2014 S M Sigerson
All rights reserved
Michael Collins: what happened?
There will be no compromise and no negotiations with any British Government until Ireland is recognized as an independent republic.
– Michael Collins 1921
The history of the Volunteers, and its legacy today, turn round the tragedy and controversy of Michael Collins. What happened to Collins, and the issues around that twist of fate, continue to generate friction and faction among nationalists. That story bequeathed to subsequent generations a crippling split in the ranks, whose impact can still be felt.
In the critical epoch between 1919 and 1921, Collins’ leadership shifted the independence movement into fast forward; culminating ultimately in what British imperialists had so long sworn unthinkable, and what had been to the 1916 rebels an unreachable star. The Crown begged truce, seeking negotiations on the issue of independence for Ireland.
It must be emphasized that at no time had the Dáil or the IRA asked for a conference or a truce.
– Liam Deasy
However this was by no means the end of the struggle. On the contrary, it was the opening of a terrible and tragic new chapter for Ireland.
Around the negotiating table, Lloyd George and his wily diplomats acheived what all the king’s horses and all the king’s men had failed so miserably to do in five years of protracted warfare. Within a few months, the Volunteers were completely divided. Their guns had been turned away from British targets, and aimed at comrades instead.
Shortly afterward, Collins was investigating, among other things, the reported mistreatment of some anti-Treaty prisoners, when he met his own death under suspicious circumstances, which have never been fully explained.
He was swiftly followed to the grave by a who’s-who of that nationalist leadership which had engineered the Empire’s capitulation. Both canonized and also in some quarters demonized, Collins has sometimes been blamed for what went wrong, and for the bloodbath which took place over his dead body.
The split that rent the nation then is still discernible as a fault line that runs thorugh Irish politics today; nowhere so dramatically as in the current debate on planning for 1916 centenary commemorations.
Those who seek to inform themselves about this history have had to contend with a maze of official stories, wild rumours, hearsay, sealed archives, vicious mud-slinging, and shamelessly fictionalized newspaper accounts.
The death of Collins remains a pivotal and poorly-understoood turning point; which is sure to reward further investigation.
S M Sigerson is the author of “The Assassination of Michael Collins: What Happened at Béal na mBláth?” www.amazon.com/dp/1493784714