I had the fortune of excellent guides in this area. Retired Captain Donal Buckley (of the Irish Army) has written extensivley on Freemasonry in Ireland and runs http://www.militaryheritagetours.com/, undertaking tours of Ireland, Israel and the Western Front. With him was Tim Crowley. Tim grew up in the heartland of 'Collins Country' and lectures on Collins' life and contribution to Irish history, including at University College, Cork and the National Museum in Dublin. He has recently released the book 'In Search of Michael Collins'- an illustrated history and guide to places in County Cork associated with Michael Collins. I simply couldn't have had a better team to wander around with here!
We started in Cork, visiting the Collins Barracks and its excellent displays of Collins history. To see his field journal, gun and personal letters was amazing. This followed a trip to the excellent Cork Public Museum, a free museum that holds historical treasures galore, from neolithic times to the modern. You could spend hours, but I focused mainly on the sections relating to the United Irishmen, the War of Independence and of course, Collins himself. Donal was the perfect guide his- his knowledge is unsurpassed- and he was able to give me excellent information as a Cork-man himself. Without him, I wouldn't have been able to understand any of the Gaelic, and his insight was an incredible gift to my research.
Then along the winding road through the back of West Cork- the pub where Collins stopped prior to his death, the family homes, the locations along the road and finally the site of the murder itself. The most revealing part was to stand where Tim believes the final shot (that hit Collins in the head, behind the ear) was fired and consider whether a marksman, under fire from a recently jammed machine gun and running from Collins' men, could have seen who it was he was shooting. I doubt it.
The weather was icy- a stream trickled nearby and it became dark and grey overhead. We gazed down the hill at the memorial location and mused what may have been, had the fatal shot not found its mark.