Emmet Dalton's Account of Collins' Assassination


Background Information

Major-General Emmet Dalton was with Collins during the fatal ambush. The text below is his account of the shooting. If you are interested in a text copy, please see Rex Taylor's biography, Michael Collins.


Text of Dalton's Account

     About three miles from Clonakilty, we found the road blocked with felled trees. We spent about half an hour clearing the road. General Collins, always ready for emergencies, great or small, directed the work, and took a hand in carrying it out. Active and powerful in body as in mind, he handled axe and saw with the same vigour as he could exhibit in the direction of affairs of state, military or civil.
     Having at last cleared a way, we went into the town of Clonakilty, which is the home town of General Collins. Here he interviewed the garrison officer, and had conversations with many of his friends. It was pleasant to see with what delight and affection they met him. We had lunch in a friend's house in the town before setting out for Rosscarbery.
     Just outside the town of Bandon, General Collins pointed out to me several farmhouses, which he told me were used by the lads in the old days of 'The Terror.' He mentioned to me the homes of one particular friend of his own, remarking, 'It's too bad he's on the other side now, because he is a damn good soldier.' Then he added pensively-- 'I don't suppose I will be ambushed in my own country.'
     It was now about a quarter past seven, and the light was failing. We were speeding along the open road on our way to Macroom. Our motor-cyclist scout was about fifty yards in front of the Crossley tender, which we followed at the same interval in the touring car. Close behind us came the armoured car.
     We had just reached a part of the road which was commanded by hills on all sides. The road itself was flat and open. On the right we were flanked by steep hills; on the left there was a small two-foot bank of earth skirting the road. Beyond this there was a marshy field bounded by a small stream, with another steep hill beyond it.
     About half way up this hill there was a road running parallel to the one that we were on, but screened from view by a wall and a mass of trees and bushes. We had just turned a wide corner on the road when a sudden and heavy fusillade of machine-gun and rifle fire swept the road in front of us and behind us, shattering the windscreen of our car.
     I shouted to the driver-- 'Drive like hell!' But the Commander-in-Chief, placing his hand on the man's shoulder, said-- 'Stop! Jump out and we'll fight them.'
     We leaped from the car, and took what cover we could behind the little mud bank on the left hand side of the road. It seemed that the greatest volume of fire was coming from the concealed roadway on our left-hand side. The armoured car now backed up the road and opened a heavy machine-gun fire at the hidden ambushers.
     General Collins and I were lying within arm's length of each other. Captain Dolan, who had been on the back of the armoured car, together with our two drivers, was several yards further down the road to my right.
     General Collins and I, with Captain Dolan, who was near us, opened a rapid rifle fire on our seldom visible enemies. About fifty or sixty yards further down the road, and round the bend, we could hear that our machine-gunners and riflemen were also heavily engaged.
     We continued this fire fight for about twenty minutes without suffering any casualties, when a lull in the enemy's attack became noticeable. General Collins now jumped to his feet and walked over behind the armoured car obviously to obtain a better view of the enemy's position.
     He remained there, firing occasional shots and using the car as cover. Suddenly I heard him shout-- 'Come on boys! There they are, running up the road.' I immediately opened fire upon two figures that came in view on the opposite road.
     When I next turned round the Commander-in-Chief had left the car position, and had run about fifteen yards back up the road. Here he dropped into the prone firing position, and opened up on our retreating enemies.
     We (Emmet and Sean O'Connell) rushed to the spot with a dreadful fear clutching our hearts. We found our beloved Chief and friend lying motionless in a firing position, firmly gripping his rifle, across which his head was resting.
     There was a fearful gaping wound at the base of the skull behind the right ear. We immediately saw that General Collins was almost beyond human aid. He could not speak to us.
     The enemy must have seen that something had occurred to cause a sudden cessation of our fire, because they intensified their own.
     O'Connell now knelt beside the dying but still conscious Chief, whose eyes were wide open and normal, and he whispered into the ear of the fast-sinking man the words of the Act of Contrition. For this he was rewarded by a slight pressure of the hand.
     Meanwhile I knelt beside them both, and kept up bursts of rapid fire, which I continued whilst O'Connell dragged the Chief across the road and behind the armoured car. Then, with my heart torn with sorrow and despair, I ran to the Chief's side. Very gently I raised his head on my knee and tried to bandage his wound, but, owing to the awful size of it, this proved very difficult.
     I had not completed my grievous task when the big eyes closed, and the cold pallor of death overspread the General's face. How can I describe the feelings that were mine at that bleak hour, kneeling in the mud of a country road not twelve miles from Clonakilty, with the still bleeding head of the Idol of Ireland resting on my arm.
     My heart was broken, my mind was numbed. I was all unconscious of the bullets that still whistled and ripped the ground beside me. I think that the weight of the blow must have caused the loss of my reason had I not abruptly observed the tear-stained face of O'Connell, now distorted with anguish, and calling also for my sympathy and support.
     We paused for a moment in silent prayer, and then, noting that the fire of our enemies had greatly abated, and that they had practically all retreated, we two, with the assistance of Lieutenant Smith, the motor-cyclist scout officer, who had come on the scene, endeavoured to lift the stalwart body of Michael Collins on the back of the armoured car.
     It was then that we suffered our second casualty-- Lieutenant Smith was shot in the neck. He remained on his feet, however, and helped us to carry our precious burden around a turn in the road and under cover of the armoured car.
     Having transferred the body of our Chief to the touring car, where I sat with his head resting on my shoulder, our awe-stricken little party set out for Cork.


My Comments

Intermittently, Rex Taylor interjects relevant information. For example, he states that the whole town of Clonakilty came out to greet Collins when he passed through and he also reiterates that Dalton thought he heard Collins scream, "Emmet!" before he died. Dalton's account corroborates Ryan's research very well and it is likely she drew heavily on his version of events for her book.