In 1994 my friend and colleague, Ian Graham, wrote to me after the publication of the first biography of my father by Maryann Valiulis (1). Maryann was an academic from Chicago who had already published Almost a Rebellion about the Army Mutiny in 1924 which led to my father’s resignation from the Cabinet (2). Ian had read the biography with interest but he wished to have a better insight into my father’s character and ‘’the qualities which brought him to such prominence, his innate integrity and his role in preventing the Irish Army and its predecessor, the IRA, from leading us to a banana republic.’’
My father was in many ways a remarkable man. He was quiet, sober and peace loving but he could respond firmly and trenchantly if he thought it necessary to deal with a current crisis however unpopular might be deemed his decision by others. He had an excellent record as a pupil at the Christian Brother schools in Waterford and Thurles. He was awarded an exhibition following his intermediate examination but despite an unusual invitation from Rockwell College to spend his last two years as a free boarder, he was obliged for family reasons to leave school early. He shared the traditional Victorian values of his family - hard work, a life-time of self education, self-discipline, punctuality and integrity. He differed from his contemporises, Catholic and Protestant, in that, while still in his teens, he developed an interest in the Irish language and in the early writers and activists in Sinn Féin such as Griffith in Dublin and Denis McCullough and his colleagues of the Dungannon Clubs in the North
At the age of 17, shortly after spending six months with his father who was postmaster in Thurles, he went as a post office learner to West Cork in Bantry where his interest in Irish and the culture of Ireland was greatly advanced in the Gaeilteacht there. In keeping with this his interest in Griffith and Home Rule continued.
He was transferred to Dublin in 1909 at the age of 23 where he came close to other revolutionaries in the Keating Branch of the Gaelic League. He was soon encouraged to join the IRB and joined the Irish Volunteers at its inception in November 1913. He was a first lieutenant in the 2nd C Company of the Dublin Brigade by 1916. He spent his first six years in Dublin while in the post office attending night classes in the third level institutions at Kevin street and Bolton Street as part of his general and engineering education. By then he spoke excellent Irish, formal or academic French, had mastered shorthand and continued his fondness for poetry as well as his regular training with the Volunteers. His shorthand was a curious mixture of Pitman and Gregg but it allowed him to record the speeches of others long before the availability of a personal or hand recorder.
He was perhaps perceived by the unfamiliar during his earlier years as being formal and shy, but he was affable and popular with his close colleagues and with his family and friends. That he was capable of enjoying a laugh and being in good humour is evident from some of his tape recordings with Páidín O’Keefe, the long-term secretary of Sinn Féin during the revolution, and other contemporaries after his retirement. Within the domestic scene he was considerate and indulgent, at least to my mother and my three sisters, and quick to oblige if asked to assist.
He married in 1919. Mother, with her heavy domestic duties, the quick arrival of six children and a chronically tight budget, could be a little irritable when under pressed and might be a little vexed at times. He would touch her lightly on the shoulder and say ‘’Now Min -----‘’ and all would be well. I never heard them having a dispute. However he was capable of rebuke in the event of an inappropriate remark or unmannerly behaviour by any of his children as we grew up to adulthood. As I can recall, his only domestic duties were to prune the roses on St. Patrick’s Day and to repair the then primitive electric fuse system
|RM and Min|
His life of self-education led him from being a post office learner to become the head of the post-1916 revolutionary army and later a prominent politician, and to remain deeply immersed in the culture and language of his country. I was aware of his intense desire to ensure that the state must be based on our Gaelic culture and on a democratic mould and that he was incapable of allowing personal advantage to obtrude on his political vision. His devotion to the Irish language did not obtrude on his interest in English or French nor was he or his contempories critical of the English people whatever about his views of certain members of the Tory Party, He had a lifetime interest in the poetry of the three languages and I have described elsewhere how he learned to recall many of his poems in Irish and French while he was in solitary confinement for three weeks without book, pen or paper in Knutsford Prison in 1916. He was even deprived of a Bible by the prison authorities ‘’because he was a Catholic’’ During his retirement I often heard him repeating poems aloud in his big study upstairs in Lissenfield.
He played a leading part in the Ashbourne battle on the Friday, the last day of the 1916 Rebellion. It was only a few days before Easter Monday that he knew that the ‘’manoeuvres’’ described by Pearse were likely to be more serious than their normal weekend outings. He had intended being on holidays for the weekend but pressure from Sean McDermott, one of the signatories of the rebellion, forced him to change his mind as he was needed to cut the telephone wires to Belfast and London at the start of the ‘’manoeuvres’’. (McDermott was unofficially engaged to Dad’s future wife, Min Ryan, my mother! I have McDermott’s last letter to her on the Friday preceding the rising). Little could Dad guess that he was to lead to the death of nine RIC men, most of whom were as Irish as he? He never denied the heroism of the signatories or the ethics of the Rising but I always wondered about his refusal to attend the celebration of the Ashbourne Memorial in 1955 which was graced by the presence of the President, his brother-in-law Seán T. O’Kelly and where Dad would have been deemed the hero of this military event, unique in military terms in the history of the Rising. .
After his return from prison in Wales in Christmas 1916, he was soon to be appointed head of the Irish Volunteers because of his reputation earned during the Rebellion. He was described by a well-known colleague as ‘’the only Volunteer who emerged from the Rebellion with a military reputation’’. He remained the military and later the political head of the army until 1924 and then spent his entire professional life as a fulltime politician, mostly on the opposition benches.
There is some lack of understanding about the date of onset of the War of Independence. It is sometimes described as beginning with the unsolicited shooting of two RIC men at Soloheadbeg in Tipperary in January 1919 but that event as well as other isolated ones during 1919 were not war decisions accepted by GHQ nor by the political leader of the army, Cathal Brugha. Both Brugha and my father did not feel that the Irish people were ready to accept open warfare with the British at the time. Dad was certainly less bellicose than Collins and was aware that many ardent nationalists were opposed to war. He was particularly careful to avoid alienating the community. He went, possibly reluctantly, into war at the end of 1919 but there was little alternative by then.
The War, according to him, commenced with the decision to advise Terence McSwiney of Cork to start the attack on the RIC barracks at the end of 1919. War was by this time forced on GHQ, firstly by the British failure to accept the results of the 1918 election and some of the post-war bye-elections, and later by the constant harassment and jailing of Sinn Féin deputies, speakers and supporters by the RIC from late 1917 to 1919. Most important, according to McSwiney, was the mounting impatience of the volunteers in the provinces and the suppression of several Irish cultural and sporting bodies in the summer of 1919 and, particularly, the suppression of the Dáil in the autumn of the year. Both Brugha and my father were conservative about official military intervention because of their belief that the people were slow to accept war until British intransigence became too oppressive.
|RM on extreme right. Best man at Terence McSwiney's wedding|
In February 1923 while the Civil War was still continuing he sent the following letter to his soldiers
What did I do yesterday and to-day to make myself a more effective soldier at my work – a more tolerable person in ordinary barrack life – a more welcomed person in and ‘off duty’ group? To help in that general achievement which causes people to remark as they see our men pass individually or march in bodies thro’ our streets or throughout the country ‘’They’re certainly making a job of the Army’’.
Am I thoughtful of what an army means for the country - what the country wants it for – what it can effect for the people and their character? Am I working in the steady spirit of service of Pearse and Tom Clarke and Seán McDermott? These are thoughts that must find a place in the minds of every officer and man who wishes his work of to-day to be a source of happiness to himself and of usefulness to his country.
Every time I see the army on parade I always think that he left his mark of discipline and integrity on our soldiers to this day
During the War of Independence (January 1920-July 1921) there was a close personal contact between the Chief of Staff and the other members of GHQ and, in many matters, with the leaders of the IRA in the provinces. His great strength was his success in delegation. He was always vocal in praising those whom he found efficient and reliable. His praise of Collins was evident in all his writings and conversations as was his praise of McKee, O’Duffy, Seán McMahon, Seán O’Murthuile, Seán McEoin and others, including Liam Lynch. He was mute about the less efficient;
He thought Lynch was the outstanding leader of the volunteers in the provinces during the War of Independence. Much to my father’s disappointment, Lynch opposed the Treaty and was to lead the irregular forces and to be most responsible for the prolongation and the ultimate futility of the Civil War which had after a few months degenerated into widespread vandalism, arson and destruction of property and pubic transport without any semblance of an organised military force. This situation was aggravated by the absence of a police force and during the later days of the Civil War the army was much involvied in restoring the damage to our railways, roads and bridges and public utilities
|RM and Collins at Griffith's funeral|
I have no knowledge of any reference by Collins among his papers to his chief of staff either during the War or the subsequent Truce and early Civil War periods. As a man of action Collins was Churchillian in his self-absorption, his energy and self confidence, and he rarely spoke of the contribution of others.
Just as I came across Ian’s letter in my file, I had a message from my daughter, Tina, who sent me this email she had received from a friend in California:
Hi all. Tina's grandfather is my hero and I don't have many heroes. How remarkable that such a mild mannered and completely decent man would have become a general able to lead a successful guerrilla war and then keep his country whole through a much more difficult and nasty civil war.
I first discovered Richard Mulcahy about 6 months before I met a striking quote posted in the prison museum in Dublin. Usually everything in a museum becomes a jumble but this stood out. Mulcahy's quote strictly enjoined the victorious pro-treaty army to have no enemies, to take no revenge, and always to act honourably toward the defeated. It echoed Lincolns- ‘’with malice toward none, with charity to all."
The biographies have rounded out the man and increased my esteem. The biggest surprise is his writing style. Your dad is somewhat apologetic about RM's frequent use of metaphor and elaborate sentence structure. I felt completely charmed by it and amazed at the consistent grace of his style and vividness of expression in even the most routine of military dispatches. RM gives new meaning to the adage that people can accomplish great things in proportion to their not needing credit for them. Has there ever been a less narcistic (sic) leadeThe great remaining mystery is RM's choice to participate so fully in so violent a life. I think it must be the psychology of the Christian soldier or righteous medieval knight - an ideal too often used as an excuse for selfish or unworthy ends but embodied in its purist (in both senses of the word) form in RM. A man for all seasons and all times. Congratulations to your father and to you to carry his legacy.
I expect Tina’s friend had read Dad’s message to the army issued in the early morning after hearing of Collins’s death. I have not seen the quote at Kilmainham Gaol but I expect he was referring to Dad’s stirring message. The message hangs in my study, printed by Yeats’s two sisters of the Cuala Press in the 1920s
To the men of the Army
Stand calmly by your posts.
Bend bravely and undaunted to your work.
Let no cruel act of reprisal blemish your bright honour.
Every dark hour that Michael Collins met since 1916 Seemed but to steel that bright strength of
his and temper his gay bravery.
his and temper his gay bravery.
You are left each inheritors of that strength, and of that bravery.
To each of you falls his unfinished work.
No darkness in this hour – No loss of comrades will daunt you at it.
And no doubt his reference to my criticism of my father’s frequent use of metaphor, and his length and complexity of sentence structure, refers to his many references to Collins in my two biographies (3,4) and his extraordinary oration over Collins’s grave which redounds with references evocative of dad’s love of the Irish language, his sense of Irish history and mythology, and particularly his deep spirituality based on his devotion to the life of Christ. UlicK O’Connor, the author, once told me he thought the oration was one of the finest pieces of oratory he had read.
The shortened version of Dad’s oration reads as follow:
Opening in Irish, he said that there was a burden `of sorrow heavy on the hearts of our people today, that our minds, like the great Cathedral below after the last Mass had been said, and the coffin borne away, and the great concourse of people emptied from it – our minds were dry, wordless, and empty, with nothing in them but the little light of faith.
Continuing in English, he said: - Our country is today bent under a sorrow such as it has not been bent under for many a year. Our minds are cold, empty, wordless, and without sound. But it is only our weaknesses that are bent under this great sorrow that we meet with today. All that is good in us, all that is strong in us, is strengthened by the memory of that great hero and that great legend who is now laid to rest.
We bend today over the grave of a man not more than thirty years of age, who took to himself the gospel of toil for Ireland, the gospel of working for the people of Ireland, and of sacrifice for their good, and who has made himself a hero and a legend that will stand in the pages of our history with any bright page that was ever written there.
Pages have been written by him in the hearts of our people that will never find a place in print. But we lived, some of us, with these intimate pages; and those pages that will reach history, meagre though they be, will do good to our country and will inspire us through many a dark hour. Our weaknesses cry out to us, “Michael Collins was too brave”.
Michael Collins was not too brave. Every day and every hour he lived he lived it to the full extent of that bravery which God gave to him, and it is for us to be brave as he was – brave before danger, brave before those who lie, brave even to that very great bravery that our weakness complained of in him.
When we look over the pages of his diary for 22nd August, “Started 6.15am Macroom to Ballineen, Bandon, Skibereen, Roscarbary, Clonakilty,” our weakness says he tried to put too much into the day. Michael Collins did not try to put too much into the day. Standing on the little mantle-piece of his office was a bronze plaque of President Roosevelt, of the United States, and the inscription on it ran: “I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labour and strife; to preach that highest form of success that comes, not to the man who desires mere ease in peace, but to him who does not shrink from danger, hardship, or bitter toil, and who, out of these, wins the splendid ultimate triumph.”
“Mara bhfuigheann an gráinne arbhair a theiheannn sa talamh bás ni bhion ann ach e féin, ach, ma gheibheann sé bás tugan se toradh mór uaidh.”
“Unless the grain of corn that falls into the ground dies, there is nothing but itself in it, but if it dies it gives forth great fruit.”
And Michael Collins’ passing will gives us forth great fruit, and Michael Collins’ dying will give us forth great fruit. Every bit of his small grain of corn died, and it died night and day during the last four or five years. We have seen him lying on a bed of sickness and struggling with infirmities, running from his bed to his work.
On Saturday, the day before he went on his last journey to Cork, he sat with me at breakfast writhing with pain from a cold all through his body, and yet he was facing his day’s work for that Saturday, and facing his Sunday’s journey and Monday’s journey and his journey on Tuesday. So let us be brave, and let us not be afraid to do too much in the day. In all that great work, strenuous it was, comparatively it was intemperate, but it was the only thing that Michael Collins was intemperate in.
Yes, get up to read, to write; to think, to plan, to work, or, like Ard Riogh Eireann long ago, simply to greet the sun. The God-given long day fully felt and fully seen would bring its own work and its own construction. Let us be brave, then, and let us work.
“Prophecy”, said Peter, who was the great rock, “is a light shining in the darkness till the day
And surely “our great rock” was our prophet and our prophecy, a light held aloft along the road of “danger or hardship or bitter toil’ and if our light is gone out it is only as the paling of a candle in the dawn of its own prophecy.
An act of his, a word of his, a look of his was day by day a prophecy to us that loose lying in us lay capabilities for toil, for bravery, for regularity, for joy in life; and in slowness and in hesitancy and in weariness half yielded to, his prophecies came true in us. And just as he as a person was a light and a prophecy to us individually, he looked to it and wished that this band of brothers, which is the Army, will be a prophecy to our people. Our Army has been the people, is the people, and will be the people. Our green uniform does not make us less the people. It is a cloak of service, a curtailer of our weaknesses, and amplifier of our strength.
He is supposed to have said, “Let the Dublin Brigade bury me”. Michael Collins knows that we will never bury him. He lies here among the men of the Dublin Brigade. Around him there lie forty-eight comrades of his from our Dublin battalions. But Michael Collins never separated the men of Dublin from the men of Kerry, nor the men of Dublin from the men of Donegal, nor the men of Donegal from the men of Cork.
His great love embraced our whole people and our whole Army, and he was as close in spirit with our men in Kerry and Donegal as he was with our men in Dublin. Yes. And even those men in different districts in the country who sent us home here our dead Dublin men – we are sure he felt nothing but pity and sorrow for them for the tragic circumstances in which they find themselves, knowing that in fundamentals and in ideals they were the same.
Michael Collins had only a few minutes to live and to speak after he received his death wound, and the only word he spoke in these few moments was “Emmet”. He called to the comrade along side him, the comrade of many fights and many plans, and I am sure that he felt in calling that one name that he was calling around him the whole men of Ireland that he might speak the last word of comradeship and love.
We last looked at him in the City Hall and in the small church in Vincent’s Hospital. And, studying his face with an eager gaze, we found there the same old smile that met us always in work. And seeing it there in the first dark hour of our blow, the mind could not help travelling back to the dark storm-tossed Sea of Galilee and the frail barque tossed upon the waters there, and the strong, calm smile of the Great Sleeper in the stern of the boat.
Tom Ashe, Tomas MacCurtain, Traolac MacSuibhne, Dick McKee, Michael O’Coileain, and all you who lie buried here, disciples of our great Chief, those of us you leave behind are all, too, grain from the same handful, scattered by the hand of the Great Sower over the fruitful soil of Ireland. We, too, will bring forth our own fruit.
Men and women of Ireland, we are all mariners on the deep, bound for a port still seen only through storm and spray, sailing still on a sea full “of dangers and hardships, and bitter toil.” But the Great Sleeper lies smiling in the stern of the boat, and we should be filled with that spirit which will walk bravely upon the waters.
As far as I know this oration is only available in the limited publication Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins, published by Martin Lester, Ltd, Dublin sometime in the 1920s and in my own biography of my father in 2010 (4).
I ponder about my father’s character as it appeared to me from my intimate knowledge of him as one of his sons and as his literary agent and one of his biographers. He survived ten years after his retirement from parliament in 1961 and it was at this time that I got to know him and his career best. With his newly appointed secretary, Chris O’Doherty, we helped him to put his extensive army and personal papers in order before they were deposited in the archives of University College.
His papers start as far back as November 1920 while he was Chief of Staff of the IRA. His extensive tape recordings covered the first six or seven years of his retirement. He failed to release his papers and recordings until the year before his death in 1971. This left a serious lacuna for historians about the revolution and particularly about the early years of the Army. And it was to take even more years after his papers reached the University before his archive became freely available. It was also evident, most importantly, from the little information about the origins and the early years of the army included in Lt. Col. John P. Duggan’s history of the Irish Army published in 1991. And It is likely that the first detailed and authoritative account of the history of GHQ during the War of Independence was not published until 2013 by Pat Taaffe (5)
Dad’s philosophy was based on the welfare of his country; the Irish should be in charge of their own affairs; democracy should be a sine qua non. The army’s role was to protect our democratic institutions. His conception of the role of the army was evident by his determination that we should have an army structured as early as 1918 on the integrity and the service of a peacetime army, on international law and military discipline. Such an ambition might have been unrealistic during the early days of the War of Independence, and was not always appreciated by his more active and restive fighters, particularly in west Cork, who were critical at times of his caution and his numerous communications. But during this time and during the six months of the Truce, the army, or such of it as remained loyal to the Treaty, was advanced enough in organisation and leadership to deal with the more numerous but less organised men opposed to the Treaty in arms.
Mulcahy’s concern for his officers and his men was readily apparent in his communications with them. His caution frustrated some; His insistence on procedure annoyed others. But he patiently reiterated the reasons for his actions and even those who disagreed had to admit that he wanted to understand their point of view, their concerns, their problems (1).
My Father’s determination was to win the Civil War and save the Treaty on behalf of Griffith and Collins and the great majority of the people. Because of this I can understand why a man of my father’s modest, self-facing and spiritual nature could be so determined and draconian during the crisis days which involved him and his leadership during the revolution.
His message to the Army and his subsequent homily over the grave of Collins led to a comment in the Times by its Dublin correspondent that Mulcahy, as head of an army conducting a bitter civil war, was perhaps ‘handicapped by the temperament of a philosopher’. This evoked a reply in the letter columns of the Times newspaper from the writer KatherineTynan
Your Dublin correspondent, writing of the calamitous death of Michael Collins, said of Richard Mulcahy that ‘he is handicapped by the temperament of a philosopher’. Well, he may well have the temperament of a philosopher – though I should not call that a handicap in Irish politics – but he has also the temperament of a poet, without which no Irish genius is complete. I listened at the Dail meetings last autumn to speech after speech which seemed to me, brought on the traditions of Irish oratory, deliberately commonplace and dull. Then came Mulcahy and the whole thing was changed. He was not ashamed to put his emotions into oratory; listening to him one was back in the great days. His address to the army on the death of Michael Collins seems to me admirable as poetic prose. Nothing could be finer. There is no higher type of man in our history than the man who is at one a poet and a man of action, as witness the great men of Elizabethan days. Ireland has suffered a terrible calamity in the death of our two leaders (Griffith and Collins) but while such men as Richard Mulcahy and the Brennans of Clare lead her army, we may lift up our heavy hearts.
The Civil war petered out with the death of Lynch in May 1923. My father then retired from the army leadership but remained in the Cabinet as minister for defence until March 1924 when he resigned in protest when the Army leaders were sacked at the time of the Army Mutiny. When asked why he had resigned he replied that it was the Grace of God he had done so. ‘’Otherwise his refusal to accept the Government’s decision might have lead to a recrudescence of the Civil War.’’ Although he and the army leaders were badly treated by the Cabinet, he was aware of the fragile state of the new Free State Government. He did not desert his party; he remained a full-time politician and at times an impecunious one until the end of his career in 1961.
During his entire political career he avoided discussing the revolutionary period in public and he refused to review books and other publications which bore on the revolutionary times. His view was that we had enough problems in post-Treaty Ireland without becoming involved in such controversial issues.
He was rational in his attitude to national affairs and he was a realist in terms of what we could or needed to achieve. In conversation with him he said he had no squabble with the English people; his only objection was to the Tory Party and some of its leaders who over so many years were opposed to Irish self-rule and failed to understand Ireland’s unique culture and traditions
In the summer of 1921 during the Truce he was asked in the Dáil to second Seán McEoin’s nomination of Dev as President of the Republic. When I asked him how this was consistent with his support of the Treaty, he answered that they had little insight during the War of Independence into the future standing of the country in relation to Britain. He explained his reasons for his support of the Treaty. His only wish was that we might be allowed to run our own country. He had no interest in the symbolism of the Crown, the Northern counties had by then been established before the Treaty by the Government of Ireland Act, and a republic would have worsened the division between South and North, as indeed had the effect of the Civil War. He did not think the agreement about the three ports was important.
These were the conditions which induced the IRA dissidents to fight the Civil War - the rhetoric of the Republic, the Crown, the ports and the implacable opposition to the earlier and firmly established Northern settlement; and these were the circumstances leading to the rejection of the Treaty by De Valera whose political leadership was vital but who would not accept a settlement which gave Ireland the freedom to run its own affairs, a settlement which satisfied the desires of the great majority of our citizens. And no doubt Mulcahy must have been influenced, like so many others, by the joyful reception the news of the Treaty settlement received from the public, the media and the outside world.
Dad’s modesty was at times a source of irritation to his family and close friends such as his refusal to defend himself against his critics during his active political career, his refusal to attend the ceremony to commemorate the Ashbourne affair in 1955, his tributes to Beaslai and other authors who paid little or no attention to GHQ and its chief in their writings of the revolution, his decision to forego the role of Taoiseach in 1948 and to welcome Jack Costello in his place, and to forego the more prestigious ministries for that of education in the two Inter-Party governments because of his interest in the Irish language and in Irish culture, interests shared by few of his colleagues in government.
He was by nature a backroom boy, private and unostentatious during his public life. However, he was not slow to adopt a vigorous response if his role in politics during his active years was threatened, such as his demand to be readmitted to the Cabinet before the 1927 election, a demand opposed by Cosgrave but supported strongly by the Party, and his Herculean success in restoring the fortunes of Fine Gael which was in serious decline in 1944 when he replaced Cosgrave as head of the Party. He was remarkable in cobbling together the five different parties, as different as chalk and cheese in terms of policies, to bring about the defeat of the de Valera Party in 1948 and spawning the first Inter-party government. Again, as head of Fine Gael he fought a vigorous and successful campaign in the late 1950s to defeat de Valera’s attempt to abolish proportional representation.
As a soldier he had a commitment to political authority. At times I thought he showed an excessive loyalty to his superiors, such as Cathal Brugha during the Truce when the latter ignored the Chief of Staff in two important matters of protocol. When I questioned him about these issues, he replied that he was concerned a conflict about their differences might have endangered the fragile Truce which existed at the time.
Costello in 1949 announced our departure from the Commonwealth without discussion with my father, who as head of Fine Gael was fully committed to the Commonwealth as a matter of party policy. I did not question him on this at the time but I expect he was aware of the very fragile nature of the inter-party government existing with only a few deputies for its survival and with some of the more republican members of the government breathing down his Civil War neck.
|de Valera and RM in later years|
The decision by the cabinet to execute the four prisoners in November 1922 was his decision. It was highly controversial but was based on Lynch and de Valera’s policy of shooting Dáil deputies and senators and destroying the thin structure of the new state. His resignation at the time of the Mutiny was based on the prevention of a recrudescence of the Civil War. His willingness to forego the role of Taoiseach in 1948 was to prevent the re-election of de Valera
I have already referred to his early interest in Irish and Irish culture learned in his ‘’university’’, the house of Siobhán an tSagairt in Ballingeary in the heart of the West Cork Gaelteach. In 1925, when he was relegated to the back benches, he was appointed unpaid Chairman of the Gaelteacht Commission and provided a comprehensive report by 1927, in double quick time.
My father was still alive, and living in the mundane political world of post-Treaty Ireland with its chronic problems of recession and reconstruction, made worse by the bitter political divisions and the vandalism of the Civil War. His reputation slowly atrophied as he faced the problems of the Truce and the Civil War and as his admirers and those contemporaries who thought so highly of him gradually parted the scene. After 1924, his reputation began to yield to the influence of the commonplace. He himself, because of his tendency to self effacement, his lack of political mystique and personal ambition, and his inability to have recourse to the devices that make a politician popular with the crowd, was at least partly responsible for his own declining reputation. Despite his undoubted ability as an organiser and his life-long commitment to self education, he devoted his whole life to politics, mostly as on opposition deputy, and lived for years on the paltry income of a deputy’s salary and a small army pension. Despite an improvement in his fortunes when ministerial pensions were introduced after the War, he died with just enough capital to pay for his own and, later, his wife’s burial.
It is said that the true revolutionary is one who succeeds in achieving freedom and who subsequently devotes his life to the well-being of his country. Apropos of this maxim, Maryann Valiulis published the first biography of my father in 1992. It received several reviews. The following are contrasting excerpts from two of the reviewer.
Her book concentrates almost entirely on the ’20s which is just as well as Dick’s career was one of those which peaked early and dragged along rather boringly thereafter.
It was he with his close friend Michael Hayes, who did most to establish the dignity and authority of Dáil Eireann from 1923 to 1933. He gave the impression of having more respect for Dáil Eireann than any other of its members and he used it to considerable extent during the long years of his membership. (Professor Michael Hayes was chairman of the Dáil from 1922 to 1932 and retired in 1933)
My father had a quiet but deep devotion to his religion, never missing his 7.0 clock mass in the Church of the Immaculate Conception across the road from Lissenfield. He enjoyed the ceremony of Benediction on the odd evening with the priests close to Palmerston Park and twice a year he would spend a weekend with the Jesuits in Milltown for a retreat and for quiet prayer and contemplation.
His devotion to religion was combined with a complete tolerance and understanding of those of other persuasions. This is noted by Maryann in her biography (page 239) when she quoted his statement as minister for education at the Limerick Holy Year Exhibition in 1950:
Now that we have achieved freedom for ourselves, for our spiritual values and for our native way of life, we know too, and we are glad, that we have great tolerance and that we respect and would always safeguard the religious beliefs of those who differ from the majority.
It was his determination that the army must remain the servant of parliament and a guarantor of democracy. It was his commitment that, under the difficult circumstances of insurgency and the later civil war, the army must maintain the ethical standards governed by the rules of international warfare. It was his action at the time of the Army Mutiny and during the first difficult ten years of the Irish Free State to do all in his power to prevent the government being de-stabilised by inner as well as outer forces. Dad fought the civil war to uphold the principle of majority rule and affirm the right of the people to choose a government that would carry out their will. He would not, two years later, repudiate those principles for personal ambition or power. The resignation of my father and his generals upheld and affirmed the supremacy of the constitutional rule in Ireland, finally and firmly deciding the question of who would rule the Free State
What was most striking to me about my father was his self-effacement in terms of advancing praise to others and in diminishing his own role during his long military and political career. His praise of Collins, his tributes to Béaslaí despite Béaslaí’s sparse reference to GHQ in the Collins biography, his eloquent address at Béaslaí’s funeral, his life-time loyalty to Cosgrave and his Party despite being forced to retire as minister of defence in 1924 and Cosgrave’s reluctance to have him in his cabinet in 1927, his decision to forego his right to lead the government during the two inter-party governments, his choice of the Education Department in the cabinet, situated in Marlborough Street far from the corridors of power in Leinster House, when he had the choice of all other departments. and finally his open support of Alfie Byrne, Lord Mayor of Dublin, in the Dublin North-East constituency in the 1943 election which lead to his own defeat and his removal after 25 years from the Dublin constituency to South Tipperary for the rest of his political career.
|Army bands 1,2 & 3, 1929|
His memorial, the Richard Mulcahy Park, is on an 11-acre site in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary where he had been a Dáil deputy for his latter years. It was presented to the town by the family and friends with the support of the Local Town Council. His is buried with my mother in his father’s grave at Horse and Jockey in Tipperary..
(1) Richard Mulcahy and the Founding of the Irish Free State. Maryann Gialanella Valiulis. the Irish Academic Press, 1992. pp 283
(2) Almost a Rebellion, the Irish Army Mutiny of 1924. Maryann Gialanella Valiulis, Tower Books, Cork. 1985, pp 138.
(3) Richard Mulcahy (1886-1971). A Family Memoir. Risteárd Mulcahy. Aurelian Press, 1999. pp 432.
(4) My Father, the General. Risteárd Mulcahy. Liberties Press, 2010, G.H.Q. and Richard Mulcahy in the War of Independence.
(5) Pat Taaffe. The Irish Sword, Vol 29, 2013, pp 201-217.
Postscript: To return to the role of Ian Graham in stimulating my response with this essay, he read the final copy and among his comments about my father he said
Generosity of spirit combined with loyalty and a total inability to entertain envy or jealousy- perhaps excessive at times. Collins's self absorption seems in stark contrast. Supposing your Dad had been shot and Collins gave the oration. I think that it might have been very different.
As well as his military involvement during the post-1916 period, Collins played a leading role on the political side, unlike my father whose political linvolvement in the early years was much less important. In responding to Ian’s comment I believe that Collins’s greatness would have been acknowledged even if he had survived, however unkind survival might have been under the difficult and bitter circumstances of the early years of the Free State.