Collins and Arthur Griffith seated together, unaware of the toll 1922 would take on them.
After the terms of the Treaty were published and Collins returned home, a bloody civil war ensued. (This time of civil war over the Treaty is still referred to as The Troubles.) The pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty sides brutally fought one another. Collins stated that if the Irish people approved the Anglo-Irish Treaty, he would stick by it. If not, he would discard it and continue fighting. The people overwhelmingly supported the Treaty and Collins kept his word. But DeValera and his followers did not endorse the terms and the country was torn in two.
"Lost in self-doubt, he (Collins) broke down and wept. If his Chief (DeValera) were against him, who would be for him? The days were beginning in which he must stand at the door of each of his friends, uncertain of them and of himself. ‘My own brother will probably stand against me in Cork,’ he said bitterly on that first tormented day. Johnny’s comment when they met first time since his release was certainly pithy. It concerned, however, not Michael’s patriotism but his moustache, which it must be admitted lent him only an uneasy sheepishness. ‘Next time you’re shaving, don’t overlook that thing as well,’ was his elder brother’s withering advice. Michael duly appeared at breakfast next morning clean-shaven" (Margery Forester).
The Dáil carried out its own series of intense debates before the Treaty was approved by the narrow margin of only seven votes. Collins's speeches in the Dáil have been described as articulate and poised, reflecting a remarkable sense of strength in such a trying time. DeValera had, essentially, what amounted to a breakdown because of the pressure he was under. He led his supporters out of the Dáil in protest of the results. It was also during these disputes in the Dáil that Cathal Brugha made his comments about Collins seeking notoriety and making himself out to be a romantic figure.
"In formally proposing the adoption of the Anglo-Irish Treaty on 19 December 1921 Arthur Griffith referred to Michael Collins as 'the man who won the war,' much to the annoyance of the Defence Minister Cathal Brugha, who questioned whether Collins 'had ever fired a shot at any enemy of Ireland.' Amid cries of 'Shame' and 'Get on with the Treaty,' Brugha complained that Collins had originated the story that there was a price on his head, and had personally sought the press publicity which built him into 'a romantic figure' and 'a mystical character' that he was not. Most of those present sat through the tirade in stunned silence, because there was no real stature to his wrath, just spite" (T. Ryle Dwyer).
"Suddenly, the mighty Cuchullain, hero of the Rising (Brugha), was seen for what he really was, a petty-minded, spiteful nonentity, insanely jealous of the one man who had kept the struggle going during the dark days of the Black and Tans" (James MacKay).
"Arthur Griffith was one of the last to speak, impelled to do so because of an earlier fatuous remark by Brugha who had (on 3 January) urged him to repudiate the Treaty which he had signed. … Griffith’s response to this ludicrous suggestion was to be one of the best speeches he ever delivered: ‘He was the man whose matchless energy, whose indomitable will, carried Ireland through the terrible crisis; and though I have not now, and never had, an ambition about either political affairs or history, if my name is to go down in history I want it to be associated with the name of Michael Collins’" (James MacKay).
DeValera commented to Richard Mulcahy, the IRA's future Chief of Staff and a friend to Collins, that he thought Cathal was jealous of Michael. He felt sorry that a man with such talent would spend so much of his time spiting Collins out of envy. Ironically, Mulcahy was later to say that DeValera was also jealous of Collins because Collins had become a kind of folk hero in the struggle for independence.
"Collins’s personality entered into the debate; men voted for the Treaty because, if it was ‘good enough for Mick Collins, it’s good enough for me.’ This led to a blistering attack on him by Cathal Brugha, Sinn Féin’s uncompromising Minister for Defence— ‘the honestest and finest soul in the world, but… a bit slow at seeing fine differences and rather stubborn,’ de Valera said of him. Many were jealous of Collins: Brugha probably, Stack certainly, de Valera perhaps. De Valera feared Collins would make himself the leader of a Republican party by claiming the Treaty to be a step to full independence—which was indeed his argument. Griffith called Collins ‘the man who won the war.’ But if the war had been won, Brugha threw back, why were they arguing about the Treaty? ‘If my name is to go down in history, I want it associated with the name of Michael Collins,’ said Griffith. ‘Michael Collins was the man who fought the Black-and-Tan terror for twelve months, until England was forced to offer terms.’ Collins himself said: ‘I am the representative of an Irish stock… Our grandfathers have suffered from war, and our fathers or some of our ancestors have died of famine. I don’t want a lecture from anybody as to what my principles are to be now. I am just a representative of plain Irish stock whose principles have been burned into them, and we don’t want any assurance to the people of this country that we are going to betray them. We are one of themselves. I can state for you a principle of “government by the consent of the governed”’" (Sean Cronin).
The hardliners were not willing to accept the Treaty even if the people and the Dáil did. Former friends soon became acrid enemies. Even Kathleen Clarke, Tom Clarke's widow who'd had such great praise for Collins in the past, turned against him. In keeping with his view of the Treaty as a stepping stone, he replied to her, "All I ask is that, if it's passed, you give us a chance to work [on] it" (Terry Golway). DeValera stepped down as President and Arthur Griffith took his place. Collins was put in charge of the Free State Army and had weapons and supplies sent by the British government. He was battling men he had once trained and The Troubles pitted close friends and family members against one another. Given the bloody circumstances of the civil war, it is clear to see why the time known as The Troubles is often pushed to the back shelf of Irish history. David Ervine, leader of the Progressive Unionist Party, offered his thoughts during his interview on The South Bank Show:
"There are songs about the hatred for the British and about imperialist rule but there are very few songs ever publicly sung about the Civil War. So homogenous Ireland now has elevated its common enemy to, if you like, paper over its own divisions."
The Provisional Government set up a War Council and Collins was given the title of Commander-in-Chief with the rank of general. In the weeks that followed, Ireland would sacrifice some of its most brilliant leaders. Harry Boland, Michael's best friend and colleague before the split, was killed and it devastated Collins.
"Harry Boland, another prominent anti-Treatyite, was shot dead by Free State troops in the Grand Hotel, Skerries, County Dublin, on 1 August 1922. According to the official report, he ‘made an unsuccessful attempt to seize a gun from one of the troops and then rushed out to the corridor. After firing two shots at random and calling on Mr. Boland to halt, it was found necessary to fire a third shot to prevent escape.’ Boland died on 2 August in St. Vincent’s hospital, Dublin. Michael Collins, divided from his close personal friend by civil war, wrote to his fiancée, Kitty Kiernan, on 2 August: ‘I passed Vincent’s hospital and saw a small crowd outside. My mind went to him (Boland) lying dead there and I thought of the times together… I’d send a wreath but I suppose they’d return it torn up’" (Gabriel Doherty and Dermot Keogh).
Arthur Griffith died from a busted blood vessel in his brain in August of 1922. (Some explanations differ on the actual cause of death, with variants such as heart attack and stroke. The sad gist of the story is that Arthur woke up and walked to his basin to wash. Having been under so much pressure for so long, something in his body gave way and he died.)
At left, Harry Boland, a best friend to Collins, and at right, Collins serving as a pallbearer at Arthur Griffith's funeral.
Collins attended Griffith's funeral and served as a pallbearer. Collins himself was not in the best of physical shape at this time. Both Frank O'Connor and Tim Pat Coogan acknowledge that Collins was tired and stressed nearly to the end of his tether. Nevertheless, when Michael was asked to negotiate with anti-Treaty forces on his turf—County Cork—he accepted. He had been suffering from a terrible cold and possibly a kidney infection or stomach illness, but was unwavering in his decision to go. Kitty had reservations about his decision to travel and his assistants attempted to persuade him to wait until he was feeling better. Joe O'Reilly had been tending to him in much the way a careful mother looks after a sickly son.
"On the night before his departure for Cork he went to bed at 7:30. He was suffering from a bad chill... O'Reilly then went for oranges and made a drink for him. 'God, that's grand!' he sighed. Encouraged by these, the first words of gratitude that had passed between them, O'Reilly went so far as to tuck him in for the night. But this was too much. Gathering all his strength, Collins bawled, 'Go to hell and leave me alone!' [The] next morning at breakfast he was still very ill—'writhing with pain,' Mulcahy describes him—but absolute in his determination to get to Cork" (Frank O'Connor).
Aside from Collins' sickness, there was another foreboding incident:
"As he (Collins) tramped downstairs to wait for his staff car he tripped, banged his low-slung revolver against the wall and accidentally discharged a round. The bullet narrowly missed his foot—an ill-omen if ever there was one" (James MacKay).
An eerie last photo of Collins, worried about the camera's shutter noise and grabbing for his gun.
When Michael was determined to do something, there was no point in trying to stop him. Michael even commented, erroneously unfortunately, that no one would shoot him in his own country so off he went with the armoured vehicle Slievenamon, a Rolls-Royce Whippet, to County Cork. As the convoy traveled near an area called Béal na Bláth (the mouth of flowers) on August 22, 1922, an ambush took place. Bullets rained down from cliffs above the road and Emmet Dalton yelled for the driver to "drive like Hell" but Collins preferred to stay and fight. The battle continued for approximately thirty minutes. The shooters attempted to change their location but Collins continued firing at them, following their movements with his rifle. Suddenly, Dalton and Seán O’Connell noticed that Michael was lying on the road. He had been struck in the head and when they made it over to him, they found a tremendous, bloody wound in his skull. Seán O’Connell administered the Act of Contrition in his ear and Dalton tried futilely to bandage the wound. Torrents of blood were coming down and Dalton realized soon after he started bandaging that Collins's eyes had closed for their final time and his face had gone cold and pale. Dalton used his cap to cradle Collins's head and balanced it carefully on his knee. The car pulled away and O'Connell was crying. His tears would be echoed by an entire nation...
...Michael Collins was dead at the age of 31.