A short extract from ‘Torn Edges’ on the assassination of Michael Collins 22 August 1922.
… The door was hardly open when George threw a newspaper fly sheet on to the table.
‘Look at this!’ he cried pointing to the paper. Charlie read the headline, barely believing his eyes.
Collins shot in ambush!
‘I just got a call half an hour ago. He’s dead.’
Charlie sat down.
‘That poster came up on the train from Cork for the local newsagents. They’re printing a special edition right now it should be up here by lunch time.’
‘I can’t believe it. There was a rumour that he was coming to Cork on Monday. What the hell happened?’
‘Not a lot of news. Apparently his armed convoy was visiting Skibereen, and was ambushed on the way back, some god-forsaken place called Beal na blah or blag or something. Collins was the only casualty, killed outright. It seems it took ages to get back to Cork city, I think that’s why the news was slow to get out. I can scarcely believe it myself.’
Charlie found it hard to take it all in.
‘The world has gone mad,’ he said as he stood up. ‘Harry Bolland, Arthur Grifith and now Mick Collins – all within a couple of weeks. Who’s left?’
‘Dick Mulcahy, or Cosgrave, I suppose. That’s if you don’t count that conniving snake in the grass, De Valera’
‘De Valera?’ Charlie said with a sneer. ‘He usually disappears when the going gets tough, can’t see him getting very far. In fact the more you think of it, the more you’d come to believe the British government were paying him as an agent, the mess he’s made of things.’
There was a short silence as Charlie tried to gather his thoughts together.
George looked up at the ceiling.
‘Still,’ he said, with a slight cough, ‘things could be worse.’
Charlie looked at him in disbelief.
‘Things could be worse! Just how the hell could things be worse George?’
‘I’ve seen Daly just half an hour ago. He is going crazy, by the way – wanted to take out all the anti-treaty prisoners and shoot them on the spot – and I recommended that I accompany the body back to Dublin, it seems they’re taking him back to Dublin by sea from Cork.’
Charlie’s jaw dropped.
‘I suggested that I could represent the Brigadier himself and the Kerry Command.’ added George quickly. He stood up and pulled at his jacket nervously.
‘You could come as well,” he added brightly, as if the thought had just suddenly occurred to him, ‘we could get this business of the bill of exchange finished.’
Charlie stood speechless.
“Em … We would be killing two birds with the one stone, so to speak,” he added, his voice dropping.
Charlie turned round and looked out the window. He was exasperated. There was little point in ranting and shouting at George – he was beyond redemption. His reaction to any event was never seen from any other perspective other than his own – how does this affects me? Can I gain anything by this? It wasn’t a malicious reaction, it was almost guileless more than anything else. In a way it was part of his charm. George Peebles was probably one of the few people in Ireland this morning that could see something positive
in the assassination of Michael Collins. In fact, thought Charlie bitterly, he probably regarded it as a bit of luck.
George started babbling about armoured cars and convoys.
Charlie turned from the window in anger.
‘Shut up George!’ he shouted.
(Torn Edges, page 146)