seeds of future friction between the two men. The Dail had been proscribed and suppressed in 1919 but it had functioned and continued to function as the de jure government.
Of the sixty-nine Sinn Fein members elected in the 1918 General Election, thirty-five were in prison, three had been deported and six were in hiding. They decided that they had a mandate to form an independent National Assembly. Unionists and Irish Party members were summoned to the first meeting of this assembly, the first DAiI, but did not attend. They decided on a separatist policy and issued a Declaration of Independence.
Some writers hold that Michael Collins was opposed to any such assembly being held while so many of the elected members were in prison, but the first public session met on January, 21st, being attended by twenty-seven Sinn Feiners. Michael Collins was not present. He was in England arranging the successful escape of Mr. De Valera from Lincoln Jail, but he was appointed Minister for Home Affairs in his absence. London decided to free the Irish political prisoners and at the meeting of the Dail in April Mr. De Valera was elected Priomh Aire, First Minister. In the new Cabinet was Collins who became Minister for Finance. A decision was made to send Mr. de Valera to America and in May, 1919, Harry Boland was smuggled out to prepare for his visit. Without Boland’s support and friendship certain sections of Sinn Fein began to make things difficult for Collins who wrote to Austin Stack on June 6,
“things are not going very smoothly, although that’s too strong an expression. All sorts of miserable little undercur-rents are working and the effect is anything but good.”
A most successful bond drive was got under way by Mr. de Valera in America, and it was decided to raise a National Loan at home and the young Minister for Finance who launched it and suprevised all the organisational details was a wanted man. He was not yet 29, and had three years to live.
His offices and accounting systems were liable to raids; money was seized and collection was impossibly difficult. No press advertisements could be published, as the newspapers could be, and were, suppressed. Collins had startled Arthur Griffith by stating that he could get in, a quarter million pounds and he set about his task with cool determination. When his Offices at 6 Harcourt Street were raided on September 12th, he went out on the roof and when the raiders departed came back to continue his work.
Collins had a film made showing loan certificates being issued. Two copies of this film were made and young men visited the projection rooms for Dublin cinemas and had these shown, departing before the arrival of the police. The monies collected were hidden in private houses, under flooring boards and in cellars, before bank deposits could be made, after door-to-door collections. Small amounts of gold were made over. A house in Donnybrook, Maurice Collins’ shop, Kirwan’s pub in Parnell Street, were amongst the centres used.
Dublin Castle obtained the services of a Mr. Alan Bell, R.M., to ferret out the deposits and deal with recalcitrant bank managers. There was some evidence that he was an intelligence officer and Collins was not going to have the people’s loan confiscated in this way. Mr. Bell was met by a party of determined young men from the squad one morning when he was coming in from Donnybrook, and executed.Collins had already warned the detectives of the famous ‘G’ Division, who were engaged solely in political work, to keep clear.
Michael Collins issued an official receipt for every penny of the Dail Eireann Loan
In building up his intelligence organisation, which was eventually to make the Dublin Castle forces ineffective, Collins had made contact in January, 1919, with a young detective, Ned Broy, and on the night of April, 7th, at 12.30. he was brought into detective headquarters at Brunswick Street. Three hours later he emerged with all the information he needed from the confidential files.
Still the raids went on and the small army of touts and informers were on the alert for Collins. His offices at 76 Harcourt Street were raided in November and he escaped down the skylight of the Standard Hotel next door, cracking a rib in the process.
With both Harcourt Street offices being raided the business of the loan was transferred to O’Keeffe’s confectionery shop in Camden Street. On May 20th, Collins had written “impending raids make my situation precarious’, and later, “the amount of attention they are trying to pay me is really extraordinary, but I manage to keep as active as ever. No doubt though our end will come to that sometime, but however, it is well to be carrying the long day”.
At this time he was a much-wanted man. There was no time or thought for social life. He took refuge in total anonymity, cycling around Dublin on his famous bike. He had given up smoking. He avoided drink. The correspondence file of his dealings with Volunteer business had now reached heavy proportions epecially with the country units. In addition to his work as Minister for Finance and the Loan, he met the Brigade Officers, usually in Vaughan’s (Joint No. 1) and men from the country units he met in 5 Upper Abbey Street. Sailors and dockers who had smuggled in arms were met at dockside pubs. Only he knew the names of his agents.
His handful of dedicated helpers, men and women, served him with passionate loyalty. He had now become Director of Intelligence, which was an added burden to his work load. Under this pressure he had little time for, or patience with incompetence. Here is a typical Collins reaction. In a letter to Stack: ‘If you saw the bloody pack down here and their casual indefinite meaningless purposeless way of carrying on’, and in the same theme, to Terence MacSwiney on January 5th, 1920; ‘In the circumstances I think the (Mid-Cork) list as made out very satisfactory. I only wish that all places were equally good. If you saw some of the particulars we were supplied with, they would simply drive you mad. Terence MacSwiney, later Lord Mayor of Cork, was mainly responsible for the collection in Mid-Cork constitutency and he indicated the local difficulties of collection. Writing to Collins on October 20th, he said: ‘the police are causing us much trouble’, and again from Macroom on the following day, ‘anything may happen here—I had a narrow shave yesterday—armed police held me up and searched my bag—got nothing, but probably had instructions to lift me for any excuse.”
MacSwiney wrote to him on October 21st that five thousand more copies of the loan prospectus were needed so that the whole constituency could be worked. These were needed at once “as we are about to begin the house-to-house canvas, our reliance is almost entirely on Volunteers for distribution and canvassing. The mobilisation lines are being well worked, accordingly, a particular night was elected for the distribution and the Volunteers were mobilised, and the distribution was carried out simultaneously throughout the whole constituency in all directions—another precaution against raids. Though the police raided the constituency in all directions, they got nothing worth speaking of and the distribution was a complete success”.
The official certificates were printed secretly by Colm O’Lochlainn in green, gold and black.
At the end of June, 1920, the Dail held a one-day session and Collins announced that the loan was being closed. He wrote the following day: ‘It may be mentioned that the loan total is just £290,000, so that I got the money in spite of all the hinderances and difficulties.’
Arthur Griffith’s reaction was to call it ‘one of the most extraordinary feats in the country’s history’.
It closed officially at the end of July, 1920, with over £355,000 subscribed. Ten days earlier he had told MacSwiney; ‘At this closing stage I would like to mention that I am of opinion that the prompt response in Mid-Cork was the greatest factor in making the loan a success—Mid Cork and West Limerick made the headlines at the time when it was badly needed and the faith which that promptness showed deserve well for Ireland’.
The money for the loan still continued to pour in. On December 19th, in a letter to MacSwiney, he said: ‘I am writing this to confirm the safe receipt of £4,035. “May I say that this amount is twice as great as any amount received up to the present, from any constituency. I need hardly say that I think this most creditable. Certainly, Mid Cork, in its working, must have presented difficulties that very few other constituencies presented”.
The Minister for Finance, now 29, had less than two years of life left.