The man responsible for co-ordinating the activities of hundreds of IRA members during the War of Independence and the highest ranking British Army officer captured in the conflict are just two of the larger-than-life characters to feature in the fascinating life story of Elizabeth (Liz) Collison.
The fearless Moneygall woman sheltered the most wanted men in the North Tipperary IRA ‘Flying Column’; helped them escape from the notorious ‘Black and Tans’; hid their weapons and even served a short sentence in Limerick Prison for her republican activities.
She was a captain in the Tipperary No 1 Brigade of Cumann na mBán and provided the training base and supplies for members of the Active Service Unit (ASU) or Flying Column, as they were more usually known.
And, at a time when women were largely relegated to supporting roles in matters of politics and armed conflict, she secured a place in the history of Irish Independence alongside her brothers, Seán (Jack), Patrick (Major) and Jeremiah (Darby) and Tom, who were leading members of the local volunteer force.
In the census of 1901, two-year-old Elizabeth Collison is listed as one of ten residents in ‘house 81’ where Patrick Collison (60) was ‘Head of Family’ along with his 38-year-old wife, Brigid (née Larkin).
There is no mention of the then 12-year-old Elizabeth Collison in the 1911 census. Her daughter, Therese Ring (née Hiney), believes this could have been due to the possibility that she was visiting her aunt at that time.
However, she is mentioned in the Nenagh Guardian of August 9, 1919 as being among the members of Moneygall Cumann na mBán who held a flag day to raise funds for the Republican movement. When asked for a permit by members of the RIC, they replied, “We have a permit from President deValera”.
After they refused to appear in court and pay the five shilling fines imposed by the judge, Liz and her 11 companions were arrested and taken to Limerick Prison in military lorries. They were released after a week and, according to the Nenagh Guardian of August 30, 1919, were greeted with an enthusiastic reception on their return to Moneygall.
Events took a more serious turn when Tipperary became one of the primary conflict zones in the War of Independence, or the ‘Black and Tan’ War, as it came to be know.
After Prime Minister Lloyd George outlawed the Dáil and ordered the strengthening of the British Army presence in Ireland, RIC Inspector General TJ Smith authorised the recruitment of former British soldiers to the police force and the first of these new recruits joined the RIC on January 2, 1920.
Their ‘Black and Tan’ nickname derived from their distinctive uniforms, comprised of the dark green - almost black - tunics of the RIC and regulation khaki coloured army trousers, but their reputation was established by the indiscriminate and savage nature of the reprisals aimed at the civilian population in response to IRA attacks. This, in turn, made them a prime target of the IRA Flying Columns
Of the 178 RIC men killed in Ireland in 1920, twenty were killed in Tipperary and, by 1921, Black and Tans made up almost half of the RIC in County Tipperary.
New categories of police reports introduced in April, 1920 show the level of intimidation and boycott against the RIC and its associates. The recruitment of Black and Tans to the RIC and the Auxiliary Division to the British Army was meant to improve the situation but it made it considerably worse.
From 1919 to 1922, Tipperary was, in relative terms, the most violent county in Ireland recording one death for every 3,474 in the population.
The Irish Military Archives gives an indication of the role played and the risks taken by a young Liz Collison during those difficult and dangerous days.
The files include records of her successful claim for a military service pension in respect of the period from April 1920 to July 1921 after she failed in a claim based on her service from April 1917 to March 1920.
A summary of the sworn evidence given by the then Liz Hiney to interviewing officers at a pension appeals hearing on December 17,1941 appears in the archives of that year.
Her evidence to the Pensions Tribunal was corroborated by written testimony from former IRA Brigadier Seán Gaynor; her brother Darby, who was Battalion Commandant with the 1st Battalion of the Tipperary IRA Brigade; Joseph Liffey, who was a member of the North Tipperary Active Service Unit; James Toohey, former Company Captain and J Larkin, Lieutenant with the 21st Battalion of the Curragh Army Command.
A three-page statement given by former Battalion Officer Patrick Kennedy “provided considerable detail about Hiney’s activities and also noted her brother Patrick was also arrested circa 6 December 1919, and her brother Jack was also arrested circa March 1919”.
The summary of her own evidence, which she subsequently endorsed, refers to the fact that the North Tipperary Flying Column was billeted for part of the time at ‘Windy Barn’ about a mile from the Collison home in Moneygall where Liz supplied them with food and clothes.
“Men on the run called at your place fairly regularly for meals.Your people had two houses adjoining and the second house was used by men on the run to slip into from time to time and take a few hours rest. You scouted for them when necessary and helped to provide them with meals,” the summary states.
“Dispatches were left at your house and you arranged for them to be passed on to their destinations. On a few occasions, you took some of these dispatches yourself. You kept revolvers for volunteers occasionally for short periods”.
One specific incident outlined in the summary occurred on November 10,1920 when five members of the Flying Column were trapped in the Collison home during a British Army raid. Two of them managed to escape before the house was completely surrounded.
The IRA men had left their arms and ammunition in a cupboard. Liz took them past an army sentry, went out through a back window and put them in a hiding place between the two houses. They were later removed to a safer location and this saved the Flying Column volunteers from capture.
The summary also refers to her association with Ernie O’Malley, the acclaimed author and revolutionary who reported directly to Michael Collins during the War of Independence and was Commanding Officer of the Second Southern, the second largest division of the IRA.
The summary states: “Ernie O’Malley was organising in the district during this period and he stayed at your place on about six occasions for a few days at a time. While he was there, you looked after him”.
A charismatic and captivating character, O’Malley achieved literary recognition for his book ’On Another Man's Wound’ which was based on his experiences during the War of Independence. It was followed by ‘The Singing Flame’ which dealt with his activities during the Civil War when he served as Commanding Officer of the Republicans in Leinster and Ulster.
Although her family were staunch Free Staters and her brother Jack, a Commandant in the National Army, was killed in a Republican ambush in 1922, Liz Collison played no part in the Civil War.
Liz Collison’s connection with another leading figure in the conflict is referred to in the record of her evidence to the Military Service Pensions Tribunal.
Brigadier-General Cuthbert Henry Tindall Lucas, Officer Commanding 16th Infantry Brigade was captured by the IRA on Saturday, June 26, 1920 while fishing on the River Blackwater near Fermoy. He was the highest ranking officer captured by the IRA during the War of Independence.
After being detained by the West Limerick and East Clare IRA Brigades, he escaped on July 30,1920 while being transferred to the custody of the North Tipperary Brigade. It is claimed that the escape may have been facilitated by his captors who felt that his continuing detention was inhibiting them from carrying out other operations.
The Military Service Pension files state that Liz Collison was specifically selected by Brigade Command to provide accommodation at Windy Barn for General Lucas during his period of detention in North Tipperary.
After his escape, which made international headlines, General Lucas infuriated his superiors by publicly stating that he had been treated ‘like a gentleman by gentlemen’. The then British Secretary of State for War, Winston Churchill, was reported to have been ‘purple with rage’ over the incident.
On his return to England, Lucas became Assistant Adjutant General at Aldershot Command and served with the British Army of the Rhine from 1927 until his retirement in 1932. Major-General Lucas CB CMG DSO died on April 7,1956.
As for Liz Collison, the archives concluded that she was “generally active all during the Black and Tan time up to the truce”.
She also found time for love and, just 26 months after the Treaty ending the War of Independence came into effect, she married Michael Hiney in St. Joseph’s Church, Moneygall.
A Battalion Commandant with the 2nd Battalion (Athboy) of the Meath IRA Brigade during the War of Independence, her husband was one of most active volunteers in Athboy area and took part in the capture of Ballivor RIC Barracks in October 1919.
He served with the National Army in the Civil War when he was based in The Curragh Camp from May to July 1922 under the command of Commandant Jack Collison. When he retired from Army in February 1928, he transferred with the rank of Lieutenant to the 12th Reserve Battalion of Officers. He died on November 17, 1985.
While some of her file is restricted under Data Protection regulations, there is a brief reference to Liz Hiney’s claim for a Military Service Pension in respect of her activities during the period from April 1917 to March 1920, which included her service with Cumann na mBán and her short term of detention in Limerick Prison.
That initial application was rejected and no reason for this is included in the archives.
Elizabeth Hiney (née Collison), mother, wife and patriot, died on June 1, 1982.