Michael Collins’ last letter
Monday 22 August 2022 was the 100th anniversary of Michael Collins’ assassination at Béal na mBláth, County Cork. Damien Burke, Archivist of the Irish Jesuit Province, has just written an article about Collins’ last letter, to Irish Jesuit William Hackett. Read the article below.
The Last Letter
The Irish Jesuit William Hackett (1869-1951) is believed to be the recipient of the last letter written by Michael Collins (1890-1922). On 21 August 1922, Hackett visited Collins’ headquarters at the Imperial Hotel, Cork, hoping to arrange a meeting between leaders in the civil war. The letter from Collins reads:
“I received your note this evening but was engaged when it was handed to me. Mr Mehigan was to arrange for you to see me but through some misunderstanding you were not informed. Am sorry I missed you.”
The following day, Collins was killed at Béal na mBláth.
Kilkenny-born Hackett was from a prosperous family (their home is now the Kilkenny Hibernian Hotel), and he was educated at the Jesuit-run Clongowes Wood College, County Kildare. Two of his siblings were novelists, Francis and Florence. Hackett was a friend of Robert Barton, Molly and Erskine Childers, Eamon de Valera, and later in Australia, the Archbishop of Melbourne, Daniel Mannix.
His republicanism manifested itself first at Crescent College, Limerick, where during the revolutionary period, he established the Crescent Volunteers, and hid ammunition in the school. Hackett was part of a network of Irish nationalists, and ‘ministered to republican troops, spoke on republican platforms, and helped to publicise British injustices and atrocities in Ireland’. Two weeks after Collins’ death, Hackett was on his way to the Irish Jesuit Mission in Australia, never to return.
Further connections include the raid by the British army in 1921 of the Jesuit house at Milltown Park, Dublin, vainly in search of Michael Collins. After Collins’ death in August 1922, the Jesuit Juniors (Jesuits attending university) living at Rathfarnham Castle, Dublin, were given permission to visit Collins lying-in-state at Dublin City Hall. The Rector Fr John Sullivan SJ, however refused permission for the Juniors to attend the funeral mass at the Pro-Cathedral.
Fr Sullivan (today Blessed) was to influence the Collins family in other ways. In 1928, a nephew of Michael Collins, Seán, was suffering from polio, and was brought by his parents to see Fr Sullivan, in the hope of a cure. Fr Sullivan, aged sixty-six, cycled from Clongowes Wood College, County Kildare to the Mater Hospital, Dublin where he prayed for Seán, and subsequently, the intense pain suffered by Seán was relieved.
– Letter from Michael Collins to Fr William Hackett SJ, 21 August 1922. Courtesy of Archives of the Society of Jesus, Australia.
‘The Riddle of Father Hackett’ by Brenda Niall, published by the National Library of Australia, 2009.