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06 Oct 2022

Longford unites to remember the ‘Big Fella’

Collins

Senator Micheál Carrigy, Seamus Finnan, Granard Municipal District Cathaoirleach Cllr Colin Dalton, Cllr Paraic Brady and Louis Belton at last Sunday's commemoration in Granard

They came, they saw and for a number of emotion-filled hours last Sunday, hundreds of spectators brought Granard to a standstill to remember quite possibly its most revered of adopted sons, Michael Collins.

From 12 noon, the main street of the north Longford town began filling up on either side as onlookers from all generations paid their own respects to Ireland’s most acclaimed revolutionary leader 100 years on from his death.

A parade, spearheaded by members from Longford Pipe Band and the Defence Forces, charted their way through the town’s fittingly hushed main thoroughfare ahead of a special commemoration at Granard’s Knights and Conquests Heritage Centre.

It was an occasion which was as emotive as it was heartwarming.

A cavalcade of Irish Volunteers decked out in uniform, together with members from Lord Edward’s Own re-enactment group and the First Cavan Battalion 4th & 5th Northern Brigade marched in common, resolute purpose.

Among that convoy included the very Ford Model T Collins and his Granard born fiancee Kitty Kiernan had regularly travelled in with Kitty’s brother, Larry at the wheel.

Fellow Granard man Eamon Creamer, who single handedly masterminded its restoration, brought the legendary car on a nostalgic return journey through the town, accompanied by Dan Breen, Curator of Cork County Museum, Longford County Council Cathaoirleach Turlough ‘Pott’ McGovern and Deirdre Orme, general manager of Granard’s Knights and Conquests Heritage Centre.

One of the afternoon’s most poignant moments came when the procession stopped outside the original home of the Kiernan’s, The Greville Arms Hotel, a resting place Collins would routinely frequent during his days heading up Ireland’s War of Independence effort against Britain.

There were sentimental memories evoked just a matter of yards further down the street at the locally dubbed Finnegan’s Corner, a setting where Collins, as portrayed in Neil Jordan’s big screen blockbuster of the Irish revolutionary icon, delivered a rousing anti-conscription speech.

From there, attention soon turned to the town’s Knights and Conquests centre, where an action-packed and thought-provoking ceremony unfolded, culminating in the unveiling of a specially commissioned cast bronze resin bust in memory of the Cork native alongside a respectfully observed wreath laying ceremony.

To add to the intrigue of last Sunday’s proceedings, members of the public were afforded a first hand insight into the mindset of arguably one of Ireland’s greatest ever patriarchs, courtesy of original handwritten letters which had been exchanged between Collins and his wife-to-be shortly before his death at Béal na mBlath, Co Cork 100 years earlier.

Those artefacts, together with a pocket watch Collins had gifted Kitty upon their engagement, formed part of an exclusive exhibition that until a few days earlier threatened to fall by the wayside.

“We had arranged to bring (display) cabinets up from Cork to display the letters but thankfully Anna Mai of Ennell Jewellers in Mullingar stepped in at the last minute,” said Deirdre, while breathing a long, relaxed sigh of relief.

“And my sister Avril left at 3am in the morning (Sunday) to go down and collect Dan (Breen, Curator of Cork County Museum) to pick up the precious cargo.”

Giving her appraisal of how events ultimately transpired, Deirdre said the day and all its associated cultural trappings were scenes that like its overarching subject matter would stand the test of time.

“People often overlook the connection of Michael Collins and Granard and the role he played in Joe McGuinness’ campaign of ‘Put him in to get him out’ as well as the rallying speeches at Finnegan’s Corner and Legga Church,” she added.

“He made a huge contribution to the area and my goodness it was incredible to see the looks on people’s faces.

“It brought tears to my own eyes because this was a day that all the people who were there will recall, who they chatted to and shared what was a truly fabulous and unforgettable day with for years to come. May the green sod of Ireland rest easy upon him.”

They were sentiments both Granard Municipal District Cathaoirleach Cllr Colin Dalton and Longford County Council Cathaoirleach Cllr Turlough McGovern shared in equal measure. “It (Granard) was packed out,” said a clearly taken aback Cllr Dalton.

“It was great to see such a large volume of people turn out and in particular gather outside The Greville Arms which, of course thanks to Collins and Kitty Kiernan, has so much history attached to it.”

His county council opposite number, Cllr McGovern was only too keen to endorse.

“The whole day could not have gone any better,” he stoutly remarked.

“There were people and visitors that came to Granard who would not have otherwise been there on Sunday.

“Granard and everyone who helped organise the day can be very proud.”

It might be 100 years since the shadow of Michael Collins graced Granard’s undulating landscape, but the spectre between the county’s second largest town and Ireland’s more affectionately known ‘Big Fella’ could not be more palpable than it is today.

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