Thursday, December 15, 2016

Michael Collins House

 I think you guys have had it too easy -- looking at the pretty rocks at Blarney Castle, so it is time for a history lesson.

Michael Collins is probably the most known rebel in Irish History. He was born near Clonakilty in Co. Cork -- the rebel county. When we went to Clonakilty (where we saw Blarney Castle, Mizen Head, etc. ) our main purpose was to see Michael Collins' birthplace and death place. However, that is the one thing we did not do. Because we chose to go to Mizen Head, by the time we passed Michael Collins' birthplace and the place where he was assassinated, it was dark.
However, Our trip was not entirely Michael Collins free. When we were in Clonakilty, we were able to visit the house where he lived for a time. But before I get into that, I'll explain who he was since I'm not sure I've properly done so.

Michael Collins is arguably the greatest man in Irish History -- certainly the more modern history. He won the war on a bicycle. Some call him a terrorist and a murderer, but he fought the only way he knew how to win. He used Guerrilla tactics, and it worked.

Anyhow, history. Michael Collins was born in Co. Cork so when they called for men in the 1916 Rising, he went to answer the call. He only played a very minor part in the 1916 rising, and after their surrender, he and a group of other minor rebels were shipped to Wales to spend the next two years in a Welsh prison.

Above: A press like the one the Irish Republican Proclamation was
printed on while under fire in the GPO.
Below: The bike Michael Collins won the war on.
He returned in 1918 with a renewed flame of passion to free Ireland from the tyranny of British Rule. AND he had an idea of how to successfully accomplish that.

In the house was a poster of the movie they made about Michael Collins. It was signed by Liam Neeson who played Michael Collins. It is a pretty accurate depiction of his life and what happened during the war of Independence and the Irish Civil War.
 When he returned from Wales, Michael Collins gathered a force of rebels sworn to secrecy and started attacking the British using Guerrilla tactics. For hundreds of years, the Irish have been unable to stand up against the might of Britain's army in pitched battle. They were always outnumbered and under-armed -- that is why all their rebellions failed. But the British couldn't fight an enemy they couldn't see. Michael Collins plan was to get in, shoot important British officials, and disappear before any repose could be issued. This series of surprise attacks continued until 1921 when the British were forced to make a truce. Michael Collins was chosen to go to London and arrange the peace treaty. He was unhappy about this because he was no politician he was a military man and wanted nothing to do with the finesse of London politics. The English drove a hard bargain. Michael Collins was between a rock and a hard place.

The Irish Republic wanted to have complete freedom for the WHOLE of Ireland, but the only terms the English would offer was an Irish government under English law and a division in Northern Ireland where the UK would keep control of 6 of the 8 Ulster counties. To make it even worse, part of the terms was to swear allegiance to the English Crown. Unfortunately, the English promised that if these terms were not accepted an immediate and severe war would follow.

Michael Collins' Free State Uniform
With Irish harps on the buttons!
 The Irish were about at the end of what they could handle so Michael Collins and the Irish delegation grudgingly signed the treaty. In doing so, Michael Collins said: "I am signing my death warrant." Michael Collins intended to use this new treaty as a stepping stone to gain complete separation from England in peace, but most of the Irish nationalists did not see it that way. They considered Michael Collins a traitor to their Irish vision and refused to accept the terms.

When put to the public vote, the people voted in favor of the treaty, but it seems likely that it was out of terror of England's wrath than true submission.
As a result, the country split in half with the Pro-treaty side being led by Michael Collins and the Anti-treaty side led by Eamon De Valera.
Now, I cannot speak of Michael Collins without speaking of the other side of the coin -- Eamon De Valera.

Although both men fought in the 1916 Rebellion, it was Eamon De Valera who played the bigger role. As one of the leaders of the rebellion, he was imprisoned in Kilmainham Jail with the other leaders such as Patrick Pearse and James Connolly who would go on to be shot. Eamon De Valera, however, was not executed partly because he was an American citizen and at the time, Britain was trying to get America to join World War I.

If Michael Collins was the mastermind behind the military strategy, Eamon De Valera was the brilliant politician. Eamon De Valera was the president of the Irishmen during their Guerilla War of Independence. He is the one who insisted Michael Collins go to London when he would have been the better card to play. We can only speculate at his reasons for this. Perhaps he wanted Michael Collins to be the one to bring back the bad news of either unacceptable terms or a renewed war with the English, plunging the country back into strife and struggle.
A picture of Michael Collins.
The Civil War raged through the country. Men who were fighting side by side just months earlier were now killing each other. Brother turned against brother. Fathers against sons and friendships were split.

The Civil War lasted from 1921-1923 and the Michael Collins' Party, Fine Gael, won, defeating Eamon De Valera's party, Fianna Fail, but Michael Collins did not live to see it.
On August 22, 1922, Michael Collins was traveling in Co. Cork very near his birthplace. No one is sure exactly what happened next or why exactly Michael Collins was in Co. Cork. One reason may be, that he was on the road to meet with Eamon De Valera to discuss the end of the Civil War, but no one knows for sure. One thing is unquestionable, his advisors warned him against the trip to which he replied: "They won't shoot me in my own county." These fateful words joined with the ones he spoke in London just the previous year when he signed the treaty, "I have signed my death warrant."

He was ambushed on the road near Beal na Blath. Michael Collins was shot by a sniper on the hill, and his body was brought back to Dublin where he is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.

To this day, even though their policies are basically the same, the Fine Gael and Fianna Fail parties are at odds with each-other in the modern government. Although the Fine Gael side might have won the war, Eamon De Valera went on to become the most influential politician in Irish politics and turned his Fianna Fail party to become the most powerful party in Irish politics to this day.
Now that you have the story, there are parts of it I did not tell for the sake of clarity.

Both Eamon De Valera and Michael Collins have strong ties in Greystones, the very town I spent my past 3 months!

Eamon DeValera lived in a house on the road that I walked by nearly everyday going to the cove.

Michael Collins and his betrothed Kitty Keirnan were looking to buy a house just down the road from the "Y."

The engagement watch Michael Collins gave to Kitty.
Kitty was devastated at the death of "her Mic" and wore black for years following. Although she did eventually marry another man, she never stopped loving Michael Collins. Her husband was incredibly understanding and did not complain about her pining for Michael Collins or the fact that she kept a portrait of Michael Collins above her fireplace and named their son Michael Collins. In fact, when she died, he went out of his way to bury her as close to Michael Collins as possible.
Michael Collins and Kitty

Michael Collins spent the night in the La Touche Hotel which Dominates the landscape of Greystones, and I could see out my bedroom window and walked past every day.

He also stopped at the Holy Rosary, which is the church where I went to Mass, where he had his last Holy Communion before traveling to Co. Cork.

It is fascinating to know all this and to live so near all these connections to this famous man. It was amazing to walk the streets of Clonakilty and look around the house there where he once lived. I wish we also could have seen his birthplace and the site of his assassination, but maybe, one day, I will.

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