" Yerra they'll never shoot me in my own County". Spoken by General Michael Collins to Emmett Dalton prior to Inspection of Free State troops in West Cork in August 1922, when Dalton cautioned Collins, the Commander in Chief of the Free State Forces about his personal safety.
On 22nd August, 1922 General Michael Collins departed the Imperial Hotel, Cork at 6.15 am on an inspection tour of the Free State Troops in West Cork. His convoy included a motor cycle scout leader, Crossley Tender with Lewis Machine Gun and 8 rifled men, an armoured car and a Leyland 8 touring car.
A hazardous journey with blown bridges and roads leading into the stronghold of the retreating Republican Forces under the command of Tom Barry. It was speculated that Collins was to meet Barry with Truce proposals to end the Civil War.
Little did Collins or his party know that an ambush had been prepared by Republican Forces at Beal na Blath after the convey had sought directions from a republican sympathiser while travelling from Macroom to Bandon.
Collins drew large crowds as he toured West Cork and the convey was delayed to such an extent that at 7.30-8.00 pm the Ambush had been stood down, barricades and land mines removed and many of the Ambush party departed the area leaving 5 or 6 men at the site. A dray cart remained in place across the road. As the convoy approached the area, shots were fired and Emmett Dalton shouted to the driver,
"Drive like hell", Collins countermanded his order, " Stop, jump out and we'll fight them", Collin's inexperience in guerilla warfare was to prove fatal. The convoy was under fire for nearly half an hour when Collins saw the ambushers retreat, he shouted to his comrades, " Come on boys, there they are running up the road". Collins moved into open ground as if to pursue the ambushers, moments later a single shot rang out and Michael Collins fell, mortally wounded behind his right ear. Collins was dragged to cover and one of his party whispered an Act of Contrition while Emmett Dalton attended to the wound. Dalton later reported that," Collin's big eyes closed before he completed the task and the cold pallor of death overspread the Generals face". Michael Collins was just 31 years .
Despite much speculation the gunman was never identified. Much panic ensued and after many hours the convoy made its return to Cork. Collins's body was transported to Dublin by sea from Cork and he lay in State for 3 days in Dublin City Hall. It is estimated that 500,000 people attended his funeral about 20% of the Irish population.
Eamonn de Valera later wrote ," It is my considered opinion that in the fullness of time, history will record the greatness of Michael Collins, and it will be recorded at my expense."