My paternal Grandfather was Daniel Mac Sweeney, a harness-makers son from Macroom, Co Cork. He joined mid-Cork IRA in 1919, with his brother Jackie. He fought in at least two major actions against the British and was captured in 1921. In the latter days of the War of Independence the Black and Tans in Macroom issued a proclamation that anyone walking the streets of the town with their hands in their pockets would be shot on sight, and they weren't joking.
This photo show Macroom IRA on the steps of Macroom castle on the day the Free State forces took the town. The castle (once the residence of William Penn) was burned, by the IRA right after this photo was taken. These men and women took to the hills and some of them would have fought at Beal Na Blath a few days after the photo was taken.
Like a lot of the Cork IRA Daniel rejected the treaty and fought against it in the civil war. Luckily he was not captured by the Free State forces, during the civil war (they executed many more IRA men than the British did during the War of Independence). He served as De Valera's bodyguard on several occasions during the civil war. He served with the IRA until the end of the war and dumped his guns (no de-commissioning then) when the order came in April 1923. He was captured after the Civil War in 1923 coming out of a pub in Crookstown and was interred in the Curragh military camp, where he went on hunger strike for 40 days.
I heard his story, about the day Collins was shot from Paddy (my brother) who heard it from Danielís brother Paddy, just before he died a few years ago. Daniel had told him the story years ago and he had never repeated it until he told it to our Paddy, 30 years after Daniel died. It was not an idle boast for telling in the pub.
Daniel was with De Valera in Ballyvourney the night before Collins was shot. On the early hours of August 22nd they set-out to travel to Beal Na Blath, where a meeting of the Cork IRA leadership was planned. By the time they arrived an IRA scout at Beal Na Blath had seen the Collins convoy going west and an ambush was being planned to get him if he came back by the same route. Dev spoke strongly against trying to kill Collins.
Dev and his party including Daniel left Beal Na Blath early in the afternoon and travelled North. That night they stayed in Mourne Abbey, in the Blackwater valley, where they heard the new of Collins death.
Macroom is about 6 miles from Beal Na Blath. Danielís Grandfather was a farmer from Crookstown, which is about 2 miles from Beal Na Blath. There is a Mc Sweeney castle at Crookstown. The family had come south in the medieval period and served as Gallowglass (mercenary soldiers) with the Mac Carthy More (the biggest Gaelic Lord in Munster).
His family had lived in the area for generations, he must have had an enormous circle of relations living there. As a harness-makers son in an age of largely horse transport he must have known many people in the area through his fathers trade. He was in signals during the war of independence, so he would have know the countryside very well and been familiar with the local IRA communications system (such as it might have been).
He knew the particularly dangerous (from an IRA view-point) area where De Valera had to cross the Cork to Macroom road (which linked two big free state garrisons) and the Sullan river. He would have been an ideal man to guide Dev through such a dangerous area. So the story does have a ring of authenticity to it. He would certainly have been in a position to know exactly what happened at Beal Na Blath that day.
The other Collins stories I have is that my Maternal Grandfather Peter Lynch joined the IRA in Dublin in 1919. In 1920 Collins sent him home to Cavan to start the IRA in the parishes of Ballymachugh, Mullahoran, and Gowna. He commanded the Gowna Battalion, West Cavan IRA during the War of Independence and being a Collins man, he went with the Free state during the civil war.
Collins also visited Nicholas Sheridan in Omard, Ballymachugh (my home parish), who was a cousin of Kitty Kiernan who was Collins girlfriend. There is a local story that he played tennis on Nicholas Sheridanís tennis court at Omard, during the 1921 truce.