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‘Civil war had two sides, and both were right’
Michael Collins, Harry Boland and Cathal Brugha

21 Jun 2022 / ireland Print

‘Civil war had two sides, and both were right’

Five descendants of five leaders of the Anglo-Irish Treaty delegations in 1921 were hosted recently by the Law Society to share their stories of their families’ histories.

The five significant leaders of the Treaty/ independence/ civil-war period, who died 100 years ago, included:

  • Cathal Brugha, who died on 7 July 1922,
  • Harry Boland who died on 1 August 1922,
  • Arthur Griffith who died on 12 August 1922,
  • Michael Collins who died on 22 August 1922 and,
  • Erskine Childers, who died on 24 November 1922.

Solicitors were key

Introducing the discussion, Law Society President Michelle Ní Longáin said that solicitors were key representatives in the Treaty negotiations.

The Law Society headquarters within the Four Courts was the headquarters of the anti-Treaty side at the time of strife, so the Law Society was evicted.

“But we were at the heart of those key formative stages of our State, and the legal profession remains at the heart of civic society,” she said (17 May).

“We recognize the value of bringing the descendants of fallen leaders together for a constructive discussion to erase the many years of silence, and work to repair the inter-generational trauma and the many complexities that arise in our society," the Law Society President said.


Cathal McSwiney Brugha, grandson of Cathal Brugha, said that his grandfather was born Charles Burgess and represented Ireland at swimming and gymnastics, as well as being a first-class cricket batsman.

On discovering Irish language and culture, he became politically active as a republican, and was seriously injured in the 1916 Easter Rising.

Former Law Society President Michael V O’Mahony told how his grandfather, Johnny Collins, was Michael Collins’ older brother by 12 years.

Johnny was born in 1878 and Michael was born in 1890, and their father Michael Collins senior died in 1897, leaving his son Johnny to take over the 90-acre family farm at Woodfield, between Clonakilty and Rosscarbery in west Cork.

Johnny’s wife Catherine was the sister of Jack (Sean) Hurley, the only Cork man to be killed in 1916, when he shot at the Four Courts in Dublin.

Michael V O’Mahony told how his mother was left a widow with six children, when her husband, a banker and Abbey actor, died at 45.

His mother returned to work as a domestic science teacher in Cathal Brugha Street technical college in 1950, when Michael was 11.

Cathal Brugha shot

“I knew that Cathal Brugha had been shot down the lane, beside the College of Catering,” he said.

O'Mahony's grandfather Johnny Collins’ first wife died of TB in February 1921.

Two months before, the family home and all its outbuildings were burnt out by the Essex Regiment/Black and Tans, as a reprisal against Michael Collins.

Johnny was also arrested and interned on Spike Island until the Treaty was signed in December 2021. The motherless children were dispersed to various family members, a traumatic event about which Michael O’Mahony’s mother remained quiet for many years.

In retirement, Johnny Collins lived in a house called St Fachtna’s, and Michael V O’Mahony stayed with him when apprenticed as a solicitor to Liam Collins of Clonakilty.

'Terrible things happen in war'

When asked about civil war events, the older man would respond “That was war. Terrible things happen in war,” avoiding any attribution of blame. 

Solicitor Liam Collins disliked the tribal jingoism that arose around Michael Collins as a ‘Fine Gael hack figure’, and sought to reclaim his memory for all the people of Ireland, O’Mahony explained.

The divide between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael was devised on political myths and the bitterness of the initial post-Treaty 20-year period, he believed.

The current FF-FG coalition is a welcome development, he said.

Bitterness can be overcome by reading about both sides of the conflict as a historical exercise, he said.

“There were two sides – and both sides were right, in my humble opinion,” O'Mahony said.

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