Friday 24 January 2020

Ulick O'Connor: Tribute to Collins with the impetus of poetry

Dear friends: Michael Collins and Richard Mulcahy at Arthur Griffiths' funeral, just 10 days before Collins' own assassination
Dear friends: Michael Collins and Richard Mulcahy at Arthur Griffiths' funeral, just 10 days before Collins' own assassination

The Monday coming will be the 94th anniversary of the death of Michael Collins, whom some feel was the greatest Irishman of the 20th Century. It was Collins who created a form of guerrilla warfare which made it possible for a small country to confront a big one.

In June 1922, Collins was Commander in Chief of the new Irish Free State Army, side by side with General Richard Mulcahy as Chief of Staff. Between them during the Anglo-Irish War, they had devised many of the military devices used to induce the British to withdraw and to agree to the establishment of the Irish Free State.

The single most important event in the Anglo-Irish War had been Bloody Sunday on November 21, 1920, when almost the entire intelligence of the British Secret Service was assassinated in one amazing swoop. Once the Civil War had started between ourselves, however, Collins and Mulcahy found that the new Irish Free State Army was now a target for a section of their former comrades who had refused to accept the creation of the new Irish Free State. Collins was ambushed, shot and killed by his own countrymen in a lonely glen, Béal na Bláth in Cork, on foot of this order, and Mulcahy was left to carry on with a Civil War, which lasted nine months and caused unbelievable damage to the New State.

Five days after Collins died, it was General Richard Mulcahy who was chosen to give the address over the grave of his dear friend at the funeral in Glasnevin Cemetery.

The oration was remarkable with the effect and impetus of a powerful poem, which is why I have thought it suitable for this column and taken the liberty of arranging the extract from the text in prose poetry form.

Extract from speech ­delivered at the ­graveside of Michael Collins 1922

"Prophecy", said Peter, who was the great Rock,

"is a light shining in the darkness til the day dawns",

Surely our great Rock was our prophet and our prophecy

a light held aloft the road of hardship and bitter toil:

and if our light is gone out, it is only as the paling of a candle

in the dawn of its own prophecy.

Men and women of Ireland, we are still mariners in the deep,

bound for a port, still seen only through storm and spray,

sailing still on a sea full of dangers and hardships and bitter toil,

But the great Sleeper lies smiling in the boat

and we shall be filled with the spirit

which will walk bravely upon the waves.

General Richard Mulcahy (1886-1971)

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