With the killing of 32 people, ‘Bloody Sunday’, 21 November 1920, was one of the most far-reaching and crucial days of the War of Independence in Ireland.
The summer of 1920 had seen a resurgence of the British authorities in Dublin and Michael Collins believed that the British threat to the IRA’s position in the capital demanded dramatic action. Collins and his inner circle planned to eliminate as many British intelligence agents as they could in one massive swoop. It was the gamble of all gambles; taking on British intelligence agents in one coordinated operation was enormously risky, but that was Collins’s style because he had decided that the dangers of inaction far outweighed those of action.
Detailed planning for the assault was carried out over three weeks at the Dublin Brigade headquarters in Lower Gardiner Street, led mainly by Sean Russell, the 27-year-old commandant of the 2nd Battalion. On Saturday night, 20 August, a meeting to make final plans for the raids was held and members of GHQ in attendance included Michael Collins, Gearoid O’Sullivan, Diarmuid O’Hegarty and Rory O’Connor.
Gearóid O’Sullivan was a native of Skibbereen. He was one of Collins’s closest allies and friends during the War of Independence and was appointed Adjutant General of the IRA in the summer of 1919.
In the early morning of Sunday 21 November groups of Volunteers, members of Collins’s ‘Squad’, converged on different addresses in Dublin. Fifteen men were shot dead, eleven suspected British agents, two Auxiliaries and two civilians.
That afternoon, another fourteen people were killed when members of the Auxiliaries, RIC and Black and Tans opened fire at Croke Park where crowds had gathered to watch an intercounty football match between Tipperary and Dublin.
Later that evening another three men were killed, two IRA prisoners, Dick McKee and Peadar Clancy, and another man, Conor Clune, a Clare man who was visiting Dublin.
An extraordinary postscript to Bloody Sunday is that Michael Collins and Gearóid O’Sullivan attended a wedding reception in Dublin the following morning. Even more extraordinary is that Collins and O’Sullivan, then two of the most wanted men in the British empire, stood in for a photograph with the wedding party.
Married that morning were Lil Clancy and Michael J. O’Brien, both of Skibbereen. Lil’s brother, Joe Clancy, ran the Eldon Hotel in Skibbereen and was a good friend of Collins and O’Sullivan. Collins held his meetings in the Eldon Hotel whenever he was in Skibbereen and he had a meeting there on the morning of 22 August 1922, just hours before he was shot at Béal na mBláth.
Michael J. O’Brien was from Curragh, Skibbereen, and worked in the Pigs and Bacon Commission in Dublin.
Imagine the tension and fear that must have been all-pervasive in Dublin that Monday morning after Bloody Sunday. This little cameo of attending the wedding reception of their friends from Skibbereen, may go some way to showing the mind-set of Collins and O’Sullivan. While Collins was a proponent of the policy of ‘hiding in plain sight’ it is clear from the photograph taken on the morning of 22 November 1920 that he was quite uneasy as he has his head bowed and certainly appeared to be camera-shy on this occasion.