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100-years on: Looking at the ambush that sent shockwaves around the world

Kilmurry Independence museum planning events to mark Béal na Bláth centenary

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The last known photograph of Michael Collins taken in Bandon shortly before his death at Béal na Bláth on August 22, 1922. Image: Michael Collins House Museum.

The last known photograph of Michael Collins taken in Bandon shortly before his death at Béal na Bláth on August 22, 1922. Image: Michael Collins House Museum.

Edward O’Mahony’s hand-drawn map of Béal na Bláth Ambush from his book ‘Death in The Twilight’. Independence Museum Kilmurry Collection.

Edward O’Mahony’s hand-drawn map of Béal na Bláth Ambush from his book ‘Death in The Twilight’. Independence Museum Kilmurry Collection.

Michael Collins body laid out at Shanakiel Hospital.

Michael Collins body laid out at Shanakiel Hospital.

The above photo is of the Cross that was beside the bed Michael Collins’ was laid out on, at Shanakiel. The Cross is on display at Independence Museum Kilmurry.

The above photo is of the Cross that was beside the bed Michael Collins’ was laid out on, at Shanakiel. The Cross is on display at Independence Museum Kilmurry.

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The last known photograph of Michael Collins taken in Bandon shortly before his death at Béal na Bláth on August 22, 1922. Image: Michael Collins House Museum.

corkman

THE Independence Museum in Kilmurry is set to hold a series of events over the comings weeks marking the centenary of arguably one of the most pivotal turning points in modern Irish history.

The death of Michael Collins at Beál na Bláth on August 22, 1922 sent shockwaves across the globe and almost 100-years the circumstances surrounding the ambush remain shrouded in controversy.

Located just 3km from the ambush site, the museum showcases one community’s experience from the Famine, through revolution and on to early days of the new Irish State.

Strongly Republican, the parish had more than 200 men in Cork No. 1 Brigade, with a network of safe houses often used by the Third West Cork Brigade during the turbulent years of the ‘Tan War’.

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One of the events planned by the Independence Museum to mark the centenary of the ambush will be a temporary exhibition ‘Béal na Bláth – The Local Story’ curated by the Kilmurry Historical & Archaeological Association (KHAA) will open at the venue on Friday, August 12 at 7.30pm.

KHAA chair, Mary O’Mahony, said the exhibition aims to give a “balanced view of how the ambush impacted on the people of this parish.”

“We will also commemorate two local Volunteers, William Harrington and Patrick O’Mahony, who died in the fighting at Limerick in July 1922,” said Mary.

Less than a third of the museum’s collection of artefacts, which includes a Crossley tender wheel from Kilmichael and items relating to Terence MacSwiney, whose father John, was born in the parish, are on permanent display.

The new temporary exhibition will be the first time that many of these will be available to view by the public.

A centenary edition of ‘Michael Collins: His Death in the Twilight’, written by the late Edward O’Mahony is also being republished as a fundraiser for KHAA, which run the museum and community space on a voluntary basis.

As a young man, O’Mahony was intrigued by the day “the most important man in Ireland was allowed to be isolated and killed” and the reluctance of the Old IRA men he knew to talk about it.

In 1996, his interest led him to write a short book, which draws on the knowledge of his native parish and access to those involved through his family’s Republican connections, to offer a unique perspective on events.

On that fateful day, Michael Collins left Williams Hotel (now The Castle Hotel) in Macroom to begin the journey through his native West Cork visiting a series of National Army posts.

Realising that the main road to Bandon was impassable, a local hackney driver Tim Kelleher, was ordered to accompany the convoy as their guide.

Travelling via narrow byroads the convoy entered Kilmurry parish at Dooniskey, passing near the IRA hospital at De La Cour Villa, where the wounded of Crossbarry had been treated.

At Béal na Bláth, IRA sentry Denis Long, known locally as ‘Denny the Dane’, recognised Collins as the convoy drove past on the way to Bandon. He quickly informed the anti-Treaty officers in the safe houses nearby.

The last known photograph of Michael Collins taken as he left Lee’s Hotel (now the Munster Arms) in Bandon later that morning is reproduced on the book’s cover.

It was taken by 18-year-old Agnes Hurley from Mallowgaton, who always carried her box camera with her. The following day, Agnes and her brother and sister, were taking wheat to be ground at Howard’s Mill in Crookstown when they came upon a collar on the ground at the ambush site, which Agnes also photographed.

“They went up onto the road that runs parallel to the site and they found nine places where men were leaning against the fence and also spent bullets,” said Mim O’Donovan, Agnes’ niece, who donated the photographs to Cork City and County Archives in 2012.

On Sunday, September 4 the KHAA will run a bus tour, retracing the route the Collins convoy took through Kilmurry, Newcestown and Ovens prior to the ambush.

Mary O’Mahony said the tour will go from the townland of Ballymichael where the Sliabh na mBan armoured car initially failed to climb the steep hill and on to Newcestown Church where Collins waited, having become briefly separated from his escort vehicles.

“Local historian. Sean Crowley, will then give an account of events at the ambush site. After that, we will follow the route taken by the convoy back to Cork via Cloughduv and Killumney, outlining the difficulties they encountered on that sad journey,” said Mary.

Kieran Fitzpatrick, a member of the curating team at the Kilmurry Independence Museum said they have benefited from support of other cultural bodies, historians and local heritage offices

“The locals, wider public and tourists have also been a great support and encouragement in all our efforts to commemorate the key events on the arduous path to Independence,” said Kieran.

He said the museum’s key publications and exhibitions have all adhered to the key objectives as envisaged by the Decade of Centenaries programme, while remaining faithful to our own tagline – ‘See Ireland’s History Through A Local Lens’.

“The centenary commemoration of Michael Collins’ death at Béal na Bláth was always going to be a key component of the commemoration of the Civil War,” said Kieran.

“Commemorating the Civil War should be no different despite the difficulties and particular sensitivities raised,” he added.

The Independence Museum is open Thursday to Sunday from 2pm to 5pm (other times by appointment); admission €5, children u12 free.

‘Michael Collins: His Death in the Twiligh’t by Edward O’Mahony, priced at €10, is available from the museum and local shops.

The Béal na Bláth bus tour will cost €20 per person. For further information and to book call 021-7336932 or visit www.kilmurrymuseum.ie


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