Sean (Jack) Collison

Christened John, known as Séan and more commonly referred to as Jack, the man nicknamed ‘the elusive Collison’ was born to Patrick and Brigid Collison (née Larkin) on January 4, 1891 in Moneygall, on the southernmost tip of County Offaly, then known as King’s County.

He had eight siblings, two of whom died in childhood, along with three step-brothers and a step-sister from his father’s first marriage to Johanna Guilfoyle, who died when her children were still young. 

Patrick died in 1905, leaving Brigid to care for her seven surviving children, the eldest of whom was only 16.

Although the family was, by the standards of the time, relatively well off, Brigid Collison relied on the support of her older children as she managed the family farm as well as a grocery, drapery, bakery and farm supplies business in Moneygall.

While his older brother Jeremiah (Darby) moved to Dublin after excelling in a wide range of sports at Rockwell College, Jack secured employment at an early age on the Trench Estate in Loughton, a short distance outside Moneygall. A popular and enterprising worker, he was soon promoted to Managing Stewart on an annual stipend of £300.

By that time, the Collison family was actively involved in the Gaelic Athletic Association and the broader Republican movement. Jack Collison was one of the first members to join the Tipperary No 1 Battalion of the Irish Volunteers. He was dispatched to Waterford during the 1918 Election to protect Sinn Féin election workers, who were being attacked by supporters of John Redmond, leader of the moderate Irish Parliamentary Party.

After the outbreak of the War of Independence, Jack Collison was arrested for ‘illegal drilling’ at Moneygall in August 1919. He was sentenced to a twelve month term in Limerick Prison and released on March 27, 1920. He took part in the attempted burning of Borrisokane Police Barracks on the night of June 26, 1920.

The following October, the North Tipperary IRA Active Service Unit (ASU) or ‘Flying Column’ was formed and Jack’s sister Elizabeth (Liz) provided a base for its training camp at Windy Barn, a short distance outside Moneygall. Among the training officers assigned to the Moneygall training camp was Ernie O’Malley who was to become a regular visitor to the Collison household during the War of Independence.

Ned O’Leary of Beechwood, Nenagh was the officer in command of the North Tipperary Flying Column with Jack Collison appointed his second in command. In November 1920, the Column was involved in a number of ambushes one of which resulted in the death of Lieutenant Hambleton, Information Officer of the Northamptonshire Regiment. 

On December 16, the Column ambushed an RIC patrol near the village of Kilcommon, killing four policemen and capturing guns and ammunition. The section commanded by Jack Collison recovered the guns of the dead and wounded policemen as well as providing first aid to one of the injured constables.

In January 1921, four members of the Column, who were drinking in a pub in Kilruane, were seen by police and, in the ensuing firefight, Volunteer James Devanney from Toomevara was killed. This led to an inquiry which resulted in Jack Collison, who had the reputation of being a strict disciplinarian, replacing Ned O’Leary as commanding officer of the Flying Column.

Two encounters with British forces at Burnwood and Gortagarry showed Collison’s tactical awareness when he led his men to safety without casualties.

On June 3, 1921, Collison took part in the Modreeny Ambush which was led by Brigade O/C Sean Gaynor who had information that up to 16 members of the Royal Irish Constabulary would be cycling to the District Court in Borrisokane. However, the cycle patrol was joined by a salary delivery detail and escort, increasing their strength to around 40.

Gaynor and Collison decided to press ahead with the ambush which lasted about an hour, with Collison and Joe Mangan from Moneygall pinning down the RIC detachment from an elevated firing position. When the firing stopped, four RIC men were dead and five wounded as the Flying Column withdrew without casualties.

Collison took the Column into the Slieve Bloom mountains where they joined a training camp along with men from Leix and Offaly – part of the newly established Third Southern Division which he was involved with up to the Anglo-Irish Truce, which came into force on July 11, 1921.

Two months later, he was offered and accepted a commission in the National Army and was appointed Commandant in charge of Roscrea Barracks, which was then part of the Curragh Command area. 

A dispatch issued after he took up the position, outlined the essence of his political and military philosophy: “We, the Soldiers of the Irish Nation come amongst you, not as enemies, but as friends; not as despoilers, but as protectors of your lives and properties; not as tyrants, but as guardians of your liberties. We come with the assurance that in your ancient territory we are welcome - welcome because we are the symbols of that freedom which, after seven centuries of effort and strife, has been won by the blood and sacrifice of the young manhood of the country. We have passed through the broad lands , and by the ruined homes of O’Moore and O’Carroll, and we have not passed with stony hearts and frozen feelings; we have been touched as we looked upon these ruins, and we feel proud that it has fallen to our lot to be able to announce to you, the descendants of these clans and chieftains, that you are again free; and that you can resurrect your ancient culture and enjoy to the full the peace and blessings of a distinct national life.”

On July 28, 1922, Jack Collison was mortally wounded as he approached a detachment of Anti-Treaty volunteers to accept their surrender at Tonduff.

Among the attendance at his funeral in St Joseph’s Church Moneygall was the Commanding Officer of the Anti-Treaty Third Southern Division Sean Gaynor, who , at great personal risk, came to pay his respects to his former Flying Column comrade.

Colonel Commandant John Séan (Jack) Collison was buried with full military honours in Castletown Cemetery, a short distance from his family home in Moneygall.  

Gerry Collison. July 2022.

Date of birth: Jan 04, 1891
Year of birth:
Birthplace: Moneygall
Rank: Captain
Date of death: Jul 28, 1922
Year of death:
Age on July 28, 1922: 31
Connection to Tonduff 22: Killed in ambush