On this day 1922… ambush at Long’s Pub

On this day in 1922 the Irish politician Michael Collins was gunned down in an ambush – which he fell into after a fateful visit to a country pub.

The background to Irish independence is a long and complex one and indeed, to some, one not yet entirely complete due to Northern Ireland still being part of the union of Great Britain.

Having been building for decades, in 1919 the political tensions and general obduracy surrounding Irish independence boiled over into a small but vicious insurgency war; with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) engaging in gun battles and assassinations with the British security services.

Lasting a brief but bloody two years, by 1921 both sides had come to the negotiating table, the result of which was the Anglo-Irish treaty.

In brief this created an Irish Free State that was a dominion of the British Empire – like Canada for example – so free to have its own government but not a fully fledged republic.

Furthermore, the six northern counties of Ulster with their large Protestant and Union-supporting populations were to vote on whether they wished to be part of the Free State or Great Britain.

At the forefront of both the war and the treaty negotiations was the firebrand rhetorician Michael Collins.

A passionate Irishman from a longstanding republican family, he had fought in the Easter Rising of 1916, where he was captured and imprisoned, and subsequently joined Sinn Féin and became MP for Cork South in 1918.

In 1919 when the nationalists declared their republic, the highflying Collins was made Minister for Finance and Minister for Home Affairs in the Dáil – he was just 29.

During the war for independence his operations against the British were so successful that he had a bounty on his head of £10,000 (about £300,000 today).

Although a staunch believer in a truly independent Irish republic, Collins hoped at least that the Free State offered his country the political breathing room it needed to achieve full independence at a later date.

The treaty was not viewed this way by many others who accused him of selling out to the British and, shortly after the Free State was declared, Ireland was plunged into a Civil War between pro- and anti-Treaty sides.

Being understandably pro the treaty he had helped bring about, as Commander-in-Chief of the nascent Irish army Collins was as ruthless and effective at combatting anti-Treaty rebels as he had been against the British. It is even thought (though no one seems entirely sure) that he ordered artillery to shell the Four Courts in Dublin which had been occupied by IRA men.

The ambush

Collins was high on the anti-Treaty side’s hit list and in August 1922 they got their chance.

On 22 August Collins set out with a light escort on a tour of West Cork, an area teeming with anti-Treaty guerillas. Taking the road out of Cork City towards Macroom and then on to Bandon. A little lost in the country lanes they stopped at the crossroads hamlet of Béal na Bláth to ask for directions.

One of the soldiers asked a man standing outside the local pub, known as Long’s Pub, the way and off they went again.

As it happened the man was not a simple bystander but an anti-Treaty IRA member and having recognised Collins, as soon as the convoy departed he called in the local brigade commanders who were meeting in both the pub and a local farmhouse that very day.

The IRA men gathered in the pub and hashed out an ambush plan on the chance Collins came back that way. A man from Bandon Brewery stopped by Long’s Pub with a dray cart to collect empty bottles whereupon he found his vehicle requisitioned. The IRA used the cart to block the road and formed a makeshift barricade using the crates of empty bottles it had been carrying.

Having set their trap on the road leading to Bandon they waited for the rest of what proved to be a hot day. Some men drifted away to the pub for a bite to eat and towards evening the ambush was called off. The brewery cart was reassembled and allowed to leave and a few men remained behind to disarm a mine they’d primed.

It was then that Collins arrived and in the exchange of gunfire he was shot through the head and killed. He was 31.

Collins’ death was a profound shock for people in Ireland and his funeral in Dublin was attended by over 500,000 people. The circumstances surrounding his death have also been the subject of controversy and suspicion; was it an accident? Why was he the only casualty? Who fired the fatal shot really? Did he have a death wish?

Even the exact details of the ambush are sometimes disputed, not helped that the IRA remained tight lipped on the matter for decades and even, on occasion, claimed Collins was shot by either his own side or even by British agents also lying in ambush. The shooter is now broadly accepted as being IRA man Denis O’Neill.

A cross marks the approximate spot where Collins died and Long’s Pub still stands as well, today it’s known as The Diamond Bar.

READ MORE: Historically interesting pubs

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