TAOISEACH Micheál Martin has said the death of Michael Collins deprived Ireland 'of our best hope for reconciliation'.
The Taoiseach was speaking at Béal na Bláth in Cork at the Centenary Commemoration of the death of Collins.
Also speaking at the event in front of around 5,000 people were Tanaiste Leo Varadkar and Collins' great grand-niece, Eleanor Moore.
Collins, 31, was Chairman of the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State when he was killed in an ambush by anti-Treaty forces at Béal na Bláth on August 22, 1922, following the outbreak of the Irish Civil War.
The conflict was fought between those for and against the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which helped establish a self-governing Irish Free State, but as a dominion of the British Empire.
It also allowed the six majority Protestant north-eastern counties of the nascent Northern Ireland — formed by the 1920 Government of Ireland Act — to opt out of the proposed state.
The opposing sides of the ensuing civil war precipitated the formation of Ireland's two main political parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
The first leader of the latter party to address the commemoration, Mr Martin described Collins as 'one of the great heroes of Irish history', who wanted to bring about a swift end to the Irish Civil War and fight for Northern nationalists.
'Brave and powerful'
"Collins was a sincere advocate for the Treaty and he was just as committed to trying to prevent the drift towards civil war," said the Taoiseach.
"A new generation of historians has looked at the fateful events which led to the civil war using a range of sources never before available.
"Their work challenges us to look again and especially to appreciate just how many efforts were made to bridge the gap between opponents.
"Collins' electoral pact and his draft constitution were brave and powerful gestures.
"They could have worked but people in London who knew little of our country and showed it little good faith blocked these initiatives and caused immense damage.
"And once the major strategic victories of the first two months of the civil war had been achieved by the provisional government there is no doubt that Collins was determined to bring about a rapid end to the conflict."
He added: "It is perhaps the greatest tragedy of Collins' death that it deprived us of our best hope for reconciliation.
"The bitterness which grew out of the events of the following year showed how much was lost in this place.
"We should also do more to remember Collins' relentless work to try to protect Northern nationalists and his opposition to the partition of our country which had been imposed in 1920.
"Throughout the months before his death he continuously challenged London to protect the rights of nationalists in the North.
"Again and again he tried to stop the systemic violence directed against them."
'Prophet of freedom'
Meanwhile, the Tánaiste said the tragedy of Collins' death was that he never got to see the freedom he had worked for, while the commemoration was a time to reflect on what has been achieved and 'where we have fallen short'.
"For me, Collins was the great prophet of freedom, who was killed before we reached the promised land," said Varadkar.
"That was the great tragedy of Béal na Bláth and the curse of the civil war and by commemorating his death each year, we remember his sacrifice and we make an act of faith in the Ireland he and the revolutionary generation wanted to achieve.
"This event is therefore an opportunity to remember his life, reflect on what has been achieved, where we have fallen short and renew our determination to do better."
Following the speeches, wreaths were laid by Martin, Varadkar and members of both Collins' family and the Michael Collins Commemoration Committee.