On the morning of Tuesday 22 August 1922, just hours before he was shot and killed at Béal an mBláth, Michael Collins held a meeting at the Eldon Hotel in Skibbereen.
There was, and still is, much speculation about why Michael Collins came to west Cork at that particularly dangerous and volatile time.
The Civil War was still in its early period. Skibbereen was one of the few towns in Cork county which remained in control of the pro-Treat Forces but the town had been sporadically under siege by anti-Treaty forces for a few weeks.
That meeting in the Eldon Hotel on the morning of 22 August 1922 was attended by about 12 men. Among them was Cornelius Connolly who was Commandant of the 4th Battalion (Skibbereen) of the Third West Cork Brigade IRA during the War of Independence. In a memoir written many years later, Connolly wrote: ‘I know for a fact that Michael Collins expected the Civil War would not last long and from some remarks that he made to me he was very anxious to see Tom Hales and others of the anti-Treaty men and I think that is what brought him to the south that day’.
In 1922 the Eldon Hotel in Skibbereen was owned by the Clancy family and was run by Joe Clancy. The family also owned the pub in Bauravilla but sold that some time after they purchased the Eldon Hotel. Joe Clancy was a supporter of the Republican movement and the Eldon was the venue for many of their meetings.
The Eldon Hotel opened in May 1885. It was built by Frederick Peel Eldon Potter, the proprietor and editor of the Skibbereen Eagle. ‘Eldon’ was a Potter family name and that is how the hotel got its name. It originally had 12-bedrooms and the first manager was a Mrs Goodland, ‘who was a lady in every way specially qualified to discharge such a responsibility, having had long experience in the management of first-class hotels in the metropolis’.
A description of the hotel on its opening in May 1885 continued: ‘Next to the bar, the hotel had a commodious and admirably fitted up smoking and news room, a desideratum rarely found in provincial towns. Here a select and valuable lot of books may be traversed, in addition to the journals and periodicals of the day, visitors will have the appreciable advantage of having the latest telegrams laid before them’.
Collins was a friend of the Clancy family. An extraordinary cameo at the height of the War of Independence bears this out.
Sunday 21 November 1920, Bloody Sunday, was the worst day of the War of Independence. In the early morning of Sunday 21 November groups of Volunteers, members of Collins’s ‘Squad’, converged on different addresses in Dublin. Fifteen men were shot dead, eleven suspected British agents, two Auxiliaries and two civilians.
That afternoon, another fourteen people were killed when members of the Auxiliaries, RIC and Black and Tans opened fire at Croke Park where crowds had gathered to watch an intercounty football match between Tipperary and Dublin.
Later that evening another three men were killed, two IRA prisoners, Dick McKee and Peadar Clancy, and another man, Conor Clune, a Clare man who was visiting Dublin.
One can only imagine the tension in Dublin the following morning, Monday 22 November. Large numbers of British Army and Auxiliaries combed the streets of Dublin trying to round up those involved in the events of the previous morning.
Michael Collins, then top of Britain’s most wanted list, and Gearóid Ó Súilleabháin of Skibbereen attended a wedding reception at Rathgar, Dublin, that morning. Even more extraordinary is that the two men stood in for a group photograph of the wedding party.
Getting married that morning were two Skibbereen people, Lil Clancy of the Eldon Hotel, a sister of Joe Clancy, and Michael J. O’Brien of Curragh, Skibbereen. It seems extraordinary that Collins and Ó Súilleabháin would attend the wedding of their friends that morning.
One of the last photographs of Michael Collins was taken as he left the Eldon Hotel on the morning 22 August. He was photographed getting into his car outside the door of the hotel in Bridge Street, surrounded by a large crowed. Many local people are clearly identifiable in that famous photo.
On Wednesday evening 17 August, Skibbereen & District Historical Society unveiled a plaque at the Eldon Hotel to commemorate the significant event 100 years ago.