“The stakes are high and director Andrew Flynn creates moments of great intensity… Ryan Donaldson makes a vibrant Collins who brings this iconic character to life as a playful charmer… Maeve Fitzgerald brings a twinkling intelligence to Collins’ fiancée Kitty Kiernan…History seems large on the page, but in this sober and vivid telling, we see it as decisions made in small rooms by men with limited options. ”
Irish Independent, September 2022
Jimmy Murphy’s compelling new play The Chief reveals the man behind the iconic historical figure of Michael Collins. Set against the backdrop of the Irish Civil War, it focuses on the problems facing Collins and the Free State Government as they attempt to build a new Ireland and overcome the vicious divide brought about by the Treaty.
“When I began research into Michael Collins before writing The Chief, there were a number of questions about the last months of his life that intrigued me,” says Murphy. “Writing the play has revealed contradictions and complexities about the man that have left me less intrigued and more astonished”.
The play explores Collins’ intimate relationship with Kitty Kiernan, his dream for a united Ireland and his guilt at taking arms against former comrades. It reflects on the new Ireland that he imagined, alongside the tragic fate that Kitty Kiernan feared would soon overtake him.
The Chief marks the centenary of Michael Collins’ death in August 1922 and speaks directly to the Ireland of today. It appears just when the enduring question “Will Ireland ever be united?” has moved to centre stage in Irish political discourse.
Written by Jimmy Murphy
Directed by Andrew Flynn
Set and Lighting Design by Ciaran Bagnall
Music and Sound by Carl Kennedy
Costume Design by Petra Breathnach
“When I supported the approval of the Treaty, I said it gave us freedom, not the ultimate freedom which all nations hope and struggle for, but freedom to achieve freedom. And I was, and am now, fully alive to the implications of that statement.” Michael Collins, The Path to Freedom, August 1922
A National Icon
by Jimmy Murphy
The great discovery for me in writing The Chief was the realisation that Michael Collins could be – and perhaps should be – as much a political icon to Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein as he is to Fine Gael. For to suggest that Collins never used violence for political means bears no resemblance to the true man. For Collins’ elite alone – The 12 Apostles – shot men in the back, in their bed, even the wrong men at times. All for one purpose, political advancement.
Here is a man full of contradictions. So many, that no matter what end of the Republican spectrum you might find yourself on – the light green of Fianna Fail at one end, the dark of Sinn Fein at the other – it soon becomes clear that the figure of Michael Collins bequeathed to us, generation after generation, is a sham. And the final image of him, in a Free State uniform, shooting at an IRA ambush party, is not the full picture and has done him a great disservice.
Collins arrived in Cork for a number of reasons in August 1922: there was money laundering from bank robberies to deal with; morale with the troops needed to be boosted; but more importantly, he had stopped off en route to meet an IRA prisoner (Tom Malone) about ending the Civil War. But Collins was a realist, he knew well that there was only one thing that could end it – resuming the old one and removing the Border.
But as we know, the Border, despite three commissions to examine redrawing it, never moved an inch after Collins’ death. For that, the blame must lie with Liam Cosgrave and in particular, his successor, Richard Mulcahy, who, history would have us forget, as leader of Fine Gael after the 1948 general election was to become Taoiseach of a coalition government. However, there was just one problem. Under Mulcahy’s watch, 78 men had been executed as the Civil War raged on. Some in very dubious circumstances and, indeed, in one or two cases that may be considered war crimes today. So, if Fine Gael were to enter government then Mulcahy would have to be sacrificed, and he was.
But that’s another play, perhaps. For now, The Chief reveals a Michael Collins who speaks to all traditions on the island, and at a time too when talk about a reunited Ireland has moved from ‘If’ to ‘When’. And whatever shape that conversation eventually takes, one thing is clear, it began on August 20th 1922 with an IRA prisoner, and must have been high on Collins’ mind as he sat in the back of a car as it turned a bend in a narrow valley two days later. Sadly however, the rest is history…