A relative of Irish revolutionary hero Michael Collins recently revealed an image of the mass card from his 1922 funeral.
Thousands of people lined Sackville St (modern day O’Connell St) in Dublin’s city center for Collins’ funeral in August 1922, to pay tribute to “The Big Fellow,” a hero in the fight for Irish independence and a man who worked hard for the benefit of Ireland in the establishment of the Irish Free State.
Some 500,000 people, almost a fifth of the population of the country at the time, gathered for his funeral ceremony in Dublin’s Pro Cathedral.
In the wake of the official commemoration of the centenary of the Easter Rising – in which Collins served as Joseph Mary Plunkett's aide-de-camp at headquarters in the General Post Office (GPO) – his grand-nephew shared an image of the funeral mass card that had passed down through the family over the years.
“We are related to Michael Collins through our great-grandmother, Margaret Collins-O’Driscoll, who was his sister. Our grandfather, Joseph McGuill, of Bridge Street, Dundalk, was married to her daughter (and Michael Collins’ niece) Mary Collins-O’Driscoll,” Declan McGuill told Irish website JOE.ie.
“Their son – and the only child surviving to adulthood – was our Dad, Sean McGuill (also of Dundalk). Michael Collins is, therefore, our great uncle.
“My mother informs me that the memorial card we have would really only have been given to family (and perhaps extended family) members so it obviously holds a very special place in our family’s archives.”
The British sent Collins to a prison camp in Frongoch in Wales for his role in the Rising. Collins emerged out of Frongoch as one of the new leaders of the independence movement. He became Director of Intelligence for the Irish Republican Army during the War of Independence and organized a special assassination unit called The Squad expressly to kill British agents and informers.
Declan McGuill and other members of his family plan to visit Frongoch this year. McGuill's grandfather was interned with Collins at Frongoch. They also plan to visit Glasnevin Cemetery on August 22 to visit his grave and commemorate his death.
“I am very much looking forward to this opportunity to show my respect for these extraordinarily brave and committed people,” McGuill said.
When talks to end the War of Independence were arranged for October 1921 Michael Collins was one of the delegates who traveled to England to negotiate with the British government. A truce had been established in July 1921 to allow the two sides to meet for the talks that eventually led to the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which saw the establishment of the “Irish Free State” and the partition of Ireland into North and South.
A prominent advocate for the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Collins was one of the main political figures on the Pro-Treaty side of the Irish Civil War that followed the Treaty’s implementation.
Unfortunately, Collins was killed in an ambush in August 1922. His death came in his native Cork, at the hands of those who had fought alongside him in the War of Independence.
Traveling in a convoy through Béal na mBláth, Co. Cork, Collins was convinced that “they won’t shoot me in my own county.” The convoy was ambushed by anti-Treaty forces, however, and Collins received a single gunshot wound to the head that killed him instantly.
He is believed to have been shot by fellow Corkman Dennis “Sonny” O’Neill, a former member of the Royal Irish Constabulary who had fought for the British Army during World War I. O’Neill joined the IRA in 1918 and joined the anti-Treaty side during the Civil War.
* Originally published in 2016.