On Saturday 3rd September 2011 newly restored Rolls Royce armoured car Sliabh na mBan was unveiled at the Curragh Camp. Co. Kildare following the annual Mass and wreath laying ceremonies in honour of deceased members of the Defence Forces’ Cavalry Corps during the annual Cavalry Corps Day.
ARR2 is the third of one hundred 1920 Pattern or Whippet Rolls Royce armoured cars ordered by the British Army and fitted with Royal Ordnance Factory armoured bodies. Delivered in November 1920 it was originally destined for service in Mesopotamia but was diverted to Ireland and saw service during the (1919 – 1920) War of Independence / Anglo-Irish War. In the early months of 1922 the Provisional Government acquired 13 of these vehicles from the departing British forces and were allocated unofficial names. Sliabh na mBan was called Slievenamon and first saw action at the outbreak of the Civil War ( 1922 – 1923) when it took part in operations to clear Republicans from buildings in O’Connell Street, Dublin. When fleet numbering was introduced, it was designated ARR2.
Allocated in mid-August 1922 to General Michael Collins, Commander-in-Chief of the National Army, it was part of the convoy ambushed by Republicans at Béal na Bláth in West Cork on August 22nd 1922 during which Michael Collins received a fatal bullet head wound. Ironically Collins had refused to shelter in this vehicle which was then used to evacuate his body from the ambush site.
In December 1922 the vehicle was stolen by Republicans with the help of a driver and used by Republicans in attacks on a number of installations and then hidden by them under straw on a farm until found by National Army troops acting on a tip off. During the 1930’s ARR2 and the other Rolls Royce armoured cars were based at the Curragh and served with the 1st Armoured Squadron until replaced during 1937-38 by eight Swedish Landsw
erk armoured cars. The outbreak of World War 2 (The Emergency) saw these vehicles recalled to service with various units until 1945. Twelve were sold off in the 1950’s without their armoured bodies but due to the foresight of Paddy Lynch, foreman of the Cavalry Corps workshops, who has set them up in 1924, had previously driven these armoured cars, and Michael Collins around Dublin in a Crossley Tender, ARR2 was retained in the workshops under the heading of Scrap although in working order and polished weekly by a workshop apprentice.
At some stage the vehicle was renamed Sliabh na mBan and in a strange quirk of fate appeared in the 1959 film ‘Shake Hands with the Devil’, set during the Irish War of Independence, and starring James Cagney and Don Murray and a host of British support and character actors, produced by retired General Emmet Dalton who had been beside Michael Collins when he died at Béal na Bláth.
In 1978 this armoured car recreated its original role at Béal na Bláth for the RTE semi-documentary ‘In the Shadow of Béal na Bláth’ driven appropriately by Pat Lynch, son of Paddy Lynch.
At the present time Sliabh na mBan is one of about 15 preserved vehicles held and maintained by the Cavalry Corps. Speech by the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny T.D., at Cavalry Corps Day, Defence Forces Training Centre, Curragh Camp on Saturday, 3 September 2011 at 10.45 a.m.
“On the final day of his life, as he emerged from the Eldon Hotel in Skibbereen, Michael Collins was approached by the writer Edith Somerville, who admonished him... " keep your armoured cars away from my haven, I can't bear to see my little island destroyed with those monstrosities". As the only armoured car in Collins' convoy that day, it was the Sliabh na mBan, now standing before us resplendent 89 years later, which was the target of Somerville's ire.
A Aire Cosanta; Ceann Foirne Óglaigh na hÉireann; Oifigí, ONC agus Trúipéir ón Cór Marcra, pearsanra míleata scortha; a dhaoine uaisle.
Tá áthas orm a bheith I bhur dteannta inniu chun an carr armúrtha athchóirithe Sliabh na mBan a sheoladh.
It is my great pleasure to be present here on Cavalry Day to celebrate our country's proud military tradition, which is so comprehensively recalled in the beautifully restored armoured Rolls Royce car, Sliabh na mBan. It is just under a fortnight since the 89th Anniversary of the death of General Michael Collins at Béal na mBláth, on the 22nd of August 1922. At that time, while the country was being torn apart by a bitter civil war, Michael Collins, as Commander in Chief of the National Army, was visiting his troops in West Cork - and Sliabh na mBan formed an integral part of his 4-vehicle convoy. Michael Collins, who famously cycled around Dublin in plain view of the British administration when Director of Intelligence, was shot in the open at Béal na mBláth while returning fire, showing his characteristic courage and disregard for his own safety. It is a matter of tragic irony that Collins, who refused to take shelter in the Sliabh na mBan, was evacuated from the ambush site in this very car, having been mortally wounded moments earlier. And thus, in the loss of one of our greatest patriots and leaders, Sliabh na mBan was a silent witness.
Sliabh na mBan, therefore, takes us right back to the turbulent foundations of our Nation and reminds us, in no small way, of the price that was paid for that Independence. It stands as a tribute to the proud heritage of our Defence Forces, Óglaigh na hÉireann, who fought for "the right of the Irish people to be masters in our own country, to decide for ourselves the way in which we wish to live and the system by which we wish to be governed.
The tradition of selfless service to the State established by the very first Commander-in-Chief, lives on in the ranks of Óglaigh na hÉireann today. The conduct and bearing of our Defence Forces earlier this year, on the occasion of the visits of Queen Elizabeth II and President Obama, brought home to every citizen of this country how professional, capable and disciplined our Defence Force is. I was struck by the dignity of the various ceremonial occasions and the pride with which the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps have maintained their military heritage. Indeed it was my great pleasure to acknowledge the outstanding performance of our Defence Forces during those important visits by awarding Gradam An Taoisigh to the men and women of Óglaigh na hÉireann.
When I look out and compare the state-of-the-art Mowags we have here today with our earliest armoured car, I am reminded that Óglaigh na hÉireann has come a long way in its almost 100-year history.
We truly have a world class Defence Force which makes a vital contribution to the daily lives of our citizens at home, and brings great honour and influence to the State through its contribution to International Peace and Security on overseas missions. Nevertheless, our Defence Force has never lost sight of its origins in the Irish Volunteers and the fundamental role the organisation played in the self determination of the Irish people. Each member of Óglaigh na hÉireann to this day proudly bears the cap badge originally designed for the Volunteers in 1913, while other aspects of the uniform preserve the link between military tradition and loyal service to the State. My predecessor and a man sorely missed from Irish life, the late Dr. Garret Fitzgerald, addressed the Junior Command and Staff course at the Military College earlier this year. In his speech to those future military commanders, Dr. Fitzgerald remarked that despite the fact that so many of the traditional pillars of Irish society had weakened in recent years, the Defence Forces remained loyal to the core values of honour, loyalty and Service to the State - a Service that can be traced back through every major crisis on this island since the birth of our Nation.
Sliabh na mBan is the most historic and evocative vehicle in the State today. It speaks to us through the ages and tells us where we are and how we got here. It has the unique distinction of having served in three wars and with three separate armies: Firstly, with the British Army from 1920 against the Irish Republican Army in the War of Independence. Secondly, with the National Army, later the Defence Forces, until after the Emergency in 1946, and in between times with the Anti-Treaty forces for a brief period during the Civil War.
Those many soldiers of every hue, who enjoyed the protection of this historic vehicle, would have echoed Polonius -
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel.
Those hoops of steel are the very fabric and substance of Sliabh na mBan.
Originally destined for service with the British in Mesopotamia, the first 1920 pattern armoured Rolls Royce cars - or ARRs - including Sliabh na mBan, were diverted for service in Ireland with the British Army. After Independence in 1922, thirteen of the Rolls Royce cars were purchased by the Free State and helped provide the National Army with the means to bring the Civil War to an end.
It is a testament to the dedication and ingenuity of the Cavalry Corps that Sliabh na mBan and the other ARRs were maintained in working order through the lean years of the 1930s and the 1940s, serving in one of the three armoured car squadrons during the Emergency, when this country faced the possibility of invasion. Following the War, the cars had become largely obsolete and were in danger of being scrapped in those frugal times. Once again, the dedicated military and civilian personnel at the cavalry Workshops, including notably the Lynch family, ensured the survival of Sliabh na mBan, often through the resourceful interchanging of parts that had by then become impossible to procure. The Government had the foresight to preserve this car when the other ARRs were auctioned in 1954 and it has been a feature of State occasions, military ceremonies and heritage displays ever since. I want to thank in particular the staff of the Combined Vehicle Base Workshops, as well as Mr. James Black and his team of craftsmen who have so faithfully restored Sliabh na mBan to its present magnificent condition.
I would like to thank the Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General McCann for his kind invitation to me to join you here on this important occasion, and to wish the Cavalry Corps and the wider Defence Forces continued success in your vital work on behalf of the State, at home and overseas.
As I look at the Sliabh na mBan before us here today, restored to its immaculate best, it may be an inanimate object, yet it speaks - it shouts: resistance, endurance, integrity, struggle, victory. I have no doubt that Edith Somerville would approve. “