Collins still holds fascination for lovers of history, even 99 years after his death

August 23rd, 2021 10:30 PM

By Kieran O'Mahony

At the new Clonakilty mural on the War of Independence, featuring Michael Collins, was Liam O’Sullivan, a distant cousin of General Michael Collins, with his fiancée Niamh O’Donovan from Clonakilty. (Photo: Denis Boyle)

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INTEREST in Michael Collins by visitors to West Cork shows no sign of abating despite the pandemic, with Irish holiday makers visiting the many sites associated with him as the 99th anniversary of his death approaches this weekend.

From his famous bright blue wolf slippers, first revealed earlier this year by the National Museum, to a locally-made documentary of his younger days in Clonakilty, interest is expected to increase even more as the centenary of his death approaches next year.

The recently-launched Michael Collins Trail, developed in conjunction with Cork County Council and Fáilte Ireland, with specific branded signage, has made it easier for visitors to visit sites associated with him, such as his birthplace at Woodfield and the Béal na Bláth shooting location.

Tim Crowley, who runs the Michael Collins Centre at Castleview outside Clonakilty, said their season, which started on the last week of June, is going very well, despite Covid.

‘We normally could host 60 people at a time, but because of Covid we’re down to 21. Also, with the tours I organise, I have to go in my own car – just like last year – with the visitors following me, so they’re missing out on the chat that we’d normally have in a bus,’ said Tim.

‘It’s mainly Irish people coming here, but we get  a lot of people coming from Northern Ireland and the odd European or American visitor too,’ he said.

A question often asked of Tim is why was Michael Collins buried in Dublin.

‘One would wonder if he had his own choice, would he have preferred to be buried down here, with either his mother or father, who are buried in separate places in West Cork,’ commented Tim.He is also hopeful Covid won’t affect plans for next year’s centenary and is working on projects to mark the milestone.

The Michael Collins House in Clonakilty town centre has had 6,500 people through the doors since they opened for the season in May.

‘It’s quieter than other summers, but is not a quiet summer by any means, and of course with Covid we have had to restrict numbers into the museum,’ said manager Jamie Murphy.

‘It’s mainly Irish visitors coming, with a few overseas visitors – a mixture of staycationers and those on day trips from Cork city, for example.’

The one question on everyone’s lips is, of course, “Who shot Michael Collins?” but Jamie and his team – and the rest of the country – have no definitive answer to that particular question!

‘The Michael Collins Trail has certainly made things a lot easier as people now know where they are going. For example, when we are booked out and turning people away, it’s great to be able to direct them to other sites on the trail.’

For the centenary, they are liaising with the National Museum on a number of interesting projects, which will all be revealed next year.

For the second year in a row, though, the annual commemoration at Béal na Bláth that was due to take place on Sunday (August 22nd) was  cancelled due to Covid-19. However, preparations are already underway to mark  the all-important centenary next year with chair of the Michael Collins Commemoration Committee Garret Kelleher confirming recently that they are working closely with Cork County Council and a number of different government departments.

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