Upwards of 5,000 expected at Béal na Bláth commemoration in West Cork

Majority of Michael Collins’ 91 grandnieces and grandnephews expected to attend ceremony

Upwards of 5,000 people are expected to attend Sunday’s centenary commemoration of the death of Michael Collins in his native West Cork, according to the organisers of the event which will see a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach address the commemoration for the first time.

Cllr Garret Kelleher, Chair of the Béal na Bláth Commemoration Committee, told The Irish Times that it was difficult to predict precisely how many will attend the event on Sunday afternoon, but most estimates suggest that upwards of 5,000 people are likely to make their way to the event.

“We believe that there were 3,000 to 3,500 for the 90th anniversary in 2012 when Taoiseach, Enda Kenny gave the oration — it was lashing rain that day, but we expect there will be more attending this year, given that it is the 100th anniversary of Collins’s death.

“Added to that, it’s the first time that a Fianna Fáil Taoiseach will address the commemoration so we are expecting that a lot of Fianna Fáil people, who wouldn’t usually attend, will come along to see and hear Micheál Martin give his address in what will be a historic first for the commemoration.”


Cllr Kelleher said that the combination of the fact that it is the 100th anniversary, the fact that people from a Fianna Fáil tradition will attend as well as those who want to hear Tánaiste Leo Varadkar speak about Collins’s legacy, it suggests that at least 5,000 people will attend the event.

Collins, who was Chief of Staff of the National Army at the time, was killed on the evening of August 22nd, 1922, when his convoy was ambushed by a party of anti-Treaty IRA as he returned from a tour of Free State garrisons in West Cork during the Civil War.

Collins did not have any children, but he was one of a family of eight children and it’s expected that the vast majority of his 91 grandnieces and grandnephews will attend with one, Robert Pierse laying a wreath while another descendant, Eleanor Moore will speak on behalf of the family.

Road closures will be in place for the commemoration with the road being closed at the Diamond Bar on the northern side and at Newcestown Cross to the south while the organisers will operate a shuttle bus service from Crookstown village to the north.

“We are asking everyone to come early and to be parked by 1.30pm — now anyone who may be elderly or have reduced mobility, we are suggesting they might consider watching it on television because RTÉ are broadcasting the entire event live on the RTÉ News channel,” said Cllr Kelleher.

Civic reception

Meanwhile the Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Deirdre Forde hosted a civic reception at Cork Public Museum in Fitzgerald Park on Saturday for Collins’s relatives to mark the centenary of his death and afterwards, she launched a new exhibition entitled, By a Treaty Divided — the Civil War in Cork.

Cllr Forde said she was delighted to be able to host a civic ceremony to honour Collins on the centenary of his death and she paid tribute to West Cork born hero for his leadership and sacrifice throughout the revolutionary period that led to the establishment of the Irish Free State.

“I am delighted and proud to have members of the Collins family here today to honour a man who fought tirelessly to bring peace to the island of Ireland, and he deserves to be recognised for the man and political figure that he was,” said Cllr Forde.

Curator of the exhibition at Cork Public Museum, Daniel Breen said that the new exhibition features an unfinished portrait of Michael Collins by Leo Whelan who was one of Ireland’s premier portrait artists of the 20th century.

It also features correspondence between Michael Collins and Kitty Kiernan as well as correspondence between Kitty Kiernan and Collins’s friend and love rival, Harry Boland with the collection including letters, postcards and telegrams, said Mr Breen.

“The letters between Collins and Kitty are mainly from mid-1921 up to his death in August 1922 and they allow us to see another side of Collins who shows a vulnerability and a longing that they both shared, to get married and lead a normal uneventful life,” said Mr Breen.

“The exhibition also contains a few correspondences from Harry Boland to Kitty that at hint at the relationship they once had but it seems, he bore no ill-will towards Collins, even sending a congratulations letter to Kitty on the news of her engagement to Collins.”

Meanwhile, Independence Museum Kilmurry, which is located just 3km from the ambush site Béal na Bláth, is hosting an exhibition on how Collins’s death impacted on the local area while it is also republishing Edward O’Mahony’s book, Michael Collins — Death in the Twilight.

Some 30km away, Collins’s hometown of Clonakilty is hosting a series of events on Saturday to mark the 100th anniversary of his death including a pageant through the town as well as a symposium entitled “Other Aspects of Michael Collins”.

The symposium, which runs in the Parish Centre from 4pm until 7.30pm on Saturday, includes historians Michael Doran speaking on Collins as Administrator, Gerry O’ Connell speaking on Collins and the GAA and Mary Kenny speaking on Collins’s Faith and his relationship with Lady Lavery.

The symposium, which runs in the Parish Centre from 4pm until 7.30pm on Saturday, includes historians Michael Doran speaking on Collins as Administrator, Gerry O’ Connell speaking on Collins and the GAA and Mary Kenny speaking on Collins’ Faith and his relationship with Lady Lavery.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times