Simon Harris to give Béal na Bláth oration for Michael Collins

‘I will reflect on the ambition we owe to our children and to our heroes like Collins’ says Taoiseach

The Béal na Bláth commemoration takes place each year at the site where Michael Collins, head of the Free State forces, was mortally wounded in 1922 in an ambush by republicans

Taoiseach Simon Harris will deliver this year’s address at Béal na Bláth to mark the 102nd anniversary of the death of Michael Collins in an anti-Treaty IRA ambush in his native west Cork during the Civil War.

Chairman of the annual Michael Collins Commemoration Committee Cllr Garret Kelleher confirmed that Mr Harris has accepted an invitation to give the address, meaning he will become only the third serving Taoiseach to speak at the event.

Mr Harris said it was “an honour” to be invited to speak at the commemoration, which takes place every year on the Sunday closest to August 22nd, the date on which Collins was mortally wounded in an ambush by retreating republicans on his way back from inspecting Free State forces in west Cork.

“Every year, we go to the site of the ambush and gather together to remember what Michael Collins gave to Ireland and, with his death at just 31 years old, to consider what could have been,” said Mr Harris.


“Ireland is a modern, free democracy and this year I will reflect on the ambition we owe to our children and to our heroes like Collins to, in his words, always do the ‘right thing in our own conscience’.”

Mr Harris will be following in the footsteps of Enda Kenny, who became the first serving taoiseach to deliver the oration in 2012 and Micheál Martin, who in 2022, become only the second Fianna Fáil politician to deliver the oration, following former minister for finance Brian Lenihan in 2010.

Mr Martin was joined in delivering the oration at the 100th anniversary commemoration by then tánaiste Leo Varadkar while President Michael D Higgins spoke at the 2016 event marking the centenary of the Easter 1916 Rising in which Collins served as aide de camp to Joseph Plunkett.

How The Irish Times reported the shooting of Michael Collins in 1922Opens in new window ]

Others to address the event over the years include acclaimed film producer David Puttnam, RTÉ broadcaster the late Bill O’Herlihy, commentator George Hook, Bríd Rodgers and Mark Durkan of the SDLP, Senator Maurice Manning and historian the late John A Murphy.

The first Collins commemoration at Béal na Bláth was held just a year after his death, in August 1923 when Collins’s friend Gen Richard Mulcahy delivered a short oration to a small gathering that included Collins’s fiancee Kitty Kiernan and members of the Collins family.

A year later, the Irish army purchased a strip of land along the roadside at Béal na Bláth and commissioned the large limestone Celtic cross that stands there today, but for engineering reasons the monument was built across the road from where Collins was actually shot.

A monument to Collins was unveiled at the site of the ambush in August 1924 by then Garda commissioner, Gen Eoin O’Duffy and chairman of the Free State government WT Cosgrave at a ceremony attended by hundreds as well as a contingent from the Irish army.

After a few years in the 1920s when there were no commemorative ceremonies, there have been annual commemorations at the site since the 1930s, though they didn’t always draw huge crowds as Collins’s grandnephew Michael O’Mahony told The Irish Times in 2022.

“I remember thinking how lonely it was because there was no one here then except my uncle Liam and myself that August evening in 1962,” said Mr O’Mahony, a grandson of Collins’s older brother Johnny, as he recalled attending the 40th anniversary with his late uncle, Liam Collins.

“We came here at about 7.40pm. The considered time that Collins was shot was about 8.10pm but it probably was a bit later because they stopped with Sean Hales in Bandon and maybe had a whiskey or something for the night with him.

“We went up the boreen there and it was misty then because the trees weren’t absorbing the mist – everything was rising off the stream and it was much more misty – the impression we got was that they [the ambushers] wouldn’t have had a very clear view.

“They would have known it was an officer from the cap, so it could have been Collins or [Emmet] Dalton or [Seán] O’Connell, but I doubt if they would have been able to identify anyone in particular,” said Mr O’ Mahony at the centenary event, which drew upwards of 10,000 people.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times