Mouth of Flowers

20 October 2005

Sun the 16th of Oct was the 115th anniversary of the birth of Michael Collins. And marking this date was the first ever meeting of the Collins 22 Society, which as Enda Kenny said aims to “have the man honoured”. And a fine aim that is, after all Collins is one of Ireland’s heroes.[1]

Collins was involved in the 1916 Rising,[2] but in a minor role. It was with the war for independence that Collins came to the fore.

the dominant military figure was Collins, who also served as adjutant general, director of intelligence and president of the IRB. A young Corkman who had risen to prominence after the Easter Rising, Collins was a sturdy, powerful-looking man of keen intelligence and inexhaustible energy.

Of course the Northern Ireland “Troubles” has meant that for years anything seen as overly promoting or remembering Ireland’s nationalist past has been seen in as pro-IRA. And while the success of the Irish football team has lessoned the whole IRA/republican association with the tricolour, the associations between history and the past are often too close. Plus, Sinn Féin and the IRA have done very well out of Ireland’s 700 year struggle for freedom, as though there was one continuous line running down through history culminating in them.

And because Collins was a military leader, an organiser of guerilla warfare, to celebrate him has been seen as a celebration of death and bloodshed. Of violence, and of republicanism in its most negative form.
But Collins signed The Treaty. This means he is not such a Big Damn Hero to the IRA as this was a betrayal of the republic, of freedom. And then he went and got himself killed in an ambush in the Civil War. Meaning that ultimately, Dev and his side were responsible and so Fianna Fail could never really embrace Collins as a hero.

But recently he has made a comeback[3] First we had the Liam Neeson film which, despite Julia Robert’s accent, was good. And now this Collins 22 Society. So why is it that I’m thinking this is more of a PR exercise for Fine Gael rather than anything else? A cynical ploy to use a past leader, known for inspiring people, to associate Michael Collins with their party because they have no one worth calling a leader?

Me, cynical? Never.


  1. I’ve always been a Collins girl. No Dev or anti-treaty arguments for me
  2. you know, the one that ended up promoting Sinn Féin into the limelight, despite the fact that they had nothing to do with it?
  3. what was that t-shirt slogan “Collins and Keane. Two great Cork rebels shot in the back?

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6 Responses

  1. El Matador says:

    There has been an increasing attempt lately by various parties to embrace their past, and identify with their origins.

    Practically all the southern parties can trace their lineage to the original Sinn Féin, so any attempt, whether driven by party-political aims or not, to reclaim ownership of Irish Republicanism from the bastardised republicanism of the provos, is a good thing.

  2. Alan says:

    It does seem wrong to me that while the leaders of the 1916 rising all got railway stations named after them, and the likes of Parnell and O'Connell get a square and a street respectively because they sought political solutions, but people like Collins, John Devoy and Michael Davitt don't merit the same honour because they openly embraced violence, even though when you come down to it they had an equally important role in the struggle to establish a republic.

  3. Fence says:

    I don't think it is just the violence issue. I think there is a political reasoning behind it too. Davitt could be seen as vaguely communist, which is of course bed. Collins both embraced violence, but also realised that it wouldn't work and turned to compromise, this upsetting all sides. Devoy was a bit too American maybe?

  4. j_yates_uk says:

    I think this makes me realise that I need to read more about modern Irish history. Being English, it never had a mention in schools or just in general. I think the IRA just overshadowed everything. I never realised I could be quite prejudiced- at least I can admit it. I guess I'll have to spend some time with Google…

  5. Carl V. says:

    I think its important to honor our heroes. There is too much of a tendency now days to dig up all the errant human-ness of those from the past that we revere and I prefer remembering those kind of men and women for the sacrifices they made to try to make their world and the future a better place.

  6. Fence says:

    Well if you grew up ignorant, we grew up knowing that all you English were to be despised ;)
    Collins, could be classed as a terrorist. Today he probably would be.
    But he wasn't one. An insurgent, yes.
    Also you have to remember that although there was an IRA back then and there is one around today, they are very different things.

    Carl I agree that heroes should be honoured. And I do think that Collins should be honoured in Ireland, I'm just cynical about political parties I suppose.