"Collins was off to England with his picture snapped and posted on the front of newspapers, an experience he was not adjusted to enjoying. The Treaty negotiations started on October 11, 1921. The delegations were as follows:
"With them (Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins) went Robert Barton, the Minister for Economic Affairs and a former British officer bristling with all the Republican zeal of the convert; Eamon Duggan, a legal expert and a member of the Truce Committee; and George Gavan Duffy, the Dáil envoy in Rome. Erskine Childers acted as secretary to the delegation. For the (British) government there were the Prime Minister, Lord Birkenhead, Austen Chamberlain, Winston Churchill, Sir Laming Worthington Evans (Secretary for War), and Sir Hamar Greenwood (Chief Secretary for Ireland)" (Ronan Fanning, "Michael Collins: An Overview" Michael Collins and the Making of the Irish State).
Several of the British negotiators did not even want to shake hands with Collins so they went immediately to the bargaining table. A number of meetings and conferences took place over a two month period. Collins fully understood shortly after the negotiations started that he had been set up. Tom Paulin, critic, playwright and poet, discussed Collins's frustration during his interview on The South Bank Show:
"He did not have DeValera's slippery political cunning―Lloyd George famously said negotiating with Eamon DeValera was like trying to pick up mercury with a fork. He did not have that. He walked into a trap and in the negotiations he realized that and he used to say to his fellow delegates when the British weren't around, you know, 'That long whore has got me.' And he walked into a trap, he knew when he'd signed the Treaty as he said in the famous letter, he'd signed his death warrant."
Though Collins was initially regarded as a vile thug by some members of the British negotiating team, Lord Birkenhead actually warmed to him. Birkenhead was a prized legal mind of his time and, according to Ulick O'Connor, "was one of the great jurists in history." He was stunned that Collins could have allied his skill for mayhem with an astute knowledge of political affairs. The two became friends and Birkenhead reflected to Churchill in a letter how impressed he was with Collins.
After the tedious Treaty discussions, Lloyd George and his British team offered Ireland Free State status coupled with an oath of allegiance. Collins knew this was not what he was sent for, but on December 5, an ultimatum was issued. Lloyd George gave the Irish side until 10 p.m. that night to accept or reject the terms. Failure to do this would result in "an immediate and terrible war." The Anglo-Irish Treaty, the first ever treaty between England and Ireland, was signed by both sides around 2 a.m. on December 6, 1921. Collins was both disappointed and exhausted. Later he was to challenge the notion that he signed the Treaty under duress:
"I did not sign the Treaty under duress, except in the sense that the position as between Ireland and England, historically, and because of superior forces on the part of England, has always been one of duress. The element of duress was present when we agreed to the Truce, because our simple right would have been to beat the English out of Ireland. There was an element of duress in going to London to negotiate. But there was not, and could not have been, any personal duress. The threat of 'immediate and terrible war' did not matter overmuch to me. The position appeared to be then exactly as it appears now. The British would not, I think, have declared terrible and immediate war upon us."
Although Collins firmly denied that he signed the Treaty to avoid the threats hurled by Lloyd George, there are still questions to consider regarding his decision to go in the first place and his subsequent actions once he arrived in London:
"But sharp differences exist concerning the quality of his political judgement, above all during the Treaty negotiations and the post-Treaty period. Should he have gone to London at all, or like Cathal Brugha and Austin Stack, refused the poisoned chalice—or at least refused unless De Valera supped from it as well? Was he first out-maneuvered by De Valera in Dublin, and then by Lloyd George in London? Was he a novice in the hands of these allegedly more astute operators? Was he right to sign the Treaty? Did he subsequently, as Chairman of the Provisional Government, ‘try to do too much’ to avoid the Civil War, in contrast to De Valera’s ‘too little,’ in the lapidary formation of Desmond Williams?" (J.J. Lee, "The Challenge of a Collins Biography" Michael Collins and the Making of the Irish State).
Generally, however, the words that surround Collins' role in the Treaty negotiations are those contained in his self-fulfilling prophesy: "Think, what have I got for Ireland? Something she has wanted these past 700 years. Will anyone be satisfied at the bargain? Will anyone? I tell you this, I have signed my death warrant."
Eight months later, Michael Collins was shot Dead in an ambush - http://www.iol.ie/~obrienc/bnab.htm
Arthur Griffith, the head of Treaty Delegation and founder of Sinn Féin ironically died from a heart attack just 10 days earlier.
Autumn 1921. Kathleen McKenna is one of the “Dáil girls” sent to London for the Treaty Negotiations.
1. Handwritten Menu for Official London meal for the Irish Delegates & Advisors to the Treaty talks, November 10th, 1921.
(Imagine how fascinating it would have been to have witnessed the conversations at this table!)
THE MENU (All dishes relating to the talks)
- Publicity (clear)
- 'Hans Plaice' or 'Caddugan Steaks' (the Irish delegates were staying at Hans Place and Cadogan Gardens)
- 'Economic Cutlets (Reparation Gravy)'
- 'Minced Ulster (It seems the delegates had not yet realised that "Minced Ulster" was off the Menu)
- Roast Beef of Old England
- Aide Memoire of Potatoes (Delegates Solution)
- Formula of Beans ( English Solution)
- Compote de Fruits (Gerty, Ellis, Alice, Kathleen, Lily - The Irish Secretaries jokingly referred to as a sweet)
- Micheál Ó Coileáin [Collins],
- Art Ó Gríofa [Griffith)
- E.S. Ó Dúgáin [Duggan] (delegates),
- Lionel Smith-Gordon, J.L. Fawsitt and Eamonn Broy (advisors),
- Collins' 'minders' Liam Tobin, Joe Dolan and Joe Guilfoyle ( Original members of 'The Squad'/ Collins Assassination Squad )
- Fionán Ó Loingsigh [Lynch], assistant secretary;
- Alice Lyons (typist);
- Caoimhghin O hUiginn [Kevin O'Higgins],
- Sean Milroy, and several others.
- Kathleen McKenna's initials to front.
2. Menu for a lunch at an Oxford Street restaurant in London, 19 November 1921, signatures to rear of Treaty delegates Art O Griofa [Griffith] and Eadhmonn O Dugain [Duggan], T.A. Smiddy (economic advisor), Kathleen McKenna and others.
3. Menu, Oxford Street, 6th November, signatures to rear.
4. Reception to the Irish Republican Delegation by the Irish-Ireland Societies in London, Albert Hall, 26 October 1921. Full souvenir Programme signed at rear by the female secretaries to the delegation including Lilí ní Bhraonáin [Lily Brennan] and the two Lyons sisters.
5. 1st Class Carriage Railway Menu signed by four of the Female Secretaries ("The Big Four"). Dated December 8th, 1921 - two days after the treaty was signed. This train was the beginning of a journey home to a very different and divided Ireland.
6. Collection of Original Photographs (10 in total) London 1921, one showing Arthur Griffith with Kathleen McKenna (on right) and the Lyons sisters on board ship; another showing members of the Irish Treaty delegation and assistants in an elegant interior, Kathleen McKenna seated in front row on right wearing a white shirt; and a selection of others showing Kathleen and the Lyons sisters in London, McKenna wearing a pleated dress with embroidered device and a coat with fur cuffs.
7. The Illustrated London News Oct. 15th, 1921. Two full pages. "Sinn Fein Comes to London - Irish Delegates and Their Staff". Photos of Michael Collins, Delegates and Kathleen McKenna and Dail girls.
8. A latter piece which was together with the above. A 1958 Broadsheet Sunday Independent Newspaper article - "THE MICHAEL COLLINS STORY - For Collins the 'Split' was a tragedy too deep for words". Features a number of photos of the delegation. Each feature Kathleen McKenna.
Kathleen McKenna was a member of an old Nationalist family, from Oldcastle, Co. Meath. She was an expert typist, and an intelligent girl with a telling turn of phrase. Her father William McKenna was an old friend of Arthur Griffith, and through this connection she was employed as confidential typist for the Irish Bulletin, the daily summary of information edited for the First Dail by Frank Gallagher for distribution to journalists in Dublin and abroad, 1919-21. The foreign press soon found they could rely on the Bulletin's accuracy, and it became an important publicity weapon for the First Dail and its cabinet - so much so that the British thought it worth their while first to counterfeit it, and then to imitate it, with little success on either count.
In the autumn of 1921, McKenna was one of the 'Dail girls' who went to London for the Treaty negotiations, where she was Arthur Griffith's personal secretary. In early 1922 she was sent to Paris for the Irish Race Congress. As the Free State was established, she was a typist and confidential secretary for senior ministers including Michael Collins, Desmond FitzGerald, Kevin O'Higgins and W.T. Cosgrave. She was a private secretary at the Boundary Commission in 1924, and accompanied the Irish delegation at the Imperial Conference in 1926. Many of the significant documents of the Irish history of this period passed through her hands and her typewriter.
She left the Civil Service in 1931, married an Italian military man, General Napoli, and went to live with him in Rome and elsewhere. She remained in touch with her family in Ireland, but never returned to live here permanently. She left memoirs of her days which is to be published.
The following items are from Kathleen's personal collection, inherited by direct descent.