Michael Collins

Clonakilty out in force to honour its local hero

August 29th, 2022 9:30 PM

By Siobhan Cronin

The Collins homestead in Woodfield near Lisavaird.

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CLONAKILTY came out in force last weekend for the highlight of its Michael Collins festival, with re-enactments, poetry and a parade just some of the items that visitors to the town discovered last Saturday afternoon.

Businesses and local people joined forces and responded to the call to dress in period costume from the early 1900s, with the help of Cork County Council and Michael Collins House to promote the event.

Organising committee chairman Christopher Hinchy presided over the parade through the town on Saturday afternoon, led by the Barrack Street Band. The parade was followed by a wreath-laying ceremony and Maurice Collins addressed the crowd and expressed appreciation and admiration of the non-divisive nature of the remembrance ceremony for his granduncle.

Nora Scannell’s Stage School and Kilmeen Drama presented Michael Collins at various stages of his short life – as a child, a schoolboy, a teenager, and the man who became the local TD in the first Dáil. Thousands gathered to hear the singing of Joanne Walsh, whose father JJ coordinated the symposium, with recitals also by the award-winning Clonakilty Brass Band (in Emmet Square), Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (O’Donovan’s Hotel) and All-Ireland Scór na nÓg winners presented their short drama on ‘The Big Fella’.

The symposium, entitled ‘Other Aspects of Michael Collins’ and chaired by Martin Condon PhD, featured many distinguished guests and experts on the General himself, including Michael Doran (Michael Collins as administrator); Gerry O’Connell (Michael Collins and the GAA); Mary Kenny (Michael Collins’ faith, and his relationship with Lady Lavery) and Tim Crowley (Michael Collins’ final journey).

Local school projects on ‘The Life and Times of Michael Collins’ are on display in several shopfronts throughout Clonakilty and the winners of the competition will be announced next week.

There was a steady stream of visitors to Collins’ homestead at Woodfield near Lisavaird on Saturday and Sunday, too (pictured below).

The birthplace of the General, which is now an OPW site, is sensitively restored with a clear footprint of the original, substantial, two-storey house where the Clonakilty man was raised. Some of the outbuildings are still in good repair, and there are information boards on the structures and the plot has been lovingly landscaped and is well sign-posted from the nearby N71.

Over at Castleview near Timoleague, on the far side of Clonakilty, historian and cousin of the Collins’, Tim Crowley, had a steady stream of visitors to see his impressive collection of memorabilia on Saturday afternoon.

Tim gave a passionate speech on Collins’ last journey and showed the packed museum some of the treasures he has collected down the years, including the recently-purchased menu from Collins’ last birthday dinner, on October 16th 1921.

He also revealed the incredible collection of names in an autograph book, which he has also recently purchased at auction. The Crowley family has created an impressive replica of the convoy of the three vehicles which took Collins to Béal na Bláth on that fateful day – the armoured Rolls Royce car, the ‘Sliabh na mBan’, which travelled behind the Leyland Eight Touring Car which carried Michael himself in the rear left-hand seat, and in front was the Crossley Tender.

All three are lovingly re-created by the family as young Tadhg Crowley explained that while the vehicles have been designed to scale, they have no engines and so are backed into the little lane by the family tractor at the start of every tourist season.

The little lane where the trio of cars are located is alongside the museum, and in itself is almost a replica of one of the narrow roads that Collins would have travelled on that fateful day. Tadgh gave a very detailed account of the lead-up to the General’s death, and explained where all the main characters were standing, or crouching, and how the events may have played out, pointing out all the time, that there are, of course, many versions of those historic events, and at most we are left with conjecture.

The Crowleys’ museum room is packed with letters, photographs, and other fascinating memorabilia from Collins’ life and even includes the very briefcase he used for the Treaty talks in London, complete with his own signature inside, and that of his sister’s.

There is also a room with other local history, including the story of the Ford family who hailed from nearby Ballinascarthy, and a very interesting information board on the coincidences between the life of General Michael Collins and John F Kennedy, whose great grand mother, Margaret Field, was born near Clonakilty. Margaret Field’s mother was Mary Sheehy from – you guessed it – Woodfield. The information board continues: ‘Michael’s brother, in an interview in the 1960s, said that one of the Collins family’s ancestors was also a Sheehy woman. Is it possible that Michael Collins and John F Kennedy were related?’

Now there’s food for thought.

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