The ‘idol of Ire­land’ is as­sas­si­nated

Repub­li­can leader Michael Collins is killed in a shoot-out with anti-treaty forces

BBC History Magazine - - Anniversaries -

Early on Tues­day 22 Au­gust 1922, Michael Collins left Cork’s Im­pe­rial Ho­tel to visit his troops in ru­ral West Cork. The Ir­ish Civil War was just two months old, but Collins’s Free State army man­i­festly had the up­per hand. Some spec­u­lated that he was hop­ing to strike a deal with his ad­ver­saries in the IRA, who op­posed the treaty that had se­cured only par­tial in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain. Given that West Cork was an IRA heart­land, many thought Collins was invit­ing a sniper’s bul­let. But he was more op­ti­mistic. “Don’t sup­pose,” he said, “I will be am­bushed in my own county.”

Some time be­fore 8pm, Collins’s con­voy was on its way back through the ham­let of Béal na Bláth when anti-Treaty men opened fire. His friend Em­met Dal­ton shouted to keep driv­ing, but Collins yelled: “No, stop and we’ll fight ’em,” and be­gan fir­ing back. What fol­lowed was a few con­fused mo­ments of shout­ing and shoot­ing. Then the fir­ing stopped and Dal­ton heard a cry: “Em­met, I am hit.”

In Dal­ton’s words, they “rushed to the spot, fear clutch­ing our hearts”. In the lane was their “beloved chief… a gap­ing wound at the base of his skull. We im­me­di­ately saw that he was al­most be­yond hu­man aid; he did not speak.” A few mo­ments later, Collins was dead. “How can I de­scribe the feel­ings that were then mine, kneel­ing in the mud of a coun­try road,” wrote Dal­ton, “with the still bleed­ing head of the idol of Ire­land rest­ing in my arms.”

Michael Collins (cen­tre) pic­tured at a pro-treaty meet­ing held in Dublin, March 1922. The An­glo-Ir­ish treaty Collins had se­cured in 1921 an­gered many peo­ple and he was killed in an am­bush by anti-treaty forces shortly af­ter­wards

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