Michael Collins and my grandfather: A meeting in Leitrim

Police records reveal a McGreevy family connection to the ‘Big Fellow’ in 1917

Michael Collins stayed in the Bush Hotel after arriving in Carrick-on-Shannon in 1917

Michael Collins stayed in the Bush Hotel after arriving in Carrick-on-Shannon in 1917

 

In 1917 Sinn Féin was a party on the ascendent. In February of that year Count George Plunkett was elected in the North Roscommon byelection as an independent MP though he would subsequently join Sinn Féin.

In May Sinn Féin won its first seat in the Westminster parliament when Joe McGuinness, then a Republican prisoner in England, won in South Longford.

These twin victories convinced Sinn Féin that this part of Ireland was particularly fertile electoral ground for its stated ambition to supplant the ailing Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) as the dominant voice in Irish nationalism.

To that end, Michael Collins, then establishing himself as the tireless organiser of renown, arrived in Carrick-on-Shannon on August 18th, 1917 to set up branches of Sinn Féin in Leitrim and Roscommon.

It is clear from recently released police files that he was being watched. Constable Patrick Beirne of the Secret Crime Division reported back to the district inspector: “He was met on his arrival by the following persons, Denis Cassidy, Samuel E Holt, Thomas Candon, D O’Driscoll, Francis McGreevey (all of Carrick-on-Shannon) - none of these are of any importance”.

They may not be of importance to the district inspector, but Francis McGreevey is important to me. He was my grandfather. (The misspelling is an occupational hazard when you are a McGreevy).

I am not sure he would take kindly to being dismissed so blithely.Neither would Sam Holt who was one of the founders of Fianna Fáil and went on to become a Sinn Féin and then Fianna Fáil TD before his premature death from typhoid in 1929.

Speakers

Collins’ visit to the north-west in 1917 will be remembered in a centenary event in the Bush Hotel Carrick-on-Shannon on Friday night.

Collins stayed in the Bush Hotel after arriving in the town and a suite is named after him. He went on to address Sinn Féin gatherings in Leitrim and Roscommon. The police report note his speech was “very moderate”.

The keynote speaker will be Senator Michael McDowell who made the case for Collins being the greatest Irish person of them all in a RTÉ series broadcast in 2009.

Also speaking at the event will be Margot Gearty from Longford, a niece of Collins’ great love Kitty Kiernan.

Other speakers will include the historian Pádraig McGarty and Gerry O’Connell, the chairman of the national executive of Fine Gael.

Jim Roche, the actor best known for his reading of the Pearse’s oration at the grave of O’Donovan Rossa, will deliver the Michael Collins oration in full military dress.

The military pensions records record that my grandfather joined the Irish Volunteers in March 1917 and presumably Sinn Féin at the same time.

He was the company captain in the South Leitrim flying column during the War of Independence and was active on operations with Ernie O’Malley and Count Plunkett.

He went on to take the anti-Treaty side in the Civil War and by his own account became a real “live wire for Fianna Fáil” subsequently. The event is organised by the Michael Collins Fine Gael branch Carrick-on-Shannon branch. I’m not sure he would be pleased about that.

100 years later Michael Collins’ 1917 visit takes place at The Bush Hotel on Friday night March 3rd at 8pm.