Tributes paid to ‘one of greatest Irishmen’ by Taoiseach and Tánaiste
POLITICS past and present were on show as over 12,000 people gathered at Béal na Bláth on Sunday to watch the historic ceremony to commemorate the centenary of the death of General Michael Collins.
People travelled from across the country and as far afield as America to visit the memorial of the Irish revolutionary leader, 100 years after the ambush that claimed his life.
The day itself was an historic one, as it was the first time that a Fianna Fáil leader made a speech at the yearly commemoration. Both Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar (FG) spoke to the crowd about the importance of Michael Collins, and the legacy that he left behind.
The Taoiseach said that Collins’ death deprived the Irish people of reconciliation, and that he deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest Irishmen to have ever lived.
‘He was a dynamic leader who could both inspire people and – in the middle of a bloody conflict – build a new administration from nothing,’ he said.
‘He is a key reason why we have been able to build a country which, while it still faces major challenges, has been transformed for the better. For this, today as much as ever before, he deserves our gratitude, and he deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest Irishmen to have ever lived.’
In his speech, the Tánaiste said that Béal na Bláth was a painful place for those associated with Collins, and described him as a ‘great prophet of freedom’.
‘For me, Michael Collins is a profile in courage,’ he said.
‘He was both an idealist and a realist. And as he predicted, the Treaty gave us freedom and the freedom to achieve more freedom in the future.’
While the past was the main focus of the ceremony, the politics of today were also front and centre.
‘Critical for our country is that we have avoided the extremes of the left and right which brought such misery to other countries in the last century,’ said the Taoiseach.
‘The centrist, democratic politics which emerged in our country has achieved far more than any other approach could possibly have achieved.’
Both leaders also took the opportunity to praise the end of ‘civil war politics’ in Ireland, with the Tánaiste saying that ‘civil war politics ended a long time ago in Ireland, but it only ended in our Dáil when we formed the historic three-party coalition of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party in June 2020.’
Both the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael leaders were met with some ‘boos’ throughout their speeches, although for the most part these were drowned out by positive reactions from the vast majority.
One man was subsequently arrested on suspicion of throwing an object at the Taoiseach during his speech.
A garda spokesperson said the man was detained and taken to Macroom Garda Station where he was later released.
‘One man, late 30s, was arrested for public order offences on Sunday afternoon 21 August, 2022 at Béal na Bláth, Crookstown.
‘He was taken to Macroom Garda station and later released,’ he said.
The huge crowd at Béal na Bláth witnessed to the laying of wreaths at the memorial, the raising of the Irish flag, and a minute’s silence in Michael Collins’ memory.