Historical tensions at Béal na mBláth

Posted on: 5th August, 2016

Category: Features

Contributor: West Cork People

As President Higgins prepares to address the 2016 Michael Collins commemoration at Béal na mBláth, UCC history graduate and modern Irish history buff Pauline Murphy looks back at the tribal politics that marred commemorations in the 1930s.

Michael Collins is remembered annually at his place of death in Béal na mBláth, on the Sunday nearest to his date of demise. This year that falls on Sunday August 21. The 2016 event will see history in the making, as President Michael D. Higgins will give the main oration, the first serving president to address the annual commemoration.

The first ever commemoration at Béal na mBláth took place 12 months after Michael Collins succumbed to an assassin’s bullet there. In 1923 Richard Mulcahy led Free State troops down the narrow dusty road to a small wooden cross marking the spot where The Big Fella had been shot down. Floral wreaths were laid, mass was delivered by an army chaplain and Mulcahy gave a short oration. The event ended with a volley of shots fired by the troops; coming just three months after the end of the Civil War, the Free State army was intent on putting on a show of strength in the quiet West Cork countryside.

The following year saw government forces up the ante by replacing the simple wooden cross with a large limestone one. The Free State army commissioned this memorial cross, after it purchased some roadside land in Béal na mBláth.

On August 2, 1924 the Michael Collins Memorial Cross at Béal na mBláth was unveiled to a large crowd. General Eoin O’Duffy and Chairman of the Free State government, W.T. Cosgrave, were guests of honour, tasked with the duty of the official unveiling. A large contingent of troops marched to the monument followed by a motorcar covered in black crepe paper and carrying floral wreaths.

Over the years this minor road, cutting through the ‘mouth of the flowers’, gradually widened as the trees and bushes were cut back to accommodate an annual pilgrimage to the site of Irish history’s most infamous ambush.

But not all pilgrims brought a sense of decorum to this sacred spot.

In the early 1930s Béal na mBláth witnessed the forces of fascism when Eoin O’Duffy’s Blueshirts made this rural roadside monument a place to gather in large numbers. The same man who had helped unveil the monument in 1924 was by then a self-styled ‘Irish Mussolini’. O’Duffy and his right wing organisation, the Army Comrades Association (ACA), commonly called the Blueshirts, used Béal na mBláth as a symbolic goading stick to provoke De Valera and Fianna Fáil.

1932 saw the tenth anniversary of the death of Michael Collins marked with a commemoration addressed by Richard Mulcahy, the same man who had addressed the first commemoration in 1923. However O’Duffy took over proceedings the following year when he led members of the ACA to Béal na mBláth in August 1933.

Fianna Fáil cracked down hard on Blueshirt activity. De Valera, in his unique totalitarian way, ordered a ban on numerous public meetings and rallies organised by O’Duffy’s group. De Valera even targeted the Blueshirts through their choice of clothing when he tried push a bill through the Oireachtas banning the wearing of all uniforms (excepting the national army), but the bill failed to pass.

That same year Fianna Fáil Minister for Justice P.J. Ruttledge ordered a ban on army participation at Béal na mBláth commemorations. Fianna Fáil Minister for Defense Jerry Cronin only lifted the ban in 1972, in time for the 50th anniversary of Collins’ death.

As O’Duffy was heading to Béal na mBláth in August 1933 he stopped off in Bandon town to address a meeting of a local branch of the ACA. This gave the government ample time to place a ring of 50 civic guards around Béal na mBláth and when O’Duffy arrived with his fellow Blueshirts, they were prevented from entering.

On September 2, 1934 the Blueshirts turned up to Béal na mBláth in their thousands, including 3,000 ‘Blueblouses’, the women’s wing of the organisation. They marched and gave the raised arm salute when passing the monument.

The last real Blueshirt extravaganza at Béal na mBláth took place on August 30, 1936 when thousands again gathered to march, make speeches, say prayers and give the fascist salute.

In the autumn of 1937, O’Duffy’s Blueshirts returned to Béal na mBláth but in smaller numbers. They gathered at the monument with a depleted sense of worth after their disastrous trip to Spain to fight alongside fascist dictator General Franco in the Spanish Civil War.

Blueshirt membership rapidly declined and O’Duffy’s movement was consigned to history. However such right wing associations had damaged the reputation of the Béal na mBláth commemorations and it would take many decades before the annual event was seen as open to all political creeds.

Since the 1990s, more mainstream speakers have been invited to give the annual oration, thus seeing off tribal ownership of Irish history. On August 21 an Uachtarain na hEireann will without doubt deliver a fine speech for the 94th anniversary of Collins’ death.

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Wave to Mary! 65-year-old Mary Nolan Hickey is running around the entire coast of the Island of Ireland to raise funds & awareness for the RNLI and is currently running the roads of West Cork.

Mary is the only woman to have completed every single Dublin Marathon (all 38 of them). She’s also completed the grueling Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert, known as the ‘toughest foot race on earth’.

To mark her 50th year involved in Athletics Mary is taking on her biggest challenge yet (even though she thought she’d already done that when completing the Dublin Marathon when she was over six months pregnant!) She wants to raise as much money as possible for the RNLI.

Mary started her epic journey in Arklow, Co. Wicklow, on New Year’s Day. She aims to cover up to 5000 kilometers, using coastal routes, over the next five months. She hopes to get back in time to get her first pension payment in June when she turns 66.

Mary will stop off at as many RNLI stations as possible, on her once in a lifetime adventure. As far as she knows no other woman has ever taken on this challenge.

Speaking about her journey Mary said:

“I wanted to prove that age not a barrier. Coming from a coastal town I have a deep affinity with our local RNLI station & volunteers and have huge admiration for the brave men and women who risk their lives to save lives at sea”.

Mary, who’s depending on the goodwill of communities along her route for accommodation, has been astounded by the response so far. “The support has been overwhelming,” she said. “I have met the most amazing and encouraging people along the way”.

To see more about Mary’s adventures, and to pinpoint her location today, check out her Facebook page - rnlilapofthemap2018.

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20th March, 2018  ·  


This Saturday the 10th March, will see some magically curious activity as local Bandon national schools compete in a Wizarding Harry Potter Quiz. The prize will be the beautiful Bandon Banshee Perpetual Cup.

As any Harry Potter enthusiast knows, Bandon has the unique honour of having a character named after the town. The Bandon Banshee, was referred to as the nemesis of Gilderoy Lockhart in the Chamber of Secrets. The book grossed €60 million in sales and was the 7th highest earning film of all time.

Locals, looking to enhance the town for young people, saw the quiz as an ideal way promote the connection. The universally absorbing book series brings young readers on a huge adventure of magic, adversity and triumph. It is also an exploration of loyalty and friendship, good and evil – so it is not only popular way to engage young people, it is a hugely positive connection.

Zoe Tennyson, one of the organisers said they were delighted with the response from schools who ran a qualifying quiz as part of World Book Day. On Saturday Bandon Town Hall will be transformed into Hogwarts Great Hall, with proceeds going Bandon Playground Group, and to cover costs of the event.

Bandon Books will be rewarding the winning team with vouchers to each of the five members. The Bandon Banshee, or Bean-sidhe na Bandaan Perpetual Cup will be hotly contested – but which school will the Banshee go to??

If you have any questions please call Marguerite McQuaid on 087 900 9494
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8th March, 2018  ·  

Ballineen Foróige Young Engineers Exhibition 23 February 2018

The inaugural Ballineen Foróige Young Engineers Exhibition will take place in Gort Mhuire Hall in Ballineen this Friday 23rd February. As part of Engineers Week 2018, leaders and members of Ballineen Foróige Club have organised an exhibition which will showcase a diverse and exciting range of engineering projects that have been undertaken by members of the club over the last few weeks, with the aid of leaders and a number of local engineers.

With the aid of local pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, along with the support of STEAM Education, a UCC based company focused on promoting science, technology, engineering, arts, and maths subjects in primary schools, Ballineen Foróige has been engaging members and leaders in all things engineering over the last six weeks. From researching, designing, and prototyping a project based on local problems, to participating in various workshops on coding and careers in engineering, Ballineen Foróige have been extremely busy in preparation for the exhibition this coming Friday night.

On the night itself, Michael Loftus, Head of Engineering at CIT, Fintan Goold, Manager at Eli Lilly and All-Ireland Cork winning Footballer, along with Geraldine Coughlan of GCA Architects & Designers, a local business, will act as judges on the night, evaluating the different engineering projects and offering some advice to the members of the club. Also in attendance will be the CEO of Foróige Seán Campbell, along with a number of local councillors, TD’s and Senators.

Leading the team of Ballineen Foróige leaders organising the event, is Rebecca Dwyer, a bioprocess engineer at Eli Lilly. Rebecca recently became a leader in the club and says that Ballineen Foróige Young Engineer Exhibition 2018 “promises to be a fun, challenging and rewarding experience for all involved and we look forward to welcoming parents, relatives, friends and members of the public to the exhibition and film screening on the evening of Friday 23rd February.” Overall, there are twelve projects entered in the exhibition. One project, led by Cian Kennefick and Charlie Nolan, members of the starting out club, examines the possibility of installing speed ramps on the road near local primary school. Fourteen-year-old Charlie says he got involved in the project as it was something to do and it gets you thinking. Cian says the most exciting part of the project was the building of the prototypes.

Both Cian and Charlie, along with thirty other members of the club will display their projects this coming Friday 23 February in Gort Mhuire Hall in Ballineen. Doors open at 8pm and the event runs until 10pm. All are welcome to attend, and admission is free. Catering, including tea and coffee, will be provided on the night.
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20th February, 2018  ·  

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Main course

17th February, 2018  ·  

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