The Path to Freedom - Michael Collins - E-Book

The Path to Freedom E-Book

Michael Collins

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Michael Collins (16 October 1890 – 22 August 1922) was an Irish revolutionary, soldier and politician who was a leading figure in the early-20th century struggle for Irish independence. During the War of Independence he was Director of Intelligence of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and a government minister of the self-declared Irish Republic. He was then Chairman of the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State from January 1922 and commander-in-chief of the National Army from July until his death in an ambush in August 1922, during the Civil War.

Collins bequeathed to posterity a considerable body of writing: essays, speeches and tracts, articles and official documents in which he outlined plans for Ireland's economic and cultural revival, as well as a voluminous correspondence, both official and personal. Selections have been published in The Path to Freedom and   Michael Collins in His Own Words.

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Michael Collins

The Path to Freedom

The sky is the limit

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Table of contents

Notes by General Michael Collins

“Advance and use our liberties”


Document No. 2 Analysed


Disunion Danger


How Ireland Made her Case Clear


What the Elections Meant


Unity as a Means to Full Freedom


Making of Treaty


Glories of the Past


Resources to be Developed


Work of Gaelic League and Sinn Féin

Notes by General Michael Collins

August, 1922

After a national struggle sustained through many centuries, we have today in Ireland a native Government deriving its authority solely from the Irish people, and acknowledged by England and the other nations of the world.

Through those centuries—through hopes and through disappointments—the Irish people have struggled to get rid of a foreign Power which was preventing them from exercising their simple right to live and to govern themselves as they pleased—which tried to destroy our nationality, our institutions, which tried to abolish our customs and blot out our civilization,—all that made us Irish, all that united us as a nation.
But Irish nationality survived. It did not perish when native government was destroyed, and a foreign military despotism was set up. And for this reason, that it was not made by the old native government and it could not be destroyed by the foreign usurping government. It was the national spirit which created the old native government, and not the native government which created the national spirit. And nothing that the foreign government could do could destroy the national spirit.
But though it survived, the soul of the nation drooped and weakened. Without the protection of a native government we were exposed to the poison of foreign ways. The national character was infected and the life of the nation was endangered. We had armed risings and political agitation. We were not strong enough to put out the foreign Power until the national consciousness was fully re- awakened. This was why the Gaelic Movement and Sinn Féin were necessary for our last successful effort. Success came with the inspiration which the new national movement gave to our military and political effort. The Gaelic spirit working through the Dáil and the Army was irresistible.
In this light we must look at the present situation.
The new spirit of self-reliance and our splendid unity, and an international situation which we were able to use to our advantage, enabled our generation to make the greatest and most successful national effort in our history.
The right of Ireland as a nation under arms to decide its own destiny was acknowledged. We were invited to a Peace Conference. With the authority of Ireland's elected representatives negotiations were entered into between the two belligerent nations in order to find a basis of peace.
During the war we had gathered strength by the justice of our cause, and by the way in which we had carried on the struggle. We had organised our own government, and had made the most of our military resources. The united nation showed not only endurance and courage but a humanity which was in marked contrast with the conduct of the enemy. All this gave us a moral strength in the negotiations of which we took full advantage.
But in any sane view our military resources were terribly slender in the face of those of the British Empire which had just emerged victorious from the world war. It was obvious what would have been involved in a renewal of armed conflict on a scale which we had never met before. And it was obvious what we should have lost in strength if the support of the world which had hitherto been on our side had been alienated, if Ireland had rejected terms which most nations would have regarded as terms we could honourably accept.
We had not an easy task.
We were faced with a critical military situation over against an enemy of infinitely greater potential strength. We had to face the pride and prejudice of a powerful nation which had claimed for centuries to hold Ireland as a province. We had to face all the traditions, and political experience, and strength of the British nation. And on our flank we had a section of our own people who had identified their outlook and interests with those of Britain.
It may be claimed that we did not fail in our task. We got the substance of freedom, as has already been made real before our eyes by the withdrawal of the British power.
And the people approved. And they were anxious to use the freedom secured. The national instinct was  sound—that the essence of our struggle was to secure freedom to order our own life, without attaching undue importance to the formulas under which that freedom would be expressed. The people knew that our government could and would be moulded by the nation itself according to its needs. The nation would make the government, not the government the nation.
But on the return of Ireland's representatives from London, Mr. de Valera, who was then leader of the nation, condemned the Treaty in a public statement, while supporting similar proposals for peace which he described as differing “only by a shadow”.
But he, and all the Deputies, joined in discussing and voting on the Treaty, and after full discussion and expressions of opinion from all parts of the country, the Treaty was approved.
And Mr. de Valera declared that there was a constitutional way of solving our differences. He expressed his readiness to accept the decision of the people. He resigned office, and a Provisional Government was formed to act with Dáil Éireann.
Two duties faced that Government:
To take over the Executive from the English, and to maintain public order during the transition from foreign to native government; and
To give shape in a constitution to the freedom secured.
If the Government had been allowed to carry out these duties no difficulty would have arisen with England, who carried out her part by evacuating her army and her administration. No trouble would have arisen among our own people. And the general trend of development, and the undoubted advantages of unity, would have brought the North-East quietly into union with the rest of the country, as soon as a stable national government had been established into which they could have come with confidence.
Mr. de Valera, and those who supported him in the Dáil, were asked to take part in the interim government, without prejudice to their principles, and their right to oppose the ratification of the Treaty at the elections.
They were asked to help in keeping an orderly united nation with the greatest possible strength over against England, exercising the greatest possible peaceful pressure towards the union of all Ireland, and with the greatest amount of credit for us in the eyes of the world, and with the greatest advantage to the nation itself in having a strong united government to start the departments of State, and to deal with the urgent problems of housing, land, hunger, and unemployment.
They did not find it possible to accept this offer of patriotic service.
Another offer was then made.
If they would not join in the work of transition, would they not co-operate in preserving order to allow that transition peacefully to take place? Would they not co-operate in keeping the army united, free from political bias, so as to preserve its strength for the proper purpose of defending the country in the exercise of its rights?
This also was refused.
It must be remembered that the country was emerging from a revolutionary struggle. And, as was to be expected, some of our people were in a state of excitement, and it was obviously the duty of all leaders to direct the thoughts of the people away from violence and into the steady channels of peace and obedience to authority. No one could have been blind to the course things were bound to take if this duty were neglected.
It was neglected, and events took their course.
Our ideal of nationality was distorted in hair-splitting over the meaning of ‘sovereignty’ and other foreign words, under advice from minds dominated by English ideas of nationality; and, led away, some soon got out of control and betook themselves to the very methods we had learned to detest in the English and had united to drive out of the country.
By the time the Árd Fheis met the drift had become apparent. And the feeling in favour of keeping the national forces united was so strong that a belated agreement was arrived at. In return for a postponement of the elections, the Anti- Treaty Party pledged themselves to allow the work of the Provisional Government to proceed.
What came of that pledge?
Attempts to stampede meetings by revolver shootings, to wreck trains, the suppression of free speech, of the liberty of the Press, terrorisation and sabotage of a kind that we were familiar with a year ago. And with what object; With the sole object of preventing the people from expressing their will, and of making the government of Ireland by the representatives of the people as impossible as the English Government was made impossible by the united forces a year ago.
The policy of the Anti-Treaty Party had now become clear—to prevent the people's will from being carried out because it differed from their own, to create trouble in order to break up the only possible national government, and to destroy the Treaty with utter recklessness as to the consequences.
A section of the army, in an attempt at a military despotism, seized public buildings, took possession of the Chief Courts of Law of the Nation, dislocating private and national business, reinforced the Belfast Boycott which had been discontinued by the people's government, and ‘commandeered’ public and private funds, and the property of the people.
Met by this reckless and wrecking opposition, and yet unwilling to use force against our own countrymen, we made attempt after attempt at conciliation.
We appealed to the soldiers to avoid strife, to let the old feelings of brotherhood and solidarity continue.
We met and made advances over and over again to the politicians, standing out alone on the one fundamental point on which we owed an unquestioned duty to the people—that we must maintain for them the position of freedom they had secured. We could get no guarantee that we would be allowed to carry out that duty.
The country was face to face with disaster, economic ruin, and the imminent danger of the loss of the position we had won by the national effort. If order could not be maintained, if no National Government was to be allowed to function, a vacuum would be created, into which the English would be necessarily drawn back. To allow that to happen would have been the greatest betrayal of the Irish people, whose one wish was to take and to secure and to make use of the freedom which had been won.
Seeing the trend of events, soldiers from both sides met to try and reach an understanding, on the basis that the people were admittedly in favour of the Treaty, that the only legitimate government could be one based on the people's will and that the practicable course was to keep the peace, and to make use of the position we had secured.
Those honourable efforts were defeated by the politicians. But at the eleventh hour an agreement was reached between Mr. de Valera and myself for which I have been severely criticised.
It was said that I gave away too much, that I went too far to meet them, that I had exceeded my powers in making a pact which, to some extent, interfered with the people's right to make a free and full choice at the elections.
It was a last effort on our part to avoid strife, to prevent the use of force by Irishmen against Irishmen. We refrained from opposing the Anti-Treaty Party at the elections. We stood aside from political conflict, so that, so far as we were concerned, our opponents might retain the full number of seats which they had held in the previous Dáil. And I undertook, with the approval of the Government, that they should hold four out of the nine offices in the new Ministry. They calculated that in this way they would have the same position in the new Dáil as in the old. But their calculations were upset by the people themselves, and they then dropped all pretence of representing the people, and turned definitely against them.
The Irregular Forces in the Four Courts continued in their mutinous attitude. They openly defied the newly expressed will of the people. On the pretext of enforcing a boycott of Belfast goods, they raided and looted a Dublin garage, and when the leader of the raid was arrested by the National Forces, they retaliated by the seizure of one of the principal officers of the National Army.
Such a challenge left two courses open to the National Government: either to betray its trust and surrender to the mutineers, or to fulfil its duty and carry out the work entrusted to it by the people.
The Government did its duty. Having given them one last opportunity to accept the situation, to obey the people's will, when the offer was rejected the Government took the necessary measures to protect the rights and property of the people and to disperse the armed bands which had outlawed themselves and were preying upon the nation.
Unbelievers had said that there was not, and had never been, an Irish Nation capable of harmonious, orderly development. That it was not the foreign invader but the character of the Irish themselves which throughout history had made of our country a scene of strife.
We knew this to be a libel. Our historians had shown our nationality as existing from legendary ages, and through centuries of foreign oppression.
What made Ireland a nation was a common way of life, which no military force, no political change could destroy. Our strength lay in a common ideal of how a people should live, bound together by mutual ties, and by a devotion to Ireland which shrank from no individual sacrifice. This consciousness of unity carried us to success in our last great struggle.