On 21st January 1919 the Inaugural Meeting of Dail Eireann had a small attendance.
Every candidate elected in Ireland the month before was invited. The 26 Unionists and the 6 “Nationalists” elected boycotted the National Parliament and 37 of the 73 Republicans were in British jails- many accused of a “German” plot which might have been a pretext for their hanging.
But Ivor Churchill, Winston’s first cousin, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, spoke up in the House of Lords to denounce the charge as bogus.
Two Republican deputies were at large in England (though I believe reported as present at the roll call) arranging the successful springing of their party leader, Eamon de Valera, from Lincoln Gaol. They were Michael Collins and Harry Boland. I have never seen or heard a convincing story of a disagreement between Collins, Boland and de Valera prior to the signing of the Articles of Agreement in London in December 1921.
At the time the Irish Volunteers had already elected Dev as President of that body, as Sinn Fein had elected him President of theirs. But the Volunteers were autonomous and not yet answerable to the nascent Dail Eireann.
Richard Mulcahy was Chief of Staff of the Volunteers, and like Collins, had been elected to the Dail. Both members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, they were of different temperaments and experience.
Collins was impulsive and Mulcahy was cool-headed and proved later to have ice in his soul. When it was safe for de Valera to appear in Dublin in April 1919 Collins planned to have him publicly welcomed in the streets by the Lord Mayor and made a Freeman of the City.
In January 1919 Gurkha mercenary riflemen under British command murdered hundreds of unarmed Indians in Amritsar.
Flushed with that success the British might well have repeated that exercise in Dublin. De Valera, cool-headed as he remained all his life, declined the offer.
While Collins was an aide to one of the 1916 leaders in the G.P.O he had never commanded even a 10 man section in battle, and may never have fired a shot.
On the other hand Mulcahy in that same week proved himself a brilliant commander in the Battle of Ashbourne.
Collins supported the Volunteers, who on 21st January 1919 at Soloheadbeg, shot dead two armed RIC men resisting their seizure of dynamite on its way to a quarry at Soloheadbeg. The operation was ordered and led by Seamus Robinson, Mulcahy wanted to court martial Robinson and Dan Breen and Sean Treacy for carrying out an operation unsanctioned by GHQ. Collins admired their initiative and prevailed.
In the following years Collins employed all his energies in organising both Dail business and IRA business. He wore civilian clothes, walked and cycled unarmed. He had worked in London for nine years and passed unnoticed through Crown force cordons and was hail-fellow-well met with those seeking to arrest or kill him. When Dick McKee and Peadar Clancy were murdered by the British in Dublin Castle, Collins attended their funeral Mass at the Pro-Cathedral and was photographed on Pathe News. The newsreel shows him apparently saying F*** Off to a silly woman who blurted out his name when she saw him. He was as brave a man as ever lived.
During the debate on “The Treaty” Seamus Robinson, who had been elected to the Second Dail, opposed its approval. He turned on Collins, who had won extravagant praise in some British papers (after its signing) saying Collins had never been in a gunfight in his life.
I think that taunt was fatal. for when he next put on uniform, Collins looked less like an officer from any army in the Great War than like a gun-slinger in a Wild West Film. The Auxiliaries and Black and Tans had been similarly inspired by Hollywood. The decision to fight rather than flee was not that of a professional soldier.
Emmet Dalton, a former Major in the British Army during the Great War had ordered their driver to drive on and was counter-manded by Collins.
Staters often claim that Northerners did next to nothing in the Tan war and thus deserved to be abandoned to their fate. Seamus Robinson,a Belfast man was one of many Northerners who gave the lie to that.