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The ‘Big Fella’s’ precious diaries go on public display in his home town

There is something so special about seeing his actual words, written by his own hand on the pages of his dairies’

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Jamie Murphy, Michael Collins House manager; Tim Lucey, chief executive, Cork County Council; Helen Collins a descendent of Michael Collins; Mayor of the County of Cork, Cllr Danny Collins and Orla McBride, director of the National Archives looking at the diaries of Michael Collins which have gone on public display for the first time ahead of the centenary of his death at an ambush in Béal na mBláth. The diaries, which cover the critical time period of 1918 to 1922, are on display at the Michael Collins House Museum, in his hometown of Clonakilty, Co. Cork until Sept 4. Photo: John Allen.

Jamie Murphy, Michael Collins House manager; Tim Lucey, chief executive, Cork County Council; Helen Collins a descendent of Michael Collins; Mayor of the County of Cork, Cllr Danny Collins and Orla McBride, director of the National Archives looking at the diaries of Michael Collins which have gone on public display for the first time ahead of the centenary of his death at an ambush in Béal na mBláth. The diaries, which cover the critical time period of 1918 to 1922, are on display at the Michael Collins House Museum, in his hometown of Clonakilty, Co. Cork until Sept 4. Photo: John Allen.

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

Michael Collins Great Grand Nieces Ellen Collins, Anna Collins and Nóra Collins pictured at the unveiling of the diaries. Photo: John Allen.

Michael Collins Great Grand Nieces Ellen Collins, Anna Collins and Nóra Collins pictured at the unveiling of the diaries. Photo: John Allen.

A page from one of the dairies, dated Tuesday, November 1, 1921. Photo: John Allen.

A page from one of the dairies, dated Tuesday, November 1, 1921. Photo: John Allen.

Two of the diaries that are on display in temperature controlled glass cases. Photo John Allen.

Two of the diaries that are on display in temperature controlled glass cases. Photo John Allen.

Michael Collins' grand nieces, Elizabeth Collins O’Sullivan and Helen Collins, pictured at the unveiling of the diaries.

Michael Collins' grand nieces, Elizabeth Collins O’Sullivan and Helen Collins, pictured at the unveiling of the diaries.

A page from one of the dairies, dated Monday February 6, 1922.

A page from one of the dairies, dated Monday February 6, 1922.

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Jamie Murphy, Michael Collins House manager; Tim Lucey, chief executive, Cork County Council; Helen Collins a descendent of Michael Collins; Mayor of the County of Cork, Cllr Danny Collins and Orla McBride, director of the National Archives looking at the diaries of Michael Collins which have gone on public display for the first time ahead of the centenary of his death at an ambush in Béal na mBláth. The diaries, which cover the critical time period of 1918 to 1922, are on display at the Michael Collins House Museum, in his hometown of Clonakilty, Co. Cork until Sept 4. Photo: John Allen.

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FIVE pocket diaries kept by Michael Collins are to go on public display for the first time in his native Clonakilty after undergoing an extensive restoration process.

The dairies contain important organisation and military information such as details of meetings, events and appointments many of which were secret in nature and have never been made public before.

The entries contained within the dairies provide important information relating to a key period in Michael Collins life, and indeed that of the nation, between 1918 and 1922 spanning War of Independence, the Treaty Negotiations and the Civil War up to his death on August 22, 1922.

They also reveal a more mundane side to Collins life such as details of dental appointments and other everyday events.

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The dairies were loaned to the National Archives by Michael Collins descendants, the family of the late Liam and Betty Collins, where they have undergone significant conservation and preservation treatment, archival processing and digitisation over recent months.

Speaking about the process, archivist Natalie Milne said that as with all archive donations it was not simply a case of receiving the dairies and making them available to the public straight away.

“There was a large amount of work to do behind the scenes before that was possible. The first thing that we needed to do was assess the condition of the dairies. They were at least 100-years old, so the natural wear and tear and all that entails, such as loose leaves and bindings needed to be documented and the necessary treatments identified,” said Ms Milne.

Conservator Zoe Reid then undertook the careful and painstaking conservation treatment for the volumes, making each of them stable enough for further work to be undertaken.

It was then the archivist’s job to catalogue the material, describing each volume accurately to fully explain their content and context.

“Finally, it was over to our digitisation division who carefully scanned every page of each volume so that the dairies could be presented and made accessible to the general public in electronic form,” said Ms Milne.

Visitors to the Michael Collins House Museum in Clonakilty will now be able to view all five of the dairies on a touch-screen device.

To mark the centenary of Michael Collins death, the physical dairies will also go on display at the museum throughout the month of August. Entry to the exhibition is free and the museum is extending its opening hours for the month to cater for anticipated demand.

Speaking at the opening of the exhibition Helen Collins, the daughter of Liam and Betty Collins, explained that Michael Collins older brother Johnny had passed the dairies on her father for safekeeping.

“My siblings and I are very pleased, on our father’s behalf to, place these precious dairies in the care of the National Archives and we are particularly happy to have them exhibited in our father’s home town of Clonakilty,” said Ms Collins.

“Our grand uncle Michael Collins lived an extraordinary life. The diaries will give the public a much greater understanding of this exceptional and courageous man,” she added.

The director of the National Archives, Orlaith McBride, said they were proud to partner with Cork County Council in bringing the dairies to Clonakilty.

“In returning the diaries to the place of Collins’ youth, a place that shaped and formed the young revolutionary, we are introducing them to a wider public as an important new primary source material to further our understanding of this significant national figure,” said Ms McBride.

A point expanded on by the Mayor of County Cork, Cllr Danny Collins, who said that much has been written about Michael Collins over the past century “there is something so special about seeing his actual words, written by his own hand on the pages of his diaries.”

“I hope the diaries will encourage people from far and wide to visit the museum and Clonakilty as well as inspiring people’s interest in history,” said Cllr Collins.

Cork County Council chief executive Tim Lucey extended thanks to the Collins family for “sharing the precious and valuable diaries with the people of Cork County.

“It is at their request that the diaries are here at the Council’s Michael Collins House Museum and will return to Clonakilty each year. Their generous donation ensures that the diaries and the fascinating insights they contain are conserved and preserved for future generations,” said Mr Lucey.


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