Michael Collins dismissed death threat three days before he was shot

Papers of Diarmaid Fawsitt, economic adviser to Robert Barton, found in west Cork

The Anglo-Irish Treaty, signed on December 6th, 1921, would lead to civil war and help found the Irish State. Video: Enda O'Dowd and Ronan McGreevy

 

Three years ago the Fawsitt family found a historical treasure trove in the loft of an old farmhouse in Manch, west Cork. There, crammed into tea chests, were the papers of Diarmaid Fawsitt, the economic adviser to Robert Barton, one of the five delegates who signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

Among Fawsitt’s papers were documents relating to the Treaty negotiations and its aftermath – including memoranda, reports, correspondence, a copy of the Treaty signed by Barton, as well as British, Irish and United States newspapers of the time.

The most significant find was a typed letter from Michael Collins sent from IRA general headquarters on August 19th, 1922, just three days before he was shot dead at Beal na Bláth.

In it Collins is dismissive of a warning passed on to him by Fawsitt that Irish-Americans wanted him dead as a result of the Treaty.

Fawsitt had warned Collins on at least two occasions that his life was in danger. The first was in April 1922 when he told Collins: “Alarmed report reached me, your death ordered by Eastern Division IRB; advise strongly close protection; watch out closely.”

The second, more serious one, was conveyed to Fawsitt by James McGuire, the Irish-American mayor of Syracuse, New York. McGuire told Fawsitt on August 6th, 1922, that Irish-Americans opposed to the Treaty planned to set up a committee to “go across and slay M Collins and R [Richard] Mulcahy in revenge for the deaths of [Cathal] Brugha and [Harry] Boland”.

Fawsitt passed on the letter to Collins who was clearly irritated by its contents. Collins responded on August 19th: “I would ask you as a personal favour to tell him that he need not waste his time nor his energy inducing any of the American-Irish to come here to slay Dick Mulcahy and myself.

“I have not the slightest doubt that we should be able to stand up to such gentlemen . . . It is a pity that they did not show the same desire to come to help us when we were all fighting for our lives against the British . . . Please tell this to Mr JK McGuire, just as I put it, and tell him my message to his friends is – ‘let them all come’.”

Treaty delegation

Fawsitt was the first consul of the Irish Republic to the US between 1919 and 1921 and his commercial expertise secured his place as part of the Irish delegation which negotiated the Anglo-Irish Treaty. During the negotiations, he was sent to Northern Ireland to ascertain the views from all sides as to how they would react to the possible outcome.

His pocket diary item for December 6th, 1921, the day of the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, reads simply: “London 2.20am, Treaty signed between Ireland and Great Britain.”

Fawsitt was a supporter of the Treaty and his correspondence with McGuire is a useful indicator of reaction to the agreement among the Irish diaspora.

“Whatever the people of Ireland accept will be satisfactory to 90 per cent of US”, McGuire tells Fawsitt in the immediate aftermath of the signing, but the mood got a lot darker in Irish-America after the Treaty was passed narrowly by the Dáil on January 7th, 1922.

McGuire complains that Irish-Americans who contributed to the bond drive in the US did so in the belief that they were funding a republic not a dominion.

McGuire writes: “I saw the cable tonight, the Irish Free State 64 to 57. A party of friends at dinner, Hotel Marseille, tonight, 14 present, all friends of Ireland, disgusted, all factions . . . All thought you men who came here used the ‘Irish Republic’ to extort money from your flesh and blood here and that the whole lot of you are a pack of ‘con’ men and women . . . I am sorry to have to tell you this but such is the feeling.”

Fawsitt replies: “Your letter of January 7th . . . greatly distressed me. The Free State Government will honour the liabilities incurred . . . Bond holders need have no fears.”

The mood in Irish-America lightens towards the Treaty in February and McGuire reveals the depth of enmity between the de facto leaders of Irish-American John Devoy and Judge Daniel Cohalan and Éamon de Valera. They had fallen out badly during de Valera’s 18-month tour in the US between 1919 and 1921.

“John Devoy and Judge Cohalan have come out for the Irish Free State as the best means of getting rid of president De Valera . . . public opinion on the whole, among the friends of Ireland is generally favorable [sic] to the Free State if the people could be convinced of the good faith of England. ”

The papers have been donated to the Cork Archives by the Fawsitt family who are also among the prime movers in a book to be published in January featuring interviews with the relatives of those on both sides who had signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty.