The Story of Michael Collins

In a series of short, clearly-headed chapters, this biography tells of the short life of Michael Collins from his West Cork boyhood to his tragic death. It is sensitive to the complexity of history. The character of Collins is very vividly portrayed as are those of some of the other characters. The late Iosold Ní Dheirg had access to a particularly useful archive of family material because her mother had been personal secretary to Collins and her father had been engaged on the Republican side in the Civil War.

This may explain in part the sense of genuine engagement and warmth the book conveys. It is very well written but sometimes uses a rather old-fashioned, unreconstructed nationalist register. For example, the enemy are frequently referred to as ‘The English’ in spite of the fact that Collins’s principal opponent in the treaty negotiations is popularly known as ‘The Welsh Wizard’ Lloyd George, the then British Prime Minister. There is, however, balance and justice in the story. Lloyd George is presented as an attractive, able adversary. De Valera is fairly represented, unlike his treatment in the very popular Neil Jordan film.

The complex political story builds with intensifying interest to its tragic conclusion: ‘As dusk was falling, the party drove back towards Cork. As they came up to the crossroads at Béal na mBláth, they unexpectedly encountered a group of Republicans, and in the exchanges that followed the commander in chief was mortally wounded. Michael Collins had passed into history.’