Finally, Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera are on the same page and it goes to auction this week at Whyte’s.
This Saturday, February 3, Whyte’s will hold an auction for “The Eclectic Collector” in the Freemasons’ Hall on Molesworth Street in Dublin. The auction will have some very eclectic Irish collectibles indeed: a U2 Bellydancer’s Kit, items belonging to Irish writer Christy Brown, a lock of Napoleon’s hair, souvenirs from the 1932 Eucharistic Congress and a photo of Ginger the Cockfighting Bird, among others. But the big prize for autograph collectors may be the signatures of the two greatest Irishmen of the 20th century, Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera, foes at the end, on the same page together.
Collins & De Valera – the Irish oil & water
Michael Collins and Eamon de Valera had very different visions of where Ireland should be going. And it didn’t start with the Treaty in 1921 either. When de Valera abdicated his role as Príomh-Aire, or First Minister of the Dáil, when he went to America for eighteen months in the spring of 1919 he didn’t plan on Michael Collins running the whole show out of Dublin.
Soon Collins, as Minister for Finance, put in place a very successful National Loan on both sides of the Atlantic to fuel the infant nation. As Director of Intelligence of the IRA Collins was going to deal with the British Secret Service as no Irish revolutionary before him had ever done. Simply, he was going to eliminate them from Ireland.
Starting in the summer of 1919 as de Valera toured the United States as the august “President” of the Irish Republic, Collins established both his intelligence office and the Squad that would carry out the needed assassinations of British intelligence officers. Strangely enough, the British were not Collins’ top concern—Irish informers took a higher priority for him.
“…[T]he two most urgent problems with which we were faced at that time,” wrote Collins in his unfinished autobiography, 'Michael Collins Own Story' by Hayden Talbot, “[were] beating the English Secret Service until it was powerless, and cleaning our own house until the last traitor Irishman had been identified and fittingly dealt with.”
Collins went on to write, “Now the time had come to turn our attention to the most important part of our job—the smashing of the English Secret Service. My final goal was not to be reached merely by beating it out of existence—I wanted to replace it with a better and Irish Secret Service. The way to do this was obvious, and it fell naturally into two main parts—making it unhealthy for Irishmen to betray their fellows, and making it deadly for Englishmen to exploit them. It took several months to accomplish the first job—actually the most important part—and hardly more than a month to disrupt the morale of the English Secret Service, to a point at which its efficiency ceased to be the proud thing that it always had been.”
It all came to a climax on Bloody Sunday, November 21, 1921, when Collins’ agents shot to death fourteen British Secret Service Agents. The danger receding, one month later de Valera returned from America. Dev was met at the boat by Tom Cullen and Batt O’Connor, two of Collins’ closest associates. He asked how things were going? “Great!” replied Cullen. “The Big Fellow is leading us and everything is going marvelous.”
“Big Fellow,” replied de Valera, “we’ll see who’s the Big Fellow now!” As the history books report, things went downhill in the Collins-de Valera relationship from there.
The last straw was de Valera's desire, not understanding guerrilla warfare, for “big action.” He wanted the Dublin Brigades to have big battles with the British Army about once a month. Collins, rightfully, thought this insane. But de Valera was persistent and against Collins’ advice, decided to burn down the Custom House in May of 1921. The result was a disaster. Over 100 members of the Dublin Brigade were arrested and it crippled Collins’ Squad, his Twelve Apostles. Ironically, the British misread their victory thought the Dublin IRA was strong, and with the help of King George V sought a Truce, which went into effect in July 1922. The British had no idea how close to victory they really were. The rest is Irish history, very messy and still very debatable.
Collins and Dev are on the same menu
So, getting Collins and Dev on the same page, eh, menu, is a big deal. As the Irish Times reported: “Lot 148 is a rare memento of happier times – their autograph signatures on the same page of a menu for an event which included: Toasts – Ireland One and Indivisible – Our Guests – Irish Exiles”. It’s signed on the back by de Valera and Collins (in Irish as Miceál Ó Coileáin) and the rarity of having both signatures together, despite the card’s poor condition, explains the high estimate (€800-€1,200).”
For students of Irish history, there is also Lot 102 which is a 1916 Rising Medal awarded to Tom Clarke’s widow, the indefatigable Kathleen Daly Clarke. Mrs. Clarke is one of the heroic, yet tragic figures of the Easter Rising in that she lost both her husband and brother Ned Daly, commandant of the Four Courts, to British firing squads at Kilmainham. Her other tragedy is that she was pregnant at the time of the Rising and lost that child to a miscarriage. Ironically, she played a major part in the career of Michel Collins because she gave him his first job after he returned from prison in Wales in 1916, as the head of the National Aid and Volunteers Dependents' Fund, which Collins used as a launching pad for his myriad revolutionary adventures.
Items can be viewed this week at Whyte’s Gallery starting January 31 at 38 Molesworth Street in Dublin and on Whyte’s website: Whytes.ie. The auction will take place Saturday, February 3, at the Freemason’s Hall at 17 Molesworth Street.
* Dermot McEvoy is the author of the "The 13th Apostle: A Novel of Michael Collins and the Irish Uprising" and "Our Lady of Greenwich Village," both now available in paperback, Kindle, and audio from Skyhorse Publishing. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.dermotmcevoy.com. Follow The 13th Apostle on Facebook.