Collins's funeral cortege
Thousands of people went to Collins’ lying in state, including British soldiers. Joe O’Reilly, the loyal friend of Michael’s, fell into irrepressible crying when he saw the body. Painter Sir John Lavery was having difficulty fighting back his own tears while painting Love of Ireland. He reported that several mourners wept and one woman even kissed Collins' dead lips. The funeral cortege was three miles long and many people lined the streets to pay homage. The only flower allowed on Michael’s coffin was a white lily from Kitty Kiernan.
Tom Barry, friend and comrade to Collins, noted what happened after the news reached him.
"I was talking with some other prisoners on the night of August 22nd, 1922, when the news came in that Michael Collins had been shot dead in West Cork. There was a heavy silence throughout the jail, and ten minutes later from the corridor outside the top tier of cells I looked down on the extraordinary spectacle of about a thousand kneeling Republican prisoners spontaneously reciting the Rosary aloud for the repose of the soul of the dead Michael Collins, President of the Free State Executive Council and Commander-in-Chief of the Free State Forces."
The identity of Collins' assassin remains uncertain, although there has been much speculation regarding this subject. Meda Ryan's The Day Michael Collins Was Shot reveals the author's perspective and research. The film The Shadow of Béal na Bláth is an excellent documentary concerning the assassination. It includes re-enactments and family interviews. With the breakthroughs in medical technology since Collins' death, it would be feasible to discover the identity of the assassin but this would involve exhuming the body, a step Collins' family is not prepared to take. They feel that this would only ignite old hostilities and that Michael would not support any measure disrupting Irish peace. For more information found on this website, please see the section titled A Grisly Business.
Lavery's Love of Ireland
Collins is still remembered for his role in Irish independence. He is buried at Glasnevin Cemetery, a suburb of Dublin. He also has a memorial and a yearly service to commemorate his assassination. (For updates on the annual service, please refer to the Links section of this site.) He has been the subject of the film Michael Collins and numerous books that have been published since his death. In Tom Philbin's The Irish 100, Collins is ranked second of the most influential Irish of all time, a title he truly deserves.
Miceal O Coileain
October 16, 1890 - August 22, 1922
"Collins was murdered by the opposition—men he had fought side by side with in the Easter Rising of 1916—on a rural crossroads… Many Irish felt he had capitulated to the British and betrayed them by getting them into an untenable arrangement. In September 1997 more than one thousand people and an honor guard gathered there to remember him, all standing silent as bagpipes keened, the Irish flag snapped in the wind, and the strain of a lone bugler mournfully played ‘The Last Post.’ Collins once said, ‘Individuals are imperfect, liable to error and weakness. The strength of the nation will be the strength of the spirit of the whole people.’ But it is individuals—such as Michael Collins—who are needed to lead the way" (Tom Philbin).
"Genius is a troublesome bedfellow. When it is absent we sigh for it, when it is present we grow weary of its violence and impetuousness. [Kevin] O'Higgins (a politician and friend to Collins) once said, 'I have done nothing without asking myself what Michael Collins would have done under the circumstances'-- which is as though I were to say, 'I have written nothing without asking myself what Shakespeare would have written'" (Frank O'Connor).
"In political terms Michael Collins died intestate. While he bequeathed strong democratic institutions like the Garda Síochána he also left a legacy of conspiratorial politics and revolutionary institutions in what aspired to be a constitutional democracy. … Michael Collins died as he had lived, an enigma. But for all the questions about his democratic credentials—and they must be asked—it was his constitutional legacy which was triumphant at the expense of his conspiratorial intestacy" (John Regan).
"Collins' career is a paradigm of the tragedy of modern Ireland, the suffering, the waste of talent, the hope, the bedevilling effects of history and nomenclature whereby one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Like Prometheus, Collins stole fire. Like Prometheus he paid for his feat and much of what he set about doing remains undone. But his name burns brightly wherever the Irish meet. Michael Collins was the man who made modern Ireland possible" (Tim Pat Coogan).
"Brains of lead and eyes of glass as the cortege, three miles long, moved swiftly with its army of wreath-laden, crepe-draped lorries, its seventeen bands moaning Handel’s Funeral March, its Archbishops and Bishops in solemn canonical robes, its advance guard of cavalry, its Generals, Captains and grey-green firing party, fifty strong, with rifles reversed, and buglers in the rear, its mourners afoot and in coaches, file after file of working men, clerks, students, clergymen, women, officials, all passing swiftly in the wake of the coffin on an eighteen-pounder gun-carriage drawn by six stable horses. The sun pouring down on six miles of spectators as the procession flashed by with mournful pride to Glasnevin, where O’Connell’s lime-white Round Tower soared sentinel to the newest corner and comrade in the Irish Pantheon. Mourners afoot, mourners lining the streets, mourners on the roofs, with the sun pouring down and the silence of doom over all as the Funeral March stops and Dublin follows, looks on in wondering heartache and stupefied anger, sobs quietly and pays a last homage to Michael Collins in his coffin drawn by six stable horses to an eternal sleep in the heart of his nation, dark hair quiescent now, vibrating accent stilled and determined jaw set forever" (Desmond Ryan).
"They were in a state of ‘stunned despair’ to quote an editorial in the Freeman’s Journal which was bordered (as was the newspaper custom of the time) in black. Citizens of the fledgling state would have read: ‘The terrible news we announce today will move Ireland as nothing has moved her in living memory. Michael Collins has fallen by the hands of his own countrymen. He had dared death so often in the struggle with England that men felt he could run all risks and emerge unharmed. That he should be killed by an Irish bullet is a tragedy too deep for tears.’ … But to the tens of thousands who lined the streets of Dublin on that occasion, the writer in the Freeman’s Journal said: ‘The gleam of hope on the gloom was the sight of Michael Collins marching at the head of the army. He has now been taken from us… It is difficult not to despair. Yet to do so would be treason to Griffith and Collins alike. Great men may pass but the nation remains. Michael Collins is dead for Ireland. It is for us, who believe in the cause for which he gave his life, to see that the new Ireland shall be worthy of the sacrifice'" (Gabriel Doherty and Dermot Keogh, quoting the Freeman's Journal).
"At the moment of his death, he bore no rancour, according to the paper (the Freeman’s Journal): ‘Forgive them,’ were the last words on his lips. This theme of forgiveness was taken up by Frances McHugh in a surprisingly conciliatory piece in the pro-government paper, The Free State: ‘His last words were “Forgive them”; a beautiful and sentimental exit from this life? I cannot interpret these words so. No; he meant, this man who saw clearly and spoke his thoughts, “Do not assassinate any one of my enemies’ leaders to avenge me. For Ireland’s sake do not start an era of assassinatory politics.” Such last words must make his death new life to Ireland'" (Gabriel Doherty and Dermot Keogh, quoting the Freeman's Journal).
"'We bend today over the grave of a man not more than thirty years of age, who took to himself the gospel of toil for Ireland, and of sacrifice for their good, and who has made himself a hero and a legend that will stand in the pages of our history with any bright page that was ever written there. Pages have been written by him in the hearts of our people that will never find a place in print. But we lived, some of us with these intimate pages; and those pages that will reach history, meagre though they be, will do good to our country and will inspire us through many a dark hour. Our weaknesses cry out to us, “Michael Collins was too brave.” Michael Collins was not too brave. Every day and every hour he lived he lived it to the full extent of that bravery which God gave to him, and it is for us to be brave as he was—brave before danger, brave before those who lie, brave even to that very great bravery that our weaknesses complained of in him'" (Richard Mulcahy in his oration at Collins' funeral).
"Michael Collins was, is, and is destined to be a national hero. By instinct, a sure and wise instinct, the nation hailed him its leader and champion… No enthusiasm about chief and leaders is likely to confuse my estimate at this day. I want to give testimony, the testimony of an older man, and my testimony is that Michael Collins was and is the greatest Irishman of our time" (Eoin MacNeill, Cabinet minister).
"Mary Frances McHugh wrote under the heading ‘The Dead Leader—with the Heroes of all Time’: ‘He was not afflicted by the damning taint of cynicism which threatened to afflict man… He believed and hoped and ardently loved his hope and belief. He was selfless and he had a nobility of mind. A simplicity of aim and a genius for method, allied with whole-hearted and indeed joyous enthusiasm, were the distinguishing qualities of the dead Commander-in-Chief; a brilliant quality of thought and action translated, through an emotional capacity partly into achievement. He loved Ireland not in theory but in practice. He was a man of the people and for the people, yet a born governor and wise leader of men. That divine authority to guidance was his. Such a man must be set up in the lawgiver’s seat, and the veriest fools, though they had knees of brass, would kneel down and worship. Not foolishly or weakly, but with the instincts of a race, which are the fount of all order, to choose their leader. He was chosen as a leader living, he is buried as a dead leader. God rest him'" (Gabriel Doherty and Dermot Keogh quoting Mary Frances McHugh).
"Alice Stopford Green wrote about his death: ‘All men wondered as he took up his Herculean task. We know the bitter schism. But Collins was never embittered. He knew a good man, and to the end he kept his esteem and affection for those of his opponents whose honour he trusted. He himself had his cruel detractors—men with no eyes for the great facts of his genius. Their tales spread where they could do harm, among the ignorant… Whatever lesser men might say of him, in his great heart there was to the last no trace of bitterness. No leader before him in Ireland has borne away so immense a love and eternal devotion as has been given to him. Their grief will know no consolation… All alike now strive together to carry on the work from which he was torn so piteously'" (Gabriel Doherty and Dermot Keogh quoting Alice Stopford Green).
"The Minister for Home Affairs Kevin O’Higgins, who was to share the same fate as Collins, wrote about how he could not take in the brief telephone message he received telling him of the death: ‘“C-in-C shot dead in ambush, Bealnablath, near Bandon.” This thought I, is some fantastic devilish lie, for bullet could not still that great heart of his, still less bullet sped by an Irish hand, and even as I conveyed the brief staccato message from Cork to his colleagues—his fellow-toilers for eight crowded years—Dick Mulcahy, Gearóid Ó Suilleabháin, Sean MacMahon and Tom Cullen, my stunned brain kept drumming out its refusal to accept. “This is not true! This is not true!”’" (Gabriel Doherty and Dermot Keogh quoting Kevin O'Higgins).
"...I (O’Higgins) face the fact that Michael Collins, the greatest man that ever served this Nation’s cause, lies cold in death—slain by a fellow countryman in his native Cork… Michael Collins is dead. The tragic waste of it; the infinite pathos of it. That brain, with all its wonderful potentialities, dashed out by fratricidal bullet. That great heart stilled; that great frame, every nerve and sinew of which was bent unsparingly in loving service of his people, rigid in untimely and unnatural death. Mourn, people of Ireland, for there is gone from among you a great hearted man who loved you well and strove for you mightily. Mourn, for while ye mourn, read through your tears the lessons of his life—and of his death" (Kevin O'Higgins).
"His engaging personality won friendships even amongst those who first met him as foes and to all who met him the news of his death came as a personal sorrow" (David Lloyd George).
"My Dear Miss Collins—
Don’t let them make you miserable about it: how could a born soldier die better than at the victorious end of a good fight, falling to the shot of another Irishman—a damned fool, but all the same an Irishman who thought he was fighting for Ireland—‘A Roman to Roman’? I met Michael for the first and last time on Saturday last, and am very glad I did. I rejoice in his memory, and will not be so disloyal to it as to snivel over his valiant death. So tear up your mourning and hang up your brightest colours in his honour; and let us all praise God that he did not die in a snuffy bed of a trumpery cough, weakened by age, and saddened by the disappointments that would have attended his work had he lived" (George Bernard Shaw in a letter to Hannie, August 25, 1922).
"I think Michael Collins was the greatest Irishman who ever lived, greater than Brian Boru or Parnell" (W. T. Cosgrave).
"It's my considered opinion that in the fullness of time history will record the greatness of Collins and it will be recorded at my expense" (Eamon DeValera).
"Tribute to the 'Big Fella'"
By Humphrey Murphey
Bear him to that hallowed place,
Where our deathless dead are resting;
Where the spokesmen of our race
Gather for the final questing.
'Mid the statesmen who have died,
'Mid the orators and writers,
Make a splendid grave and wide,
For this peerless prince of fighters.
Press the kindly Irish earth
On the breast so broad and fearless,
Veil that laughing face, whose mirth
Vanished, leaves us poor and cheerless.
When the tempest lashed our land
And the feeble lights had dwindled;
He 'twas held the gleaming brand
Where the fires of warfare kindled.
Fearless, agile, unafraid,
Cool to watch and cordon tightening;
Rallying the half-dismayed,
Teaching how to strike like lightning.
God-like in the work achieved,
Sunshine flashed through clouds of terror
Still the captain unrelieved,
Strove with faction, pride and error.
Chivalrous, he fought his fight,
Kindly, patient, unrevealing;
Hopeful that the dawning light
Would reveal the nation smiling.
Lay his body in the earth,
Giant frame and soul are riven,
Think of Collins in his mirth
And his prayer, "Be they forgiven."