‘Vain’ Collins probably died a virgin: history professor

Michael Collins was vain, conspiratorial, and probably died a virgin, a UCC professor said on unveiling a plaque in honour of the former rebel leader in Bandon last night.

The unveiling at the Munster Arms Hotel came just two days after commemorative events in nearby Clonakilty and in Cork City to mark his birthday, with the Bandon unveiling taking on special resonance given that the last photograph of Collins was taken outside the hotel shortly before his death at Béal na mBláth in Aug 1922.

Emeritus professor of history at University College Cork John A Murphy unveiled the plaque in the hotel at a ceremony yesterday and in his speech said Collins was “hardly a flawless hero”, even if he was now “universally attractive to public opinion”.

Prof Murphy said of Collins: “He could be vain, ruthless, impatient of criticism, and increasingly autocratic. He was also conspiratorial, especially in his Northern Ireland policy, in early 1922. Yet there is no doubt he dominated both the civil and military sides of the independence struggle, that he masterminded the smashing of British intelligence, and swung the balance in favour of the Treaty settlement.”

Prof Murphy said the treatment of Collins in some writings and on film had been “unhistorical and distorted” while what he called the “demonisation of Éamon de Valera as part of the Collins glorification process was unnecessary, unfair, and irrelevant”.

“Moreover, Collins has sometimes been wrenched from his proper historical context and forced into contemporary relevance. Thus, he is depicted as a very modern ‘macho’ man, cast in a late 20th-century mould, especially in the area of sexual permissiveness.

“However, his alleged womanising remains mere speculation and there is no evidence he succumbed to the blandishments of his groupies. He was exclusively devoted to his fiancée Kitty Kiernan. He was a practising Catholic after the manner of his day, even if occasionally anti-clerical in the Fenian tradition,” he said.

“He probably died a virgin, bizarre as that may sound to latter-day sophisticates.”

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