Michael Collins and FG’s foundation myth
Sir, – In a lively review, Diarmaid Ferriter has interrogated aspects of a new history of Fine Gael called Saving the State: from Collins to Varadkar (“Intimate if flattering inside story of Fine Gael”, Books, November 30th).
The suggestion implicit in that book’s title, that Fine Gael is the party of Michael Collins, is a foundation myth rather than historical fact.
On January 27th last, the main BBC television news bulletin carried what it described as “a rare interview” with Leo Varadkar. During its introduction the then-taoiseach was seen with the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg gazing up at a large portrait of Michael Collins. He told her, “This is Michael Collins, one of the founding fathers of the country and the founding father of my party.”
There are at least two problems with the claim that Collins founded Fine Gael. First, Collins died on August 22nd, 1922. The official Fine Gael website states that, “Fine Gael was founded in 1933”.
Second, Collins was dead even before Cumann na nGaedheal was founded in March 1923, and in any event that party alone did not constitute Fine Gael. As Fine Gael’s website itself notes, it was founded “following the amalgamation of a number of groups: the pro-treaty Cumann na nGaedheal of WT Cosgrave, the Centre Party under Frank MacDermot, and the National Guard” (of Eoin O’Duffy).
Why does Fine Gael prefer to claim Collins as its founder rather than Cosgrave, or even Arthur Griffith. Griffith actually founded not only Sinn Féin (from which Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil both emerged), but also founded with William Rooney the first Cumann na nGaedhael in 1900, was president of Dáil Éireann when he died in 1921 and was then reportedly described by Collins himself as “father of us all”?
Is it that the hard-man military veneer of Collins is sexy? Is that also why so much of the current “commemoration” concentrates on violent aspects of the struggle for independence? Who fears to speak of the complex Griffith and his personal sacrifices aimed at avoiding division on the island and within the independence movement? Are we ignoring for some reason his key contributions to the creation of this State? – Yours, etc,