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