'Spirit of Collins inspires us all'
Cheers for historic Lenihan speech
THE spirit of Michael Collins is the spirit of the nation, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan declared yesterday.
Making history as the first figure from Fianna Fail to deliver the oration at the annual commemoration at Beal na mBlath, Mr Lenihan said Collins must continue to inspire all in public life through the current economic crisis.
A far larger crowd than usual -- up to 3,000 -- applauded Mr Lenihan, who said he was honoured and privileged to speak at a ceremony so closely linked to Fine Gael.
"And if today's commemoration can be seen as a further public act of historical reconciliation at one of Irish history's sacred places, then I will be proud to have played my part in that regard," he said.
Many members of the Collins family, including three grand-nieces of General Collins -- former Fine Gael justice minister Nora Owen, former MEP Mary Banotti and Helen Collins -- were among the crowd who gathered at the spot where he was ambushed at the height of the Civil War in 1922.
Senior Fine Gael figures present included the former Tanaiste Peter Barry; former EU Commissioner Peter Sutherland; TDs Simon Coveney and David Stanton; Senator Paul Bradford and MEP Sean Kelly.
The minister gave a nod to the greats on both sides of the Civil War divide.
"Even if we can never know how the relationship between Collins and de Valera might have evolved, surely now we have the maturity to see that in their very different styles, both made huge contributions to the creation and development of our State," he said.
Mr Lenihan was even able to venture what was viewed as a veiled criticism of Fianna Fail and de Valera's treatment of the Big Fella when he acknowledged that: "De Valera himself felt a sense of challenge from the ghost of Collins."
Mr Lenihan said the present economic crisis was "deep and severe", but that the country had "surmounted similar difficulties in the past".
He continued: "In meeting challenges, in seizing opportunities, the Irish people have always shown courage, determination and creativity -- just as Michael Collins and his comrades and colleagues did in the campaign for independence and the establishment of our State.
"The spirit of Collins is the spirit of the nation and it must continue to inspire all of us in public life, irrespective of party or tradition."
This stirring conclusion drew strong cheers from the crowd.
Mr Lenihan said the full magnitude of Collins's achievements was appreciated and valued by Irishmen and women right across the political spectrum.
"Collins was a man of energy and action," he said. "An astute politician; a man of extraordinary organisational and administrative ability; a pragmatist who believed he could, over time, bring Ireland total independence; a driven, ambitious man who was born to be a leader."
The minister paid tribute to Collins in his role as Minister for Finance between 1919 and 1922.
He maintained that Collins still had the time to build the foundations of a system of financial control when he was at constant risk of arrest and death, running a ruthless guerrilla war and masterminding the highly efficient intelligence system which secured its ultimate success.
"There is no substantive connection between the economic and financial position we confront today and the totally different challenge faced by Collins and his contemporaries," continued Mr Lenihan.
"But as I look at those pictures of my predecessors on the wall in my meeting room, I recognise that many of them -- from Collins through to Ray MacSharry -- had in their time to deal with immense, if different, difficulties.
"I am comforted by what their stories tell me about the essential resilience of our country, of our political and administrative system and above all of the Irish people."
Following the oration, Helen Collins said that Beal na mBlath was never meant to be a place of bitterness and stressed that Collins and his legacy belonged to all the Irish people.
"Beal na mBlath is not a place of division, recrimination and loss. It is a place of idealism," she declared.
For one person in Beal na mBlath it truly was an historic moment. Batt Brosnan (96), from Kerry, has attended every Beal na mBlath ceremony since 1933 -- and never thought he'd see a Fianna Fail minister deliver the keynote oration.
Beal na mBlath Committee chairman, Cllr Dermot Collins, said that it was time the oration, which has been non-political for some time, was delivered by a senior Fianna Fail official.
Cllr Collins said that Mr Lenihan had inspired many people in Ireland over the past year with the courage and dignity that he has displayed in facing up to serious illness.
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