Friday, 25 April 2014

Dancing with Dinosaurs – a spirituality for the twenty-first century

Dancing with Dinosaurs – a spirituality for the twenty-first century. Mark Patrick Hederman, the St. Columba Press, Dublin. 2011. pp 100.

This review was first written on October 1st 2011.

This is Mark Patrick Hederman’s ninth book, all in the last ten years or so and all in my own library. There is an introduction and five chapters.

To-day we have invented our own dinosaurs. Churches, banks and internationals are some of the modern breed of dinosaurs. Small may be beautiful but in the world in which we live it is not very durable. Unless any organisation becomes a dinosaur it will not survive the vicissitudes of history

Modern Hong Kong 
The first chapter of 18 pages deals with the history of the dinosaurs, the author’s concept of modern dinosaurs and his reference to historical aspects over the last 2,000 years which are germane to the evolution of modern dinosaur equivalents

The second chapter of 12 pages begins with a long quote from Snake by D.H. Lawrence and this is followed by a detailed description of the evolution of the human brain. The quote from Snake had to do, I think, with the gradual separation of humanity from the beasts. To those without some knowledge of medicine, of anatomy and physiology his concept of the brain will require a deal of concentration. To me his reference is a confirmation of the Darwinian proposal about the survival of the fittest and the continued progress of science in increasing knowledge of this life.  Despite his faith in the Holy Spirit as an integral part of the Trinity, I find it hard to accept on the current evidence that there is a different world than the one we live in. For me evidence is the keystone of conviction.

As far back as 13,000 years before Christ there was evidence of belief in the next world among the Hindus in India and the far eastern areas of Asia, and later among Buddhism 500 years before Christ. Judaism was first recorded about 1000 years before Christ, while Christianity was established 2000 years ago and the Muslim faith in the 7th century A.D. These beliefs are all with us to-day.

Most beliefs now include a bewildering number of sects which at times can be in clear conflict with each other in theological and secular matters. No doubt a belief in God and another world existed before these early years but it was the evolution of the written word which accounts for our record of past religions. And yet there are others, like the author of this essay, who firmly believes in the power and the ubiquity of the Holy Spirit and in the Trinity.

Chapter three of 36 pages, The Church as Dinosaur, is the kernel of the book and provides the greatest challenge to the reader, including to myself. The author goes in some detail into the history of Christianity during the two millennia and particularly of the Roman Catholic Church before and after the break with the Orthodox Church in the 11th century and the later Protestant upheaval in the 16th Century

It was not until the early 4th Century that Christianity was legalised by Constantine and later in that century it was declared the state religion of Europe marking not only the further spread of Christianity but also the beginning of the political power of the Church, particularly after the break with the Orthodox Church. Rome remained the head of the Catholic Church and was to remain not only a great spiritual influence in Europe but also an increasingly powerful political force with its extensive territory and military support, at least until the late 19th century when it was deprived of power by the Italian Government.

The slow advance of   Christianity during its first few hundred years was in striking contrast with the very rapid advance of   Islam which within a generation or two had spread widely along the eastern and southern coasts of the Mediterranean and deep into the western lands of Asia.  The slow extension of Christianity might possibly be one factor which is consistent with our doubts about the authenticity of Christ and his miraculous appearance on earth.

It is clear from Mark Hederman’s narrative that Christianity continued to evolve in terms of beliefs and dogma during its entire history with the support of Rome and its leaders. If Christians proclaim to have the one unique truth, one might ask why have so many sects worldwide  spawned, particularly in America and in Europe, and why has the Catholic Church needed so many additional opinions and emendations during the centuries?

The belief in God and a hereafter is widespread throughout the world. The Jews, the Buddhists, the
 Hindus, the Muslims and the Christians are only some of the religions which share a belief in God and the next world. It is apparent that we cannot accept in its finality our departure from this earthly existence although the question of our existence before being born to this world is never raised.  Was the creation of the soul a first and spontaneous event that is designed to continue ad infinitum?

Christianity may have some historic basis for the virgin birth, the incarnation, resurrection  and the miracles attributed to Christ but the evidence would hardly stand up to the very strict criteria  of scientists, statisticians and most historians nowadays.  Nor do these claims impress most Christians if we are to judge by the little impact many have on religious observance. The stated miracles claimed in later years hardly stand up to serious scrutiny. I might change my mind on the latter issue if somebody lost a leg and the exact same limb was to reappear and be functionally normal a few weeks later. 

I believe we have more than enough problems in trying to understand the world we are living in. When did it start and when is it likely to finish? And how big is it in terms of space and its trillions of stars and planets, all continuing to increase in numbers as we develop more efficient spectroscopes. It is likely that we shall never understand the world’s limitations of space, content and time. If there are limitations of time and space, what exists beyond? Is it possible that scientific progress will continue until Homo sapiens have learnt all there is to learn? Might this be our concept of Heaven?

The theists say that our ignorance and our dilemmas about the nature of life are surely evidence of God and another world. Would not such an additional world require the same enquiry and the same understanding? Of course it depends on what we mean by God. God may simply be the totality of knowledge or the totality of existing space but these concepts are beyond our understanding.

One wonders about the author’s views about the history of Christianity and the many social, political and theological changes which have taken place over these many centuries.  In the short introduction he states that his task is to clarify the landscape between this world and the next.

Others have the job of explaining everything else that exists. Mine is simple and straightforward and how we relate to God.’’

I believe that Mark Hederman’s most significant comment may have been expressed on television when he advised us to 'keep in direct contact with God.’ Does he circumvent the problem of the Vatican and the more secular aspects of Catholicism when he speaks directly to God? Perhaps he assumes it was unnecessary for the faithful to be reminded of the Holy See in the affairs of our spiritual world. To the doubting Thomas’s, one might ask need we accept the many changing theological and secular policies imposed on the faithful by the Church over these many centuries.

His subject of linking the real world around us with his deep spirituality might not be easily understood by the less enlightened laity, although I do respect the sincerity of his faith and profess high admiration for his scholarship and for his analytical mind.

Science does not deal with belief. It deals with things that you can prove. And since we cannot disprove the existence of God, the question of whether or not a person believes in God is surely a personal matter. I daresay that the gradual loss of religion, or at least religious observation, during the last two or three centuries can be correlated with the improvement in the education of the masses and not necessarily with reduced personal and moral behaviour

We have no prospect of solving the nature of God or to understand the next world if it exists. Why all this fuss about dogmatic formulations on God’s nature? It seems to me that God should be simply interested in our moral actions and intentions. I suspect that the author’s view of religion reflects the great mystery of God and that much of the secular changes which have been introduced by the Church have little relevance to his spirituality nor to my fate

My own view about God and the next world is clear. I am an atheist. I believe that God’s advice about human behaviour was crystallised by the Stoics and their secular philosophy a few centuries before the time of Christ. It was based on humility, love and forgiveness. And surely those who profess no religion and who may not believe in a next world do not differ in their morals and in their behaviour from those of the religious. Indeed some of the worst forms of bigotry, cruelty and destructive behaviour have been committed over the centuries in the context of religion. Is our concept of God and His goodness as evoked by the Church consistent with the extermination of the Cathars in Languedoc, the fanaticism of the Crusades and the horrors of the Inquisition? And the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick 1 forcibly converting the Eastern Orthodox Slavs to Roman Catholicism?

The progress of science is inexorable. If humanity survives the rapid destruction of the planet’s environment, on which we, together with all living beings, depend for our existence, we may reach a state of full knowledge and wisdom, a state perhaps not unlike our concept of Heaven.  But I have little hope in the meantime of avoiding nemesis.

James Lovelock, world environmentalist and leader in the earth sciences, spoke to a packed audience at University College Dublin about four years ago when the world population was just reaching 7 billion (it was 2.5 billion in 1950). He was asked to guess the likely population of the world in the year 2100. He proferred the figure of one billion. He may have been right but he may have been over-optimistic. Can humanity survive another hundred years with the rapid deterioration of the environment on which we depend, a deterioration which is accelerating in its course and with our population approaching 8 billion in another decade? I hardly think so with our politicians’ fixation on our standard of living, with an electorate spurred on by the same philosophy and with the constant shadow of the nuclear bomb.

Graveyard of airplanes
Our immediate survival requires more than the current cosmetic solutions advocated, even by to-day’s most radical environmentalists. It requires dramatic interventions such as the banning of the private car, stopping unnecessary national and international travel, reducing the huge use of energy by the population and the manufacturing industries, a return to community living and, above all, drastic population control. These and other necessary drastic measures are, of course, not likely to be adopted by a complacent public nor by their leaders and political representatives.

The great Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov defined health as a state of being in equilibrium with Nature. Certainly, we are dependent on harmony with Nature, a fact which should compel current generations to avoid nemesis by ensuring that we care for our natural surroundings as assiduously as we care for ourselves. Humanity’s current obsession with material acquisitions, its gross neglect of our natural surroundings on which we depend on our welfare and survival, its waste of Nature’s limited resources added, above all, to its burgeoning human population, does not bode well for our immediate future.

Going up or down Sir?
Human equivalents may, of course, be present in other planets. It may not seem likely but we now know that there are billions of solar systems in the world and that each of these has billions of stars and planets. There may be no end to other planets, some of which may have the same physical features of our earth such as water, oxygen and appropriate temperature. Some may be inhabited by equivalents of Homo sapiens. Hopefully they will have a better insight into their relationship with the environment than we can claim on Earth.

Friday, 18 April 2014

The Conflict on the Irish Railways 1922 - 1923

In Time of Civil War – the Conflict on the Irish Railways 1922-1923, Bernard Share. 2006, pp 152.

This review was written on March 10th 2011

This book attracted my attention in the RDS Library because of the numerous photographs of the destruction of the trains and railways by the anti-Treaty irregulars during the Civil War. The photos illustrate the widespread destruction of the engines, stations, signal boxes, bridges and permanent way. Apart from a few incidents before the start of the Civil War in late June 1922 and after the ceasefire in May 1923, the major damage to the railways was caused during the eleven months of the War itself.

The introduction provides a detailed account of the Irish railways from their foundation in the first half of the 19th century (the first was the Dublin-Kingstown railway in 1831). By the start of the Great War in 1914 the country had developed a huge network of railways eventually extending to more than 3,000 miles of track. There were many branch lines, some to relatively remote parts of the country, and some of these were carried on narrow gauge tracks. They extended to such isolated places as Schull, Dingle, Ballybunion, Achill and Killala. There were 46 railway companies for 32,000 square miles and 4.5 million people. Some of these companies existed without ever laying a mile of track. They must have been aided and abetted by the influence of William Martin Murphy who built the first tramway system in Dublin and led the spread of electric tramways and railways locally, in Britain and internationally.

Before the Civil War the railway companies faced many problems including staff, coal, shipping and transport strikes, government intervention during the Great War and the local upheaval of the War of Independence where railway workers occasionally refused to carry British soldiers and military equipment on the trains. Chronic financial problems were the rule rather than the exception. How they then survived the widespread destruction which was endemic during the year of civil strife is entirely due to the Trojan work of the railway workers and the Free State’s national army’s Railway Protection, Repair and Maintenance Corps. 

Soldiers repair the Fota viaduct
From early April 1922, three months before the Civil War started, there were several incidents of interruption on trains and robberies but the serious damage to train and track did not commence until the War commenced officially at the end of June. From this time there were numerous atrocities leading to serious damage to engines, trucks and carriages, permanent way, railway buildings and signal boxes, not to mention the destruction of railway and road bridges. The 63 photographs provide a vivid picture of the damage and destruction which occurred and one can easily imagine the inconvenience and disturbance caused to the people and the administration of the country

The Civil War started in June 1922 with the attack by the Free State army on the Four Courts which were occupied since April by the irregulars led by implacable Republicans Rory O’Connor and Liam Mellows. It ended with the dumping of arms by Frank Aiken who had replaced Liam Lynch who led the irregulars during the War. Lynch was at the time of his death in action in April 1923 a lonely figure, a fugitive in the Knockmealdowns with only a few loyal comrades. He was convinced to the very end that he would win the war for the republic. Lynch, whom my father as chief of staff during the War of Independence thought was the outstanding guerrilla leader of the South, was a devoted and loyal patriot who threw his life away in seeking the impossible, the chimera of a republic without the symbolism of the Crown.

Liam Lynch memorial round tower.
In fact, the War in its literal sense had ended by September 1922 after all the major cities and towns, and most of the countryside was taken over by Free State troops. From September the country was fully in the hands of the government and the irregulars, as the anti-Treaty IRA were called, were reduced to isolated groups with little  population’s support, so important for the National Army  during the War of Independence. The Civil War had by the end of September degenerated into a poorly organised and inchoate group of stragglers whose main activity was to indulge in vandalism, arson and not a little criminality.  And despite the loss of the more formal and military structure of the early irregulars, the conflict was to continue for many more months because of the refusal of its leader, Liam Lynch, to recognise that the Treaty had been accepted by the great majority of Irish people and despite the failure of the politidal leaders who supported the irregualars to intervene to stop the War when it was obviously lost.

This book and its extraordinary collection of photos of the destruction done to the railways says it all about the futility of violence against majority rule and the  baleful effect that even the most patriotic and inspiring of men can have when passion can distort a sense of realism.

The great bulk of the book, pages 17 to 141, covers the diary of events from April 1 1922 to May 31 1923. The Trojan work of the railway workers and the Railway Protection, Repair and Maintenance Corps ensured that the rail system did work despite numerous difficulties, delays and serious damage to equipment and track. Bridge destruction was a favoured activity of the irregulars but their repair, often of a temporary nature, was generally dealt with quickly and armoured trains were soon in action during such repair work. Much of the national army’s work must have been devoted in the later months of the War to protecting the railways and dealing quickly with damage to trains, permanent way, bridges, stations, signals and signal boxes.    

The most notorious outrage was the destruction of the Mallow viaduct over the Blackwater River on the 9th of August 1922 which was part of the republican intention to isolate Cork from Dublin but the arrival of troops by two ships from Dublin captured Cork and surroundings towns and put paid to these plans.

The Mallow viaduct was to remain out of action until October 1923, five months after the end of the Civil War. When restored, the first train drawn by 4-6-0 Loco no 405 carried the President of the Executive Council, William T. Cosgrave, across the newly restored viaduct.

-----while a party of national soldiers drawn up on the railway track came to the salute ---- the train passed over the new bridge, severing the tricolour ribbons which had been stretched across the track. The symbolism was apparent for the railways. The closing of the rift between Mallow North and Mallow South signalling that for them the war was well and truly over. The more debilitating rift in the national psyche would be a matter for another day.

The Railways Act was passed by the Dáil in 1924. It brought together all the railways in the 26 Counties, probably under government control although this is not clear in the text. (except the Listowel and Ballybunion Railway which was deemed to be so damaged during the Civil War that it was beyond repair), This government decision was to lead in the next forty years to a gradual reduction in the extent of the railway system, including the eventual closure of all the branch and narrow gauge lines.

My enduring reaction to this book was a sense of shame and of sadness that Irish patriots, some of whom had played a noble part in the War of Independence, took part in or at least tolerated such wanton destruction to the fabric of our country, who harmed the lives and property of its many citizens and who caused such damage to our reputation abroad. To the Land of Saints and Scholars, to the recent march and wonders of the Celtic Revival, it was a bitter blow.

Friday, 11 April 2014

The secret life of words

The Secret Life of Words – How English became English, Henry Hitchings. John Murray, London, 2008. pp 440.

This review was written on February 3rd 2009

I have been interested for some years in the origin of English words and in particular in the origin of medical terms which are largely derived from Greek and Latin. The prefixes of such words are often derived from Latin while the suffixes are commonly of Greek origin, but this is not by any means a strict rule. Diarmuid O’Muirithe, who writes the short articles in The Irish Times, Words we Use, was my first reminder of Hitchings’ book on the origins of the English language.

This is an account of the progression of the English language from pre-Christian times to the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons, the Jutes and the Frisians from northern Europe in the early post-Christian period and then to further invasions over the centuries.  The progression of the English language is traced by the country’s history, by the many invasions over the centuries, the political and commercial contacts with other countries in Europe and further afield, and the later spread of England’s hegemony over the world from the later 18th to the 20th century. The English abroad, whether as travellers, traders or for waging war, such as the crusades, were also to add new words to their language.

The most palpable effect on English was the arrival of the Saxons and the Angles from Northern Europe in the middle of the 5th century. The Saxons invaded the South of England while the Angles occupied its east coast. Contemporary place names leave a mark of these invasions to this very day.

Hitchings describes some of the many thousands of words which were borrowed over the centuries. (There is a list of more than 3,000 of such words in the appendix.) Most borrowed words remain in the language but some were later discarded. Indeed, most of our words to-day are borrowed words which were acquired aver the two millennia. After the 5th century the greatest borrowings were from the Normans who appeared in the early second millennium, with their rich scattering of French words, an accretion which was to continue for a few centuries. . But the early northern European invasion by the Anglo-Saxons and others provided the first clear basis for our language and the later Vikings towards the end of the first, millennium provided a further large shaft of words, particularly to the coastal areas of the island.

Ireland and the Celts provided few words to the English tongue, perhaps because we were isolated from the larger island in terms of language and custom, and because the Normans and English did all to discourage the use of Irish. It was never used by the English administration here. One might well ask why the Norman prefix Fitz has survived extensively in Ireland while it is clearly less common in England. Indeed, in another aside, one wonders how the Celtic languages on the Atlantic coast strip of Europe and the British Isles survived with little influence on neighbouring languages and with no great effect on its own tongue. It seems bizarre that a language so different from English and French  has survived although the Celtic languages may now be suffering from the more widespread adoption of English as the greatest means of international communication.

All greek to you?
The Normans were the first to bring surnames into use and many of these were based on occupation. The influence of French was to have a particular dominance on the professions such as law, medicine, government and the more elitist occupations and institutions

It is a generalisation that words of Northern European and Germanic origin tend to be short with one or two syllables while Norman/French words tend to be longer. There are many reminders about English words derived from French, such as the diminutive et at the end of words such as booklet and hamlet. Unlike some modern countries, England never discouraged the acquisition of new words, even some of the bizarre words of Asia and Africa.

Language is never just language
The author refers to the early writers of English before the introduction of the printing press.  Chaucer, who wrote a great deal more than The Canterbury Tales, was one of the first to write in the vernacular about ordinary things for ordinary people. He set a trend which at first did not receive the approval of the elite who preferred French and the church which preferred Latin. It was apparently the influence of King John and Henry 1V that eventually induced the elite and parliament to adopt the vernacular.

The huge amalgam of words which is now modern English is a source of knowledge, inspiration and vitality. The language must animate thought, inventiveness and originality which may well account for the dominance over the centuries of the English speaking world in science, commerce and the professions. Such a richly endowed language must be empowering.

The Elizabethan period in England was in many ways the equivalent of the earlier Renaissance in Europe.  It provided a virtual cornucopia of activity in terms of writing, poetry, drama, social change, intellectual activity and the acquisition of new words (not to mention tobacco and the potato). It was at this time that many new French words, themselves often derived from Latin or Greek or both, were acquired. Shakespeare has added 1,700 new words to the literature in his writings and plays, although some of these words may have been in oral use beforehand.  However, there is substantial evidence that many of the writers before and during Elizabeth’s reign were prone to invent words, often derived from the classical languages.

Later chapters of the book deal with the influence of Latin, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, American and other ethnic groups on the English language, and we are provided with an absorbing background account of the international relationships established by the English over the centuries with these many countries. Hitchins book is essential reading for students of English. It is our most comprehensive and encyclopaedic language and it is not unlikely that it will prove to be the universal language of a globalised world. With its huge lexicon gathered over two millennia and British early leadership in science, politics and social organisation, the natural place of Henry Hitching’s work is in the library beside the dictionary, Fowler’s, books of synonyms and  antonyms, and all the many  books of reference in English available in our libraries.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

A "compound disaster".

The deaths of Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins.

This article was written for the Irish Medical News, August 18th 1997.

Both Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins died 75 years ago this month.  Prof Risteard Mulcahy looks at the medical aspects of their untimely deaths.

In his historical note about St Vincent’s Hospital, “The first hospital owned and directed by women,” (Irish Medical News, 3/3’97), Dr Charlie Meenan refers to Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins.

Arthur Griffith
Arthur Griffith founder of Sinn Fein and President of the Dail from the ratification of the Treaty in January 1922 to his death on August 12, 1922, died in St Vincent’s Hospital.  Michael Collins was appointed Chairman of the Provisional Government following the Treaty ratification, and therefore was de jure head of State.  He was Commander-in-Chief of the army (as head of state) from July 13, 1922, to his death on August 22.  He was killed in Cork and, because of the interruption of rail and road services by the irregulars, his body was brought to the North Wall by boat and transferred by gun carriage to St Vincent’s Hospital, where it arrived in the early morning of August 24, 1922.

Both men died at the height of the Civil War and their deaths were described by my father, Richard Mulcahy, who was Minister of Defence and Chief of Staff at the time, as the ultimate tragedy for the emerging young State, a tragedy that underlined what he described as the “compound disaster” of the Civil War.

Speculation on the cause of Griffith's death.
Griffith’s death was attributed by some people at the time to a broken heart, but, with a little more realism, it was generally accepted that he had died from a stroke.  However, the diagnosis entered on the death certificate was a subarachnoid haemorrhage.  He was cared for in the private wing of St Vincent’s Hospital at 96 Lower Leeson Street, by Oliver St John Gogarty, who signed the death certificate.  There is no record of a post-mortem examination.

I always had reservations about the cause of Griffith’s death.  The circumstances were more suggestive of ventricular fibrillation and coronary heart disease.  It occurred after he was admitted to the hospital for treatment, Padraig Colum, in his biography of Griffith (Arthur Griffith, Browne and Nolan, Dublin 1959 – p 373) writes that Dr Gogarty admitted him because of insomnia and “an imperceptible stroke”.  However, there was no evidence of a neurological deficit while he was in hospital.  He was mobile at the time, visiting his office every day, and about to be discharged when it is recorded that he collapsed in the nursing home. Kathleen Galvin, who was a nurse there at the time, informed me that his death was instantaneous.

“On the day of his death he was out on the corridor and he appeared to bend down to tie his shoe lace and he collapsed.  There was general panic but nothing could be done for him.”

After his collapse, he was seen immediately by Dr Jim Magennis and Mr Harry Meade, who had been finishing an operation in the private theatre.  A few minutes later, St John Gogarty arrived, but Griffith was pronounced dead as soon as doctors got to his side.

Michael Collins and Richard Mulcahy at Griffith's funeral
Sudden death is rare in stroke or subarachnoid haemorrhage, and in the latter case, a severe headache usually precedes unconsciousness.  Nor is there any record that he showed any neurological deficit before his unexpected end, except for Gogarty\s rather tentative diagnosis before admission. In the early years of the century, and as late as the last world war, it was common to classify sudden unexpected death from a heart attack as a stroke.  In fact, this misclassification remained a feature in Eastern European countries until quite recently.  The role of ventricular fibrillation as a major cause of sudden death and its association with underlying coronary heart disease was not understood until the work of Lown and others in the United States in the late 1950s and early 1960s. (And with later research confirming its close association with cigarette smoking)

The fact that Griffith may have been a cigarette smoker is another circumstance that might support a diagnosis of death from coronary heart disease.  At a reception in his honour in the Mansion House in March 1921, de Valera presented him with a fountain pen and “a smoking cabinet or jacket.”

Michael Collins died towards the end of the engagement at Béal na Bláth.  Because of testimony at the time, it was believed that he was killed by a bullet fired by the irregulars which ricocheted off the armoured car or off the road before it entered his head.  However, occasional suggestions have been made that he was shot by one of his own men, but the circumstances of his death makes such a possibility highly unlikely and the information about his head wound would strongly support the view that a ricochet bullet was the cause.

He was laid out in 58 St Stephen’s Green, a private wing of St Vincent’s Hospital. According to Fletcher of the Department of Anatomy at UCD, a post-mortem examination was carried out by Jimmy Redditch, the head porter at the Anatomy Department of the Royal College of Surgeons, with St John Gogarty in attendance.  However, it is likely that the procedure was confined to a superficial examination of the head wound and to preparing the remains for embalming and the lying in state at the City Hall.

Fletcher told me that the embalming fluid used was formalin and that eosin was added to retain a pink colour in the face.  This would be confirmed by Lavery’s painting of the dead Collins, which shows him with normal lifelike colouration. Perhaps Calton Younger, in his Ireland’s Civil War (Muller, London 1968 – p435) is correct when he states that no post-mortem was carried out.  Unfortunately, despite enquiries with the College more than 40 years ago, I was unable to obtain any record of the examination, nor was such information available from the hospital.

Beaslai, in his biography of Collins (Michael Collins and the making of a new Ireland, Phoenix, Dublin, 1926 – p437) quotes Emmet Dalton, who was with Collins when he was killed.  “There was a fearful gaping wound at the base of the skull behind the right ear’’ Carlton Younger writes that the body was examined by a Dr Leo Aherne in Cork who, like Dr Gogarty later, was sure that the wound was caused either by a ricochet or a spent bullet.

Ulick O’Connor in his Oliver St John Gogarty (Mandarin, London 1990) writes of Gogarty: “With fine skill he was able to hide the gaping wound in the back of the head.”  The photograph in Younger’s book of Collins’ body lying on a bed in Cork with a wide white bandage around his head was consistent with his having an extensive head wound.  These facts are recounted to support the widely expressed view that he was killed by a ricochet bullet and not as the unsubstantiated and bizarre opinion of a few anti-Treaty commentators who suggested that Collins was killed by one of his own men.  The circumstantial, strategic and medical evidence clearly contradicts such a possibility.

Kathleen Galvin, who was acting night matron on the morning of August 24, gave me a most poignant account when I was a young consultant there in 1950 of the arrival of the Collins horse-drawn gun carriage.  The remains arrived at the North Wall very early.  She described the moment – about four in the morning, and shortly after rain had fallen, with the cobblestones glistening in the early light – when the gun carriage appeared and moved slowly from the Shelbourne Hotel to the hospital steps, preceded by a makeshift army band playing the moving and evocative Scottish dirge “The flowers of the forest.”  She talked about the emotional turmoil of that moment and of the intense sadness of the scene.

St. Vincent's staff watch as Collins' body is taken away.
I also had a description from Kathleen of Kitty Kiernan’s arrival later in the day.  She was very close to Collins and was probably expected to marry him. She was dressed in a dark grey suit and a white hat.  She was swooning and behaving in a most dramatic way” before she laid a lily on the coffin and then sat beside it for a prolonged period in a trance.