NUNS AND priests on the streets of Dublin in 1920 who were nervously scrutinised by policemen and soldiers were not necessarily the victims of anti-Catholic prejudice.
The Royal Irish Constabulary and Black and Tans were hunting for Michael Collins and had been briefed that he occasionally disguised himself in religious attire. An original “criminal card” for Collins, issued by British Intelligence during the War of Independence, has come to light and will be sold at auction next month.
The fold-up, pocket-sized card bears a photo of the man described as the “Chief of IRA organizer of all ambushes and murders”.
Michael Collins was the most wanted man in the British empire, with a reward of £10,000 (equivalent to roughly €360,000 today) on offer for his capture, although a year later he would be welcomed into 10 Downing Street for talks that led to the Anglo-Irish Treaty.
The card was designed to brief crown forces about how to spot Collins and provided this description: “Age: about 30; Eyes: dark sharp; Mouth: large drooping; Nose: thick; Hair: black; Ears: long; Build: slim; Height: 5’7’’ or 8’’.
Policemen and soldiers were warned in a series of short “remarks” to be on the alert because Collins “often wears the disguise of a priest” and that “on these occasions he invariably carries an umbrella”.
But, confusingly, he also “has been known to travel as a nun”.
It was also claimed that “he sometimes wears a black moustache, which is false, and often changed for another colour”.
The Big Fellow’s fearsome reputation was further underlined with a remark that must have terrified those who were searching for his whereabouts: “Collins, who will stop at nothing, is an expert shot.”
Collins wasn’t caught and continued to fight the British until they offered a truce in 1921. He was shot dead during the Civil War a year later, 90 years ago this August.
Mealy’s rare book and manuscript auctioneers said the card would be auctioned in its sale of Irish republican and historical memorabilia, titled Ireland’s Struggle, in Dublin on April 25th next.
Auctioneer George F Mealy said while he was cataloguing the card, expected to sell for between €3,000 and €5,000, two gardaí visiting the saleroom on unrelated business saw it and “their jaws dropped”.