At home with Michael Collins

On a tour of West Cork one of our most enjoyable days of the trip was spent in Clonakilty.

Clonakilty is a bustling town about 1 hours drive from Cork city.
It is known for it’s pudding but we were there for a Michael Collins tour with Tim Crowley from the Michael Collins Centre.

Along with seeing some of the rugged West Cork countryside we also got to visit Michael Collin’s birthplace at Woodfield, while also tracing his steps on that fateful day he was killed in 1922.

Michael Collins early life

Michael Collins was born in this building at Woodfield in West Cork on the 16th October in 1890, he was the 8th child of Michael Senior and Mary Anne Collins and he lived here with his brothers and sisters. Michael’s family built a new larger farmhouse next to this cottage and moved into the new house at Christmas 1900, these buildings pictured below, then became the outhouses and sheds.

Birthplace of Michael Collins
Michael Collins bust at Woodfield

Michael’s family home

During the War of Independence in 1921, the larger farmhouse was burnt down by the Essex Regiment, a British Auxiliary unit. Neighbours of the Collins family who were ploughing in a nearby field also had their farming tools and a horse harness thrown into the house before it was set alight.  Any neighbours who sheltered the Collins family were also threatened that their own homes would be burnt down.

Woodfield farmhouse of Michael Collins
The original plans of Michael Collins farmhouse at Woodfield and photographs of the Collins family pictured outside their burnt house.

Brief history of Michael Collins

Collins attended national school in Clonakilty and emigrated just before his 16th birthday to London. He worked for nine years in England with the Civil Service and other financial companies. He returned to Dublin in January 1916 to take part in the Easter Rising and fought in the General Post Office. He was interned at Frongoch in Wales from May until December 1916.

When he returned to Ireland he set up an intelligence network along with an arms smuggling operation. He fought in the War of Independence, became a TD in the first Irish government and went onto lead the Irish delegation at the Anglo-Irish Treaty talks in London in 1921. He fought on the pro-Treaty side during the Irish Civil War and was the commander of the new free state Irish army.

As part of the guided tour, we also visited Sams Cross, Four All’s Pub and of course the Béal na mBláth ambush site.  (Click here to read more about the ambush and who fired the fatal shot).

Michael Collins pub
Collins stopped for a drink here with his soldiers on the day of the Beal na Blath ambush
Beal na Blá site
Beal na Blath townland where Michael Collins was ambushed and killed
Beal na Blath ambush memorial
Memorial at Beal na Blath for Michael Collins

We planned to visit some of these places ourselves but we are glad we decided to do the tour as Tim’s local knowledge and enthusiasm for Irish history shone through.

In Clonakilty itself there’s a Michael Collins statue located in Emmet Square, Collins lived here for a time with his Aunt.

Emmet Square, Clonakilty statue
Michael Collins statue
Emmet Square Georgian Houses Clonakilty Cork
Emmet Square where Michael Collins lived in a house in the square with his Aunt.

A new visitor centre dedicated to Michael Collins has opened, called the Michael Collins House and it is located on Emmet Square. This wasn’t open when we visited but we hope to go back sometime for a visit.

During our stay in Clonakilty, which we visited during our road trip along the Wild Atlantic Way trail, we stayed in a local B&B and visited De Barras pub in Clonakilty, which is worth a visit, as its a quintessential old Irish style pub with regular live Irish music.

Check out our blog post on the Slievenamon car and its connection to a key event in Irish history.

The Slievenamon car and it’s place in Irish history

The Slievenamon (Sliabh na mBan) Armoured Rolls Royce car, used by General Michael Collins, is regularly displayed around the country at heritage events and vintage shows, if you get an opportunity to view it, its worthwhile to see this historic vehicle.

This armoured car dates back to 1920 and was bought from the British Army by the newly formed Irish State after the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed. It was famously part of the convoy at Béal na mBláth in West Cork, on the day Collins was ambushed and killed.  On our recent Cork trip, we got a guided Michael Collins tour with Tim Crowley, (read our blog post here) and visited Béal na mBláth and Collin’s homestead outside of Clonakility. We learnt on the tour, how on that fateful day, Collins didn’t actually travel in this car, where he would have been protected, instead he travelled behind the armoured car and when the shooting started, they took cover behind the Slievenamon but Collins came out from behind it and was hit while standing in the middle of the road.

Irish soldier stands beside armoured car
Irish soldier stands guard over the Slievenamon Collins Armoured car

 

Who killed Michael Collins ?

It is widely believed an IRA volunteer soldier on the anti-treaty side called Denis ‘Sonny’ O’Neill, fired the fatal shot, he was a highly skilled sniper, having trained with the British Army during World War 1, although he never admitted it, Army pension records show he was at the ambush and was the most skilled of the republican soldiers at the ambush.  The guide also told us, how rumours about Eamon De Valera been part of the ambush, came about as Dev, had stayed only a few miles away in the same townland, the night before in West Cork, which is a coincidence.

 

Michael Collins car during Irish Civil War
Slievenamon Armoured Car preserved by the Irish Army

 

Watch this short video clip from the 1996 Michael Collins movie, although the movie is historically inaccurate, it does depict the Béal na mBláth ambush quite well.

Curragh Military Museum

The armoured car is usually located at the Curragh Military Museum in Kildare and can also be viewed at commemoration and heritage events in other locations in Ireland throughout the year. Entry to the military museum is free and you can check out the opening times here.

Check out our blog post on the Michael Collins guided tour

 

Original blog post published in 2016 and updated in 2017