Even 90 years after his death Michael Collins remains a pivotal part of this city’s life. A life-size photograph of him graces the window of the Irish Times on Tara Street, and you see photographs and paintings of him in shops and pubs around town.
Visitors may wonder why this revolutionary-cum-politician continues to exert such a grasp on Dublin and its inhabitants. There are two reasons: 1) Unlike almost every other Irish revolutionary, he was successful; and 2) He was one of their own, a “Jackeen” by adoption, a Cork man who knew every back alley and pub in “durty ould Dublin,” as the locals often call it. In their time of European Union austerity, the Irish see an icon — albeit a dead one — they can still believe in.
But who exactly was Michael Collins?
He was the most wanted man in Ireland. In 1920, the British put a 10,000-pound bounty on his head (almost $37,000). Yet Collins walked and cycled around Dublin with a devil-may-care attitude that inspired his small army. (His fiancée, Kitty Kiernan, referred to him in letters as her “elusive Pimpernel.”)
He was Ireland’s first minister for finance, responsible for the National Loan that financed the infant nation, and gained notoriety as the director of intelligence of the Irish Republican Army. He knew — as the British did — the importance of Dublin. “Whoever controls Dublin,” he once said, “holds the fate of the Irish nation in their hands.” As DOI he formed his infamous assassination Squad — “The Twelve Apostles” — who systematically executed up to 14 British intelligence
officers in Dublin on “Bloody Sunday,” Nov. 21, 1920. Just over a year later, he negotiated the treaty that freed Ireland from 700 years of British rule. Collins was 31 when he was assassinated in Béal na mBláth, in his native County Cork, on Aug. 22, 1922. His body was returned to Dublin, and he is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.
Although Collins has been dead for nine decades, many of his Dublin haunts remain intact. A walking tour of Collins’s Dublin won’t take more than an hour because many of the buildings and pubs are located smack in the middle of the city.
3 St. Andrew St. and the Old Stand Pub
Let’s begin the tour at the front gate of Trinity College. Cross Grafton Street and walk up
College Green to Trinity Street. Turn left and advance a block to 3 St. Andrew St. This is the location of one of Collins’s main finance offices. After going over the books for the National Loan here, Collins often would cross the street to meet up with his men at the Old Stand (www.theoldstandpub.com). According to the pub’s website, “From time to time, Collins held informal meetings of the outlawed IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood) in the premises as true to Collins’ tradition, he was less conspicuous while in the midst of the public.”
The Stag’s Head
When you leave the Old Stand, turn right on Wicklow Street. Shortly, it becomes Exchequer Street. Keep walking until you come to Dame Court, by the Central Hotel. At the end of this lane is the Stag’s Head, one of the most beautiful Victorian pubs in Dublin (www.louisfitzgerald.com/stagshead). By day it is quiet and a great place to have lunch. By night it is a mad house. Day or night it is a great pub and was a favorite of Collins. After a hard day of creating mayhem for the British, he would come here and enjoy a whiskey from “Mick’s Barrel,” which they kept especially for him. The back room is unique because of its stuffed fox (a frequent source of squeals), and it’s easy to envision Collins and his agents plotting over a pint, always ready to spring for the back door if members of the Crown should pounce.
Collins’s Alley and 3 Crow St.
Right outside the Stag’s Head is a short, yet sinister, tunnel that leads to Dame Street, which I have nicknamed “Collins’s Alley.” If you look directly across the thoroughfare you’ll see Crow Street. At No. 3 Collins kept his intelligence office, disguised as John F. Fowler, printer and binder. If was through this office — which he seldom visited because of security issues — that his agents plotted the downfall of the British Secret Service.
32 Bachelors Walk and the Oval Bar
Let’s make our way to the River Liffey and cross the Ha’penny Bridge. Walk toward O’Connell Street and you’ll come to 32 Bachelors Walk, the location of another secret Collins office. It is on the corner of Bachelors Way, an alley that leads to Middle Abbey Street. If you look down this alley you’ll see the Oval Bar (www.theovalbar.com). The Oval was used by Collins and his squad perhaps because of its proximity to “The Dump,” a “waiting” room for the squad on the top floor of the adjacent Eason bookshop building on the corner of Abbey and O’Connell streets.
General Post Office and 16 Moore St.
At O’Connell Street turn left and you’ll see the portico of the General Post Office (note the bullet scars on the columns). The Easter Rising started here on April 24, 1916. Collins, then a staff captain, fought inside. By the end of the week, Collins and the other rebels were forced to evacuate the burning building and took refuge at 16 Moore St. (with the dilapidated “Plunket” sign), just off Henry Street. Here five of the seven signatories of the Proclamation, which declared the Irish Republic — including the wounded James Connolly — took refuge. A plaque to the left of the second-floor windows marks the event.
Vaughan’s Hotel, Parnell Square
Proceed along colorful Moore Street — its food and fish mongers are straight out of Joyce and O’Casey — to Parnell Street and turn right. Go along until you meet Parnell Square West, turn left and walk to No. 29. In Collins’s time this was Vaughan’s Hotel — he called it “Joint
Number One” — probably the most important address associated with Collins during this period. He was in and out of the place several times a day even though British “touts” were looking for him.
The Garden of Remembrance
Across from Vaughan’s Hotel is the Garden of Remembrance, directly behind the Rotunda Hospital, the oldest maternity hospital in Europe. In 1916 all the rebels from the General Post Office, including Collins, were bivouacked here for the night after their surrender. It was here that Queen Elizabeth II, on her state visit to Ireland in 2011, laid a wreath in memory of those who died in the fight for Irish freedom. As the queen stood at attention as the Irish national anthem was played, many Dubliners observed that they wouldn’t be surprised if the ghost of Collins, just across the way at Vaughan’s Hotel, was keeping a close eye on the proceedings — and that he would, finally, approve.Dermot McEvoy is the author of the forthcoming “The 13th Apostle: A Novel of a Dublin Family, Michael Collins, and the Irish Uprising” (Skyhorse Publishing). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.