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Michael Collins

History made at Michael Collins centenary commemoration – Varadkar

Thousands of people are at the ceremony, taking place in Collins’s native West Cork.

LAST UPDATE | 21 Aug 2022

THE TÁNAISTE SAID history has been made at the centenary commemoration of the death of Irish revolutionary Michael Collins, as the leaders of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael made a joint address.

Thousands of people are attending the ceremony in Collins’s native West Cork and there was a mixed reception towards both the Tánaiste and Taoiseach, with both men being jeered by some of those in attendance. 

Fianna Fail leader Michéal Martin is the first party leader to speak at a commemoration for Collins.

He said it was his “honour and privilege to be here as Taoiseach and as leader of Fianna Fáil to pay tribute to Michael Collins”. 

The Taoiseach also labelled Béal na Bláth “an important site for all who honour and respect our independence struggle and our democracy”. 

He added: “The presence of representatives of different traditions and the role of Óglaigh na hÉireann in honouring a fallen leader shows how far we have come since the first anniversary of Michael Collins’ death.”

Civil War

The two parties were founded from opposing sides of Ireland’s civil war of the 1920s, a split that has continued to be part of Irish politics for the last 100 years.

Collins was shot and killed during an ambush by anti-Treaty forces on August 22, 1922 near Béal na Bláth in Co Cork during the civil war.

The identity of the shooter remains a mystery.

Leo Varadkar said the political parties were divided by “mutual antagonism”.

He added: “Civil wars, by their very nature, leave a bitterness which can take a very long time to heal, whether in Ireland, Spain, the United States or Greece.

“Undoubtedly, the Irish civil war was such a conflict and left a painful legacy which stunted our development in the years that followed.

“Dear friends, colleagues, civil war politics ended a long time ago in Ireland, but it only ended in our Dáil when we formed the historic three-party coalition of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Green Party in June 2020.

“Allow me to thank the Taoiseach for accepting today’s invitation, and for the leadership and dedication he has shown over the past two years, and also for keeping a portrait of Cork’s greatest son on the wall of his office.”

Paying tribute to Collins, the Tánaiste described him as the “great prophet of freedom” who was killed before we reached the promised land.

“That was the great tragedy of Béal na Bláth, and the curse of the civil war,” he added.

“By commemorating his death each year, we remember his sacrifice and make an act of faith in the Ireland he and the revolutionary generation wanted to achieve.

“This event is therefore an opportunity to remember his life, reflect on what has been achieved, and where we have fallen short, and renew our determination to do better.

“He was both an idealist and a realist. And as he predicted, the Treaty gave us freedom and the freedom to achieve more freedom in the future.

“Others fought on for decades, only to accept Collins’s approach almost 100 years later.

“He had the courage to make peace and accept that, in doing so, he could not take everyone with him. It cost him his life, but his legacy and mission live on.”

Moment to bring the county together

Meanwhile, today’s joint address at Béal na Bláth has been described as a “moment to bring the country together”.

That’s according to Fianna Fáil TD and Minister of State for European Affairs Thomas Byrne, who was speaking on this morning on Newstalk’s ‘On The Record With Gavan Reilly’.

Deputy Byrne added that today’s oration is a “moment to take the focus away from day to day politics” and that “we should rise above all of that today”.

The Fianna Fáil TD acknowledged that “the memories of the Civil War are still very strong”, adding that there are people on his campaign team whose relatives “were assassinated by the Free State government”.

He also noted that it’s important to state that “those feelings are still there among people today”.

Elsewhere, while Deputy Byrne conceded that the policies of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael “aren’t hugely different”, he labelled Fine Gael a “right-wing party” and hit back at “detractors” who say Fianna Fáil are to the right of the political spectrum.

Michael Collins Centenary Commemoration 

Descendants of Collins travelled from across the world to attend Sunday’s event on the eve of the centenary of his death.

They joined the thousands of people who travelled from across Ireland to gather at the ambush site, where the Michael Collins Memorial Cross is situated.

His role in Ireland’s fight for freedom and independence came to prominence following Neil Jordan’s biopic of the leader and Tim Pat Coogan’s book, Michael Collins: A Biography.

Collins was part of the delegation which signed the Anglo-Irish treaty in 1921, leading to a split in the Irish Parliament and to the Irish civil war.

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