President Higgins to speak at Béal na mBláth

President Michael D Higgins will make history on Sunday when he becomes the first sitting Head of State to deliver the oration at the annual Michael Collins commemoration at Beal na mBlath in mid-Cork.

The commemoration takes place at the site where the convoy of the pro-Treaty Irish Army Chief of Staff died after an ambush by IRA volunteers.

Organisers of the event say they are very privileged to have President Higgins deliver the oration, while still in office.

Ex-president Mary Robinson had previously been among the guest speakers at Beal na mBlath, after she had vacated Áras an Uachtaráin.

"It is a particular honour for us to have a first sitting president officiating at the ceremony and that President Higgins is giving the oration," said Dermot Collins, chairman of the commemoration committee.

"Furthermore, his presence this year is special as it coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, especially as Michael Collins had been in the GPO in Dublin at the time and had been acting as aide-de-camp for Joseph Plunkett.

"Also, President Higgin's father and two of his uncles fought in the War of Independence. The President has such a depth of knowledge about Irish history that we are all really looking forward to what he will say in his speech."

Mr Collins said the organising committee was also expecting a large attendance at the commemoration due to President Higgins' presence and, in particular, his popularity.

History buffs, he said, will have a treat on the day as the historic armoured car Sliabh na mBan will also be on display at Beal na Blath on the day. 

The Rolls Royce armoured vehicle which accompanied Collins when he was shot is only one of two such vehicles surviving worldwide.

"It was in part of the convoy carrying General Collins and his soldiers," Mr Collins said. "It was last in Beal na mBlath in 2012 when Taoiseach Enda Kenny delivered the oration."

Meanwhile, after attending the commemoration which starts at 3pm, President Higgins will travel a short distance to officially open a new museum in Kilmurry which is dedicated to the War of Independence and Civil War fighting in the general area. The village is off the main Macroom-Cork road.

The museum is the culmination of more than a decade's work by the Kilmurry Historical & Archaeological Association, and was finally completed with the help of Heritageworks, a new West Cork business which designs and builds heritage projects.

It boasts artefacts such as the wheel from the ambushed and burnt-out Crossley Tender at Kilmichael in 1920, Tom Barry’s suitcase and books that belonged to Terence MacSwiney.


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