- 11 Nov 21
The five diaries recount Collins' day-to-day life during the pivotal period in Irish history around the War of Independence, Treaty Negotiations and Civil War.
As keen observers of Irish political life will know, the diaries of the Irish revolutionary leader Michael Collins, who was head of the IRB during the war of independence, have been presented to the members of the State. However, extensive work is now required behind the scenes before the diaries can be made available for the public.
Spanning the years from 1918 to 1922, the diaries provide hugely valuable historical insight into his life – and into the birth of the nation, including events such as the War of Independence, the Anglo-Irish Treaty Negotiations, the Civil War and his death in 1922. They provide details of meetings and events that were often secret and have never before been shared with the public.
The fact that Ireland descended into civil war, after the signing of the treaty with the British government in 1921 has made Collins a controversial figure. He was just 30 years of age when the negotiations were taking place. He was killed on 22 August, 1922, when the car he was being driven in was ambushed at Béal na Bláth, in Co. Cork. A skirmish took place, and Collins was shot in the head, reputedly by Denis "Sonny" O'Neill, who had been a member of the British Army.
At the very least, the diaries will serve to humanise the legend of a man whose legacy has since affected every aspect of Irish public and political life. It is extraordinary to realise just how young so many of the leaders of the emerging new Irish state were – including those on the Anti-Treaty side in the civil war.
As a part of a long-term loan to the National Archives, Collins' diaries will be conserved and digitised to enable public access to its contents. For the centenary of Collins' death, the National Archives and Cork County Council will provide digital access to the Michael Collins House, Clonakilty. Even Eamon de Valera, who had been commandant of the rebels who took Boland's Mills during hte 1916 Rising was just 39 in 1921, when ht3e Treaty was signed.
"These diaries tell the story of one of the most turbulent periods in our history through the political and personal day-to-day life of Michael Collins from 1918 to 1922," said the Taoiseach, Micheál Martin TD, commenting on the arrangement that has been entered into with the family. "There are many new discoveries that will be revealed through the diaries which will now become part of the national collection at the National Archives. This will allow the public, scholars and researchers [to] learn much more about the events leading up to and following the foundation of the State."
The Director of the National Archives Orlaith McBride explained to RTÉ's News at One that the diaries are mostly work diaries, adding that they reveal insights into 'Collins the man'. The diaries note GAA matches Collins attended, as well as a number of dental appointments.
One particular entry in May 1918, she said, talks about how he evaded arrest. The entry on the following day confirms that he would be going 'on the run'. These were, indeed, dangerous times in Ireland.
Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, Catherine Martin TD, added: "They are an important legacy for the State in the context of the Decade of Centenaries marking such a significant figure in the history of the State. My role as Minister with responsibility for commemorating this complex period in our history is that it is remembered appropriately, meaningfully and sensitively."
The Collins family explained that the diaries had been given by their grandfather, Johnny Collins, to their father, Liam Collins. They said they were now "delighted" to give the diaries to the State. They expressed the hope that Clonakilty would be involved "in the public presentation of these diaries."
"We are honoured," they said, "on our father's behalf, to hand over these historic records to An Taoiseach and to welcome him to Woodfield today, the birthplace of Michael Collins, which our Father lovingly reclaimed and preserved and gifted to the State in October 1990."
The National Archives has explained that it will work with Cork County Council to provide digitised access to the diaries at the Michael Collins House museum in Clonakilty. There will also be an agreed return of the diaries from August 2022 to mark the centenary of Michael Collins' death.
"As with all archive collections," archivist Natalie Milne of the National Archives explains, "however it is not a simple case of receiving the material and making it available to the public with immediate effect – there is a large amount of work to do behind the scenes before that is possible.
"The first thing we need to do is assess the condition of the diaries – they are at least 100 years old and so the natural wear and tear of them and all that entails, such as loose leaves and bindings, will need to be documented and the necessary treatments identified. Our Senior Conservator Zoe Reid will then undertake the careful conservation treatment required for each volume according to its own individual needs, making them stable enough to allow for further work to be carried out. After thi, it is the archivist’s job to catalogue the material, describing the volumes accurately to essentially identify and explain the context and content of the diaries.
"Finally it is over to our digitisation division who will carefully scan each page of each volume so that the diaries can be presented and made publically accessible in electronic form.
"Making the diaries available is a work in progress so watch this space!"