Challenging The Propaganda



From top: Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald; Michael Collins

 “For [Michael] Collins, disagreement was to be cherished, but interference with the people, their safety and their property was unacceptable…Fine Gael must never cease in challenging the propaganda that suggests violent protest is virtuous and effective”.

Frances Fitzgerald At the Beal na mBlath Commemoration Ceremony yesterday drawing uncomplimentary comparison between the Big Fella and some of today’s Irish Water protesters. Full speech here. “Like a One Direction fan letter,” noted a historian.


‘Emma De Valera’ writes:

An examination of Collins’ career during the War of Independence belies Minister Fitzgerald’s assertion.

Although there is no reported case of Collins having killed anyone directly, he did order the killings of many people, the first of whom, Detective Sergeant Patrick Smyth, was shot on the 30th July 1919.

Patrick Smyth was the first of a number of ‘G-Men’ in the Dublin Metropolitan Police to die as a result of refusing to co-operate with demands issued by Collins, in this case an order not to disclose incriminating documents found on a Sinn Fein TD arrested for making a seditious speech. Shortly after disobeying this warning, Sergeant Smyth was shot several times on his way home from work, dying from multiple organ failure several days later.

Patrick Smyth left seven children under 16. A post on the Irish Constabulary website prompted the following comment from a great-grandchild about the effects of his death on his immediate family:

“The family moved to Blackpool where my great grandmother, Anne, opened a boarding house in the early 1920s… My grandmother. always said that the family were hounded out of Dublin by the Republicans who returned to the house in Millmount Avenue on a number of occasions and lined up my great grandmother and her children against a wall and threatened them until they left the country. The younger children also found it difficult in school as they were ostracised and victimised by pro-Republican teachers. There are many family stories surrounding Patrick’s death such as the doctors failing to remove the last bullet from his body on purpose knowing that it would kill him.

…The family never felt able to speak too openly about their father for fear of being judged as choosing the ‘wrong side’ during the Irish Civil War and it is only very recently that my generation has been able to show some pride in what Patrick Smyth did. There is no doubt that Patrick Smyth was a dogged and stubborn individual and my father claims that he had passed his Detective Inspector exams and had been offered (and turned down) a job with the Met in London as he would not be driven out of Ireland by, as is often quoted, “those young scuts”. “

On the 19th September 1919 Collins founded ‘the Squad’, an IRA unit designed to counter British intelligence efforts by means of assassination. On November 21, 1920 14 British officers, allegedly members of the ‘Cairo Gang,’ were killed and six wounded at various locations in Dublin, including the Gresham Hotel, where

“…a party of fifteen to twenty men entered the open door of the hotel, held up the boots and the head-porter with revolvers and forced the latter, Hugh Callaghan, to lead them to rooms occupied by Ex-Captain Patrick MacCormack, formerly a captain in the Army Veterinary Corps, and Lieutenant L. E. Wilde. The party, one of whom carried a huge hammer, knocked first at Room 14 occupied by Mr. Wilde. He opened the door and asked, “What do you want?” By way of answer three shots were fired into his chest simultaneously. The party then moved to Room 24, which they entered and found Mr. MacCormack sitting in bed reading the paper. Without any communication five shots were fired into his body and head as he sat there. The bed was saturated, and the body, especially the head, was horribly disfigured. It is possible that the hammer was used as well as revolver shots to finish off the victim.”

Collins justified the killings by stating that he had:

“proof enough to assure myself of the atrocities which this gang of spies and informers have committed. Perjury and torture are words too easily known to them. If I had a second motive it was no more than a feeling such as I would have for a dangerous reptile. By their destruction the very air is made sweeter. That should be the future’s judgement on this particular event. For myself my conscience is clear. There is no crime in detecting in wartime the spy and the informer. They have destroyed without trial. I have paid them back in their own coin.”

It subsequently transpired that a number of the men, including both of those killed at the Gresham Hotel, had been incorrectly targeted, a fact that was acknowledged by Collins in a letter to Defence Minister Richard Mulcahy dated the 23rd March 1922, where he stated, in relation to McCormack:

“With reference to this case, you will remember that I stated on a former occasion that we had no evidence that he was a Secret Service Agent. You will also remember that several of the 21 st November cases were just regular officers. Some of the names were put on by the Dublin Brigade. So far as I remember McCormack’s name was one of these. “

He advised Mr Mulcahy to tell the deceased’s mother, Mrs McCormack from Castlebar that ’there was no particular charge against her son, but just that he was an enemy soldier.’ McCormack had been in Dublin to buy horses for the British army in Egypt.

One of the most public of the many killings ordered by Collins was that of Alan Bell, Royal Magistrate, who was shot dead while unarmed and unprotected and travelling on his regular tram route between Monkstown [Co Dublin] to Ballsbridge [Dublin4]. According to the following statement by Vincent Byrne, one of the squad who participated in the killing:

“This man came from England. His job was to examine the banking accounts in order to find out where the Volunteer money was. As this was a danger to the movement, orders were given to the Squad that he was to be got out of the way. Information was received that Bell was living out at Monkstown… Tom Keogh was sent on his bicycle to Monkstown. The Squad, along with some Intelligence officers, proceeded to Ailesbury Road and awaited developments. Tom’s job was to watch and see what tram Bell would board; he was to follow it and give the signal to the men at Ailesbury Road that Bell was aboard. Bell boarded the tram at Monkstown and Tom, keeping pace along with it, gave the signal that he was in this particular tram. The Squad boarded the tram, the majority going inside. I was detailed to go on top. My job was to cut the trolley rope when I heard any commotion going on below.

When we got as far as Simmonscourt Road, Bell was pulled off the tram. The conductor rushed up the stairs, shouting: ” There’s going to be a man shot ! ” I said to him: ” Oh, let me down off this tram ” at the same time cutting the trolley rope. After the shooting, the Squad cleared up Simmonscourt Road. As we were going along, a cyclist, with a motor bike and sidecar, passed us. He had just gone by us, when Tom Cullen remarked: “Do you know, lads, we should have stopped that fellow on the bike “. The Squad carried on to Donnybrook. As they were running for the Donnybrook tram, the conductor remarked; “Here comes the harriers.” Some of the Squad went up towards Clonskea to get a tram there. The men on the Donnybrook tram observed, as they were passing the D.M.P.Station, that there was a motor bike and sidecar outside, which looked as if the cyclist was reporting the plugging. Unfortunately, no one got the number of the bike. The actual place where Bell was shot was the corner of Simmonscourt Road – at the corner of the Show Grounds.”

The activities of Collins’ squad were highly successful in undermining the British presence in Ireland during the War of Independence through the use of protest so far exceeding in violence that referred to by Frances Fitzgerald as to make any comparison between the two ridiculous.

Far from respecting the people of Ireland and their property, the victims of Collins’ protest included not just foreign intelligence operatives, but also any members of the Irish public who were perceived as imperiling his work. Before Fine Gael starts challenging others’ propaganda, perhaps it should re-examine its own?


Top pic via Frances Fitzgerald

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34 thoughts on “Challenging The Propaganda

  1. sendog

    the blueshirts, fond of rewriting history!

    “Fine Gael must never cease in challenging the propaganda that suggests violent protest is virtuous and effective”

    Michael Collins pioneered guerrilla warfare whilst also presiding over the assassination of British intelligence officers and as he put it himself signing his own death warrant.

    never underestimate a politicians willingness to sully and misrepresent your history.

    1. scottser

      i’d say most of the speeches given an beal na mblath each year misrepresent collins’ philiosophy and actions. this one, however is am obvious attempt at saying that michael collins would just shut up and pay his water bill.

  2. ReproBertie

    Wait now, is DeV above telling us that the War of Independence wasn’t won through a concentrated postal campaign to the Britsh King asking him if he wouldn’t mind handing Ireland over to the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic? Well stop the presses. I may have to reconsider my policy of voting based on who chose what side in a civil war about a century ago.

  3. Starina

    *grits teeth*

    First, how dare they try to white-wash Collins!

    Secondly, how day they try to white-wash Collins in order to put down popular protest!

    1. ReproBertie

      As if it wasn’t bad enough when politicians try to claim bits and pieces of history as their own but now they’re trying to change that stolen history to suit their current agenda. It’s a little depressing to think about the seafóid we’ll be subjected to as they all try to claim that only their fellas were involved in the 1916 rising.

    1. ReproBertie

      Well the Big Fella’s first job was in the Royal Mail so I’m sure he was well aware of the power of the post.

  4. ivan

    i’m loathe to put words into the mouths of zombie freedom fighters, but I can’t help think that if Collins was around to hear this, he’d probably tell her to fupp off with herself….

  5. classter

    Emma De Valera seems to suggest that there was something particularly wrong about killing enemy soldiers in wartime. Sinn Fein had won in an absolute landslide. I see no merit in demonising Irish people who fought for the British Empire, where for ideological or financial reasons, but portraying them as poor victims is farcical.

    Agreed that Frances is making a clumsy & essentially silly point here. We know this about Frances, there doesn’t seem to be much going on. Shatter was unpopular on these pages but he has a brain & he was interested in reform.

  6. Emma de Valera

    Claster, out of the three examples I have given, one was an RIC sergeant, the other was an administrative official in the civil service and the third was an officer stationed with the British army in Egypt. None were British army personnel actively engaged in fighting in Ireland. I’m not sure that all or any these killings would have been justified by the Hague Convention which was in force at that time and governed wartime situations.

    1. ahjayzis

      More honoured in the breach at the time though, right?

      I mean, the Brits raided a stadium packed with civilians in reprisal. Safe to say neither side were worried about being hauled in front of the ICC.

    2. classter

      I’m not sure what point you are trying to make.

      The RIC was not an unarmed, allegedly neutral civil police like the Guards we know and love (?) in Ireland today. They were militarised with barracks, carbines, a clear division between the officers and the men and an army-type uniform. They swore an oath to the Crown & were fighting to maintain the Union.

      The administrative assistant mentioned was specifically sent to Ireland to target the Volunteers, he wasn’t a low-level typist.

      There were no Hague Conventions at the time specifically dealing with guerilla warfare. By your logic almost any war of independence would be illegal – the French Resistance in WWII for example.

  7. Emma de Valera

    Absolutely right about the British reprisals also being in breach of any laws of war. But the issue is not whether Collins was justified in the actions he took, the issue is whether or not they were – as indicated by Minister Fitzgerald – the antithesis of violent protest, they were not. Collins was all about change through violence, something he achieved very successfully – primarily by being just as ruthless as the British.

    1. classter

      ‘the issue is whether or not they were – as indicated by Minister Fitzgerald – the antithesis of violent protest, they were not.’

      That is not the issue. My original comment stated that Frances Fitz was clearly incorrect but I thought that you were incorrect too.

  8. Charger Salmons

    Irish people still arguing over 100-year-old history.
    No wonder the world still considers this a country of bog-trotting drunks.

    1. ivan

      We’re not *really* though…

      The Minister has essentially implied that Collins – were he alive today – would be tut-tutting at people having the nerve to protest as a means of bringing about change.

      Emma makes the point that Collins was quite happy to go *way* beyond tut-tutting when it came to bringing about change.

      Whatever your thoughts on the people who actually *are* protesting, or what they’re protesting about, it’s obvious (to me at least) that Frances Fitzgerald is talking out of her hoop.

      Collins is peripheral to the argument; the issue is whether Frances Fitzgerald sees how dim she seems.

    2. classter

      So the study & discussion of history is how one gains a reputation for being ‘bog-trotting drunks’.

      I don;t think you understand cause and effect.

  9. Nugget

    Perhaps Fine Gael should scrap compulsory history in secondary schools to help their propaganda …. oh wait, they already have.

  10. Fergus the magic postman

    A simple hijack of the Commemoration Ceremony to make ill-advised, false statements in order to try to justify the political policing that they say isn’t happening at the moment.

  11. Just sayin'

    I don’t like any politician using a historical figure to prove a current political points. Its always misleading.

    However, I also detest anyone using revisionist interpretations to judge and re-interpret what happened back then. the remarks about the RIC are laughable – they were far worse that the British Army in Ireland. Using the name de Valera just adds insult to injury. We all know what he did for/to this country.

    1. smiffy

      “I also detest anyone using revisionist interpretations to judge and re-interpret what happened back then”

      Isn’t that just, you know, history?

      1. classter

        Revisionist in the context of Irish history is often used to refer to a specific generation/cohort of historians and a related set of attitudes who emerged in the 1960s/1970s and who were particularly keen to challenge nationalist interpretations of Irish history.

        While they brought much needed nuance, punctured lazy myths, they are often accused of having sacrificed accuracy & objectivity in the name of their own agendas, of being more tolerant of British excesses/wrongdoing than their Irish nationalist equivalent. While there are good grounds for this in the cases of Peter Hart (who seems to have blatantly fabricated evidence) and Ruth Dudley Edwards (a complete hack imo), it is rather ridiculous to dismiss the likes of RF Foster in this manner.

  12. Iarlaithe ó Tighearnaigh

    Christ!, lucky the Nazis didn’t occupy the country, yeed be debating killing them was lawful or not. Sides were chosen, Britain had no right to be in ireland, no mandate, like any countries the held through force. Force is met by force and anyone who sided with Britain were legitimate targets. RIC, British army, spies.

    1. k jones

      They had a God given right to be in Ireland. per text from
      Romans 13;
      Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; 4 for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority[a] does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. 6 For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

  13. declan

    Was she talking about him post Anglo Irish War??? Anti-treatyites were occupying four courts breaking up newspaper presses, etc – either way, can’t we call just get along.

    If anyone is interested in this have a read of Charles Townsend’s The Republic: the Fight for Irish Independence 1918-1923. Apparently it’s revisionist but still good.

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