Wednesday 26 September 2018

Message delay cost Michael Collins his life - book

Michael Collins
Michael Collins

John Spain

MICHAEL Collins might have avoided the ambush in which he died - had an order for air surveillance been carried out in time.

A new book tells how, on his last trip to Cork city during the Irish Civil War, the Free State leader ordered that an army aircraft be flown in to survey areas of West Cork where anti-Treaty forces were active.

But there was a delay in the message reaching army headquarters in Dublin. There had been no airborne search for republican "irregulars" when the Big Fellow (pictured) set out with a convoy from Cork's Imperial Hotel to tour West Cork on August 22, 1922.

That evening, Collins was shot dead when the anti-Treaty IRA ambushed his convoy at Beal na mBlath.

The book reveals that it was not until 8.35pm that evening that Collins's coded message reached the wireless station at National Army HQ in Portobello, and it was not decoded until 10.20pm.

Collins was already dead at that stage.

The new book, a biography of Collins's comrade, Major General Emmet Dalton, is written by veteran journalist Sean Boyne.

It suggests that if Collins had sent the message earlier on his trip to the south, the republicans lying in wait at Beal na mBlath might have been spotted from the air.

'Emmet Dalton: Somme Soldier, Irish General, Film Pioneer', published by Merrion Press today, reveals Collins ordered the air surveillance at Dalton's request.

Army planes had already been used in the Cork area to monitor anti-Treaty forces. But this time it was too late and the delay cost Collins his life.

US-born General Dalton was the brilliant Free State army commander in Cork, having captured the city following a seaborne invasion earlier in August.

Collins was travelling with Dalton in a touring car when the ambush occurred, and died in Dalton's arms.

Collins's last tour of his native West Cork was dogged by ill-fortune. When the Big Fellow's convoy approached Beal na mBlath, most of the IRA gunmen had departed and a land mine had been lifted as they thought the convoy was not going to appear.

An IRA scout, John Galvin, spotted the convoy and alerted the remaining riflemen. Had Collins arrived just 15 minutes later, there might have been no ambush.

The new book tells the romantic and varied life story of Dalton.

A Somme veteran, he became a close friend to Collins as his Director of Intelligence and fought in the War of Independence.

He was a founding father of the Irish Defence Forces, overseeing the transition of power from the British.

In the 1950s, Dalton founded Ardmore Film Studios in Bray.

Irish Independent

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