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Days in the life: Reading the Michael Collins Diaries 1918-1922

by  Anne DolanWilliam Murphy
€ 20.00

Book Details

Published by Royal Irish Academy

August 2022


ISBN: 9781802050035


PDF icon Advance Information


From the records of the National Archives.

From 1918 to 1922 Michael Collins kept working diaries of his busy revolutionary life. They are a collection of hurried notes, necessary lists, names and appointments, things to do, and things not done. They are a record of his long working days, and they got him to where he needed to be on time. Though these diaries do not contain conventional lengthy entries in which Collins finally reveals his innermost thoughts, they still tell us much about this extraordinary man. 

In this book, Michael Collins’s biographers, Anne Dolan and William Murphy, capture the nature of this new Collins source. They reflect on how the diaries change what we know about him, and challenge us to think differently about his life. The diaries begin with Collins a revolutionary among many; they end in 1922 with Collins as the most powerful figure in Ireland. They begin with Collins a single man; they end with him about to be married. The authors present thematic reflections on what the diaries reveal of his transformed life. 

As they are also the diaries of his everyday life, the book examines very particular episodes, the curious and ordinary entries, which allow us to see Collins from new angles. Rather than offering the final piece that will solve the Collins puzzle, the diaries pose new questions to be asked. 

Michael Collins (1890–1922), was born in Co. Cork, he was a staff captain in the GPO in 1916, and emerged as a leading figure during his internment in Frongoch camp. As the Director of Organisation with the Irish Volunteers, he masterminded their campaign in the Anglo-Irish war (1919-21). Having signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty, in 1922 he became chairman of the Provisional Government and commander-in-chief of the National Army. He was killed in an ambush in Co. Cork on 22 August 1922.  

This book is published in collaboration with the National Archives and beautifully put together by New Graphic


You can buy the eBook here.




The diaries bring us closer than ever before to the mundane minutiae of Collins’s life, yet they raise as many questions as they answer. “He seems farther away and closer to us in the words and in the gaps,” Dolan and Murphy write. A sample entry reads, simply “J.K. re D. + +”. Was Collins being deliberately secretive — or was this merely “a blunt reminder just to get work done”? “His best-kept secret might be the ordinariness in it all,” they observe. 

Our understanding of Collins has been clouded by mythologising since well before his death. He was well aware of the value of that myth [...] Collins recounts a lucky escape from the Crown forces, “the most providential escape yet”. He wrote: “It will probably have the effect of making them think that I am even more mysterious than they believe me to be, and that is saying a good deal.” Big fella is still elusive after all these years, Colin Murphy, The Irish Independent, 21 Aug 2022


As featured in The Irish Times, take a look at the diaries and interview with Orlaith McBride, Director, National Archives.  


Anne Dolan and William Murphy feature in IMAGE Magazine's Author's Bookshelf and the book featured in the IMAGE Book Club with an exclusive extract


Anne Dolan and William Murphy talk about "wrestling with the source" in their interview on The History of Ireland podcast


STOP PRESS! In partnership w/ @RIAdawson, we're publishing "Days in the Life, Reading the Michael Collins Diaries, 1918–1922" by Collins' biographers Anne Dolan and @WillMurphy8 - the new book will hit shops nationwide next week so watch this space for more info! @DeptCulturelRL

— National Archives, Ireland (@NARIreland) August 12, 2022

About the authors

Anne Dolan

Anne Dolan is an associate professor of modern Irish history at Trinity College Dublin. Her publications include Commemorating the Irish Civil War: history and memory 1923-2000 (Cambridge, 2003). She is joint editor of ‘No surrender here!’ The Civil War papers of Ernie O’Malley (Dublin, 2007). She co-wrote Michael Collins: the man and the revolution (Cork, 2018) with William Murphy.

William Murphy

William Murphy is an associate professor in modern Irish history at Dublin City University. He is author of Political imprisonment and the Irish, 1912-1921 (Oxford, 2014). He co-edited The Gaelic Athletic Association, 1884-2009 (Dublin, 2009) and Leisure and the Irish in the nineteenth century (Liverpool, 2016). He co-wrote Michael Collins: the man and the revolution (Cork, 2018) with Anne Dolan.