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.

Next stop Queenstown

On the Friday evening after St Patrick’s day, we drove onto Cobh for a night and stayed in the Commodore hotel, this old world hotel overlooks the promenade in Cobh.  Our room was spacious and had high ceilings and big sash windows, although they probably could do with a visit from Francis Brennan!  The hotel reminded me of the TV show Boardwalk Empire.  It is situated overlooking the main promenade and the harbour.  I thought about how many people might have stayed in this very hotel, before heading off to America and never seeing Ireland again.  The next morning at the Queenstown heritage centre, I found out that, survivors from the torpedoed Lusitania ship, were put up in the hotel in 1915, when it was called the Queens hotel.

Bandstand in Cobh
Cobh Boardwalk and 19th century bandstand

On Saturday morning, we visited the Queenstown Heritage centre in Cobh, which is housed in the old Victorian railway station.  This was my second favourite place to visit on our Cork trip.  I wasn’t expecting a whole lot but it was huge and had lots of displays about Cobh and emigration to America and Australia and they had recreated models of the ships with passengers in steerage and convicts been transported to Australia.  The heritage centre also looks at the Lusitania and Titanic and other ships which picked up passengers from the port of Cobh.

Queenstown Heritage Centre
Queenstown Heritage Centre – previously old Victorian railway in Cobh
Annie Moore statue
Annie Moore Statue alongside her brothers Daniel and Philip, she departed from Cobh and was the first official immigrant processed through Ellis Island in New York on the 1st January 1892.  Statue erected outside the heritage centre in Cobh
Information boards - Queenstown Heritage Centre - Cobh
Inside the Queenstown Heritage Centre – Cobh
Irish emigrants on a ship
Passengers on board a ship, emigrating to America.

Later that same morning, we did a walking tour of Cobh with Pat from the Cobh guided walking tours.  I love getting walking tours as you take in more than if you were just reading it yourself.  We  heard about the Lusitania and got a brief history of Cobh, also interesting for us, as we had heard of this person the week before, when we did a tour of Sligo Gaol, was the boxer Jack Doyle, who I learnt was originally from Cobh and in our hotel they had photos of him as he use to stay there with his movie star wife Movida back in the 1930’s. Movida later went onto marry Marlon Brando.

Jack Doyle Street Art wall Mural
Street Art Wall Mural in Cobh, dedicated to Jack Doyle the boxer and film star.

There is a nice art mural to their famous Cobh son up on the hill near St Coleman’s Cathedral. Jack’s story is one of rags to riches and back to rags again, although he always dressed like a movie star with a red carnation in his lapel. When Jack died in 1978, local people raised funds to bring him home and he is buried in the local cemetery, which we also visited.  His life story could be turned into a very interesting movie someday.  RTE made a radio documentary on his life a few years ago, called the Gorgeous Gael, which you can listen to here from within Ireland.

Deck of Cards houses in Cobh
The famous row of houses in Cobh, called the Deck of Cards with St Colman’s Cathedral and Cobh harbour in the background

After lunch, we decided to go to the Titanic museum, called the Titanic Experience, it is based in the original White Star line ticket office, which is a prominent white building in the centre of Cobh, overlooking the harbour.  The Titanic Experience is more like a slick movie presentation than a museum, it felt a bit like going to the cinema. You get a travel ticket on the way in, which has the name of a passenger who originally got on the Titanic at Cobh in 1912 and at the end, you can check if you survived.  I had a girl from Longford who survived and Richard had a man from Meath who died in the sinking.  We were also brought out to the balcony at the back of the building, which is where the first and second class passengers departed from, the area below the balcony was where the third class passengers waited, before getting on the two tender boats, called SS America and SS Ireland, which ferried them out to the Titanic.

Cobh titanic street art
Cobh Titanic Street Art Mural

I really enjoyed our time in Cobh, it is a beautiful picturesque town, with the harbour and old 19th century buildings on the main street and the view from above the town from St Coleman’s Cathedral is fantastic.  Also, as I’m a fan of street art it was a nice surprise to find the Jack Doyle and Titanic street art murals.

Lusitania Memorial Cobh
Lusitania Memorial in Cobh – the bodies of victims from the torpedoed ship were brought a shore and buried in the local cemetery.

A prison and a castle

We spent a week travelling around Cork, focusing on the Kinsale to Kenmare coastal route which is now part of the Wild Atlantic Way.

We started off our trip in Cork city and spent two nights here over St Patrick’s. We stayed at Gabriel’s Guest house, which is a large old period house which looks like it might have been used as a convent in the past. The guest house is situated on a hill on Summerhill North street, we had a room with a view, looking down on Kent train station and the harbour.  The room was really modern and the location was great, I would stay here again.

Cork City Gaol
Cork City Gaol


On St Patrick’s day, we headed to Cork city Gaol, which was my favourite place to visit on the trip.  Cork city Gaol opened in 1824 and housed men, women and even children for a time, it finally closed in 1923.  The old jail which is now open to the public as a museum, takes you through the Victorian wing of the old prison.  There are waxwork models of prisoners in their cells and prison guards watching over them.



Old jail museum Cork city
Old jail museum in Cork


We did the audio tour, which I recommend to do and walked around the prison and into different cells where the story of former prisoners are told.  We really enjoyed our visit to the prison, it was really interesting from a social history perspective, most of the prisoners were imprisoned for charges related to poverty, vagrancy and theft of food.  We also saw the cells where Republican prisoners were imprisoned during the War of Independence and Civil War, Countess Markievicz was also imprisoned here.

Old Cork prison
The Victorian wing of Cork city Gaol


Here is a short video we made of our visit.


You can find out more about visiting Cork city Gaol on their website here.

After visiting the prison, we walked back into town in time to catch some of the parade, then we headed off and drove to Blarney Castle, located about 8 kilometers from Cork city, in the village of Blarney. We were going to skip Blarney but I’m glad we didn’t as the gardens are worth the visit and climbing up the steep narrow steps to the top of the castle for the view is worth it.  We didn’t actually kiss the blarney stone but the view was worth the climb up alone.  That night we went back to Cork city and went for drinks in the Old Oak pub and An Bodhran pub.

Top of Blarney castle
Blarney stone


On Friday morning, feeling a bit worse for wear, we strolled around Cork city to get some fresh air and browsed around the English Market.  We left Cork city and drove to Fota Island resort and treated ourselves to lunch in the Amber restaurant and then we headed over to the Fota Island Wildlife Safari park.  If you have kids and or like zoos you’ll enjoy this, the weather was the best of our trip on this day and it was ideal for walking around and seeing the animals. There is also the Fota regency period house, you can visit, but this was closed until after Easter.

View of Blarney from Blarney Castle
View of Blarney from Blarney Castle


All in all, our first two days in Cork, were jam packed and we saw lots of interesting places and it was only the start of our Cork trip.