Collins's prayer book turns up in France 90 years after death


Michael Collins’s prayer book has come to light in France 90 years after his death in Béal na Blá.

The book, titled The Christian Armed against the Seductions of the World and the Illusions Of His Own Heart, contains prayers and meditations and was found among his belongings in Portobello Barracks, Rathmines, following his death in August 1922.

After it was returned to the Collins family, the prayer book was given, as a gift, to a nun – Sr Aloysius at the Convent of Mercy in Cappoquin, Co Waterford, in November 1922 .

The leather-bound book, with gilt-edged pages, was eventually inherited by an Irish woman, who now lives in southern France. She has decided to sell it, along with a letter from a priest, Fr Ignatius of the Passionist Order, who had given the book to Collins.

The prayer book contains “instructions for meditation” on 31 topics (“maxims”) such as: “Time is precious; the loss of it is irreparable”; and, “The number is small of those who are saved” .

Other chapters include morning and evening prayers and a “Consideration on the Passions of Jesus Christ”.

The book has a single black-and-white illustration of Jesus carrying the cross and a quote from St Luke’s Gospel: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me”.

Ireland’s idol

Collins clearly had a profound impact on the nun. Sr Aloysius’s notes, written into the prayer book, refer to Michael Collins as “Ireland’s idol”; “her Joan of Arc”; and “her greatest hero and leader”.

She said the book was her “best-loved and greatest treasure and will be preserved and cherished for all time”.

The prayer book and the priest’s letter will be auctioned as one lot by Mealy’s, the rare books auctioneers, in Dublin next month, with a pre-sale estimate of € 1,200-€1,800.

In the letter, sent to Collins’s sister after her brother’s death, Fr Ignatius reveals that he gave the prayer book to Collins during a mission at Greystones, Co Wicklow, in 1921, which Collins had attended before departing for London to negotiate the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

Fr Ignatius recalled Collins, despite “being busy in Dublin, worked and worried almost beyond endurance”, had returned to the Grand Hotel in Greystones “one night very late and very tired on the eve of his departure to London re the pact”.

The priest continued: “He got up the next morning as early as 5.30am, came to the church and made a glorious general Confession and received Holy Communion.

“He said to me after Confession: ‘Say the Mass for Ireland and God bless you Father!’ He crossed an hour or so later to London.”

Fr Ignatius wrote: “There is not a man in a million would have done what Michael did that he might get to Confession and Holy Communion.”

Crucially for collectors of memorabilia, the letter confirms that he had given Collins the prayer book “in memory of the mission”.