EnglishIrish tensions in 1912


Feb 14, 2011
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The 1916 Irish uprising always made me wonder what was happening within the Irish resistance movement 4 years earlier in 1912? What was Mr Collins doing at that time?


Tarn Stephanos
 

Inger Sheil

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Michael Collins was working in London in 1912.

In July 1906, after studying for a year and a half in Clonakilty he had passed his Post Office examination and landed a job at the Post Office Savings Bank in West Kensington. At the age 15, he moved to the UK, where he lived with his sister Hannie in West Kensington. In 1910 he joined a firm of stockbrokers, Horne & Co., at 23 Moorgate St. He left Horne's and joined the Board of Trade as a clerk on the 1 September 1914. In May 1915 he moved to the Guaranty Trust Company of New York's London branch. Biographer Tim Pat Coogan suggests he might have been involved in gun running to nationalists in Ireland in 1914, but this has not yet been proven. He was, however, active within the London branch of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He considered leaving for America after the outbreak of war, but instead gave notice to the Guaranty Trust Company, announcing he was going to 'join up' (and got an extra week's pay for doing so, which he promptly donated to the Irish Republican Brotherhood). The next day, 15 January 1916, he crossed to Ireland to prepare for the Easter Rising. And the rest, for the Big Fella himself and for Ireland, is - as they say - history.

The Irish nationalist movement was active in the pre-1916 rising years, as was the reactionary anti-Home Rule movement. The Irish Parliamentary Party campaigned actively for Home Rule. In July 1912 Bonar Law gave an impassioned Anti-Home Rule speech to a huge demonstration at Blenheim Palace. When the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) ran in 300 tons of rifles to Ulster from Germany, the British Army stood by and did nothing. The Curragh Mutiny of March 1914 was another major incident in this period, in which a group of officers stationed in County Kildare made it known that they would not take against Ulster anti-Home Rulers. The Nationalist Irish Volunteers also took steps to arm themselves and drill (although unlike their UVF opponents, without the tacit support of the British Army - after the Irish Volunteers ran guns into Howth, the British Army fired on demonsstrators in Dublin, killing some participants). Activists like Roger Casement took a proactive nationalist role, but when war was declared the Irish Parliamentary Party, under John Redmond, advocated joining up and a large proportion of Nationalist Volunteers did so. Many of them hoped that by fighting for the rights of small nations they themselves would win freedom for their own.

Others, like Mick Collins, knew that it would take rather a good deal more than that...

One great passage from Collins referring to his period in exile:

I stand for an Irish civilisation based on the people and embodying and maintaining the things - their habits, ways of thought, customs - that make them different - the sort of life I was brought up in...Once, years ago, a crowd of us were going along the Shepherd's Bush Road when out of a lane came a chap with a donkey - just the sort of donkey and just the sort of cart they have at home. He came out quite suddenly and abruptly and we all cheered him. Nobody who has not been an exile will understand me, but I stand for that.
I think of Collins and his cart whenever I happen to be in Shepherd's Bush Road.
 
Feb 14, 2011
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Thanks very much for the information Inger, you certainly know your Irish history!
I wonder sometimes had Irishman Thomas Andrews lived, what would his opinions have been of the 1916 uprising..


Tarn Stehanos
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Inger Sheil

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Michael Collins is a bit of a favourite subject, Tarn (as anyone who has caught me on a late-night TML chat ramble would know). I've often wondered what Andrews would have made of the Irish War of Independance and the ensuing Irish Civil War as well. He seems to have been remarkably devoid of sectarian viciousness, or so at least his remarks about some of the anti-Roman Catholic slogans in the ship yard seem to indicate. One of Andrews' admirers was Erskine Childers, who was so active in the Nationalist movement and who took part in the Ango-Irish Treaty negotiations in 1921 (and who went on to fight on the Republican side in the Civil War, only to be executed by the Free State after Collins' death for - ironically - on the pretext of posessing a gun...which Collins had given to him). Childers was quoted at some length in Shan Bullock's biography. I imagine that Andrews would have deplored sectarian killings on both sides and, although he would probably have been a Unionist, I can't imagine him condoning the ethnic cleansing that took part in sections of Northern Ireland following the signing of the Anglo-Irish treaty.

Little seems to be heard in Titanic circles about John Millar Andrews, Thomas's brother, who went on to be Prime Minister of Northern Ireland from 1940 - 43.
 
May 12, 2005
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I admit to being relatively ignorant of the exciting details of Michael Collins' brief life until my visit with Miss Sheil. I was much fascinated by the images and books which she shared with me on this great figure. Ing's extraordinary grasp of political history and her own remarkable heritage make Collins an unavoidable subject of interest and expertise for her. I'm just sorry I wasn't able to offer more insight into Collins supporter Lady Lavery (beyond her Lucile clothes!). I did come across while at Colindale a trove of press stories on Collins and his other lady which I wish I'd had time to copy .

Randy
 

Inger Sheil

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Yah, you got the full blast of it, didn't you, Randy? The full-throttle Mick Collins intro, in Ing Overdrive! I'm going to have to ask you again which periodicals you found those photos of Collins' fiancee Kitty Kiernan in, as they sounded much better than the few examples of photographs of this interesting figure that we see published. As I mentioned to you, although I've never quite understood her charm and evident appeal, she must have been an exceptional woman to have had such a draw on two extraordinary men like Boland and Collins. One angle to the Lady Lavery story is, of course, 'did they or didn't they?'

Many historical figures are all dash and colour at the outset, but when one looks at them closer they recede in interest. Collins is one of those who becomes ever more interesting the more one looks at him, genuinely and thoroughly larger than life, and of tremendous substance and energy. For anyone interested, I thoroughly recommend the work of one of my favourite writers, Tim Pat Coogan, in his brilliant and comprehensive biography 'Michael Collins'. There are other fine books out there was well on the subject, but few biographies capture their subject as vividly as Frank O'Connor's 'The Big Fellow'.
 
May 12, 2005
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Ing ventured: "One angle to the Lady Lavery story is, of course, 'did they or didn't they?"

If milady was "en dishabille" when she entertained Collins for tea, I expect that the answer is "they did" indeed. After all Lucile made her reputation on just such delicious assignations!

As to the papers I was looking through when I found the Collins and Kiernan photos/articles, I am sure they were the Daily Sketch and the Daily Mirror from 1922. I will get you more specific dates when I check my notes. I remember I was looking for photos of Lucile at the time of her bankruptcy. I found a really funny one of her taken as she was stepping from her car to attend her hearing. She was shouting a reporter down who had taken her picture before she was ready! It was a great finger-pointing, cape-fluttering action shot of Lucy on the rampage!

The pictures I told you about of Kiernan that were so striking included one of her reclining on a chaise longue in a low-neck, dark floaty dress. It was a very chic and racy pose but she herself looked terribly wholesome and sweet.

Randy
 

Inger Sheil

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Cheers Randy! In '21-22 the British media developed something of an infatuation with Collins - prior to that, they had (to his considerable amusement) depicted him as a dour hater, a humourless, ruthless killer. One story had him leading a raid on some police barracks riding a white horse (as he laughed, he hadn't ridden a horse since the pony Gypsy on the family farm when he was a child, using her mane as a bridle). Once the media got a chance to see him, however, during the prolonged treaty negotiations, he fascinated both the press and London society. Kiernan was horrified by one rumour circulating that a prominant English socialite (wonder which one?) had announced she wished to spend the night with Collins - simply for the noteriety of it. He was forced to announce his engagement to Kitty in the Dail in order to dispel rumours - given voice by the Countess Constance Markievicz - that he was to marry Princess Mary and become the first Governor General of Ireland.

Lady Lavery certainly wanted the world, or at least her circle of friends, to believe that they had an affair - hopelessly obscuring the matter (there is the curious matter of what may or may not be interpolated passages in another hand in their correspondence). She had to be dissuaded from donning widow's weeds at his funeral, and later hurled herself on his grave to weep. Aside from slightly prurient questions about the exact nature of her friendship with Collins, however, she did have a positive influence on the treaty negotiations. She and Sir John provided an environment in which negotiating team members, such as Collins, Churchill and Birkenhead, could talk in an informal setting.

Lucy on the Rampage sounds like good fun! She and Lady Lavery seemed to me to have much in common - and perhaps their social sets overlapped, given that Sir John was an artist and society painter? He did a couple of paintings of Collins - one a portrait in London during the negotiations, the other of him lying in state after his assasination.

Another question that always intrigued me, and I can't remember if I asked you - did Lucile ever come into contact with Kathleen Scott? Kathleen, while not overly interested in clothes (one has trouble seeing her in a frothy Lucile number), was certainly part of the Bohemian art set. A friend of Isadora Duncan, she had studied sculpture under Rodin and was quite gifted (from memory, I seem to recall she did the Captain Smith sculpture at Lichfield). She later married Edward Hilton Young, Lord Kennet, in 1927. Not always a likeable person, she's certainly a vivid and fascinating figure in London society at the time. Scott goes up in my estimation for chosing such a talented, unconventional, outspoken wife whom he obviously adored- even if the members of his expedition were not exactly enthralled with her! Cue grumble from Oates here.
 
May 12, 2005
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Ing,

Great stuff there! The man was a natural star. I am intrigued about this unidentified society lady who was willing to give her all for the cause! And I am amazed that Collins was rumored to have been a likely candidate for the Princess Royal's hand in marriage. Mercy, how that would have jolted the crown!

Lucile and Lady Lavery would have had in common their sense of drama and style, not to mention an affinity for the Irish. Lucile was part Irish, having an Irish grandmother, though she was apolitical. She very likely knew Sir John and Lady Lavery socially though I haven't found anything about that.

I am curious if she ever met Collins himself. Lucile was designing primarily from London and Paris in the early 1920s (she had spent the war years in the US) and went everywhere, meeting everyone. It's very likely they met at parties and knowing Lucile's taste for rakish young men, I'm sure she would have been captivated by Collins.

As to Kathleen Scott, I can't say that I've come across any association there. But it would again be likely that the two met, if not professionally then socially. As you know, Lucile was a friend of Isadora Duncan, whom you mention. I have always wondered about Kathleen Scott and am glad to learn about this fascinating woman who did the Smith statue!

Randy
 

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