Michael Collins: The Lost Leader – Margery Forester

Collins

The story of Northern Ireland is long and complicated yet it cannot be told without mention of many key figures who played critical roles in the modern day status of country.   Among these figures is the former Chairman of the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State Michael Collins (1890-1922). He played a direct role in the treaty of 1921 that partitioned the country and preserved Ulster Province for British Rule.  In less than a year he was assassinated at the age of thirty-one.  He lived a short life but within that time had risen to the top rank of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (“IRB”) as the movement for independence from Britain gained momentum. In later years, tensions between Protestants and Catholics would erupt into the Troubles which claimed the lives of more than three thousand people and placed the Irish Republican Army (“IRA”) in the crosshairs of 10 Downing Street. However, the IRA can be seen as a continuation of the struggle in which Collins was involved for a free Irish Republic. This is the story of his life by author Margery Forester

The book was first published in 1971 and later updated in 1991, several years before the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.  And although peace was mostly achieved, the Crown still remains in place across Ulster Province with Derry or Londonderry as it sometimes called, being the ground zero for tensions that simmer below the surface. Republicans remain vigilant in the hopes that one day Ireland will be completely free of British rule. Nationalists remain loyal to the Union Jack flag and see British rule as essential.  If Michael Collins were alive today, he would undoubtedly push for British removal, a goal he had set for himself before his untimely death. In discussions I have had with others regarding the conflict in Northern Ireland, many people are unaware of who Collins was and why he was important.  For those and others in the same position, this is the book that tells his story in a way that all readers will appreciate.  I have written about Collins before, in my review of Tim Pat Coogan’s The Twelve Apostles: Michael Collins, the Squad and Ireland’s Fight for Freedom.  The book is outstanding in its own right but it is not a biography of Collins, simply his work during the rise of the Irish Free State and his crew of hitmen who carried out deeds in the name of the Republican cause.  But there is far more to his story, which we learn very quickly here.

When Michael Collins was born on October 16, 1890, his parents John and Mary Ann could have never imagined that their son would one day lead the resistance to British rule in Ireland. By the time Collins reached adulthood, both parents had died and did not get to see their son’s rise in power nor his tragic demise. He hailed from the town of Woodfield, Sam’s Cross but would make a name for himself in Dublin and London. But before we get to that point, we learn about Collins’ early life in Woodfield as the youngest child in a very large family. The early part of the book does read like a typical biography. Unquestionably, the story picks up pace when Collins joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood in November, 1909. From that point on, all bets are off as the IRB is determined t make its presence felt in across Ireland and in London.

Readers who are well-read in Irish history known the story regarding the 1916 uprising in Dublin and its surrounding areas. Forester does discuss it here but does not go into extensive detail. For those who are interested in the uprising itself, I do recommend Tim Pat Coogan’s 1916: The Easter Rising, which explores the revolt in extensive detail. Here, the author focuses mainly on Collins’ role but makes mention of fallen figures James Connolly (1868-1916), Patrick Henry Pearse (1879-1916) and Tom Clarke (1858-1916). The uprising did not end in the removal of the Crown but it should have been a warning to London of the mayhem that would come in later years as the “Irish question” proved to difficult to answer. The IRB was just getting started and Collins found himself in the middle of the fight for a free Ireland. But the road ahead would be difficult, far more so than even Collins could have thought. The author keeps the suspense at just the right pace as the stakes are raised and the reality of extreme violence becomes hauntingly real.

As the book progresses we learn a lot about Collins’ nature and his reception by those around him. Supportive, abrasive, off-putting and patriotic to the core, he was mixed bag of emotions and you could not always be sure what you would get. However, his commitment to Ireland never waivered. But one event changed the tide of the struggle and placed Collins on the most wanted list. On January 21, 1921, Redmond was shot and killed on his way home from work. He had been assigned to lead the Dublin Metropolitan Police and his murder earned Collins an infamous reputation. As Forester explains:

On the same day, 25 January, a putative offer was made of £10,000 for ‘the body, dead or alive, of Michael Collins

There would be no turning back and Collins rose to the occasion, ready to take on London in his capacity as an IRB member. The story picks up pace as negotiations are in progress for a treaty between Britain and the Republicans for an Irish Republic that will ward off an inevitable bloody war.

The Republican movement continued to gain momentum but sadly, some would be lost along the way. The death of Terence MacSwiney (1879-1920) is one that would repeated several times over years later and would result in Bobby Sands (1954-1981) becoming an immortal hero in Republican history. However, even with McSwiney’s death, London still seemed not to grasp the severity of the matter and the IRB’s determination. Negotiations became increasingly stressful but on December 6, 1921, a formal treaty was signed and the Irish Free State was born. But for Republicans, the war both internally and against Britain was far from over. It is this part of the book that shows the sharp differences of opinion Collins faced as he helped negotiate a treaty that gave the Republic of Ireland a sense of real power. Things became so tense that Collins even wrote directly to Winston Churchill (1874-1965) to preserve the treaty in place and avert a rebellion by the non-treaty faction of the IRB. Parts of his letters are included here to show the urgency with which Collins voiced his concerns. The later seizure of the Four Courts by anti-treaty IRB members is widely considered the first significant break from the mainline IRB position. Its aftermath and the damaged done internally to the IRB are both sad and regrettable. And even worse, it would manifest itself later in Collins’ final moments.

Arthur Griffith (1871-1922), the founder of (1871-1922) and former president of Dáil Éireann, died on August 12, 1922. As Collins walked in the procession, he had a encounter with a religious figure who gave him this warning as relayed by Forester:

Dr. Fogarty, the Bishop of Killaloe, spoke to Collins as he stood alone, gazing long at the grave of his friend. ‘Michael, you should be prepared—you may be the next.’ Collins turned. ‘I know’, he said simply. When the long, slow ceremony to Glasnevin was over, with its strain on men unused to processional marching, Michael sighed with relief. ‘I hope nobody takes it into his head to die for another twelve months’, he said.

Twelve days later, Collins would meet his fate and with his death, came a wave of grief to the Republican cause. Bu the movement continued and the memory of Collins remains firmly in place even today. He will always be one of the most iconic figures in Irish history as well as controversial. By all accounts he could be a rough person to be around but no one questioned his commitment to the cause. And provided here is a thorough examination of his life, his beliefs and how far he was willing to go to achieve a united Ireland.

Give us the future, we’ve had enough of your past. Give us back our country, to live in, to grow in, to love” – Michael Collins

ASIN : B00GJQ9WLW

Portrait of a Revolutionary: General Richard Mulcahy and the Founding of the Irish Free State – Maryann Gialanella Valiulis

20200318_160039Discussions of the 1916 uprising in Ireland tend to focus on a select group of figures.  The names of Patrick Pearse (1897-1916) and James Connolly (1868-1916) are legend in Irish history and their actions part of the narrative of the Republican fight for a united Ireland.  In December, 1921, the British Government and Republican forces reached an agreement that officially partitioned Ireland into Unionist north and Republican south.   The southern part was established as the Free Irish State, to be led by Michael Collins (1890-1922)who became Chairman of the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State.  Collins is well-known in Irish history for his unwavering support of the Republican cause.  However, there was another figure who not only worked closely with Collins, but someone whose own story and actions are typically left out of the official narrative.  Pictured to the left General Richard Mulcahy (1886-1971), one of the founding members of the Irish Free State and staunch supporter of Irish independence.  When I saw this book for sale, I knew immediately that I had to read it and understand who the intriguing character on the cover of the book really was.

Dr. Maryann Gialanella Valiulis, is a Fellow Emeritus, Fellows Emeritii of Trinity College in Dublin, and has written several books regarding Irish history.  In this informative and beautifully written narrative, she explores the life of Richard Mulcahy and his role in the formation of what is known today as the Republic of Ireland. Admittedly, before reading this book, I had very little of him and do not recall any detailed mention of his life or actions in the other material that I have read.  As a result, I had no idea of who he was and what he stood for.  That has now changed and I am confident that after you have read this book, you will also feel the same way about him. I am also confident that if you have decided to read this book, it is because you are already familiar with Mulcahy or have deep interest in the subject matter.  With that being said, this book is deep and Valiulis takes us back in time as the battle for Irish independence is heating up.

As one would expect, the nexus of the book is formed by the treaty with Britain, the Irish Civil War and the founding of the Irish Free State.  Mulcahy’s role as Chief of Staff and later Minister of Defence of the Irish Republican Army (“IRA”) placed him firmly at the center of all three events as the future of Ireland was molded in ways some could have never imagined.  Incredibly, in spite of his importance, there is much about Mulcahy that has remained unsaid in discussions about the what became known as the “The Troubles”.   He comes off initially as a figure that remained hidden in the shadows.  But here, Maryann Valiulis makes him the focus, telling the story of his early life and his later role in the military and Irish politics.  She also gives him a platform to tell his own story, by including snippets of Mulcahy’s own words nearly 100 years ago as he spoke to the men and women of Ireland in favor of unification.  And as the book progresses, Mulcahy is transformed from a captivating figure on the cover to one of the most important figures in the movement for Irish independence.

The book is filled with a ton of factual information and exhaustively researched.  As a result, the complete picture is formed regarding the treaty with Britiain and the resulting Irish Civil War.  Following the assassination of Michael Collins in August, 1922, Mulcahy found himself in control as the battle between Republican forces became deadly.  The author details the tensions that brewed between pro-treaty and anti-treaty forces, who had been encouraged by the words of Éamon de Valera (1882-1975), the founder of Fianna Fáil and had become disillusioned with the IRA in the wake of the agreement.  The Civil War is without question the darkest period in the book and the assassinations and murders that took place, cast a dark cloud over both sides of a conflict that nearly evaporated the support of even the most pro-independence Irish public.   Mulcahy is firmly entrenched in all that happens and through the author’s words, we can see how his decision and actions, for better or worse, affected the future of Ireland.  At times while reading, I found myself in shock at the actions between Republican forces as one side remained committed to the treay with Britian and the other committed to a free Ireland by any means necessary, regardless of the body count.   Sadly, in some ways, the Irish Civil War was premonition for the conlict that erupted in 1969.

By 1924, the Civil War war had died down and eventually ceased as anti-treaty forces slowly realized that they could not keep going against the army.  Interestingly, no formal agreement to end the war was ever signed.  The army emerged from the confict as the victor but for Mulcahy the battle was far from over.  In fact, his troubles were just beginning and the work for the formal creation of the Irish Free State lay ahead and brought with it advancement and regression.  Quite frankly, his life was never the same again.  Although the Civil War had ended, bad blood still remained within Republican forces and there were those who were determined to see his removal.  Like a jigsaw puzzle, multiple entities play a role, including the Irish Republican Army, Old Irish Republican Army  (“Old IRA”) and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (“IRB”).  Ego, animosty and old jealousies rose to the surface as Mulcahy fougth to retain his place in the army he believed in and served with unwavering loyalty.   The story is explained clearly here, forming an easily readable narrative of how and why Mulcahy found himself an outsider looking in after many years on the front lines.  His rise and fall is a perfect example of the precarious nature that came with being a member of the Republican movement. Friends became enemies and enemies became allies and rivals switche sides and in some cases, resorted to violence when all else failed.  The suspense is gripping the author sets each stage perfectly, with a writing style that will keep readers glued to the book.

The only drawback about the book is that I had hoped to learn more about Mulcahy’s personal life.  We do learn that he married and fathered six children. However, there is much about his private life that is left out.  I surmise that because the book is focused on the Irish Free State, that it is not a biography in the traditional sense but an examination of Mulcahy’s role in the events that transpired. And the book does succeed in explaining who Mulcahy was in relation to the cause and his beliefs about his own actions and the future of Ireland.  Additionally, his relationship with Michael Collins is also explored and we come to learn how the two soliders became acquaintances and began to execute their plan to create an Irish Republic.

In the decades that followed Collins’ death and Mulcahy’s departure from the front lines, tensions between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland continued to increase and when “The Troubles” commenced, a wave of violence was unleashed, wreaking havoc across Nothern Ireland as the death toll continued to climb.  The history of the conflcit runs deep, but not discussion of it can take place without mention of the Irish Free State and one its prinicpal founders, General Richard Mulcahy.  For those who are looking for a great read on the Republic of Ireland and one of its unsung heroes, this is the place to start.  Highly recommended.

A nation cannot be fully free and which even a small section of its people have not freedom. A nation cannot be said to live in spirit, or materially, while there is denied to any section of its people a share of the wealth and the riches that God bestowed around them.”  – Richard Mulcahy (1886-1971), January 21, 1919

ISBN-10: 0813117917
ISBN-13: 978-0813117911

The Twelve Apostles: Michael Collins, the Squad, and Ireland’s Fight for Freedom – Tim Pat Coogan

Collins 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 savagery 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”.

ASIN: B073YFPTRR