A piece written by William Johnston on the anniversary of Michael Collins who died in 1922. William Johnstone is a Ballymoney unionist with an interest in history and politics.
On this day in 1922, Irish Revolutionary and Commander-in-Chief of the Free State army, Michael Collins was ambushed and shot dead by anti Treaty IRA forces at Beal na Blath in County Cork.
His murder and the circumstances around it almost romanticised the final day of Ireland's most enigmatic figures. He was 32 years old when he died and in his short life had achieved more than any contemporary Republican figure today.
Collins was a complex and contradictory figure who was idolised and resented, reviled and worshipped, hated and loved by the different strands of Republicans. When he signed the Treaty, he remarked that he had signed his death warrant and so he had. The savage civil war that followed saw families torn apart and lifelong friends become deadly enemies.
The current Sinn Fein leadership would claim to have followed the militaristic path of the anti Treaty forces. They rejected partition, refused to recognise the sovereignty of the Northern Ireland and Dail parliaments and demanded nothing less than an independent 32 county Socialist Republic. In reality, they took the same path as Collins. They accepted the Treaty, recognise the legitimacy of both parliaments and accept the Good Friday Agreement as part of Collins' "Stepping Stone Theory". The Republican movement has split but the Shinners have attempted to 're write history and maintain that they are the legitimate heirs to Republicanism. They obviously are not - they are reinforcing the old Treaty every day in the Dail.
Beal na Blath is supposed to be a place of natural beauty. It was there that Michael Collins gave up his life for Ireland, not in a blaze of glory at the hands of the old foe, but at the hands of his former comrades. The loss to the fledgling Free State of its most charismatic leader cannot be adequately measured but at least the spirit of Collins can take comfort in the fact that 93 years later his policy and theories are being enthusiastically embraced and pursued by Sinn Fein.