O’Mara correspondence: a perspective on Michael Collins’ death, 1922

by Naomi Rice, BA History Student

The focus of this blog is a letter from Stephen O’Mara of Strand House, Limerick, to his son (also Stephen) following the shocking and untimely death of Michael Collins in August 1922. This letter is part of a collection of letters from the O’Mara family papers at Special Collections.



The O’Maras were wealthy entrepreneurs who lived at Strand House in Limerick from around 1909 to the 1940s. Unlike the owners of many other large houses, they were Catholics who earned their money from setting up the Limerick Bacon Company. At the time of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, they were divided in their political views yet evidently strong as a family unit. The original Strand House no longer exists today but the site in Limerick is currently where the modern-day Strand Hotel stands. 


Strand House, Limerick

Strand House, formerly known as Stonetown House, was a large rectangular shaped building, a typical eighteenth-century structure in Ireland. Built between 1760 and 1770, there were fourteen rectangular windows and a sheltered entrance at the front of the house. A staircase of large stone steps led up to the door. It can be noted from the 1901 census that all six numerated members of the household identified as Roman Catholic, and had servants, alluding to their status.


Black and white photograph of Old Strand House. P40/995


Well-known figures often stayed at Strand House, including Éamon de Valera who stayed there the night the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed. De Valera and the O’Mara family were said to be sitting by the fire late into the night when a telephone call came in regarding the signing. The younger Stephen O’Mara (1886-1959) was Mayor of Limerick from March 1921 to October 1923. In July 1921, before the split in Sinn Féin over the Treaty, he was appointed by de Valera to replace his brother James O’Mara as fund-raiser and special envoy to the United States of America, where he raised thousands of dollars. Like de Valera, but unlike his father and brother, Stephen the younger opposed the Treaty.


The letter

The letter from the older Stephen O’Mara to his son is dated 23 August 1922, the day after Michael Collins was ambushed by anti-Treaty forces in mBéal na mBláth near his home in Cork. This event that shook the nation due to the high political status of Michael Collins who was Commander-in-chief of the National Army.



The letter is written on a small, folded piece of paper which measures 19cm x 24cm roughly when unfolded. Like the other letters in the O’Mara collection, this one is in relatively good condition. The handwriting can be slightly difficult to read but overall, it is legible. The slight smudging of the writing in places would suggest pencil was used yet other parts of the lettering carry the sharp appearance of pen. There is a slight crease in the middle from folding, yet this does not impact the legibility. The paper is lightly discoloured from age and contains small light spots of staining, but the paper is not overly damaged or tattered.


‘The news this morning of the murder of Michael Collins is disastrous to Ireland no matter what side a fellow is on. No country can survive the murder and burning and savagery that is now rampant in Ireland.’


‘Disastrous to Ireland’

The topic of this letter is political, yet the sentiment is genuine and informal. It shows the true emotions of a father writing to his son. The letter opens affectionately with his father addressing him as ‘Dearest Stephen’. The latter half of the first page of the letter was more politically focused, and indicates the political sympathy of Stephen O’Mara, a firm supporter of the Anglo-Irish treaty, who lamented to Collins’ death as ‘disastrous to Ireland’.

The language used in the letter is strong and emotive, like many news articles of the time. He worries about how Ireland could survive the ‘murder and burning’ and ‘savagery’, which he said had become ‘rampant’. This reflected the general shock and concern that many people had for the political future of Ireland after events such as the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence.

O’Mara uses an interesting term, to express his upset and defeat, writing that he has ‘thrown up the sponge’, usually expressed by the more common phrase: ‘throwing in the towel.’ The O’Mara family were evidently able to discuss their opposing political views openly without tension, unlike many families, more seriously divided by their perceptions of the Treaty.

The letter ends with Stephen sending his love to ‘Nancy’, his daughter-in law, Nancy O’Brien, daughter of Thomas O’Brien, a horse dealer of Limerick.


Importance of the O’Mara letter

This letter may only seem like a brief note from a father to his son about a shocking political event. However, it reveals a lot about the family if studied closely. Considering the heavy political involvement of the O’Mara family, this letter seems typical of their correspondence at the time. It illustrates emotions and family relations through the language used, and allows the reader to experience the private concerns of prominent political people in Limerick in 1922. The analysis of private correspondence also provides useful insights into family communication in a difficult period in Irish history. More information on the O’Mara family can be found on the Special Collections website.