The looming exit from the European Union by England will undoubtedly be watched by the whole world, which has been kept in suspense by the referendum in 2016 and failure of former British Prime Minster Theresa May to garner enough votes for a formal separation. Current Prime Minister Boris Johnson has declared it will happen and on January 31, 2020, he will be proven right or wrong on the matter. In Northern Ireland, there is fear and uncertainty regarding how the move by England will affect Ulster County, the loyalist stronghold composed of majority that stands firmly behind the Crown. The Irish Republican Army (“IRA”) will be following as well to see how the move will affect its goal for a united Ireland free of British interference. Time will tell how the departure from the European Union will affect both Britain and other nations. Recently, I decided to do some further reading on Northern Ireland and I came across this book by Tim Pat Coogan about an Irish revolutionary I was previously unfamiliar with. His name was Michael Collins (1890-1922) and this is the story of his group of assassins known as the Twelve Apostles and their fight for freedom from Downing Street by famed author Tim Pat Coogan.
I believe that readers will find this book enjoyable if they have a sound base of knowledge regarding the conflict in Northern Ireland. In fact, the author Tim Pat Coogan, has written extensively about the “Troubles”, and in his book “1916: The Easter Rising“, he explains the movements of the IRA and the seizure of the General Post Office and other critical facilities in Dublin. That uprising is considered by many to be the defining moment in the Republican goal of a united Ireland and liberation from British rule. The execution of IRA members in the wake of the uprising turned them into the martyrs and set the stage for the decades running battle between Loyalist and Republican forces.
Collins is the focus here and the author wastes no time in getting into the story. From the beginning it is clear that Collins is man with strong convictions and had no repulsion to using violence as a tool of effecting change. He was a complex character but firmly committed to the expulsion of the Crown. I warn readers that this book does not have a happy ending. In fact, the story is gritty and acts of violence occur throughout. But I do believe that if you choose to read this book, that is something you already know and have accepted. Collins and his group that are known as the Twelve Apostles carry out acts of aggression that will shock many readers. The events in the book take place between the years 1916 and 1922 and their savagerys rival violence seen even today. As for Collins, Coogan remarks in the introduction that:
” The Jewish leader Yitzhak Shamir both studied the methods of Michael Collins, and used the code name Michael as his own nom de guerre. And in the state of Israel which Shamir helped to form, I was made aware of a guilty foreboding on the part of those Israeli citizens who knew their history, that one day the Arabs too might produce a Michael Collins – and that if they did, there would not be a supermarket left standing in Israel“.
I completely agree and shudder to think of how the Gaza strip would be today if a Collins type figure had in fact existed and acted on behalf of the Palestinians.
In America, the murder of a policeman or elected official spurs outrage and swift action by law enforcement. Nearly every criminal will tell you that no one wants to be charged with murdering a cop. But for Collins and the Apostles, everyone was fair game. No one escapes the wrath of the IRA and its band of enforcers are eerily similar to the mafia’s own Murder, Inc., based out of Brooklyn, New York. The Apostles have a hit list and they go through it with deadly precision as part of their mission to obtain Ireland’s freedom. Coogan tells the stories in all of their detail and at times, it felt as is a movie was being filmed. The assassinations and attacks are brazen and deadly, with an increasing body count that will cause some readers to sit in disbelief.
In December, 1921, the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty, resulting in the creation of the Irish Free State, which was composed of 26 out of 32 counties in Ireland. The remaining six in Northern Ireland chose to leave and remain in firm support of England. Collins became head of the Irish Free State and held the position until his own death in 1922. The treaty was rejected by hardliners within the IRA and tensions led to the Irish Civil War of 1922, in which the IRA split into factions. Collins now found himself at odds with those he had once stood next to in the fight for Ireland’s freedom including Éamon de Valera (1882-1975) who leaves and then re-enters the story at pivotal moments. De Valera late formed Fianna Fáil in 1926 after separating from the anti-treaty Sinn Féin party. Incredibly, he lived until the age of 92, when he died from complications of pneumonia and heart failure on August 19, 1975.
If you want to know more about the uprising in 1916 and the residual effects in the years that followed, this book is a must read. However, it ends after Collins’ death, which comes after the Apostles have parted ways in the wake of the Irish Civil War. Readers looking for a longer account of the conflict will be satisfied with Kevin Toolis’ “Rebel Hearts: Journeys Within the IRA’s Soul” and Peter Taylor’s “Provos: The IRA and Sinn Fein“. Both are highly informative and give excellent explanations about why the IRA continues to fight. And for a more personal story, I highly recommend Dennis O’ Hearn’s “Nothing But an Unfinished Song: The Life and Times of Bobby Sands“, which is the definitive biography of the iconic IRA figure. Tim Pat Coogan has done it again with an excellent account of the activities of Michael Collins and the origins of the long running feud known as The “Troubles”.