PastImperfect

 

From the archives of Bob Montgomery, motoring historian

MICHAEL COLLINS, HIS LEYLAND EIGHT AND THE R-R ARMOURED CARS: In 1922, Winston Churchill handed over to the government of the new Irish Free State, a number of military vehicles as well as a yellow touring car. The car was a rare Leyland Eight and it was accompanied by a number of Rolls-Royce armoured cars.

How did such a fine car as the Leyland Eight come to be handed over along with these military vehicles? To answer the question we have to go back some years to General Sir Neville Macready, commander-in-chief of British forces in Ireland between 1918 and 1920.

During that time, for some unknown reason Leyland's directors decided to present one of their prestigious Leyland Eight cars to the general for his use in Ireland. In 1922, Churchill, knowing that Collins had admired the car, arranged that the local Leyland agents, Wilson & Co, should hand over the car together with the armoured cars to him.

This was the car in which Collins was travelling when he was fatally ambushed. After the shooting, the car was shipped back to the Leyland factory in England where it arrived complete with bullet holes and bloodstains. Once refurbished, it was reputedly admired by Clarence Hartry, a well-known financier, who expressed interest in buying it. However, it ended up instead being sold to a Captain Morton who was a big game hunter and resident of Happy Valley in Africa.

Two of the Rolls-Royce armoured cars also featured in the events surrounding the shooting of Michael Collins. One, the "Slievenamon", which was due to accompany the Collins party when it set out from Cork on the fateful journey, was instead sent for servicing. It was replaced by another named "Dublin Liz".

On the second day, "Slievenamon" rejoined the convoy. Apparently, at several points on the route, it had to be pushed up steep gradients, presumably because of the weight of its armour-plating and gun-turret.

After the shooting, "Slievenamon" was abandoned in the fields where it had become bogged down, together with the Leyland Eight, and Collins' body was brought back to Cork in a Crossley tender.

The following day, "Slievenamon" was recovered and returned to active service, being stationed at Bandon, still under the control of its original driver.

Jock McPeak, whose machine gun had jammed during the action, was still in the crew. He refitted the float, which had been removed to disable the "Slievenamon", and later drove off one night and presented her to the Irregulars.

Eventually, "Slievenamon" was recovered and, with turret removed and tyres flat, was ignominiously towed back to base. That night, at the party to celebrate her recovery, one of the mess waiters was accidentally shot and killed.

The Rolls-Royce armoured cars continued in service right up to and throughout the "Emergency", but were eventually all sent to auction.

Only "Slievenamon" was saved from the sale , apparently hidden from the auditors by listing her as spare parts. Restored today, she resides at the Curragh Camp.

YOU READ IT FIRST: The first motoring journal was La Locomotion Automobile, founded by Raoul Vuillemont and first published in Paris on December 1st, 1894. Henry Strurmey began editing The Autocar, published by Iliffe & Sons of Coventry weekly, on November 2nd, 1895 - today it's the oldest motoring publication still being published.

Ireland did not lag far behind these pioneering journals and there were but 11 motoring journals in existence when RJ Mecredy published the first edition of Motor News in January 1900. A monthly publication at first, it became fortnightly and then weekly by mid-1903. Sadly, it closed its doors in December 1939 when supplies of ink and paper dried up for any but essential publications.