Peter Berresford Ellis reviews 'I Signed My Death Warrant': Michael Collins and the Treaty by T. Ryle Dwyer, Mercier Press, ISBN 1-85635-526-8, £10.95 pbk
COLLINS' PROPHESY of his own death has become legendary. A few hours after signing the Treaty he wrote:
"Think - what have I got for Ireland? Something which she has wanted these past seven hundred years. Will anyone be satisfied at the bargain? Will anyone? I tell you this, early this morning I signed my death warrant. I thought at the time, how odd, how ridiculous - a bullet may just as well have done the job five years ago.'
The Treaty negotiations and their outcome will always be a controversial topic - they led to civil war and the death of more Irish people than the War of Independence that preceded it. De Valéra called the Treaty 'treason' and subsequently led his followers out of the Dáil.
Was Collins right that the Treaty should have been accepted by everyone as a 'stepping stone'? He argued that the Treaty gave Ireland a chance for independence which, had it been rejected, would have precipitated the country into "an immediately and terrible war" - as Churchill threatened, and the British documents have shown that it was not made for effect. Lloyd George, Churchill, Birkenhead and their Cabinet colleagues had no moral scruples against any genocidal war in Ireland. Would world opinion have stepped in and forced Britain to accede to Ireland's democratic demand for a united republic? I doubt it.
T. Ryle Dwyer, a regular columnist on the Irish Examiner, is also known for his popular histories on twentieth century Irish history. The current work tells, in simple and compellingly readable fashion, the painful Treaty negotiations.
The conclusion that the author reaches is that the civil war need never have been fought at all, for when the Irish Republic was declared in 1949, the country had already previously demonstrated that it was a 'dictionary republic' and that the Treaty had, as Collins predicted, provided the stepping stone. The irony was that it was De Valéra who proved that Collins had been right all along.
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Copyright © 2007 Peter Berresford Ellis