With the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, a bitter Civil War erupted in Ireland between the Pro-Treaty and Anti-Treaty forces. As Commander-In-Chief of the Free State Army, on the 18th of August 1922, Michael Collins announced his intention to inspect the State military posts in the South, having previously returned from earlier inspections to attend Arthur Griffith’s funeral. His colleagues advised him not to go, as he would have to travel through deep IRA territory yet he joked that “no one will shoot me in my own county.” He was proven wrong as 4 days later, he was killed in an ambush at Beal na mBlath.
At 6 am on the 20th of August, Michael Collins left Dublin on route to Cork. He was suffering from possible pleurisy. He reached Limerick around midday where he visited Thomas Malone an Anti-Treaty prisoner in Marlboro Prison. He left Limerick and travelling via Mallow, he reached Cork city around 8.30am. He was staying in the Imperial Hotel, and spent that evening and all of the next day with Emmet Dalton and his staff, discussing the problems of the area, inspecting military posts and interviewing people. He visited relatives and friend in Macroom and also spent time with his sister Mary and her children in Cork city. That night, in the hotel, he met Joseph Derham, a neutral friend in the Civil War, whom he befriended while in Frongoch prison.
At 6.15 am on Tuesday 22nd August, Michael Collins began the last day of his life. He along with Dalton set out in a convoy, headed towards Bantry. They were seated behind two drivers in the back of a Leyland Eight touring car. The convoy was headed by a motorcyclist scout, followed by a Crossley tender carrying ten men under Sean O Connell. This preceded the touring car and the Rolls Royce Whippet armoured car, the “Slievenamon” came last.
The convoy was stopped at the entrance to Clonakilty by felled trees. They helped remove the trees and stopped to drink a pint in “The Four Alls.” This was the heart of Collins homeland, and he met his brother Johnny and other family and friends. After lunch, the convoy drove to Roscarbery and Skibereen. While in Skibereen, Collins visited the proprietors of the Eldon Hotel, the Quinns.
On route to Bandon, they stopped outside Longs Pub, in the vicinity of Beal na mBlath, to ask for directions, and Denny Long directed them to Bandon. Denny Long was actually a member of the anti-treaty forces, and was acting as a sentry for an IRA meeting taking place either inside the pub or in a nearby farmhouse. There is some evidence which suggests that de Valera may have been among them. He notified those attending the meeting of Collins’s convoy, and it was decided that an ambush would be organised by Tom Hales, in case the convoy returned the same way.
A mine was armed and a beer bottle cart was commandeered and placed across the road on the Bandon side of Beal na mBlath, to obstruct Collins’ convoy. 22 to 37 rifle men were positioned along an elevated boreen overlooking the main road where Collins would possibly return. The hidden ambushers settled down to wait for the convoy’s return and remained there throughout the day. At 7.30pm, believing it to be too late for Collins to return, Commander Liam Deasy and Tom Hales sent all but six men to the pub and disarmed the mine. These six remained in position. Meanwhile, the Free State convoy had left West Cork at 4.30pm and was travelling towards the ambush site on route to Cork City.
At the sound of the convoy’s motor engines, warning shots rang out from the few remaining Irregulars. The republicans rushed to their positions and Jim Hurley fired at the touring car shattering the windscreen. The scout and Crossley Tender continued around the bend to remove the barricade. Dalton yelled to “Drive like Hell!” but Collins shouted “Stop! Jump out and we’ll fight them!” This proved to be a badly calculated decision. Dalton and Collins jumped from their...