The Mouth of the Flowers

On 22 August, 1922, the party of 31-year-old Michael Collins, Commander In Chief and Chairman of the Provisional Government, was ambushed near the village of Béal na mBláth, “The Mouth of the Flowers,” in County Cork, Ireland. The attacking Republican forces opposed the Anglo-Irish treaty that had ended the Irish War of Independence and established the Free State.  Collins was the only casualty of the skirmish.

Collins was nicknamed by his associates “The Big Fellow,” usually reported for being important and famous. Frank O’Connor, however, who had served in the Civil War, later said the term began sarcastically, to disparage the opinion Collins had of himself. That actually sounds uniquely Irish to me, as does the idea that a nickname with such a snarky origin would become an immortal tribute to the guy’s importance. My people are sly and nasty and earnest and heartfelt, full of blarney and impossibly sentimental. None of those things countermand each other when you’re in Ireland.

Collins came from (and was killed in) County Cork, in the extreme South of Ireland, which is where my ancestors were from. The trip he was on when he was killed was ostensibly a visit to his home town, but was really an attempt to meet secretly with anti-treaty forces and broker a truce. The southern part of Ireland, at that point, was held by anti-treaty forces, and Collins’s safety was obviously in jeopardy traveling there. But he reportedly said, “They wouldn’t kill me in my own county!”

When my parents and I were in Dublin in 1997, we kind of randomly stumbled in to seeing a play in a tiny, ancient theater, recommended by the night manager at the small hotel where we were staying. It turned out to be a play authored by a Dublin playwright, about the life of Collins’s fiancee, Kitty Kiernan. Unfortunately, the name of the play and the playwright now escapes me.

It was opening night. From something said at he close of the play by the director, one of Kitty’s sons was in the audience, I think — I say “I think,” because frankly it’s not always the easiest thing in the world to understand what Dubliners are saying. (It is, from the looks on their faces when I talk, equally difficult for them to understand me). Anyway, this gentleman was about the right age to have been Kitty’s son (she died in 1945) but could maybe have been her grandson. He said a few words about Kitty, tearing up at several points. It was a hell of a play. I still have no idea who this dude was, but it seems at least passingly possible he might have been Michael Collins Cronin, Kitty’s second son with Felix Cronin, Quartermaster General of the Irish Army, whom she married in 1925.

Long life to you, big fellow, and a death in Ireland.

Info and Image from Wikipedia


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