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Collins wedding pic found in loft

Rare photograph of War of Independence leader could have changed the course of Ireland's history

IT'S a photograph that could have changed Irish history.

An extremely rare photograph of Michael Collins, worth thousands of euro, has turned up in a suburban Dublin attic -- 90 years after his death.

The photo shows Collins officiating at the wedding of fellow IRA man Paddy O'Donoghue in June 1919 -- just five months after the start of the War of Independence. Despite being on the run with a £10,000 bounty on his head, Collins is happily posing with other revellers.

The picture is so rare that there are no copies of it in the National Archive. Prestigious auctioneers Adams, who run an annual sale of War of Independence memorabilia, told the Sunday Independent that they had never seen the photograph before.

"It's a lovely picture. Collins is fresh-faced and is not attempting to hide from the camera," said valuer and memorabilia expert Kieran O'Boyle.

"One of the myths about Collins was that Dublin Castle had no photographs of him. They did, but they were of poor quality. They would have given their eye teeth for this."

The picture was taken two months after Collins infiltrated Great Brunswick (Pearse) Street police barracks with his spy, Ned Broy -- an operation made famous by Neil Jordan's 1996 film.

"He was wanted dead or alive, so he was exceptionally brave -- and trusting -- to face a photographer's lens in this manner," said Mr O'Boyle.

According to Mr O'Boyle, the demand for Collins memorabilia is always very high.

"In 2011, we sold an archive of Collins's handwritten letters to his sister Hannie for just over €240,000.

"This photo could potentially sell for thousands to the right collector."

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The snap was discovered in an old sea-chest by writer and broadcaster Dave Kenny.

"I found it when I was going through my late father's papers. It's in great condition. What makes it so unique is that Collins is looking directly at the camera -- something he never did during the war period," said Mr Kenny.

"In other photos, like the iconic one of Tom Barry's wedding at Vaughan's Hotel, Collins deliberately blurred his image by nodding his head.

"If the British had had a copy of this photo, then Collins wouldn't have lasted long on the streets of Dublin," added Mr Kenny. "He would have had to rethink his strategy of operating in the open.

"He could well have been captured and shot.

"Who knows how things might have panned out then? Would we have won our independence without Collins? Arguably yes, but at a much later date.

"On top of that, the groom was also wanted by the British. Paddy was the head of the IRA in Manchester and helped Eamon de Valera escape from Lincoln Gaol four months before the photo was taken. He later founded Shelbourne Park greyhound stadium."

The picture is signed by the bride, Violet Gore, to Mr Kenny's grandmother, 'Gypsy' and her sister Maire Nic Shiubhlaigh. They were co-founders of The Abbey Theatre and ardent nationalists who saw action in 1916. Maire lead Cumann na mBan under Thomas McDonagh and Gypsy carried dispatches for Cathal Brugha.

"After the war, Maire married Collins's close friend and comrade Major General Bob Price. Bob had been director of organisation on the GHQ staff of the IRA. My great-grandfather -- who published the Irish War News for Pearse in 1916 -- was also friendly with Collins. They were both members of the IRB."

Mr Kenny's family had the picture in their possession throughout the War of Independence.

"It could have been discovered at any stage as the family home and printing business were constantly raided by the police. I like to imagine the Black and Tans ransacking their house in Glasthule, with Collins staring down at them from the wall."

Mr Kenny -- who is writing a book about his rebel/actor family -- decided to share the picture for the 90th anniversary of Beal na mBlath this week.

"It's a rare shot of our greatest national hero taking a day off from scrapping with the British Empire.

"I felt people should see it. I still haven't decided what to do with it though. I contacted the National Photographic Archive and they don't have a copy. I also brought it to Adams Auctioneers.

"They gave me a valuation which made my eyes water as it is, in effect, just an old wedding photograph.

"I wouldn't like to sell it, but if the right offer came in ... Either way, it was a lovely thing to find in the attic."

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