Read Michael Collins and the Women Who Spied For Ireland Online

Authors: Meda Ryan

Tags: #General, #Europe, #Ireland, #History, #Revolutionary, #Political, #Biography & Autobiography

Michael Collins and the Women Who Spied For Ireland

BOOK: Michael Collins and the Women Who Spied For Ireland
11.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

We do not want in Ireland the absence of history, we do want a larger study of its truth.'

Alice Stopford Green,
Westminster Gazette,
11 March 1904


3B Oak House, Bessboro Rd

Blackrock, Cork, Ireland.

First published in 1996 as
Michael Collins and the Women in his Life

New edition published in 2006. This ebook edition published in 2011.

© Meda Ryan, 1996

ISBN 978 1 85635 513 1

Epub ISBN 978 1 85635 860 6

Mobi ISBN 978 1 85635 877 4

For copyright reasons, photographs and images have not been included in the electronic book.

This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.


Some years ago I began research for a biography of Michael Collins but almost at the outset I found myself drawn into the controversial aspects of how he met his death in an ambush at Béal na mBláth on 22 August 1922. Having grown up in west Cork, I was acutely aware of how families were split by the Civil War and also of the silence that surrounded the ambush. Men who had participated in the ambush agreed to tell me the facts of the episode, and as time progressed I found that the details of the final events in Michael Collins' life required a book to themselves.
The Day Michael Collins Was Shot
was published in 1989. When I returned to my research on Michael Collins I noticed that the role women had played in his life had, to a large extent, been overlooked. Coming from a family in which women were in the majority and where his mother Marianne was in charge after the death of his father, he got used to the idea of strong, resourceful women early. The adored youngest son of the household, he found it natural that women should love and admire him. He in turn appreciated and admired them. It was obvious to me that were it not for all the women who helped to shield him he would have found it impossible to evade arrest between 1919 and 1921. Furthermore he needed women as well as men to send dispatches up and down the country, women to carry arms and others such as Madge Hales, who travelled on a few occasions to her brother Dónal in Italy to arrange for a shipment of arms to Ireland.

Women played an important part in Collins' espionage. They never let him down despite being harassed on occasions. Collins depended on women, who had, in general, an easier time than men in evading the suspicions of the British authorities. When their cover failed and women like Moya Llewelyn Davies and Eileen McGrane were jailed, this upset the chivalrous Collins greatly, as the letters I quote in this book will testify.

I was fortunate to have had extensive interviews, on the basis of trust, with Madge Hales-Murphy, Máire Comerford, Leslie Price (de Barra), Peg Barrett, Emmet Dalton, Todd Andrews, David Neligan and a number of other participants in events with Michael Collins. They made clear to me how society women like Moya Llewelyn Davies and Lady Hazel Lavery were an essential part of Collins' intelligence network. I realised that the letters from Lady Lavery in the Kitty Kiernan collection now owned by Peter Barry were more complex than a first reading would suggest. The records, letters and reminiscences of Susan Killeen and Dilly Dicker given to me by their daughters, Moya Llewelyn Davies' letters given to me by Diarmuid Brennan and the memoirs of Michael Collins' sisters, Mary and Helena, helped me to understand this unexplored aspect of Michael Collins' life.

It was a bonus to be given access, through Íosold Ó Deirg (daughter of Sinéad Mason, who was Collins' personal secretary), to Michael Collins' journal which he wrote while in Sligo jail in April 1918 and which has not been included in any other book about him.

The Kitty Kiernan letters reveal much of the emotion, the turmoil and the great strain on Michael Collins' personal life from 1919 until his death in August 1922. These are important in portraying a further aspect of the man: his capacity for true romantic tenderness and concern. It is interesting to note that Kitty Kiernan is the one woman in his life who did not play any significant part in his work.

In interviews with Collins' contemporaries, I was struck by the fact that they all affectionately called him Mick, regardless of which side they had taken in the Civil War. This is the name I have chosen to use for most of this book.

Meda Ryan, 1996


When I look at my notebook of names I realise with sadness that many people who helped to shape this book are no longer with us. But I am deeply grateful to them and to all the people who guided me from the surface to the depth of Michael Collins' work and especially his reliance on women to help him towards his goal of independence for Ireland.

The late Tom Barry was the first to tell me of Leslie's (his wife's) involvement with Michael Collins. This led me to interviews with Leslie Price, with Máire Comerford and Dave Neligan and I am most grateful for their assistance. I am also indebted to Madge Hales-Murphy who gave me some useful information some years ago, as did Todd Andrews and Emmet Dalton after much persuasion. Gratitude is also due to other contemporaries of Michael Collins: the late: Peg Barrett, Dell Barrett, Bill Stapleton, Vinny Byrne, Dan Bryan, Ernest Blythe, Seán Collins-Powell, Seán MacBride, Ned Barrett, Seán Hyde, Bill Hales, Siobhán Lankford, Mary Collins-Pierce and Kitty Collins O'Mahony. All these people gave me first-hand information and without them this book would be incomplete.

I am indebted to Michael Collins (nephew of Michael Collins) who gave me the diary found on Michael Collins' body, and Michael Collins-Powell who gave me other treasured documentation, as did Mary Clare O'Malley; to John Collins-Pierce, who trusted me with the
of Helena Collins and Mary Collins-Powell; to Liam Collins for his reminiscences; also to Liam O'Donoghue for the Nancy O'Brien letters. A further dimension was added to the book when Dorothy Heffernan and Máire Molloy willingly gave of their time and supplied letters and documentation in relation to their mothers – Dilly Dicker and Susan Killeen respectively. I also found original insights in the letters of Moya Llewelyn Davies, given to me by Diarmuid Brennan.

I am extremely grateful to Iosold Ó Deirg who let me see Michael Collins' journals, which were written in Sligo jail in 1918 and given to her mother Sinéad Mason during a subsequent raid. I am also grateful to Maura Hales-Murphy and Eily Hales MacCarthy for access to their family letters in relation to Michael Collins.

A sincere word of gratitude to Domhnall MacGiolla Phoil, to his wife Mary, also to Eily Hales MacCarthy and her husband, Gus, who have been most generous with their time and advice.

I owe a special word of gratitude to Peter Barry, who generously allowed me access to the Kitty Kiernan collection of letters and gave permission to reproduce material from it.

I greatly appreciate the assistance and courtesy of the staff of the following bodies and thank them for access to and permission to quote from the archives in their care: Seamus Helferty, Kerry Holland and staff at the Archives Department of University College, Dublin; the Mulcahy Trust (the papers of Richard Mulcahy); Commandant Peter Young, Military Archivist and his staff; Gerry Lyne and staff at the National Library; Dr Bernard Meehan and staff of the manuscript department, Trinity College, Dublin; the Director and staff of the National Archives, the State Paper Office and Public Records Office; Niamh O'Sullivan, Archivist, and staff at Kilmainham Museum; Stella Cherry, Curator, Samantha Melia and other staff in the Cork Public Museum; the British Library Newspaper Board; Noel Crowley and staff at Ennis County Library; John Eustace and the library staff at Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick; also Bríd Frawley at the University of Limerick.

I valued the positive response of the many people who gave interviews and helped me over my years of research: Dan Cahalane, Frank Aiken, Dr Ned Barrett, Jim Kearney, Bill Powell, John Toolan, Tom McCarthy, Tony Killeen, Josephine Griffin, Mary Banotti, Andy Tierney, John L. O'Sullivan, Todd Andrews, Ernest Blythe, D. V. Horgan, Margaret Helen, Criostóir de Baróid, Seán MacBride, Dave Neligan.

I realised that finding photographs of those who lived in the early part of this century would be difficult. Therefore I am most grateful to those who went out of their way to contact other family members and did not spare themselves in locating photos: Michael Collins, Iosold Ó Deirg, Dorothy Heffernan, Máire Molloy, Ned O'Sullivan, Michael Collins-Powell, Helen Litton, Eily Hales-MacCarthy, Maura Murphy, Sylvester Barrett, Declan Heffernan, Ann Barrett, Josie Barrett-Leahy.

A sincere thank you is due to Jo O'Donoghue, editor of Marino Books/Mercier Press, who worked with me unstintingly through the final drafts of the manuscript, and also to Anne O'Donnell and Siobhán Cullen.

Thanks is also due to the many who could not help directly but who took the trouble to write or telephone me with snippets of information. A special word of gratitude is due to the members of my family and to my many relatives and friends for their patience throughout my years of research and writing.

The assistance of all has been gratefully appreciated and I regret if I have inadvertently omitted to mention any name.

BOOK: Michael Collins and the Women Who Spied For Ireland
11.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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