The Hollywood star who provides a living link to the death of Michael Collins

Audrey Dalton is the daughter of Major General Emmet Dalton, who was with Collins when he died

Emmet Dalton was the Zelig of the Irish revolution, the character from the 1983 Woody Allen movie of the same name who keeps turning up at critical events to history.

Dalton fought in three wars, the first World War, the War of Independence and the Civil War. In 1915, as an 17-year-old he joined the British army much to the chagrin of his nationalist father James who called him a “redcoat”.

In September 1916, while serving with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, he endured the full horrors of the Battle of the Somme and witnessed the death at Ginchy of the former Home Rule MP Tom Kettle.

For many, Kettle was a lost nationalist leader who could have become the prime minister of a Home Rule Irish parliament.


Kettle’s most famous legacy is his poem To My Daughter Betty, the Gift of God where he ponders the sacrifice he and so many Irish soldiers made in the first World War.

Know that we fools, now with the foolish dead,

Died not for flag, nor King, nor Emperor,

But for a dream, born in a herdsman’s shed

And for the secret Scripture of the poor.

Six years later, and now a major general in the National Army during the Civil War, Dalton, who had gaelicised his name from Ernest to Emmet, witnessed the death of Michael Collins at Beál na Bláth.

The very last picture of Collins alive shows Collins and Dalton in the back of the touring car outside a hotel in Bandon. Shortly after that they ran into the ambush at Beál na Bláth on the evening of August 22nd, 1922.

He told the driver to “drive like hell” through the ambush but fatally and fatefully Collins decided to engage the ambush party and was the only fatality of the encounter.

Dalton resigned from the National Army in November 1922. In his remarkable career afterwards, he had some claim to being the founder of the Irish film industry. In the 1940s he worked for Paramount Film’s impresario Sam Goldwyn. In 1958 he founded Ardmore Studios in Co Wicklow.

While he was living in London, his daughter Audrey was spotted on the London stage by a Hollywood film producer. She moved to Hollywood in 1952 and had a very successful career in the film and television industry in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Among the films she starred in was My Cousin Rachel with Olivia de Havilland, Drum Beat with Alan Ladd, Titanic and The Deadliest Sin.

Her television appearances included six episodes of Wagon Train between 1958 and 1964. She made a guest appearance on Perry Mason in 1961 as Kate Eastman in The Case of the Injured Innocent. In 1962 she appeared on Gunsmoke in The Renegades.

Now 88-years-old, she is returning to Ireland for the first time in six years and will be attending at Beál na Bláth on Sunday. On Saturday night she dined at the Imperial Hotel in Cork City. It’s a place with a special resonance for her. It was here that her father set up his headquarters after leading National Army troops to capture the city on August 10th.

It’s also where her parents got married in October 1922 and in Room 115 where Collins spent his last night alive before he was killed.

“I drove to Beál na Bláth many years ago. I looked and stopped and remembered, but to go now and witness the ceremony is something frankly that I didn’t think I would live long enough to make this trip,” Ms Dalton said.

“I will be carrying my father’s spirit with me and remembering him also and that devastating day for the Collins family and for my father.

“It is really important for me personally to be there and I am looking forward to hearing more about the history of it, seeing the actual place and being there and then to carry it back to my children, my grandchildren and great-grandchildren who are small now.

“I want to be able to tell them I was here on this important day.”

In 1978 shortly before he died, Dalton did an interview with the late Cathal O’Shannon in which he returned to Beál na Bláth for the first time since the death of Michael Collins.

That documentary, broadcast on RTÉ as Emmet Dalton Remembers, is now available on YouTube to watch.

Ms Dalton said her father loved Collins very dearly and was haunted about what happened there.

“In general terms he didn’t talk about the past much to us as was common for those people who witnessed traumatic events,” she remembered.

“He dearly loved Collins. He respected him and admired him. They had a close relationship which was deeply held by both of them.

“We had the images of Collins always in our home and the story of what happened was known to all of us (his five children).”

Ms Dalton said her father always cherished the memory of Tom Kettle too and carried a copy of Kettle’s famous poem with him all his life.

“I heard more about it reading Sean Boyne’s book (who published Emmet Dalton’s biography in 2015), I learned more about his earlier life than I had ever known as children and all of the different things that he did,” she explained.

“Every time I see a film that depicts those kind of battles in the trenches in the first World War, it just fills you with disbelief that anybody could have witnessed that and lived through that. So many people whose lives were traumatised by that in that awful time.”

Ms Dalton went out to Hollywood with a view to staying six months, but she forged ahead with a successful career lasting 27 years, got married and had four children.

“I faded quietly away as I got older and got a degree in UCLA and graduated when I was 51! I have had a wonderful and a very happy life.”

She now has 12 grandchildren and “just now” 13 great-grandchildren. She hopes to transmit to them her pride in her father’s achievements.

“As a father he was a very quiet man. He was a gentleman. He just was always calm. He was an astute businessman. He was a great military man at a young age. He was very modest and quiet and I loved him.”

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times