Updated: 07/03/18 : 05:23:13
Printable Version   Bookmark and Share Share This


Michael Collins hit lows on remand in Sligo

By Eugene McGloin

SLIGO JAIL brought out high highs and low lows in Michael Collins exactly 100 years ago.

The incident which led him being taken across the country to Sligo also started the life of the Irish revolution leader ‘on the run.’

Sleepless Night

The details feature in the cover story of the March/April issue of “History Ireland,” just published.

Collins description of his cell in Sligo has become famed: “Mattress an awful thing. Reminded me of a sack half filled with sods of turf.”

No surprise then that he “spent a hopeless sleepless night” in Sligo jail.

“Don’t know why,” added Collins in his diary: “as I was tired enough going to bed.”

Climbed Table

The mattress was changed after complaints but Collins’ nights in Sligo were still sleepless.

A visit from a woman lifted his spirits enough to have him later climb on a table in his cell to watch the sun setting on “the resting place of Maebh the warrior.”

This was no ordinary woman from no ordinary family who travelled from Longford to Sligo on April 11th 1918 to see the Warrior Himself.

Collins even prevailed on Helen Kiernan “to remain over in Sligo tonight” and visit him again the following day.

Birds Singing

Michael Collins diary from prison in Sligo Jail changed its language after the visit:-

“This is a most glorious April evening. Birds singing and chirping. Beautiful sunshine.

“Even in a cell 12 by 7 a man can feel nature reclothing herself,” said Collins.

That was just before he climbed on the table to look at Knocknarea.....or “Knocknarigh” as he wrote it.

The leading article in “History Ireland” by retired sociology lecturer Phelim Brady notes Collins spirit could droop also in his cell.

The moment of joy, described above, was followed by, notes Brady: “Appalling loneliness with the blackest despair in my heart.”


A photo of the interior of Sligo Jail by renowned Sligo photographer Val Robus (Magnumlady.com) is featured
in the publication

Crass Policy

The visit by Helen Kiernan reminds this reader of the (crass) British policy of moving Irish prisoners, here and England, from one end of the country to the other to make it much more difficult for families and friends to visit.

Collins had been arrested in Dublin, accused of seditious speech, brought by train from the Broadstone to court in Longford and then remanded to Sligo jail.

In his cell in Sligo, Collins hardened his views on British conscription in Ireland.

The same topic also saw him harden his views on both Eamon de Valera and Arthur Griffith.

Most interesting is the later observation by Collins that “a good week has been wasted” as he waited for his colleagues in Dublin to arrange bail.

Most Thoughtless

He does concede “I am the most thoughtless person in every way in the world.”

This was after another visitor to see him in Sligo Jail, a repeat visit from Mrs Hanley.

She was, presumably, the wife of DM Hanley, a year earlier elected as Sligo’s first ever Sinn Fein Mayor.

Noted Collins: “She has been most awfully kind and thoughtful.

“Really it’s hard not to feel embarrassed when I think of the trouble and inconvenience I am putting people to,” he wrote.

Collins diaries from jail survived because of his secretary Sinead Mason, who hid them for years from everybody, including historians!

“History Ireland” explains that the diaries which are in the National Library of Ireland (NLI) are currently being digitized.

They will then be available for readers across the globe to view on the NLI website. 

The magazine “History Ireland” is now in its 26th volume and priced €7.