Even though Michael Collins concluded, accurately, in December 1921, that, in agreeing to the terms of the Anglo Irish treaty, he had signed his own death warrant, without having appended his signature to the document on 6 December 1921 he would not have been able to participate in an event six weeks later that must have given him a great deal of satisfaction.
Once the Treaty was signed and ratified by Dail Eireann on 7 January, bar a port or two, the loan of some artillery to start the Civil War, and of course six counties, the British didn’t really hang about. The new rulers of Ireland were advised to be ready to take over Dublin Castle in mid January.
There could be no clearer indication of the actual intention of the British to leave the 26 county Irish Free State than the handing over of this sprawling monument to British rule in Ireland. For centuries Ireland had been governed from … ‘The Castle’. Members of the majority religion who co-operated with the British administration to their financial benefit were … ‘Castle Catholics’. Everything British that moved and had its being in Ireland emanated from … the Castle.
Built at the behest of King John in the 13th century to provide a base for the English conquest of the country from Dublin it had remained the nexus of English and then British rule and the abiding symbol of the colonization of Ireland.
It was from the Bermingham Tower in the Castle that the legendary escape of Red Hugh O’Donnell and Art O’Neill took place in the depths of the winter of January 1592. Art O’Neill perished in the Dublin Mountains but O’Donnell managed to make his way to the sanctuary of the O’Byrnes in Glenmalure, Co.Wicklow. Just over two hundred years later, in 1907, the Insignia of the Order of St.Patrick, known as the Irish Crown Jewels, were stolen from the Bedford Tower in an audacious robbery that has never been solved. Half of Dublin at the time knew who had stolen them. The problem was they nominated the other half of the city as the thieves.
The Castle might well have fallen during the upheavals of 1641, but it did not succumb to rebel control. Robert Emmett could conceivably have taken it in 1803 but dismally failed to do so. It was even more vulnerable in 1916 but the Volunteers failed to walk the ball into an open goal.
So Michael Collins, dressed impressively in his military uniform, must have savoured the moment when his staff car drove into the precincts of the complex of buildings whose fabric he had successfully managed to infiltrate during the Anglo-Irish war while, himself, managing to stay out of the clutches of its more sinister and homicidal operatives.
When Collins stepped out of his staff car he was greeted waspishly by the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Fitzalan. ‘You are seven minutes late, Mr.Collins’, observed His Majesty’s last Viceroy in Ireland. The Irish leader is said to have responded acidly, ‘We’ve been waiting over seven hundred years, you can have the seven minutes.’
Fitzalan, the first Catholic Lord Lieutenant since the reign of King James II then took Collins on an impromptu and largely irrelevant tour of the facility pointing out which keys opened which doors, before absenting himself and leaving Collins, literally, holding the fort.
Michael Collins took possession of Dublin Castle on behalf of the Irish provisional government 93 years ago, on this day.