Michael Collins’s death robbed Ireland of best hope of reconciliation, says Taoiseach

Martin and Varadkar mark 100th anniversary of republican leader’s death with speeches at Béal na Bláth

Michael Collins never demonised his political opponents and his death in an ambush at Béal na Bláth during the Civil War robbed Ireland of its best hope of reconciliation, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.

Mr Martin made history by becoming the first serving Fianna Fáil Taoiseach to speak at the event in west Cork, joining Tánaiste and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar in addressing the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the death of Collins in an ambush by anti-Treaty IRA members on August 22nd,1922.

Addressing a large crowd, including more than 200 of Collins’s direct descendants, Mr Martin said that Collins was “a sincere advocate for the Treaty and he was just as committed to trying to prevent the drift towards civil war”.

He said that Collins’s electoral pact with anti-Treaty republicans and his draft constitution were brave and powerful gestures which could have worked to prevent civil war but there were those in London who blocked these initiatives and caused immense damage.


He said that there was no doubt that once the provisional government and the Free State army had achieved a number of major strategic victories in the first two months of the civil war, Collins was determined to bring about a rapid end to the conflict.

“He did not demonise others because he remembered all he had gone through with them as colleagues and friends. He never celebrated deaths of opponents and showed deep compassion – openly weeping when he heard of the deaths of former colleagues like Cathal Brugha,” he said.

Describing him as “a man who played an irreplaceable role in securing Irish freedom”, Mr Martin acknowledged that Collins was a leader who “always provided a special inspiration” to Fine Gael but he also played a hugely important role in establishing Ireland’s democratic traditions.

The Taoisach said Collins should also be remembered for his opposition to partition imposed on Ireland in 1920 and his relentless work to protect Northern nationalists and to stop the systemic violence directed against them.

“Collins acutely felt the outrage of creating a state based on a sectarian headcount – but he also didn’t believe that a new Ireland could be built through a deadly conflict between the two major traditions which share our island,” he said.

Mr Martin said that Collins would also recognise the great progress that Ireland has made in the 100 years since his death, going from being one of the poorest countries in the world to one where life expectancy has increased and infant and maternal mortality have reduced significantly.

“We need to do more to confront the new revisionism of those who try to denigrate our country’s achievements and who try to claim legitimacy for violent campaigns waged in the face of the opposition of the Irish people,” he added.

Mr Martin said the presence of representatives of different traditions and the Irish Army, Óglaigh na hÉireann, at the commemoration, showed how far Ireland had come since the first anniversary of Collins’s death, when only a small group of army friends and family gathered at Béal na Bláth.

“In his short 31 years, Michael Collins made a deep, lasting and positive impact on our country. Shaped by the ideals of his community, he devoted his life to his country. He was a dynamic leader who could both inspire people and, in the middle of a bloody conflict, build a new administration from nothing,” Mr Martin said.

“He is a key reason why we have been able to build a country which, while it still faces major challenges, has been transformed for the better. For this, today, as much as ever before, he deserves our gratitude, and he deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest Irishmen to have ever lived.”

Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar commended Mr Martin for accepting the invitation to speak at Béal na Bláth and said that civil war politics ended in Dáil Éireann when Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil joined in a coalition with the Greens in June 2020 to create a partnership Government that was working well.

Turning to Collins, Mr Varadkar said that Collins had a compelling vision for the future and the creation of an Ireland that would be distinguished by social equality, economic efficiency, cultural achievement, and religious tolerance.

He noted Collins’s achievements as a minister for finance in the First Dáil, raising money to allow an independent government to operate in a state that did not yet exist while as director of intelligence during the War of Independence, he was able to paralyse an “imperial war machine”.

As a negotiator, he was able to secure a deal that went beyond anything ever conceded by the British empire in allowing for Ireland achieve statehood, political and economic sovereignty, and a pathway to gain even more, said Mr Vardakar.

“During the War of Independence, Michael Collins had shown the courage to risk his life by taking on the British empire – now he showed that had the even greater courage to risk his reputation and his life in seeking a peace agreement.

“For me, Michael Collins is a profile in courage. In six short years between Easter 1916 and the summer of 1922, he packed in so much and achieved so much,” said Mr Varadkar, adding that Collins rightly predicted the Treaty would give Ireland the freedom to achieve further freedom in the future.

Mr Varadkar said that for Collins, the 1916 Proclamation was the starting point, not the end point, for Ireland on its journey to freedom and unlike others, who were unwilling to compromise on the idea of a Republic, he was willing to do so with a view to achieving his aim further into the future.

“Instead of a Republic, he could accept a Free

State, knowing that this name and designation could be changed at the right time. He helped create a new constitution, knowing it could be amended and replaced in the future,” he said.

“He agreed to unity by democratic consent, thus securing a state with 26 counties instead of 32, knowing that these were first words in the story of the Irish State and not the final ones… the genius of Michael Collins was that he saw the promise and the potential of Ireland.

“Others fought on for decades, only to accept Collins’s approach almost 100 years later – he had the courage to make peace and accept that, in doing so, he could not take everyone with him. It cost him his life, but his legacy and his mission live on.

“Michael Collins never intended his legacy to be the last word on Irish freedom. Instead, he gave us the freedom to find our own path to it. On the centenary of his death, we pay tribute on behalf of a grateful nation and say thank you. Michael Collins’s life was Ireland, his legacy is Ireland too.”

Chairman of the Béal na Bláth commemoration committee, Councillor Garret Kelleher, had earlier invited a grandnephew of Collins, Michael O’Mahony, who laid a wreath at the monument while a great grandniece, Eleanor Moore, thanked the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the committee.

Among those in attendance at the commemoration was the Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Deirdre Forde, Mayor of County Cork, Cllr Danny Collins, Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces, Lt General Sean Clancy and several other local political and civic dignitaries.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times