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Book Review: Meda Ryan: “The Day Micahel Collins Was Shot”

I studied history for the past 4 years as part of my undergraduate. I think thats how I became a history teacher. During this time I didnt get to read many books from cover to cover. I just had to zone in on whatever topic my assignment or essay was on and hope that the person who had the book before me had underlined the relevant parts.

When I finished my degree I decided that one thing that would do me well in my future career would be to read more history books. So I decided that the only books I will read for the next while would be historical. Some would be straight up history books, others would be biographical, others would be history based novels. Did I mention that I’m an exciting guy? No, oh pardon my rudeness. I’m an exciting guy, I sometimes go to the toilet in a nightclub and don’t tip the attendant. Rarely.

I’m a pretty slow reader and because of that it has been quite sometime since my last book review. And even longer since the one before that. So the book that took me so long to read was: “The Day Michael Collins was Shot” by Meda Ryan.

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Michael Collins was shot dead in an ambush at Béal na mBláth, Co. Cork, on 22 August 1922. The manner of his death and the identity of his killer have been the source of intense speculation and controversy ever since.

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In her book, Meda Ryan attempts to tackle a very difficult task: determining who shot Michael Collins on that ill-fated day in 1922. In the book’s preface, Ryan shares her reasons for wanting to examine the topic and her research methods in compiling the book. In Part I of the introduction, Ryan provides a short biography of Collins’s life from his birth to June 1922. In Part II, she covers the last two months of Collins’s life and then the main body of the book begins.

Ryan supplies several great pictures and several maps of Béal na mBláth. Her evidence consists of eye-witness accounts, letters, telephone conversations and newspaper clippings. The Day Michael Collins Was Shot is both an exciting and suspenseful narrative and an invaluable work of primary historical research. In the book, Ryan states several theories in how Michael was ambushed. These are:

  • Collins was hit from behind by IRA members headed to Kerry.
  • Collins was hit by a member of his own party by a close range bullet from the armored car he was travelling in.
  • Collins was hit by a ricocheted bullet.
  • Collins was hit by a bullet fired by an IRA member.

After dissecting the response of the medical examiners, the embalmer, the men who supposedly buried the cap Collins was wearing on the day he was killed, and the testimony of Emmet Dalton, Collins’s friend and comrade who was with him that day, Ryan does give a firm conclusion as to who the shooter was. She dispels the theories that Collins was shot by a bullet from a Mauser pistol and that Collins was killed by a ricocheted bullet. So who shot Michael Collins according to Ryan’s studies? Ryan concludes from her evidence: “Michael Collins was not shot by a bullet from a Mauser pistol. Michael Collins was not killed by a ricochet bullet. Michael Collins was shot by the Republican who said, ‘I dropped one man.'”

Funeral Percession for Michael Collins

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and clocking in at 161 pages, it was quite an easy read compared ot other history books. This book would be a fantastic resource for any one who is undertaking a project on the death of Michael Collins as part of their history course. The first hand accounts, pictures and interviews are great examples of primary sources that would compliment any work being done on the topic. This book is a must read for anyone who is interested in the life, and more importantly death, of the hero, scoundrel, legend, enigma, god, and icon (depending on your political leanings) that was Michael Collins

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“One day he’ll be a great man. He’ll do great work for Ireland.”

– Michael Collins’ Father on his deathbed about his son, who was 6 at the time.

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