Remembering Michael Collins

One of the few remaining contemporaries of Michael Collins with personal memories of him is Clareman Colonel Sean Clancy (104), who will be remembering his former commander-in-chief this weekend when the annual Beal na mBlath commemoration is held in Cork.

Fine Gael TD Pat Breen recently paid a visit to Colonel Clancy, who lives independently in a retirement home in Blackrock, Dublin, but he has fond memories of growing up on a farm in the parish of Bridgetown in east Clare, where he first got interested in politics.

Today, his nephew, Michael works the farm in Earl Hill, near Clonlara, where Colonel Clancy grew up. He hesitated in joining the army, mainly because of the deep divisions partition had caused.
"There was a lot of pressure on me from friends and colleagues", he remembers.

Early on in his army career he was present at the formal hand over of Dublin Castle on January 16, 1922 to the new Irish Free State Government when the Lord Lieutenant, Viceroy Fitzalan, was reported to have said, "You are seven minutes late, Mr Collins," to which he received the reply, "We've been waiting over 700 years, you can have the extra seven minutes".

"He was a big shot. I was only a junior officer," Colonel Clancy says of his memory of Collins at the time. "Without him we would not have the independence we have now. He was the big man behind the movement".

"No-one would have taken the risks he did. He had a marvellous career. The last few years before the truce he was a wanted man all the time. He stayed in safe houses here in Dublin.

"Even though he was a Cork man they looked upon him as their own in Dublin. He took awful risks. I saw him around that period cycling around Dublin with £10,000 on his head."

He remembers that people at the time believed Collins would be able to stop the Civil War.
"A lot of people thought that the opposition had a lot of respect from him. A lot of people believed he would convince them to stop attacking the Government troops.

"My father always supported the Treaty. I think most of the farmers around where I lived at the time supported the treaty. Most of the opposition came from the towns and villages. The farmers always supported it in Clare."

Colonel Clancy also had vivid memories of Michael Collins' funeral in 1922.
"It was the biggest funeral ever in Dublin. I marched in it. The nearest to it was the funeral of Parnell," he says.

Colonel Clancy served under former Fianna Fail leader Charles Haughey's father Johnny, who rose to become a commandant in the army after fighting in the War of Independence.

"When I was transferred to Mayo in 1920, he was my commanding officer. He was a very hot-tempered man but I got on well with him alright," he remembers.

Charlie Haughey had visited Colonel Clancy because of his friendship with Mr Haughey's brother, Fr Eoghan Haughey.

The colonel has been a life-long Fine Gael supporter and remembers Bridgetown as a party stronghold. In recent years he had received regular visits from retired Fine Gael leaders Liam Cosgrave and John Bruton, and party leader Enda Kenny called by recently to congratulate him on his 104th birthday.

He is no stranger to the President Mary McAleese, either, as she had extended congratulations annually to him since he turned 100.

Colonel Clancy remembers that his father before him was a big supporter of Parnell's.
"Whenever he had a few drinks in him he would tell us all the things Parnell did for farmers," he remembers.

When he joined the fledgling Free State Army in 1919 he left his home county for a career as an infantry officer in the Fifth Battalion which took him to many barracks in the country.

He married Agnes Creagh, from Castlebar, in 1926, and they had five children. Three sons live in Dublin - all retired. Colonel Clancy, meanwhile, returned from the army in 1950, in time to start a whole new career.

"I am about 45 years retired and I had less than 40 years service," he notes.

He embarked on another career as a cinema manager in Dublin. On a recent trip to Clare, he and other family members called to the church in Bridgetown to say a prayer at the family grave."
We saw a picture of the Sacred Heart I presented to the priest in 1925," he says.
He was born on July 7, 1901, a very wet summer his mother told him later.

"She was telling me how difficult it was to get a man to go to the church for the baptism to act as godfather. The weather had changed suddenly when I arrived. The sun began to shine and the farmers were working from dawn to dusk saving the hay.

"Somebody got the idea to call to the school at Bridgetown. We had cousins with a pub in Bridgetown. A lad of 10 or 11 years of age was released for the day. He was one of the best godfathers anybody ever had."

He still follows current events and says his health is good, although "the legs are not as good as they used to be".

Courtesy of the Clare Champion
19 August 2005