Michael D Higgins pays tribute to Michael Collins at Béal na mBláth commemoration
PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins has became the first sitting head of state to deliver the oration at the annual Michael Collins commemoration in Co Cork.
The ceremony took place at Béal na mBláth on Sunday, the site where the then commander-in-chief of the Irish army was killed in an ambush by anti-treaty IRA forces in August 1922.
Mr Higgins said it was his "great pleasure" to stand at the site "in recognition of Michael Collins's great contribution to Irish independence".
"The memory of Michael Collins will forever be enmeshed with that of the tragic and bloody Civil War which raged on this island throughout the years 1922-1923. This was a dreadful human tragedy for so many Irish families," he said.
"When the time comes, very soon, to commemorate those events of the early 1920s, we will need to display courage and honesty as we seek to speak the truth of the period, and in recognising that, during the War of Independence, and particularly during the Civil War, no single side had the monopoly of either atrocity or virtue."
The commemoration takes place on the nearest Sunday to August 22, the date that Collins died.
Organisers of the event said they were privileged to have Mr Higgins deliver the oration while still in office.
Mary Robinson had previously been among the guest speakers at Béal na mBláth after she had vacated Áras an Uachtaráin.
In 2012, Enda Kenny became the first serving taoiseach to give the oration.
Dermot Collins, chairman of the Béal na mBláth annual commemoration committee, said organisers were honoured when the president accepted their invitation.
"President Higgins has a great knowledge of Irish history and is an original thinker," he said.
"And it's a particular honour for us that President Higgins is giving the oration this year – the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising when Collins was aide de camp to Joseph Plunkett in the GPO."
Mr Collins said it was also welcomed that the president accepted the invitation given his own family's involvement in the War of Independence and the Civil War.
"His father and two of his uncles fought in the War of Independence," he told The Irish Times ahead of the event.
Following the commemoration, Mr Higgins was scheduled to open a new museum in Kilmurry dedicated to the War of Independence and Civil War.