It was all about reconciliation as Fianna Fáil Taoiseach makes history by speaking at Béal na Bláth

Thousands gather in Cork to mark the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Michael Collins

When motorcycle scout Lt John Smith led Michael Collins and his convoy around the bends of Béal na Bláth 100 years ago, it is hard to imagine that anyone present suspected that an ordinary country road in Co Cork could become such an important place on the Irish political landscape.

Donal Creed, the late former Fine Gael TD for Cork North-West, told RTÉ Nationwide in 1990 how he remembered first coming to Béal na Bláth in 1933, when the scene and the atmosphere were a far cry from what was evident on Sunday as an estimated 10,000 people gathered there to mark the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Michael Collins.

“The scene was barren and bare and there was a kind of an eerie feeling there that you got,” said Creed. “I suppose the fact that the Civil War was not long over at that time, I got the feeling from the discussions that they had, that it was bitter.”

Creed recalled how much of the talk was of the Blueshirts, and there is a striking photograph of Eoin O’Duffy and his men giving a salute at Béal na Bláth a year later. For Creed, one of the most important developments was in 2010, when Fianna Fáil minister Brian Lenihan was invited to speak, and accepted. A former chairman of the Béal na Bláth Commemoration Committee, Creed described this as a “great step forward”.


Over the years there have been many speakers – president of the Executive Council of the Free State, William T Cosgrave spoke in 1925 and unveiled a monument; other speakers have included then taoiseach Enda Kenny in 2012 and President Michael D Higgins in 2016.

This year marked the first time that a serving Fianna Fáil Taoiseach addressed the commemoration. Micheál Martin was given an enthusiastic welcome by a largely Fine Gael audience as he arrived on the podium, accompanied by Tánaiste Leo Varadkar and Minister for Defence Simon Coveney.

The mood of the crowd was upbeat, notwithstanding the efforts of a small group of anti-vaccination protesters who blew whistles and beat bodhrans in an attempt to drown out Martin and Varadkar, who paid them little heed while delivering their speeches.

Varadkar received the louder welcome than his Coalition colleague when introduced by committee chairman Cllr Garret Kelleher, but it was the Taoiseach who won the day when it came to applause, as he regularly needed to pause while the crowd clapped as he praised Collins.

The Fine Gael end of the Cabinet table was well represented, with Ministers Helen McEntee, Simon Harris and Paschal Donohoe present along with a number of the party’s TDs and MEPs. Fianna Fáil Ministers appeared thin on the ground, but Cork North-West TD Aindrias Moynihan was present, along with a number of councillors.

The day went more or less according to plan with its theme of reconciliation. The only moment of real drama happened some five minutes into the Taoiseach’s speech when a member of the Irish Army Colour Party collapsed in the sweltering heat just behind the Taoiseach at the podium.

One local garda later said his first thought was that a gunman had missed Martin and hit the soldier by mistake, but it soon became apparent it was the heat that had felled the military man.

After Michael Collins’ great grandniece, Eleanor Moore, thanked the speakers and the committee on behalf of the Collins family, wreaths were laid by Martin, Varadkar, Collins’ grandnephew Michael O’Mahony (on behalf of the family) and John Metcalfe (on behalf of the organising committee).

As the crowds dispersed, and the August sun began to vanish, Béal na Bláth reverted to the lonely spot it has been ever since that fateful evening when, to quote Collins’ friend and companion, Emmet Dalton, “the darkness of night had closed over us like a shroud”.