Sunday, 25 October 2015

Wake up, smell the flowers, they might not be around for long.

The Irish Times, Sustainability and the future of Mankind

The Irish Times, in an editorial on the 1/4/2014, called for action on climate change.  This is not the first time the newspaper alluded to this subject nor were the views of its correspondents and contributors over years any different.  However, the newspaper fails to allude to or advise about the real solutions to environmental and population problems.  It underlines the threat but it provides no practical means of a solution.  The editorial was critical of our government for its lack of action in dealing with matters which were a threat to the environment and to the future of humanity but our government is no different from the shortcomings of other world governments.

The Irish Times at least has the distinction that it shows concern for the future of the planet and humanity unlike our other leading newspapers who show little interest or sense of balance in the subject. The same may be said about the leading British papers. No papers, British or Irish, including the Irish Times, give any attention to human population which has increased threefold during the last 70 years, a trend which shows no slowing or stopping. Currently, according to the WHO and other sources  the number of births among humans exceeds deaths by 80 million annually. Added to the excessive birth rate we have the remarkable and progressive increase in human longevity over the past hundred years. There is no any evidence that this increase shows any tendency to slow or reverse. Since 1980 to 2012, over a period of 32 years in the UK, male longevity has increased from 71 to 79.5 years and female longevity has increased from 77 to 83.2. This is confirmed by a WHO report. The Irish figures are similar to those of the British. Increasing longevity exists worldwide and adds to the effects of the excesss of births over death.

Sustainability is the magic word of the politicians and most environmentalists who claim to be concerned about the ecology and the threat to Nature.  Sustainability I presume refers to the earth’s natural resources which maintain the health and wellbeing of nature in its widest sense but sustainability has its limitations and the politicians have little insight into the real threat facing humanity and our living world.  I quote from the Worldwatch Institute in 2013 about this magic word, sustainability, used by the politicians which has

“…lost its meaning and impact.  Worse, its frequent and inappropriate use lulls us into the dreamy belief that all of us – everything we do, everything we buy, everything we use – are able to go on forever, world without end, amen.”

The failure to achieve any worthwhile progress in protecting Nature and humanity during the many government summits during the last 30 years or more is too obvious and no doubt the same results will prevail following the next United Nations meeting fixed for France next year.  And those of us who have been trained in epidemiology, in the study of human and natural trends in the world, must know that the continued expansion in the human population and its rapid depletion of nature’s resources are leading to a disaster which is proceeding more rapidly than we realise.  Our politicians and many of our organisations devoted to the environment and to the welfare of humanity fail to provide solutions which might save us from disaster.  Nor does the public seem overly concerned.  The solutions occasionally put forward for change are far removed from the fundamental problems which are at the basis of the immediate threat to Nature and humanity, and these problems need to be dealt with radically and promptly if we are to survive the current crisis.

There should be a prohibition of unnecessary travel by private car, plane and rail as long as they depend on fossil fuels.  Energy in the form of domestic and public heating must be curbed by means of clothing or other forms of protection and energy must be sought from renewable sources only and for this we need sun, wind and water.  Progress in these areas will not be easy but it is not beyond our ability to achieve solutions if our commitment is strong.  We already have wind and water power and some solar power in the use of fridges, lights, phones and heating devices.

We must revert to community living and we must provide our food as much as possible from our immediate surroundings.  The vegetable and fruit allotments will be as essential to us as the very houses we live in.  Household gardens which are currently non-productive can be sources of food production. So can wasteland. Rainwater can be used and utilised to a much greater extent as a response to our current water extravagance.  Surely every house in the country should have a butt to collect rainwater.   Big reductions in water can be achieved by good husbandry in the home and the office and by commercial organisations.  The water tax should be imposed and should be applied to all except under very unusual circumstances.

people per km2
We need to reverse the current trend of adding more to the population of our cities and towns, and reverting to community life and living in the countryside. This trend may be unavoidable because of the increasing rise of the ocean and the flooding of our coastal cities and towns.  Goods and luxuries which are widely manufactured by commercial companies and which deplete our energy sources are not necessary for our daily needs.  They should be curbed.  We also dispose of huge amounts of food in the more prosperous parts of the world, and such waste should be fully conserved for domestic and other animals.

There is failure to understand, recognise and prevent the rapid loss of plant and animal species. We have lost the elm and soon the ash will be gone unless by some miracle it is saved – a disaster to our countryside and our country. And other trees are threatened too. Minister of State Tom Hayes, in his contribution to the All Ireland meeting of politicians and silviculturists last May, had this to say

While chalara (the cause of the ash dieback) is the subject of to-day’s conference, it is taking place at a time when it seems that Ireland’s forests are under attack from a number of different sources, both biotic and abiotic. The increase in the number of new findings of phytophthora ramorum is a serious concern. Since 2012 the number of infected larch sites has increased from 16 to 30. P ramorum is an aggressive disease and is causing significant damage to Japanese larch and is also infecting Noble fir, beech and Spanish chestnut at a number of infected larch areas.

Added to this we must add the rapid loss of land and ocean ice. The ocean’s rise in level, temperature and acidity, the drying up of lakes and rivers and the rapid and critical rise in atmospheric CO2 are already upon us. CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere is a greenhouse gas and its accumulation leads to earth warming.  It has remained at the same level, under 300mgs per cent, for millions of years but recently, since 1955, when it was measured at about 330mgs, it has now reached 400mgs and it is clear that this rise continues exponentially – which presages the further gathering rise in greenhouse gases and therefore in the earth’s temperature.  The accumulation of CO2 has been largely caused by the burning of fossil fuels.  It is generally agreed by scientists that this rise can be a serious threat to the earth and its inhabitants and that at best it needs to be kept at or below a level of about 400 parts per million. 

Above all, there are too many people in the world, with a population still advancing in numbers.  Even in the most healthy and natural environment the good God gave us, it is unlikely we can survive with such numbers of humans, now about 7.2 billion.  The population in 1940 was estimated at 2.5 billion and the recent trebling is estimated to increase further at a rate of 80 million every year.  We will be close to 8 billion humans on the earth by the year 2022 or 2023.  There is no doubt that we as a species are in complete denial about our future.  Our lack of insight into our current circumstances are beyond understanding and the threat to our future should be obvious to our collective intelligence.

We might understand that those who believe in God and a better world hereafter might be less concerned about our future here on earth but the Godless at least should be cognisant of our criminal neglect of Nature and the future of our children and the natural world on which we depend for our existence. The only feasible way we can avoid Nemesis is to return to a strict community life where we avoid unnecessary luxuries and where we can, as far as it’s possible, depend solely on our own needs and without the need for continuous fossil fuel loss. Perhaps we also need keep our distance from the flora and fauna of distant and foreign lands.

We might of course find some comfort and consolation in humanity’s ability to face necessary problems with great ingenuity through the internet, particularly in terms of communication and travel reduction.  The internet might well provide the means of humanity living tolerable and even better lives.  Homo sapiens has an unlimited ability and ingenuity to respond if the need is great.  We might survive at a community level through such changes as the abolition of the private motorcar and flying, and by electronic forms of communication.  By adopting community living we can provide all capable households with allotments to grow much of their own vegetables and fruit as a routine part of domesticity and we can adopt a public policy aimed at reversing the growth of cities and towns.  There is more land in most countries for many small habitations and allotments and still leave enough land for essential crops and for forests and hedgerow trees.

John Milton, in his Paradise Lost, quotes the Angel Gabriel who said to Adam “Do not try to understand the stars”.  Was this a warning that we might destroy ourselves by our domination of the world and of Nature?  Will the excessive and expanding human population, based on humanity’s success in controlling its own destiny through medical and scientific progress and the despoiling of our natural resources, be at the basis of international political failure leading to catastrophic nuclear war?

Every international environmental and climate summit meeting during the last three decades or more has failed because politicians and international governments have been dominated and kept in power by selfish and commercially dominated interests and an indifferent and ever-demanding public.  No significant action has ever been taken by such international meetings commensurate with our knowledge of the certainty of catastrophic environmental change.  Their mantra is sustainability but this is an empty formula.  Are there still ways humanity might adapt to alter current behaviour?  We cannot sustain the planets future health if we do not maintain its limited resources.  This is the simple fact of our dilemma.

The ultimate objective of a rational society should be to live in harmony with Nature.  The great Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov defined health as a state of being in equilibrium with Nature.  Certainly the health of future generations is dependent on harmony with Nature 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, about all, to its burgeoning human population, does not bode well for our immediate future, unless we are guided and lead by our world leaders.  And who is there to lead us?

Could the next international meeting of our leaders be an opportunity for Ireland to lead the world in protecting the planet and the future of our children and children’s children by presenting the bald facts about the population explosion and the CO2 climb and its causes?

Risteárd Mulcahy, MD.

Words: 2,030 (17/7/2014)

Addendum (6.1.2015)

On January 6th 2015 a lengthy editorial ‘’An Emerging Consensus’’ appeared in the Irish Times . It is a welcome addition to the subject of climate change and the future threat to Nature and to mankind but it is still just a masterly expression of sustainability and provides no hope of a practical answer to the threat to the world as we know it. The editorial’s lack of realism can be summed up by its penultimate paragraph. When speaking of Ireland’s role as envisaged by our Minister for Energy, Alex White, the minister is quoting as saying

It was playing an active part in meeting collective EU targets and global aspirations, for reduced carbon emissions through energy efficiency, renewable energy, re-forestation, improved agricultural practices and financial support for developing countries.

I must have some doubts about the extent of the minister’s aspirations but my real concern is that the editor fails to comment on the annual 80 million increase in population in the world. We are already aware of the trebling of the human population during the last 70 years and the effects this is having on population pressures in many parts of the world, not to mention the gradual and extensive loss of flora and fauna, the destruction of which may lead to a planet uninhabitable for all living things.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Irish High Crosses

Irish High Crosses - with the figure sculptures explained. Author, Peter Harbison and published by the Boyle Valley Honey Company. 

This review was written on October 15th 2015

This attractive and informative little book written by Peter Harbison and illustrated by Hilary Gilmore was presented to me by the author at an exhibition of six of our great High Crosses which were on display at the Collins Museum about three years ago.  The book was published by the Boyne Valley Honey Company first in 1994 and mine was a second edition published in 2001 with an introduction by Lord Killanin.  

It is a short book of 110 pages but deals with the 75 Irish High Crosses scattered throughout the four corners of Ireland with their sculptured features presented and explained in considerable detail.  There are about the same number of non-decorated stones of historical or ancient significance but which lack the details of the stones I am dealing with in this essay. They number too about 75 and are scattered equally around the country.  These are listed but are not dealt in detail within this essay.

Most of the sculptured stones have been provided with photographs or designs. Some display considerable detail despite their age and their exposure to the elements during the centuries.   Added to the crosses there is a wealth of detail, some reminding us of biblical and religious artefacts.  We have details about the location of these stones and their condition over their many years of existence. The stones were almost entirely placed in monasteries or graveyards and are reminders of the Christian faith and the bible which were such a feature of Ireland and Gaelic culture during the middle ages. All were constructed between the 7th and the 12th centuries.   There are some historical details in the book about their years of construction and even about a few of the artists and workers involved.

In the introduction we find:

"High crosses are among the most important monuments to survive from Ireland’s golden age of Saints and Scholars, and the sculptured ones are described in detail here.  Their figure carvings illustrate the Bible story like a filmstrip and this guide explains what the individual panels represent.  Many novel identifications offered by the author shed new light on the deeper religious meanings of the crosses which can vary according to the choice of Biblical subjects.  The book is designed as a field guide for those who want to study the crosses at first hand. Black and white diagrams assist in pinpointing the various Old and New Testament scenes sculpted on them"

At Moone, Co. Kildare.
These memorials are cared for by the Board of Works, by the local authorities and by the local people who have the stones on their property. Some are now protected indoors in chapels or museums and are replaced by concrete replicas on the site. As regards the survival of these treasures, it is fortunate that many of the crosses are lying in less visited parts of the country and in old, remote graveyards or long since deserted churches.  They were erected when Ireland spawned its great reputation of Christianity. In this guide they are arranged in alphabetical order of their titles and sites, and the National Grid reference will help the reader to locate them at the end of the booklet.

Two crosses at Ahenny
Ireland can boast an early and rich history of fifteen centuries which must be unique in Europe in terms of a settled language, tradition and culture.   Many of these stones have survived in the countryside without obvious damage but naturally there are many pieces affected by the passage of time, the attention of the local and travelling people, the inevitable ageing of the material such as sandstone used by some of the artists and the national attention in the past century or two to attend to their preservation. Whilst many of the relics are found in the more remote areas of our countryside, others are well known and are more easily accessed by the visitor. Recently we visited the two crosses at Ahenny in the southeastern part of Co Tipperary. It took us quite some time to find them and then only with the assistance of some of the local people.  The two crosses remain undisturbed and a natural feature of the old cemetery, made all the more so by the finding of recent as well as long standing burials.

On the banks of the Shannon in Co. Offaly in the centre of Ireland, the details of the artefacts at Clonmacnoise are described in eight pages.  The crosses have now been moved for safety to an indoor location on the site. The site on the Shannon is physically in the centre of Ireland and was founded in the year 545 by St. Ciaran. It has a history of about 15 hundred years since its foundation. According to local history the monastery “chose its abbots for their qualities rather for their family connections”.

It has amongst other relics a round tower erected about the 11th or 12th century and evidence of six churches providing a site of great pilgrimage for centuries.  Other artefacts are also on display in the new interpretive centre.  There are many details of the three great crosses on the site and much information is provided which subsequently is mentioned by the Annals of the Four Masters when they were alluding to the affairs of the monastery during the 10th and 11th centuries.  The largest of the five crosses is called The Cross of the Scriptures and is described in detail with the sculpture base having the four different faces North, South, East and West.

The details retained on the cross at Kills in Co Meath are still quite extraordinary where again the four sides of the cross are described in great detail and are still in a remarkable degree of preservation.  They are certainly worthy of a visit, particularly if one is equipped with the information at hand in this or other equally informed documents. The designs of the crosses and the other structures, and the closeness of Killary and Slane, with their own artefacts, are within 30 miles of Dublin, as are Monasterboice, Glendelough, Templemore and other sites. They can be easily reached from the city. Indeed, with our recently acquired motorways built from Dublin in all directions of the island, a week’s holiday spent visiting our monastic sites included in this book could be provided with a wealth of biblical and historical detail and with the deep sense of knowledge provided by the author. 

Adam and Eve at Kells
Some of the other more distant sites are of equal interest.  Cashel, about 100 miles from Dublin, is worth a visit for it’s ancient church, cross and great tower.  On the way home, one can visit Castledermot for its cross and its other ancient artefacts.  Within the four corners of Ireland there are more than enough sites worth a visit by the stranger which will provide a fine opportunity to see some of the more remarkable reminders of our ancient past and of our ancient culture and between visits there is always an opportunity in finding a pub or hostelry where one might enjoy some of the other pleasures of a visit to Ireland.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Thoughts and Adventures

Thoughts and Adventures.  Winston S. Churchill. Odhams Press, London, 1932.

This review was written in August 2003, edited June 2004.

These are 23 short essays by Winston Churchill published on a wide variety of subjects. I borrowed the book from Ulick O’Connor and read the 1949 edition at the end of May 2003. They are a series of reminiscences and reflections which Churchill had written for newspapers and periodicals between 1924 and 1931.  Many of the essays deal with aspects of the Great War, and these, because of Churchill’s intimate involvement on the political side of the war, are of some interest. However, with his energy, courage, self-confidence and his prominent political role in Britain during the early part of the twentieth century, the primary effect of reading Churchill’s reminiscences rests on his vainglorious opinion of himself, which is conveyed by an element of hyperbole, although muted by a far from convincing modesty.

In his essays The U-boat War, In the Air, the Battle of Sydney Street and With the Grenadiers he blandly tells of his heroic experiences which must strike the reader at times as showing courage and recklessness beyond the natural instincts of self-preservation of the ordinary man. For example, he claims  to have flown hundreds of times during the dangerous pioneer days of the infant and emerging British air force from 1912 to the end of the War.

The essays are evocative of many aspects of the early twentieth century. I shall refer briefly to one, The Irish Treaty. Churchill was one of the seven British members of the Treaty negotiating group. He refers to the leader of the Irish representatives, Griffith, his knowledge of history, his firmness of character and his high integrity. ‘An unusual figure - a silent Irishman.’ He confirms that Griffith was the person who agreed the Treaty when the negotiations were about to break down, and that it was he alone who took the courageous step to do so.

Michael Collins had ‘elemental qualities and mother wit’. Churchill found him remarkable. Collins received a measure of sympathy from Churchill because, being on the military side of the revolution, Collins found compromise on the Treaty terms more difficult than did Griffith. Nevertheless, in discussion with Churchill, Collins undertook to defend the Treaty unless the majority of the Irish people were opposed to it.

Churchill  appears to have been very wise in resisting the American pressure on him to force Ireland into the Second  War after America had joined in 1941.  He obviously was concerned about the potentially deleterious  effect of influencing Ireland on this issue, particularly the effect it might have on Irish soldiers involved in the War and the tens of thousands of Irish civilians in Ireland  and Britain who were involved in supporting the war effort in so many ways. Churchill must have been aware of the quiet and little known activities whereby Ireland was giving help to Britain.  De Valera was totally committed to neutrality on the grounds of the North of Ireland.  Would it have been the correct move for us after the US had joined?  I suspect that quite a number of the Fine Gael party might have followed James Dillon and agreed to be more active in supporting the Allies. After the war Costello’s attitude to the North mirrored that of Dev’s.  It would have been a great step if Costello had done what Lemass did, making contact with the people in the North and adopting a friendlier attitude to its citizens.

Perhaps Churchill’s two most important essays are Shall We All Commit Suicide and Fifty Years Hence. In the latter essay Churchill shows remarkable insight into the threat to the human race and to the planet by the rapid advances in scientific knowledge and the spectre of advancing war technology, the adverse effects of which are likely to affect whole populations rather than the traditional fighting soldier. He may have read Yeats’s Second Coming!

He states that increasing knowledge, advancing science and gathering power were not matched by any improvement in human virtue or wisdom. Modern Man will be capable of the most terrible deeds and his most modern woman will back him up. We have the power and weapons far outstripping Man’s intelligence and certainly outstripping his nobility. It might be better to call a halt to discovery and progress rather than to be mastered by our own apparatus and the forces which it directs. Without an equal growth of mercy, pity, peace and love, science herself may destroy all that makes human life majestic and tolerable.

As St. Raphael said to Adam, do not try to understand the stars.

In the last paragraph of his Fifty Years Hence, he talks about a race of beings who had mastered Nature

A state was created whose citizens lived as long as they chose, enjoyed  pleasures and sympathies incomparably wider than our own, navigated the inter-planetary spaces, could recall the panorama of the past and foresee the future. But what was the good of all that to them? What did they know more than we know about the answers to the simple questions which man has asked since earliest dawn of reason - Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? Whither are we going? No material progress, even though it takes shapes we cannot now conceive, or however it may expand the faculties of man, can bring comfort to his soul. ------ Projects undreamed of by past generations will absorb our immediate descendants; forces terrific and devastating will be in their hands; comforts, activities, amenities, pleasures will crowd upon them, but their hearts will ache, their lives will be barren if they have not a vision above material things. And with the hopes and powers will come dangers out of all proportion to the growth of man’s intellect, to the strength of his character or to the efficacy of his institutions.

Surely a remarkable insight into the future of humanity as it is evolving to-day! Perhaps the most cogent omission among his thoughts about humanity and its future is the lack of direct reference to the profound and disastrous effect the human population explosion is having on the   planet with its limited and rapidly diminishing capacity to nurture its inhabitants.

In his essay Shall We All Commit Suicide he writes about the terrifying prospects of modern warfare and its doomsday prospects. And despite the failures of the League of Nations at his time of writing, ‘deserted by the United States, scorned by Soviet Russia, flouted by Italy, distrusted equally by France and Germany’, he believed that safety and salvation could only be found through the League. It is tragic that, largely because of the hegemony of an arrogant and all-powerful United States under Bush, the United Nations may also fail in its ideals to create a better world, a better understanding between nations and a safe balance between Man and his natural surroundings on which he and the natural flora and fauna of the planet depend for their livelihood.

In the same essay he throws doubt on the utility of the democratic system based on universal suffrage, claiming that parliaments in the democratic countries were inadequate to deal with the problems which dominated the affairs of modern society. He believed that nations were no longer lead by their ablest men. One wonders if he was showing a leaning towards fascism at this time, before the advent of Hitler and when Mussolini was earning widespread admiration as he achieved order in a chaotic Italy.

In Ireland to-day we can sympathise with Churchill’s view on democracy as we see successive governments putting the welfare of party before that of the people, a fact which is starkly evident if one reads the history of our health services, our appalling planning history, of widespread corruption in high as well as low places, and our reluctance to adopt badly needed legal reform, to mention only a few aspects of political policy and administration in the Republic. We also have personal freedom without a corresponding sense of responsibility, added to which is the excessive influence of individuals and minorities. Democracy will only survive if personal and corporate freedom goes hand in hand with a sense of responsibility towards society. The period of the Celtic Tiger has seen a sad deterioration in responsibility even among senior politicians, the professions and in the public service. We are no longer lead by our ablest men.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

An unanswered invitation

This was first written on June 17th 2008

The following letter was written in 1991 after Tim Pat Coogan had published his biography of Collins. He did not reply nor did he accept the invitation to meet with me. The Béaslaí publication, published in 1926 so soon after the State was founded,  was at my suggestion annotated by my father after his retirement from politics in 1961. The 300 page document which he dictated is available in the UCD Archives and is a detailed critique of Béaslaí’s  biography. Mulcahy was head of the army during the War of Independence and was a close colleague of Collins who was Director of Intelligence on GHQ. He was never consulted by Béaslaí despite Mulcahy’s role as head of the army and his intimate association with Collins during  this time. It was published without the support of the Free State cabinet and far too early to be accepted as a reliable and balanced history of the revolutionary period. I have referred to Béaslaí biography and its shortcoming in several of my publications. Some of these have persisted to this day  despite later and more objective biographers, such as  that of  Peter Hart.  Déirdre McMahon has also published two critical reviews on the subject

Michael Collins, a Biography. Tim Pat Coogan, Hutchinson, London, 1990

A Letter to the author by Risteárd Mulcahy

Dear Tim Pat,

When Beaslai wrote his life of Collins he generally made only passing reference to the other members of the general headquarters staff and then usually in the context of Collin's role. At no time did he mention GHQ nor did he refer to its formation in March 1918. He did not include GHQ in the index. Neither did Beaslai consult my father, Sean McMahon or Sean O'Muirthile during the preparation of the book, although these three were among the closest to Collins during the war of independence and its aftermath. Perhaps, in view of its being a personal biography, it is understandable that Collins's colleagues on the staff did not have a prominent place in the biography. Although it may have been accepted as such by subsequent writers and historians, Beaslai's book was not a history of the War of Independence.

Similarly, your own book about Collins did not give particular prominence to other members of the GHQ staff. Again it can be asserted that it was a personal biography and did not aim to be a comprehensive account of the War of Independence. However, when you write about the broader aspects of the Civil War, as you did in summary form and principally aimed at an uninformed national and international audience in the recent publication "The Irish Civil War", I do not think it is correct that you should claim that Collins had a virtually exclusive leadership role during the War of Independence and afterwards.

Let me give a few examples from that recent publication of why I believe your emphasis on Collins gives a skewed impression of his exclusive military and political roles from 1917 to his death in August 1922.

page 15, para 2: "---,Collins, however, escaped and pioneered a new type of urban guerrilla warfare,---". Of course he encouraged guerrilla warfare, both at urban and provincial level, but he was only one of a number of others, including the provincial leaders and the members of the GHQ staff generally who were responsible of advocating this policy. You emphasise the urban aspect of the policy and here you are nearer the truth but many readers will interpret your comment to mean that Collins inspired the countrywide policy. Ashbourne preceded the guerrilla tactics as did the Boers in South Africa.

Page 19, para 1: Collins "reorganized the revolutionary movement after 1916 ---." He was one of a number of directors appointed by the volunteer executive in October 1917 and he was a member of the GHQ staff at its formation in March 1918. He played a major role in reorganisation, particularly on the intelligence side, but there were others who were equally responsible for reorganising the revolutionary movement although as personalities they may have been less visible than he. How can you exclude some of the other military leaders who were acknowledged to play a very important part in formulating a policy of resistance and who participated in conducting the war of independence?

Page21, para 4: You refer here to his network of agents and principal henchmen. You may have intended his close associates in the Dublin scene when you write about his principal henchman but this reference will be easily interpreted by readers not familiar with the personnel leading the army who were equally  concerned with the military campaign.

Page22, para 1:   "--- Griffith was the nominal leader but because of his health he asked Collins to lead." This is news to me. I had always believed and read that Griffith lead the delegation. And even if it is true that he asked Collins to lead, it was Griffith who met the British representatives on his own on the evening before the Treaty was signed, and it was he who said that he would sign, even if his colleagues did not do so. It was Griffith who made the fateful decision to sign. Both Collins and Griffith are inextricably linked in relation to the Treaty negotiations and the Treaty settlement.

Page23, para 2:     Apropos of the meeting between the army and the cabinet on 25 November 1921, you write "De Valera was checkmated by Collins's IRB supporters amongst the leadership." This again seems aimed at giving undue prominence to Collins and is quite misleading. Collins was not at the meeting but the rest of the GHQ staff was there and their opposition to Dev's proposal was unanimous, irrespective of whether they were members of the IRB or not. My father made it clear to the cabinet that he could not continue as chief of staff if Stack were to replace O'Duffy as assistant chief of staff. Your emphasis would perhaps be understandable if you were writing specifically about the IRB or about Collins, but not when you are dealing with the wider history of the time.

Page 23, para 3: Writing of the Treaty negotiations "---during which Collins constantly visited Dublin, --" For the sake of completeness it should be said that Griffith also constantly visited Dublin.

Page 29, para 4: "---as the Provisional government, headed by Griffith and Collins, ---". It is misleading to say that Griffith was part of the Provisional government, although it is true that he continued to play an important part in implementing the Treaty up to his death on 12 August 1922. Griffith was not in the provisional cabinet but replaced de Valera as President of Sinn Féin and head of Dáil Eireann.

Page 38, para 2: Writing of the organisation of the Free State army you say "This was in large part due to the leadership of Michael Collins and the unorthodox but effective generalship of his close friend, Emmett Dalton, ---". It is surely a misleading statement when you ignore the participation of other senior officers and the minister of defence who were more involved in the details of the army's organisation than Collins from January 1922 to the moment Collins rejoined the army on 13 July . And then he was only six weeks at the head of the force before he was killed on the 22 August.

P260: Writing of the split in the army at the time of the mutiny, you write "Mulcahy vehemently opposed this organisation and set up another, rival one". There is no evidence whatever nor has anyone ever suggested to my knowledge that Mulcahy was involved in the organisation of the IRB within the Free State forces. He may have had an inkling of IRB influences at the time, although a tape recording I made of a conversation between himself and Sean MacEoin about the IRB would suggest that he knew nothing about his senior officers' role in revitalising the IRB.  The move by him attributed by you would have been inconsistent with my father's commitment to the army's constitutional role.

I know that you are a great admirer of Collins. However, perhaps his greatest admirer and supporter was my father. My memoirs about my father, which are about to be published, attest to this admiration of Collins. Dad's writing about Collins, which are extensively quoted in the pages of his memoirs, confirm the close links they had, the appreciation my father had of his great organisational abilities in military and political affairs, and how he, Mulcahy, did everything possible as chief of staff to encourage Collins in his prominent and vital military role. He thought that the loss of Griffith and Collins was a major tragedy for the emerging young nation.

I do not think that Collins's great reputation will suffer in any way if the history of the 1916-1924 period is presented in a balanced way. Too much attention to one participant to the relative exclusion of others who need to be acknowledged inevitably gives a skewed picture and must be construed as a partisan approach. Quite frankly, I do not think that you are showing the degree of balance which one would expect of an objective and impartial historian in this latest publication. Perusal of your text might easily suggest that Collins was the principal subject of your essay. It is possible that, if an exaggerated and too exclusive a role is attributed to Collins, it may lead to the attention of the revisionists.

It is not easy for me to write this letter to you because of my close relationship with the late Richard Mulcahy (who was head of the army as chief of staff or Minister for health, or at times both) from March 1918 to March 1924) but I expect that we all would like to have the recent history of this country, which still evokes such interest, recounted as accurately as possible. If we must differ about certain aspects, such as the ones I allude to above, it might be best if we were to meet to discuss them face to face. If you wish to do so, you might call me at the above number. I would be very glad to invite you to lunch or dinner. A nice claret or a good Australian Chardonnay might serve to enliven our conversation and might help us to reach a consensus.

Yours sincerely,

Risteard Mulcahy


Mulcahy’s role in 1916 and his leadership during the War of Independence and the Civil War is recorded in the following biographies.

Richard Mulcahy and the founding of the Founding of the Irish Free State.  Maryann Gialanella Valiulis. 1992

Richard Mulcahy 1886-1971, A Family Memoir, Risteárd Mulcahy 1999,

RM (25/2/2011)

I have read and not altered the above comments about Tim Pat Coogan’s biography of Collins. I have in my papers the titles of at least 40 books about Collins but it is clear that some of these are based on secondary or tertiary research or on no research of any sort. They are clearly more often based  on commercial motives rather than historical  ones, and they will continue to be  popular for the public and for travellers in the book shops and the airports.

Risteárd Mulcahy,  May 25th, 2015