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Michael Collins - thinking the unthinkable

category international | history and heritage | opinion/analysis author Monday August 18, 2014 14:20author by Nuala Report this post to the editors

Who shot Michael Collins? There is one answer that sweeps away all the contradictions and anomalies at a single stroke.

In Catholic Ireland in 1922, suicide was the ultimate shame and disgrace, as well as being seen as almost an unpardonable sin, leaving surviving relatives and admirers in anguish at the possible fate of the suicide's soul.


Background music if desired:


He saw the way the wind was blowing in Ireland.

He'd been through the Treaty Debate in January 1922 and he'd heard Cathal Brugha spouting the hateful filth that Dev wouldn't say to his face but got others to say. He knew there would be plenty more where that came from.

He'd been through the dirty election campaign.

He'd been through the futile Battle of Beleek - the first and last time the army of the southern state was sent accross the border to protect northern Catholics.

Michael saw what life was going to be like in twentieth century Ireland, north and south.

And he was conscious that he, more than anyone, had created this monster. He couldn't live with it.

He foresaw the *civil war politics* - endless, futile re-runs of the Treaty Debate in the southern parliament for several generations - with Fianna Fail in Cathal Brugha mode, Fine Gael in Arthur Griffith mode, and the few Labour members shouting "aw turn it off, will ye!"

And from that stagnation in parliament would flow economic stagnation and mass emigration.

And the Catholic Church as the real government of southern Ireland.

And isolation and aparteid for northern Catholics.


Michael was accustomed to winning his battles.

He did not relish the prospect of being a helpless bystander for the rest of his life, unable to do much to even modidy slightly the sad farce that was to ensue from half-independence in southern Ireland.

Michael would have been thoroughly miserable if he had lived.

His reckless behaviour at Beal na mBlath showed several indications that he intended and strongly desired the military equivalent of 'suicide by cop.' And when that failed.... he chose direct suicide by his own hand.

The convoy could have driven around the barricade and out of danger. Collins insisted they stop and fight. When he was shot he was exposing himself to fire, out in the open and running after the retreating irregulars.

Who shot him remains a mystery. Dalton and MacPeake have been fingered, along with speculation that they were under orders from the British Secret Service, still seething with embarrassment for Bloody Sunday 1920 and intent on revenge. But there is no proof against Dalton or MacPeake - not even unexplained wealth in the years that followed.

But there is that one possibility which - in my experience - has never been mentioned because it was and is UNTHINKABLE: the possibility that it was Michael Collins HIMSELF who fired that bullet into his brain with his own hand.

Apart from everything else that was unfolding, consider Michael's personal anguish in that moment as he was fired upon by his own IRA, which he more than anyone had created and which he loved.... and now they were trying to kill him.

It was a dumdum bullet that killed him - the type used in handguns and not in the rifles held by the irregulars.

There was no detailed autopsy report.

There was no official questioning of the people who were present.

That degree of avoidance is surely unique in the annals of the killing of a head of state.

Is this embarrassed silence and futile speculation the result of something so UNTHINKABLE and so abhorrent to all Catholics that no one could bring themselves even to look in its direction?

Emmet Dalton was nearest to him by some accounts. If Dalton saw Michael Collins commit suicide with his own hand, Dalton was never going to say so, because it was unthinkable and unsayable and he would not be believed. And so no proper autopsy, no questioning of those present.... just endless speculation and no mention of what was unthinkable and unsayable.


It was going to be downhill all the way in Ireland from 1922 to 1960.

He foresaw it. He was accustomed to winning his wars and he didn't want to spend the rest of his life in a losing battle against the futile *civil war politics* and the economic and societal stagnation and the rule by bishop in the south, and the silent seething cauldron waiting to eventually explode in the north.

He was spared a lifetime of misery in the half nation which he, more than anyone, had brought into being.


The speculation as to who shot Collins has tormented a nation for nearly a century.

Only now, as we approach the hundreth anniversary of his death, perhaps the Irish nation can belatedly think the unthinkable - the only answer which really makes any sense.

Michael's behaviour at the scene suggested strongly that he wished for the military equivalent of 'suicide by cop' at Beal na mBlath. When that didn't happen, and as the remnant of irregulars ran away, perhaps Michael decided to do the job himself. It would have been typical of him - a man who never did anything by half.

This is so abhorrent to Irish people, even today, that I'll spell it out again.

The only answer that makes any sense, the only answer that sweeps away all the contradictions and all the anomalies, is that Michael Collins - tormented by the tragedy that he saw unfolding in the long term, and more immediately tormented by the fact that he was now under enemy fire from the IRA he loved - in his unbearable anguish he committed suicide by directly shooting himself through the head with his own handgun at Beal na mBlath.

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author by Mike Novackpublication date Tue Aug 19, 2014 13:25Report this post to the editors

It was a natural consequence of the process by which part of your island became independent that there HAD to be a civil war and I find it strange that you imagine those involved didn't realize this.

Didn't realize that there were militants who would insist on continuing the armed struggle against Britain and that the newly independent state would have to put this down by force or consider itself to have begun a war on its much more powerful neighbor (that neighbor gets to choose whether the effort to "put down" is sufficient). Those who signed the treaty had to know that they might be signing their death warrants.

A civil war was the price of your independence, that price imposed upon you by Britain.

author by Nualapublication date Fri Aug 22, 2014 16:41Report this post to the editors

The absence of any serious responses to the original post is disappointing, but perhaps inevitable.

Michael Collins - the man - died 92 years ago on this date.

But Micheal Collins THE LEGEND was born on that date, 22 August 1922, and THE LEGEND OF MICHAEL COLLINS has lived in the hearts and minds of the Irish people for 92 years.

When I said the most likely explanation of who shot him is that he did it himself..... I'm killing him all over again, by killing THE LEGEND.

Nobody wants that.

THE LEGEND casts him as a superman, shot down in his prime by another Irishman, to our everlasting shame, while Michael Collins, the legend, is canonised.

He is still my hero.

But he was human. Great men are often highly sensitive emotionally. Try to imagine the effect on him of the reception he got when he came home to Dublin after December 6th 1921... Try to imagine the emotional toll on him of Cathal Brugha's performance in the Treaty Debate, as Cathal Brugha mouthed the filthy abuse which everybody knew Eamon de Valera scripted for him, but Dev wouldn't say it to Michael's face...

Then Dev in the election campaign: "The Volunteers may have to wade through Irish blood, through the blood of some members of this government, in order to get Irish freedom!"

His visions of the future for twentieth century Ireland.

Finally, his own beloved IRA trying to kill him, in the guise of teenage recruits who 'couldn't hit the side of a barn,' and who then ran away from him............... and that was what had become of his beloved IRA....

Great men have intense emotions. That can include a deep sensitivity to rejection and vilification from those he had loved and served with all his might.

My educated guess is that at that moment at Beal na mBlath, Michael was overwhelmed emotionally and just didn't want to go on and he put a bullet through his brain with his own hand.


We all killed him.

And that kills the legend and reshapes and redirects our perceptions of Michael Collins.

But it does not make any less my hero.

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author by collins fanpublication date Fri Aug 22, 2014 18:05Report this post to the editors

or maybe you didn't get a response because it's just quite an "out there" theory witn no hard evidence to back it
up and thus while it is quite an er... "novel" take on things, no serious scholar of history would likely
be interested in responding to it.

author by Nualapublication date Sat Aug 23, 2014 11:18Report this post to the editors

OK, that's a serious response.

Well I've stated that a reason it was never considered as a possibility, then or now, is because of the extreme toxic shame surrounding suicide among Catholics, especially in Ireland in the early 20th century. And that is why, IF Emmet Dalton saw Michael commit suicide at close range, Dalton would have been in a state of extreme shock.

The following is quoted from Wikipedia, which aims to deal only in facts as stated by reliable authorities, or the lack of such facts:
"Many questions have been raised concerning the handling of Collins’ remains immediately following his death: the inordinately long time the convoy took to cover the twenty miles back to Cork City; who searched his clothes; what became of documents he was known to have been carrying on his person (such as his field diary, which did not turn up until decades afterward.)
The medical evidence is also lacking. There are but imperfect records as to what doctor examined the body; whether an autopsy was performed, and by whom; to what hospital his body was taken, and why; most importantly, what was the precise number and nature of his wounds." [end of quote]

"... the inordinately long time the convoy took to cover the twenty miles back to Cork City..." ..... indicates a state of extreme shock in the participants..... more so than would ensue from only the fact that Michael was dead...

Why no official questioning of the participants? Was it because the participants descended into hysterics at the first question.... "DON'T ASK ME ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED OUT THERE. NEVER ASK ME ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED OUT THERE...." And the authorities decided to leave it alone.... and the legend and the endless theories were born......

Yes, you are right to say I have no hard evidence. But neither do the proponents of any of the other theories. In science, a hypothesis is considered plausible in proportion to the efficiency with which it explains otherwise unexplained phenomena. This hypothesis on how Michael Collins died is the one that sweeps away all the miasma of contradictions and anomalies at a single stroke and makes everything straightforward, although also painfully embarrassing after 92 years of the inconclusive legend and the futile speculation.

Michael Collins is no less my hero.

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author by Rational Ecologistpublication date Mon Aug 25, 2014 09:02Report this post to the editors

After his death, the vehicle he was being transported in broke down or got bogged down in a muddy field, requiring the men present to carry him, thus explaining the delay you refer to.
It might be fairer to say that Collins's emotional and physical exhaustion, combined with arrogance and possibly alcohol, made him careless. No other speculation is fair or warranted. Does this point to deep-seated, self-destructive impulses; perhaps? Good pub conversation I would think.
Collins was a man, warts and all. Deserving of respect and scrutiny in equal measure.
Our demise as a people started a long time back with the destruction of our native forests and the break with our tree culture. The extermination of the wolf was very significant. There are-some-parallels with Collins.

author by Nualapublication date Wed Aug 27, 2014 14:39Report this post to the editors

It's a long time since I read the details. I remember the bit about the members of the convoy walking across a field in the fading light, with blood and brain matter spilling onto their jackets. But why?

There were three vehicles and one or two motor cycles. If one vehicle broke down, the other two could have carried on.

Why would they drive into a field when there were roads? If they were unfamiliar with the terrain, there were houses at which they could have obtained directions.

This narrative actually supports my hypothesis, as it indicates a group of men severely traumatised and disorientated, more so than could be explained solely by the fact that Michael was dead.

I repeat: all the loose ends and inconsistencies and anomalies and mysteries and incongruities are swept away in a single stroke of the broom by my hypothesis - that Michael simply decided he wanted nothing more to do with the Irish people after the way he'd been treated by most of them for nine months, and so he left us because we had become unworthy of him.

It bruises our egos and it would have pulled the rug out from under the *civil war politics* so beloved of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael for several generations.

So this possibility, although staring us in the face for 92 years, was not mentioned until now.

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author by Rational Ecologistpublication date Fri Aug 29, 2014 09:58Report this post to the editors

Of course the men were traumatised, the man they looked to was dead! It didn't require suicide to cause the emtional reaction in those men. He had just been shot and they were in "enemy" territory in that locale. Most of the roads had been damaged so that Collins and his party were "directed" towards an ambush.
Calling to a house in that area, after Collins had been shot was hardly a safe option.
Your thesis may be true-who knows-but there is not a shred of tangiable evidence to prove it.

author by Nualapublication date Tue Sep 02, 2014 10:53Report this post to the editors

If you got lost in rural Ireland in the early twentieth century, the very worst thing to do, the MOST STUPID thing you could do - was to walk across fields as darkness fell. Yet that is what those men did. And they were not stupid men in the normal course of events. They were the cream of the crop, the elite of the fledgling Free State Army.

They still had two functioning vehicles. They could have found their way out of that maze of *bothairini* in rural Cork if they’d stayed with the vehicles. But they went walking across fields in the fading light.

This supports my hypothesis, indicating a group of men traumatised beyond measure, much more traumatised and much more disorientated than would have resulted from only the fact that Michael was dead.

My hypothesis fits the observed facts better than any other hypothesis, and sweeps away all the chaotic, inconclusive speculation generated by other hypotheses.

The impossible happened. The unspeakable happened. Michael Collins simply had had enough of the Irish people and the way most of them were treating him. In his disgust for the Irish people, Michael literally blew his brains out with his own hand, a few yards from Emmet Dalton.

It could never be spoken of.

And yet – from this distance - if we let ourselves think, it becomes the only hypothesis that fits all the observed facts in a way that all other hypotheses do not.

All the inconclusive waffle on sites like this is swept away at a stroke if you think the unthinkable:

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author by anonpublication date Tue Sep 02, 2014 11:44Report this post to the editors

As is said on other sites - are you for real??!

I suppose it takes all sorts ...

author by Nualapublication date Sat Sep 06, 2014 13:59Report this post to the editors

The affection shown to the legend of Michael Collins by the Irish people is an emotionally immature, narcissistic affair.
Our love for Michael has been one-sided.
We never empathised with him. Not properly.

We never gave much thought to the emotions Michael experienced during the treaty debate, as Cathal Brugha hurled those baseless jibes at him, scripted by Eamon de Valera on account of his wounded 'pride.'
Then the Dev gang's refusal to accept the verdict of the Dail.
The death threats by de Valera in his general election speeches.
Finally de Valera's refusal to accept the electorate's verdict in acceptance of the treaty.....
and worse was to come.............
We, the Irish people, never empathised properly with Michael, never tried to put ourselves in his place and imagine how he was feeling when, to crown it all, he looked up the hill at Beal na mBlath and saw those young ruffians trying to kill him and then running away from him, knowing that was what had become of the IRA he molded and loved........

....... after all that, why would Michael want to go on living? He'd had enough of us. He wanted nothing more to do with the Irish people.

He is all the more my hero for making that choice to get away from us instead of suffering our idiocy for another fifty years. He knew what was coming. He would have been totally miserable if he'd lived. He was right to reject us. Our 'pride' wont let us see that. So we created the myth with all the tormenting, inconclusive theories - all designed to conceal the most obvious one.

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author by Rational Ecologistpublication date Mon Sep 08, 2014 09:52Report this post to the editors

All the issues you refer to have been dealt with and discussed at length. I think, perhaps, we have had too much emotion and not enough rationale invested in Collins.
I still admire the man. Your suicide thesis is a flight of fancy and perhaps you are personally attached, for whatever reason, to this thesis. As I said in an earlier post; it may be true but there is NO supporting evidence except an overwhelming desire on your part for it to be true.
I am very open-minded; however, I do need some substance to engage with your thesis. You have provided none.

author by fredpublication date Mon Sep 08, 2014 14:36Report this post to the editors

Nuala, I think you are a bit bonkers but this article and your comments did give me a laugh. Thanks for that! :-)

author by Nualapublication date Fri Sep 19, 2014 16:08Report this post to the editors

We don’t want to keep repeating ourselves, but let me clarify…
Proof and evidence are two different things.
Unlike proof, evidence comprises arguments or facts which give plausibility / credence to an opinion or hypothesis.

Whatever about proof, it is not true to say I have no evidence for my hypothesis.


The EVIDENCE for my position has two strands:

(1) Michael’s emotional state:

The issue of Michael’s emotional state at the time has been largely swept under the carpet, as we sought to build up his legend to fill some of our own emotional emptiness, making him a superhero, as stern and emotionless as John Wayne on screen (which anyway is a dubious quality for a hero)…
The fact is, Michael had been deeply hurt emotionally by what the Dev gang had been doing to him since 6 December. In short, they were demonising him for doing the right thing, which is one of the worst forms of emotional abuse, familiar to many of us from personal family history and educational and religious background.

The worst quality of the Dev gang was their utter disdain for the democratic process, their complete indifference to the will of the Irish electorate.
Yet, amazingly, the Dev gang presented themselves as the opposite.
Dev committed treason by making death threats against the government in his election speeches, obviously with Michael in mind. In theory Dev could have been arrested and legally shot by firing squad for those speeches.
And at no stage did Dev state any willingness to abide by the will of the people as to be demonstrated in the coming election of June 1922.
So the Dev gang were portraying Michael as treasonous and undemocratic, when in fact treasonous and undemocratic were the two main qualities of the Dev gang.
Despite all the nebulous waffle that has been spoken about ‘disestablishing the republic,’ this is non-debatable: Eamon de Valera made it quite clear at the time that the will of the Irish electorate as to be expressed in the coming election in June 1922 was of no interest to him, and that if the electorate failed to vote to help him to nurse his wounded pride, the electorate would be wrong and he, Eamon de Valera, would go on to promote a bloody civil war to salvage his wounded pride and for no other reason.

Imagine the effect all of that had on Michael’s emotional state.

In the words of the ballad by Doreen Dunne:

“He was young, he was strong, he was truer than steel,
With an arm that could strike, BUT A HEART THAT COULD FEEL…”


(2) The behaviour of the members of the convoy after Michael’s death:

The facts show that these men were traumatised and disorientated far beyond what would have resulted from only the fact that Michael was dead.

How did they get lost in the maze of bothairini? I’m not going to re-read all the details, but my memory says they had travelled that way earlier in the day. They were highly experienced military men, some with experience of driving through Europe in World War 1. Navigating unfamiliar terrain is a basic military skill. Yet they got lost.
Then they walked across fields in unknown terrain in time of war as darkness fell.

I don’t need any military training to know what soldiers in time of war should do in that situation. Any decent cadet would feel insulted if a training manual even mentioned the following.
They should have siphoned the petrol out of all vehicles except one, burned or disabled the other vehicles to prevent the enemy from following them or otherwise benefiting from the vehicles, then driven until they reached a friendly face or a signpost.
(Yes, a friendly face. Throughout Ireland there were people who were neutral in the conflict, often good hearted Protestants who would help anyone in distress.)

Yet these highly experienced military men abandoned their vehicles intact and walked across fields in unknown terrain in time of war as darkness fell.

Conclusion: these men were traumatised and disorientated far beyond what would have resulted from only the fact of Michael being dead.


So, although it is not proof, the above are two valid strands of substantial evidence giving plausibility and credence to my hypothesis that Michael Collins committed suicide with his own gun at Beal na mBlath …… because he simply wanted nothing more to do with us - a nation of scatterbrains of whom nearly half the population supported the openly traitorous and openly undemocratic Dev gang.

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author by Alicepublication date Sat Sep 20, 2014 14:08Report this post to the editors

It is a tenuous thesis that Michael Collins shot himself at Beal na Blath. Speculation down through the years about who shot Collins does not help us understand the causes and outcome of the civil war. Let's move on. We who live in Ireland today don't need to replicate the intense emotions of those who took opposing sides in the period 1922-23. These widespread emotions paralysed normal democratic development and indeed seem to have impeded national intellectual development as well.

author by theoristpublication date Sun Sep 21, 2014 12:46Report this post to the editors

After Michael Collins death , Dev was reported to have been "devastated". Why was this ?.Why did Dev dress in widow weeds for fifty forty years after the tragedy and eventually die of a broken heart ? My theory is that the pair had for many years before Michael Collins' tragic suicide been secret gay lovers. Basically, my hypothesis states that after the two leaders fell out in yet- to -be explained circumstances -according to my calculations this would have been at some time around 1921 and certainly no later than 1923 - civil war quickly ensued between rival gay republican factions, one of which was devoted to the Big Fella and the other to the Long Fella . .

author by Nualapublication date Thu Sep 25, 2014 14:45Report this post to the editors

We don’t want to be repeating ourselves, but it’s no harm to expand on some things that have already been said.

I’ve said the behaviour of the Dev gang after 6 December 1921 was a factor in Michael Collins decision to commit suicide. Not that Dev ‘drove’ him to suicide. Michael decided himself that he’d had enough of us and wanted to get away from us, partly because nearly half of us supported the Dev gang.

The position of the Dev Gang was morally, factually and logically indefensible.

The gist of it was: the Irish people established a republic with the verdict of the general election of 1918, and only the Irish people can disestablish that republic.

The eternal blind spot in the ‘republic’ notion was the Dev gang’s total ignorance of what life was like in Northern Ireland. Who exactly were ‘the Irish people’ who had established an all-Ireland republic in 1918, when a million of those people – and yes, they called themselves Irishmen - were willing to fight, literally to the death, and to fire on the British army, to avoid being ruled by an all-Ireland government.

Apart from that, the Southern Irish people had NOT voted for a republic in 1918. More than anything else, the Southern Irish, male and female, voted not so much *for* anything, but largely *against* conscription into the British army.

The final push was coming on the Western Front. The British government insisted on extending conscription to Ireland, in law if not in deed, to give them an emergency supply of ‘cannon fodder’ from Ireland to ensure victory in World War One. Sinn Fein got a landslide victory in 1918, NOT because the electorate wanted a republic, but because Southern Irishmen, young and old, preferred to live in Ireland than to die in France. Not that they were cowards. They just knew that the fight in Europe was not their fight. Similarly, their mothers, wives, sisters did not want their menfolk to be hauled off to France to fight for nothing and to return with no legs – no one to man the farm or support the children, except a little pension from the Linenhall…... So, by the hundreds of thousands, men and women in Southern Ireland voted Sinn Fein in 1918. And the Republic had little to do with it.

So all that waffle from the Dev gang in 1922 about ‘betraying the Republic’ was a baseless, mythical ploy, devised to salvage some of Eamon de Valera’s wounded pride. Nothing else.

Michael saw through it from the very start in December 1921, saw the Dev gang for exactly what they were. He looked on with horror as nearly half the population sided with the irrational and morally bankrupt Dev gang, who were intent on fighting a bloody civil war for no other reason than to salvage some of Eamon de Valera’s personal pride.

That some IRA units would have fought against the Treaty is not disputed. However, it would have been on a manageable scale, without the ultimate horror of Ballyseedy Cross, if Eamon de Valera had not been so irresponsible in using his considerable influence to try to salvage a bit of his wounded pride at any cost.

I’m expanding on what I said before by saying that……. there was no such thing as the Republic, just mainly opposition to conscription in the 1918 election, and the immoral behaviour of Eamon de Valera in 1922 was a major factor in Michael Collins’ decision that he wanted nothing more to do with us and did not want to live among that type of fakery for another fifty years.

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