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The Big Man, Michael Collins: 1890 - 1922.
Early Life of Michael Collins
Michael Collins was born on October 16, 1890 in Clonakity, County Cork, Ireland and was the youngest of 8 children born to Michael and Marianne O’Brien. Michael’s father was 60 when he married the young Marianne in 1875. Michael was six years old when his father passed away and predicted while in his deathbed that his son would do great things for Ireland. Michael at a young age was very passionate about nationalism. At fifteen he left for London and while there stayed with his elder sister. While there in studied at King’s College and worked for the post office. In 1909 at the age of 19 Michael was introduced to the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a secret society dedicated to achieving Irish independence. After joining the IRB Michael left his job at the post office and went to work for a stock broking company.
Movie - Michael Collins with Liam Neeson
When Michael returned to Ireland in 1916 things were heating up with plans for an armed uprising. Eoin MacNeill, the founder of the Irish Volunteers, issued orders to abandon all plans for a Rising but the IRB went ahead as planned. The Easter Rising went ahead and resulted in the destruction of large parts of Dublin. In the aftermath there was the execution of the seven leaders of the revolt. This act would end up working against the British and turned the tide in favor of the insurgents for the first time. Public sympathy towards the executed men increased so much that Collins, and the remaining leaders could see that nationalism was about to peak in Ireland. Collins and his fellow Volunteers were rounded up and would eventually end up in Frongach camp in Wales. This still caused problems for the British which forced them to release the prisoners to help diffuse the unrest.
Collins found employment as secretary of the Irish National Aid and Volunteer Dependants Fund. Collins had worked at reviving the volunteer movement and attracts new recruits to the IRB but it was Sinn Fein that had become popular. It was then that Collins realized that it was a radical nationalist party that could defeat the IPP. Collins nominated Joe McGinnis who would end up winning this set in motion for the British to release more prisoners one of whom was Eamon de Velera. Collins would then work to make de Valera as president of Sinn Fein and Collins began organizing an effective intelligence gathering operation. Collins was able to recruit two men on the inside who worked in British intelligence in Ireland.
In 1918 Michael fell in love with Kitty. Though he was not the only one pursuing her so was his friend and comrade Harry Boland. During this time both men were very busy and rarely stayed in one spot for very long. They had been arrested once and were tipped off by another arrest. The British were set to arrest the leading nationalists in an attempt to stop the anti-conscription protest. Though to win a moral victory it was decided that de Valera, Sean McGarry the president of the IRB and others would be arrested. They did succeed in gaining nationalist sympathy. This left Collins and Boland in effective control of the republican organizations. With General Elections coming up this became a main focus. Collins was elected for the South Cork constituency. On 21 January 1919, Sinn Fein's newly elected candidates assembled in Dublin's Mansion House to form the first national assembly in over a century. The new parliament would be known as the Dail and Eamon de Valera was elected its president with Collins being Minister of Finance. This was also the start of the War of Independence set off by two policemen being shot by a group of Volunteers.
"To me the task is a loathsome one. I go; I go in the spirit of a soldier who acts against his best judgment at the orders of his superior." - Michael Collins on being sent to the "Treaty" negotiations by De Valera.
Much would transpire for Michael Collins over the next few years. He had a price on his head and was elected in the six county area of Ulster, which had now been effectively partitioned off under the Government of Ireland Act. In June Lloyd George invited de Valera to London for talks without precondition. De Valera accepted and a Truce was set for 11 July, 1921. When the peace talks were set for October, Collins and Griffith were unexpectedly chosen to lead the Irish team of negotiators. Collins felt he was selected because it was a no win situation. On Saturday 8 October, while the rest of the peace delegation travelled to London, Collins became engaged to Kitty Kiernan. Three months into the negotiation the British forced them to either sign or hostile actions would resume. Collins signed and turning to Lord Birkenhead said, what would become a prophetic statement "I have signed my death warrant." The Treaty was rejected by de Valera and others even Harry Boland was one of the opponents. On the January 14th 1922, Dail Eireann ratified the Treaty, establishing southern Ireland as a Free State. The Dail was now split into pro- and anti-Treaty camps. De Valera resigned and Michael Collins was elected Chairman of the Provisional Government. The Provisional Government had to take over the evacuated British posts. The first occupation was Dublin Castle itself, where Collins arrived seven and a half minutes late for the changeover. Collins remarked to the British general "after seven and half centuries we won't begrudge you seven and a half minutes." This division among the Irish would set things in motion that would get one man killed.
"In my opinion it gives us freedom, not the ultimate freedom that all nations desire ... but the freedom to achieve it." - Michael Collins, about the Treaty.
The Big Fella is Gone
"To go for a drink is one thing. To be driven to it is another." - Michael Collins
On August 22, 1922 on a quiet country road in Cork shots rang out and lying dead on the road was Michael Collins. His death brought the country to a standstill. His name even to this day invokes much passion. Some have wondered what Ireland would be like today if his life had not been cut short that day. Just two months shy of his 32 birthday he had so much more time to get things done for his beloved country. Conspiracy theories have also surrounded his death one of which was pointed at Eamon de Valera, or even to one of his own men. But no matter who was behind it, the name Michael Collins will never be forgotten.
In 1966, while President of the Republic of Ireland, de Valera said: "It's my considered opinion that in the fullness of time, history will record the greatness of Collins and it will be recorded at my expense”.