Collins Griffith Lecture: The Origins of the Death Squad

Michael Collins is frequently cited as the originator of modern Urban terrorism. In 1919 he hatched a scheme to take out the eyes and ears of the British administration in Dublin by undermining and terrorising the police so that the British authorities would react blindly and drive the Irish people into the arms of the Irish Republican Army. This neccesitated the formation of the Death Squad, which the authorities characterised as the ” Murder Gang”.

Had the authorities knowingly captured members of the Squad, they would almost certainly have executed them. Many were stopped and even captured, but they were usually let off as they were not recognised as members of the Squad. They were saved by the great secrecy under which they operated, as were the spies, or moles, within the police themselves who worked for Collins and his intelligence services.

I attended a talk today in Glasnevin by T. Ryle Dwyer on the Squad based on his book of the same name. Ryle is a regular columnist with the Irish Examiner and a brilliant commentator on different aspects of twentieth century Irish history. The Bureau of Military History interviewed those involved in Collin’s original Death Squad in the early 1950’s with the assurance that the material would not be published in their lifetimes. A few of the contributions were made available to the families of those involved but the bulk of them have only recently been released.

Ryle’s book is the first to make use of those interviews for the period of the Irish War of Independence. It makes fascinating reading as it contains first-hand accounts in which men speak candidly of their involvement of killing selected people at close range on Collin’s orders, including those in Northern Ireland. As a result it sheds a considerable amount of new light  on the activities of the first Death Squad and the intelligence operations of Michael Collins. 


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