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Michael Collins centenary and its historic connection to 56-59 St Stephen’s Green

1 September 2022

This year marks 100 years since the death of Michael Collins and commemoration events have been taking place around the country to recognise the life and legacy of the Irish revolutionary. Here at Permanent TSB we have marked the occasion with a site-specific installation of historic photographs showing the remains of Michael Collins being carried down the steps of 56 St Stephen’s Green on 24 August 1922.

The architectural history of 56-59 St Stephen’s Green

For more than 100 years 56-59 St Stephen’s Green was the home of St Vincent’s Hospital. Mary Aikenhead, the founder of the Religious Sisters of Charity, the order who set up the hospital, purchased 56 St Stephen’s Green in 1834 for the price of £3,000. In 1841 the adjoining house, Number 57, was acquired and work began to fuse the two buildings together.

During these works the entire façade of the two buildings was reconstructed so as to present a single front. Towards the end of the nineteenth century the Sisters of Charity also acquired 55, 58, and 59 and over the years continued to adapt the structures to their needs. The original buildings date from the 1760s.

By 1970 St Vincent’s Hospital had relocated and 56-59 St Stephen’s Green was sold to a property developer, the Lyon Group, who made plans to convert the buildings into an office block. An architect’s report compiled in 1972 concluded that there was no architectural argument for retaining the facades of the buildings (because they were not original), but advised that the interior of ‘56a’ should be preserved because it contains some of the best examples of Georgian plasterwork in Dublin. The Georgian-style facades of 56-59 St. Stephen’s Green were thereafter reconstructed to resemble what they had looked like in the eighteenth century.

When the building work was complete in 1976 the project was lauded as ‘one of the finest examples of Georgian restoration’ (Irish Times, 27 May 1976). The office complex comprised the restored Georgian wing and a modern block to the rear. The complex even had a giant chess board in the courtyard complete with three-foot high chess pieces!

Irish Permanent Building Society purchased 56-59 St Stephen’s Green in 1979, renaming it Edmund Farrell House after the society’s late director. It became the head office of Permanent TSB following the amalgamation of Irish Permanent with TSB Bank in 2001.

The assassination of Michael Collins

Michael Collins (b. 1890) was an Irish revolutionary, politician and soldier who played key roles in the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) and in the peace treaty negotiations that led to the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922. The adoption of this Treaty, which partitioned the country and included a controversial oath to the Crown, prompted a bitter civil war between the pro-treaty Provisional Government and the anti-treaty Irish Republican Army. Michael Collins was Chairman of the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State when he was killed in an ambush perpetrated by the anti-treaty side.

At the time of his death Collins was travelling in Cork ostensibly on a mission to try and bring an end to the civil war. Though Cork was traditionally a Republican stronghold Collins was under the impression that his life was not in danger in his home county.

Michael Collins was the sole casualty in a skirmish that lasted only 30 minutes. The anti-treaty forces lay a road block forcing Collins’ convoy to come to a halt. Collins was shot and killed when he left a hiding spot behind an armored car and ran out on the road so he could fire at his assailants. The shooter was never conclusively identified but there is a longstanding theory that a man named Denis “Sonny” O’Neill fired the shot that killed Collins.

The body of Michael Collins was transported first to Shankiel Hospital in Cork City and then to Dublin by boat the following day. Physicians in Cork determined that he had died by gunshot wound to the head and that it was most likely a ricochet or dumdum bullet due to the large size of the wound.

When they arrived in Dublin Michael Collins’ remains were taken to St Vincent’s Hospital on St Stephen’s Green. Here the body was embalmed by Dr Oliver St John Gogarty and his death mask was sculpted by Albert Powers.

The following evening (Thursday, 24 August 1922) the body of Michael Collins was carried out of the door of Number 56 St Stephen’s Green and brought to Dublin City Hall. This moment was captured by an Irish Independent photographer in a series of seven photographs which have been acquired and preserved by the National Library of Ireland.

The National Library of Ireland has kindly granted us permission to reproduce these images in a photographic installation along the railings of Number 56. If you are in the vicinity we would invite you to come and see for yourself.  

Permanent TSB is a bank whose own history stretches back to 1816. In 2021 Permanent TSB began a project to research and document the history of the organisation and to archive the Bank’s rich documentary heritage. In undertaking this work we have gained a greater appreciation and understanding of the architectural heritage of our branches and offices. Our goal with this small photographic installation is to draw your attention to this building’s connection with a significant moment in Irish history.

Permanent TSB would like to acknowledge the invaluable work done by the National Library of Ireland to collect, preserve, promote and make accessible the documentary and intellectual record of the life of Ireland.

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