THE SIXTH OF December this year found the country reeling in the aftermath of the sixth austerity Budget in a row.
The special anniversary that fell on Thursday went largely unnoticed: 90 years ago on that day, the Irish Free State or Saorstát Éireann officially came into being.
The Anglo-Irish Treaty, which put an end to the War of Independence against Britain, was approved by the second Dáil on 7 January 1922. But the margin of approval was narrow – 64 votes for; 57 votes against – and led to the resignation of Éamon de Valera as president of the Dáil two days later. Arthur Griffith stepped into the role of president and the country began to hurtle towards civil war, with de Valera leading the anti-Treaty rebels and Michael Collins commander-in-chief of the National Army and chairman of the Provisional Government.
By the time the Free State came into existence 11 months later, both Griffith and Collins were dead, the latter killed in an ambush in Cork, and the country was in the grip of the bloody violence which would mark the civil war until a ceasefire in May 1923.
Flashbacks to 1922
The full heated debate in the Dáil on the day of the vote on the Anglo-Irish Treaty, 7 January 1922, is available to view in the Oireachtas parliamentary debates archive here.
Harry Boland, then a close friend of Michael Collins but who would later be shot by the Irish Free State Army, opened the debate by saying he was against the Treaty as, “in my opinion, it denies a recognition of the Irish nation”. He said:
I object to it on the ground of principle, and my chief objection is because I am asked to surrender the title of Irishman and accept the title of West Briton.
Poignantly, he refers to Collins frequently in his statement to the Dáil as “my friend” and there is some interaction between the two where they call each other by their first names.
On passing of the Treaty by seven votes, Collins asks permission to make a statement and appears to appeal that the opposing sides do everything in their power to stop the country descending into violence, a sentiment with which Éamon de Valera agrees.
MR. M. COLLINS: I ask your permission to make a statement. I do not regard the passing of this thing as being any kind of triumph over the other side. I will do my best in the future, as I have done in the past, for the nation. What I have to say now is, whether there is something contentious about the Republic—about the Government in being—or not, that we should unite on this: that we will all do our best to preserve the public safety (hear, hear).
PRESIDENT DE VALERA: Hear, hear.
As it would turn out, neither could prevent the civil war to come in which – as different estimates have had it – anywhere between 1,000 and 4,000 people died, both combatants and civilians.
This photograph shows Michael Collins, marked with an ‘X’, Kevin O’Higgins and WT Cosgrave (before and after Collins), leaving Dublin Castle after a surrender ceremony by the British on 16 January 1922. Pic: Topham Picturepoint/PA Images.
The Provisional Government then went straight that same day to Dublin’s Mansion House, for the formal ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Arthur Griffiths is seen in the centre left, with glasses, and Michael Collins is facing the speaker. Pic: PA Archive.
This was a pro-Treaty poster from the time. Pic: National Library of Ireland/Flickr.
Michael Collins, by then Chairman of the Irish Free State and Commander-in-Chief of the National Army, drums up support for the Treaty in College Green on 18 March 1922. Pic: Press Association Images.
The Four Courts on fire after being bombarded by National Army forces on 28 and 29 June, 1922. Anti-Treaty forces had taken the complex over on 14 April. A huge swathe of Irish public records were lost in the fire. Pic: Wikimedia Commons.
An injured Anti-Treaty man is supported by a fellow fighter in Dublin on 13 July 1922. Over 500 Anti-Treaty fighters were taken as prisoners after the battle died down in the city. Pic: Press Association Images.
The funeral of Arthur Griffith on 16 August 1922: pictured here are General Richard Mulcahy and Michael Collins, who would die in an ambush one week later.
Boys in Na Fianna Éireann uniforms carry wreaths in the funeral cortege for Michael Collins on 28 August 1922. Pic: National Library of Ireland/Flickr.
This image is from 1921, and shows the wedding of Kevin O’Higgins. By the end of 1922, it was a wedding photo loaded with poignancy. It represented the internecine brutality of the Civil War: O’Higgins, centre, is pictured here with Éamon de Valera on the left and his best man Rory O’Connor on the right. The groom and the best man were to end up on opposite sides of the war to follow – and O’Higgins ended up signing his former friend’s death warrant. O’Connor, Liam Mellows, Richard Barrett and Joe McKelvey had been captured at the fall of the Four Courts and executed on 8 December 1922 in reprisal for the killing of a Free State member of parliament Seán Hales. Pic: Wikimedia Commons.
Ninety years after his death, Michael Collin’s prayer book has been found in France.
According to the Irish Times, the leather-bound book, entitled ‘The Christian Armed Against the Seductions of the World and the Illusions of His Own Heart,’ was discovered among his belongings in Portobello Barracks, Rathmines, following his death in August 1922.
The prayer book was returned to the Collins family, then given as a gift, to a nun – Sr Aloysius at the Convent of Mercy in Cappoquin, Co Waterford, in November 1922 .
It was later inherited by an Irish woman who now lives in southern France. The Irish woman has now decided to sell it, along with a letter from a priest, Fr Ignatius of the Passionist Order, who had given the book to Collins.
The gilt-edged book contains “instructions for meditation” on 31 topics (“maxims”) such as: “Time is precious; the loss of it is irreparable”; and, “The number is small of those who are saved” .
It also includes morning and evening prayers and a “Consideration on the Passions of Jesus Christ,” and has a single black-and-white illustration of Jesus carrying the cross and a quote from St Luke’s Gospel: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Sr Aloysius wrote notes in the book. She calls Michael Collins “Ireland’s idol”; “her Joan of Arc”; and “her greatest hero and leader.”
The rare book auctioneers Mealy’s will auction the prayer book and the priest’s letter as one in Dublin next month, with a pre-sale estimate of € 1,200-€1,800, reports the Irish Times.
The priest’s letter was sent to Collins’s sister after her brother’s death. In it, Fr Ignatius says that he gave the prayer book to Collins during a mission at Greystones, Co Wicklow, in 1921, which Collins had attended before departing for London to negotiate the Anglo-Irish Treaty.
The priest recalls that Collins, despite “being busy in Dublin, worked and worried almost beyond endurance”, had returned to the Grand Hotel in Greystones “one night very late and very tired on the eve of his departure to London re the pact.”
“He said to me after Confession: ‘Say the Mass for Ireland and God bless you Father!’ He crossed an hour or so later to London.”
“There is not a man in a million would have done what Michael did that he might get to Confession and Holy Communion.”