IRA report reveals ambush of Collins was ‘fortuitous’

THE engagement between IRA riflemen and Free State soldiers in which Michael Collins was killed was largely fortuitous and involved terrific fire, a previously unseen report sent to IRA headquarters by the ambush squad reveals.

The report is contained in a new book, The IRA: A Documentary History 1916-2005, which features previously secret internal documentation held by the guerrilla organisation.

The report of the famous ambush at Béal na mBláth in West Cork was sent by the IRA’s 1st southern division headquarters staff to the chief of staff Liam Lynch two days after the attack on August 22, 1922.

Speculation has surrounded the exact circumstances surrounding Collins’s death, with theories that he was shot by one of his own soldiers and on how the IRA learnt of his movements.

However, the report describes the encounter as largely fortuitous, with most of ambush party having withdrawn from their positions prior to the attack, believing Collins’s motorised column had moved on from Bandon towards Clonakilty and away from the ambush site.

Initially, only six IRA members were in position to open fire on Collins’s 32-strong column.

The report states the “firing was terrific”, with the “Free Staters” relying on a machine gun to take on nine IRA riflemen.

“The engagement lasted one hour” until Free State soldiers managed to remove a barricade blocking the road, with the IRA commander only learning afterwards that Collins had been killed.

The report claims the Free State soldiers used explosive rifle bullets.

It also indicates it was the Free State military leader’s own actions which resulted in the IRA being able to target him, the report concluding that “during the journey Mr Collins travelled in the touring car and made himself very prominent”.

The report is reproduced in full, along with several other previously unseen documents, in the book, published by Gill and McMillan later this week.

The book’s author, historian Brian Hanley, said: “For years this first-hand report on Collins’s death lay hidden in the papers of former IRA chief of staff, Moss Twomey.

“These were donated to UCD in the 1990s and contain a vast amount of information on the organisation through the civil war into the 1940s.”

He added: “The Béal na mBláth ambush would seem to have been relatively straightforward and indicated Collins was somewhat naive in his approach by allowing his whereabouts to be easily known.

“As with many of the other reports, it indicates the very violent nature of the War of Independence and later IRA actions.”

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