How The Irish Times reported the shooting of Michael Collins 100 years ago

‘The Irish nation will be shocked beyond measure at this awful news,’ read an editorial in the August 23rd, 1922, edition of the newspaper

Michael Collins was shot dead at approximately 8pm on the evening of Tuesday, August 22nd, 1922.

It was at least three hours later before General Emmet Dalton was able to raise the alarm by calling General Headquarters from a pub in Killumney, Co Cork. The pub landlady said it was about midnight before he called.

It was, therefore, an impressive achievement for The Irish Times to have a comprehensive account of the shooting in the morning edition of August 23rd, 1922, along with an editorial decrying his loss.

At the time, The Irish Times covered late breaking news from home and abroad well into the early hours of the morning. It managed to have the start of the Civil War, which occurred at 4am on the morning of June 28th, 1922, in the late edition of the following morning’s newspaper.


The headline of the August 23rd edition reads: “General Collins dead, killed in ambush, chief of staff’s message to army, calm discipline and no reprisal”.

The edition of the morning of August 23rd had Collins’ death as the main news story. It was on page 5 (The Irish Times didn’t have news on the front page at the time).

The article said: “A message reached Dublin this morning to the effect that General Michael Collins was killed yesterday in an ambush near Bandon in Co Cork. On inquiry at Army headquarters this sad intelligence was confirmed.

“The following message from the Chief of Staff to the men of the army was issued this morning.

“Stand calmly by your posts. Rend bravely and undaunted to your work. Let no cruel act of reprisal blemish your bright honour. Richard Mulcahy.”

With little else in terms of detail the newspaper reproduced an article by a writer called “Nichevo” from April 1st, 1922.

In fact Nichevo was the nom de plume of Irish Times journalist and later the paper’s colourful editor Bertie Smyllie.

Collins was a “big burly, broad-shouldered individual with a shock of pitch-black hair and a broad smile, walked across the floor and signed the register”, Nichevo wrote.

“Mr Collins has a laugh that is irresistible. He does not laugh with his face alone. His whole frame trembles with merriment. He throws his head backwards and forwards like a delighted schoolboy and guffaws without restraint at the slightest provocation.

“The Irish people take Mr Collins for granted forgetting that two years ago he was unknown to the great majority of the population. Michael Collins became a leader overnight.”

The Irish Times editorial was sufficed with the shock of the event that had just occurred.

“As we go to press we learn that General Michael Collins, commander-in-chief of the Irish army and chairman of the Provisional Government has been wounded fatally in an ambush in Co Cork. The Irish nation will be shocked beyond measure at this awful news. General Collins stood for stable government and the restoration of civilised conditions to our distracted country.

“He applied all his abundant energy to the performance of the task to which he set his hand last December when he signed the Treaty with the British government in London and his courage and sincerity rallied round him all the best and sanest in Irish life.

“His death is a disaster for Ireland. Irishman the world over will mourn him and will sink their heads at the deep damnation of his taking-off. That he should have met his tragic end at Irish hands is the darkest feature of this national calamity. He dared much and suffered much for the ideal to which he devoted his life and in the achievement of which he played such a decisive part.

“Like his friend and teacher, Arthur Griffith, General Collins was a firm believer in the destiny of the Irish people and in its fulfilment through the medium of the London Treaty. His death will serve only to strengthen the resolve of the Irish people that is work shall be carried to complete success.”

The timing of the announcement of Collins’ death meant that it made the front pages of newspapers in the United States, which were five hours behind.

The news did not make the British newspapers that night. Instead, most British readers only learned of the shooting in the following morning’s newspaper.

The Irish Times reported: “The news of Mr Collins death was published here in the first edition which came out about 10 o’clock in the morning and created a great and painful sensation.

“His courage and straightforwardness during the Downing Street negotiations won the admiration of those, from the PM downwards, who came into contact with him on that occasion.”

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times