Michael Collins was the son of a small farmer from Sam’s Cross near the coastal town of Clonakilty in west Cork. Born on 18th October 1890 to Michael and Marianne, he was the youngest of eight children and was educated in the local school. Michael senior passed away when the young Collins was 6 years old. Young Michael’s life was heavily affected by stories of the Fenians and the United Irishmen. Many of the people surrounding him, including his father, his teacher and the local blacksmith had been members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
In 1906 Michael emigrated to London where he initially worked as a clerical officer with the Post Office Savings Bank. In London he immersed himself in Irish expatriate organisations such as the GAA and the Gaelic League and he also followed the footsteps of his father by enlisting in the IRB. His stay in London lasted 10 years and he returned to Ireland in January of 1916 both to avoid conscription into the British Army and to participate in the coming rebellion.
The 1916 Easter Rising
During the 1916 Easter Rising Collins was appointed aide-de-camp to Joseph Plunkett and was stationed in the GPO. In the aftermath of the rebellion Michael was captured and interned with hundreds of others, in Frongoch camp in Wales. He was released in December 1916 and returned immediately to Dublin where he spent the next few years helping to rebuild the republican movement and advancing its message to a more receptive populace.
Revenge on British Intelligence
The general election of 1918 gave Sinn Féin a landslide victory and they immediately set up Dáil Éireann as an independent Irish Parliament. In January 1919 Collins was appointed as member of home affairs and in April minister of fiancé. His remit included not only the raising of monies to finance the Dáil, but also the gathering of intelligence and the organising of resistance to the British. As the war of resistance intensified, Collins, remaining in Dublin, took on the British intelligence unit based in Dublin Castle. This unit, known as the G-Men were infamous for their brutal treatment of prisoners and suspects.
On Sunday morning, 21st November 1920, Collins sent out eight assassination teams and killed 11 members of the British Intelligence. In retaliation, that afternoon, the British machine-gunned Croke Parke during a football game between Dublin and Tipperary, killing 12 people. They also murdered prisoners Peter Clancy and Richard McKee, who were IRB leaders and a civilian, Conor Clune, who had been arrested the previous night for breaking the curfew. Collins, even though there was a price on his head helped to carry the coffins at the funeral. The war escalated even further and atrocity followed atrocity. Sectarian warfare broke out in Ulster.
The Irish Free State & Ulster
By July 1921 after a year of vicious attack and counter attack by both the IRA and the British military, both sides had reached a stalemate and a truce was called. On October 1921 negotiations were entered into in London. The British were represented by Lloyd George and the Irish by Arthur Griffith and an unwilling Michael Collins who had been granted plenipotentiary powers by the Dáil. After two months of intense debating the Irish delegation signed and Collins in doing so believed that he had signed his death warrant. What the treaty gave was not a republic but a free state within the empire, the British were to hold 3 ports and the Dáil members to take the oath of allegiance to the British monarch. It also gave the 6 Protestant dominated counties of Ulster, Derry, Down Armagh Antrim Tyrone and Fermanagh, their own government, the very thing that Unionists had said they never wanted.
Civil War & The Death of Collins
This treaty was unacceptable to many Republicans and was passed in the Dáil by only a majority of 7 votes. It was to bring about a division which would plunge the country into another blood bath. Those who opposed the treaty were led by Eamon de Valera. Arthur Griffith became the president of Dáil Éireann and appointed Collins as Commander in Chief of the Free State Army.
In June 1922 the anti-treaty forces occupied the Four Courts in Dublin and Collins bombarded them, using guns borrowed from the British. The country erupted into civil war. It was a war more savage than the one against the British.
On 22 August 1922, Collins was completing a tour of inspection close to his home town of Clonakilty. As he was passing though Béal na Blath, anti-treaty forces ambushed him and he was shot dead. He was in his 31 year of age. His killers have never been identified but it is believed that as they were of the locality Collins and his family would not have been unknown to them personally.
This article was first published on 27-08-2012 and last modified on 19-03-2017.