Collins killed in action, not assassinated

Published in Issue 5 (September/October 2020), Letters, Volume 28

Sir,—I read with interest Alison Martin’s article on Michael Collins and the British press (HI 28.4, July/August 2020). It is, however, a pity that her opening sentence contains a historical inaccuracy, which is repeated in the penultimate paragraph, where the August 1922 death of Collins is termed an ‘assassination’. There were indeed assassinations during the Treaty War. In December 1922, the pro-Treaty TD Seán Hales was assassinated while on his way to Dáil Éireann, following which, in reprisal, Liam Mellows and three other anti-Treaty prisoners were murdered in Mountjoy Gaol. But Collins was neither ‘assassinated’ nor ‘murdered’. Ignoring the advice to drive on to safety, Collins chose to stop the car, step out and exchange fire with the Republican ambush party. Collins was no more assassinated than had been his anti-Treaty opponent Cathal Brugha in July 1922, nor, indeed, The O’Rahilly in Easter Week 1916. To employ the term ‘assassination’ in such circumstances of two-way exchanges in warfare is not only historically inaccurate but also does a disservice to the memory of Collins, who, if incredibly reckless, was undoubtedly brave. We can say of all three—The O’Rahilly, Brugha and Collins—that they were killed in action, having chosen to engage in combat, each with gun in hand.—Yours etc.,

MANUS O’RIORDAN 
Dublin 11

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