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Collins, Michael

Michael Collins

Born: October 16, 1890
Clonakilty, Ireland
Died: August 22, 1922
West Cork, Ireland

Irish revolutionary

The Irish revolutionary leader Michael Collins was a founder of the Irish Free State. Much of his work helped to secure independence from Great Britain for most of Ireland.

Early life and inspiration

Michael Collins was born near Clonakilty, County Cork, Ireland, on October 16, 1890, to a successful farmer, Michael John Collins, and Mary Anne O'Brien. When the couple married, she was twenty-three years old and he was sixty. The couple would have eight children, with Michael being the youngest.

Raised in a beautiful but remote part of southwest Ireland, Collins was educated at local primary schools. At the Lisavair National School, Collins was inspired by his teacher, Denis Lyons, a member of a secret organization, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), whose aim was to gain Ireland's independence from Great Britain. Collins was also influenced by the stories of local men who had taken part in the 1798 Rebellion, a conflict that sparked a feud between the Irish Protestants and Catholics. From these stories Collins learned of Irish pride, rebellion, executions, and the general harsh treatment imposed on his country by the British.

In 1906 Collins went to London, England, to enter the civil service as a postal clerk. For ten years Collins lived in London, where he became active in various Irish organizations, including the Gaelic League, a society that promoted the use of the Irish language. Also during this time, Collins was influenced by the writings of Arthur Griffith (18721922), an Irish nationalist (a person devoted to the interest of a country) who founded the Irish political party Sinn Fein (We Ourselves). In 1909 Collins himself became a member of the IRB, and would later become the IRB treasurer for the South of England.

By this time Collins had grown into a leader. Well-built at about six feet in height, Collins was a good athlete who possessed great endurance. He was good looking, very friendly, and generally had a strong character, something that would win him both friends and enemies.

Revolution

Collins returned to Ireland in 1916 to take part in the Easter Rising, a rebellion against British rule. After the rebellion was crushed, Collins was interned (held captive) in North Wales along with most of the other rebels from the IRB. When the internees were released in December 1916, he went to Dublin, where his sharp intelligence and dynamic energy soon secured him a leadership position in the reviving revolutionary movement.

After their victory in the general election of December 1918, the revolutionaries established an Irish Parliament (body of government), Dail Eireann, in January 1919. The Dail officially announced an Irish Republic (government elected and run by the people of Ireland) and set up an executive to take over the government of the country. British attempts to crush the Republican movement were met with guerrilla warfare (using small bands of soldiers) from the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

Collins played the most important role in this struggle. As director of intelligence (information) of the IRA, he crippled the British intelligence system in Ireland and replaced it with an effective Irish network. At the same time he performed other important military functions, headed the IRB, and, as minister of finance (executive in charge of money) in the Republican government, successfully raised and handed out large sums of money on behalf of the rebel cause. Despite constant efforts, the British were unable to capture Collins or stop his work. The "Big Fellow" became an idolized and near-legendary figure in Ireland, and he won a reputation in Britain and abroad for ruthlessness, resourcefulness, and daring.

Diplomacy

After the truce of July 1921, Collins reluctantly agreed to Irish president Eamon de Valera's (18821975) request to serve on the peace-making talks headed by Arthur Griffith. During the autumn negotiations in London, the British government firmly rejected any settlement that involved recognition of the republic. Instead its representatives offered Dominion status for Ireland (self-governing, but still part of the British Commonwealth) with the right of exclusion (to be left out) for loyalist Northern Ireland. Collins decided to accept these terms, in the belief that rejection meant renewal of the war and quick defeat for Ireland, and that the proposed treaty would soon lead to unity and complete freedom for his country. Using these arguments, he and Griffith persuaded their side to sign the treaty on December 6, 1921, and Dail Eireann to approve it on January 7, 1922.

De Valera and many Republicans refused to accept the agreement, however, believing that it meant a betrayal of the republic and would mean continued domination by Britain. As the British evacuated southern Ireland, Collins and Griffith did their best to maintain order and enforce the treaty signed with the British. They found their efforts frustrated by the opposition of an armed Republican minority, however. Collins sought desperately to satisfy the forces that opposed the treaty without abandoning the treaty altogether, but he found it impossible to make a workable compromise.

In late June 1922, after the population had supported the settlement in an election, Collins agreed to use force against the opposition. This action sparked a civil war, a bitter conflict in which the forces of the infant Irish Free State eventually overcame the extreme Republicans in May 1923. Collins did not live to see the end of the war, though. He was killed in an ambush in West Cork on August 22, 1922, just ten days after the death of Arthur Griffith.

Much of Collins's success as a revolutionary leader was due mainly to his realism (being practical) and extraordinary efficiency. He also possessed an amazing vision and humanity in his character, however, which appealed to friend and foe alike. The treaty that cost him his life did not end the argument, as he had hoped, but it did make possible the peaceful gaining of full political freedom for most of Ireland.

For More Information

Coogan, Tim Pat. Michael Collins: A Biography. London: Hutchinson, 1990.

Feehan, John M. The Shooting of Michael Collins. Dublin, Ireland: Mercier Press, 1981.

Mackay, James A. Michael Collins: A Life. Edinburgh, Scotland: Mainstream, 1996.

O'Connor, Frank. The Big Fellow; a Life of Michael Collins. New York: T. Nelson & Sons, 1937. Reprint, New York : Picador USA, 1998.

Taylor, Rex. Michael Collins. London: Hutchinson, 1958.

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Michael Collins

Michael Collins

The Irish revolutionary leader Michael Collins (1890-1922) was a founder of the Irish Free State.

Michael Collins was born near Clonakilty, County Cork, on Oct. 16, 1890. He was educated at local primary schools and went to London in 1906 to enter the civil service as a postal clerk. For 10 years Collins lived in London, where he became active in various Irish organizations, the most important of which was the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), a secret society dedicated to the overthrow of British rule in Ireland.

Collins returned to Ireland in 1916 to take part in the Easter Rising and after its suppression was interned in North Wales with most of the other rebels. When the internees were released in December 1916, he went to Dublin, where his keen intelligence and dynamic energy soon secured him a position of leadership in the reviving revolutionary movement.

After their victory in the general election of December 1918, the revolutionaries established an Irish Parliament, Dail Eireann, in January 1919. The Dail proclaimed an Irish Republic and set up an executive to take over the government of the country. British attempts to suppress the republican movement were met with guerrilla warfare by the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Collins played the most important role in this struggle. As director of intelligence of the IRA, he crippled the British intelligence system in Ireland and replaced it with an effective Irish network. At the same time he performed other important military functions, headed the IRB, and, as minister of finance in the Republican government, successfully raised and disbursed large sums on behalf of the rebel cause. Despite constant efforts the British were unable to capture Collins or stop his work. The "Big Fellow" became an idolized and near-legendary figure in Ireland and won a formidable reputation in Britain and abroad for ruthlessness, resourcefulness, and daring.

After the truce of July 1921, Collins reluctantly agreed to President Eamon De Valera's request to serve on the peace-making delegation headed by Arthur Griffith. During the autumn negotiations in London, the British government firmly rejected any settlement that involved recognition of the republic. Instead its representatives offered Dominion status for Ireland, with the right of exclusion for loyalist Northern Ireland. Collins decided to accept these terms, in the belief that rejection meant renewal of the war and quick defeat for Ireland and that the proposed treaty would soon lead to unity and complete freedom for his country. Using these arguments, he and Griffith persuaded their fellow delegates to sign the treaty on Dec. 6, 1921, and Dail Eireann to approve it on Jan. 7, 1922.

De Valera and many Republicans refused to accept the agreement, however, contending that it constituted a betrayal of the republic and would mean continued subjection to Britain. As the British evacuated southern Ireland, Collins and Griffith did their best to maintain order and implement the treaty but found their efforts frustrated by the opposition of an armed Republican minority. Collins sought desperately to pacify the antitreaty forces without abandoning the treaty but found it impossible to make a workable compromise.

In late June 1922, after the population had endorsed the settlement in an election, Collins agreed to use force against the dissidents. This action precipitated civil war, a bitter conflict in which the forces of the infant Irish Free State eventually overcame the extreme Republicans in May 1923. Collins did not live to see the end of the war; he was killed in ambush in West Cork on Aug. 22, 1922, just 10 days after the death of Arthur Griffith.

Much of Collins's success as a revolutionary leader can be ascribed to his realism and extraordinary efficiency, but there was also a marked strain of idealism and humanity in his character which appealed to friend and foe alike. The treaty that cost him his life did not end partition, as he had hoped, but it did make possible the peaceful attainment of full political freedom for most of Ireland.

Further Reading

Frank O'Connor (pseud. of Michael O'Donovan), The Big Fellow: Michael Collins and the Irish Revolution (1937; rev. ed. 1965), offers penetrating insight into Collins's complex personality. Piaras Béaslaí, Michael Collins and the Making of a New Ireland (2 vols., 1926), is the most detailed biography. Rex Taylor, Michael Collins (1958), fills in important details of the treaty negotiations.

Additional Sources

Coogan, Tim Pat, Michael Collins: a biography, London: Hutchinson, 1990.

Dwyer, T. Ryle, Michael Collins: "the man who won the war," Cork: Mercier Press, 1990.

Dwyer, T. Ryle, Michael Collins and the treaty: his differences with de Valera, Dublin: Mercier Press, 1981.

Feehan, John M., The shooting of Michael Collins, Dublin: Mercier Press, 1981.

Michael Collins, Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1980.

Ryan, Meda, The day Michael Collins was shot, Swords, Co. Dublin, Ireland: Poolbeg, 1989. □

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Collins, Michael

Collins, Michael (1890–1922). Collins is the best-known 20th-cent. Irish revolutionary leader, a template for guerrillas, and has been very romanticized. From a west Cork farming background, he moved to London at 15, and was active among exiled nationalists. He played a background role in Dublin during the Easter Rising. After internment, through an agency of Irish Republican Brotherhood, Collins became the key figure in the reorganized Irish Volunteers/Irish Republican Army. As director of IRA intelligence, he infiltrated all agencies of British rule in Ireland. Against his will, he was a negotiator at the Anglo-Irish conference of October–December 1921, revealing his pragmatism by signing the Anglo-Irish treaty. As chairman of provisional government January–June 1922, Collins uneasily presided over the establishment of the new state while striving to appease anti-treaty former colleagues. British insistence on the treaty terms led to his ordering the Dublin Four Courts attack in June 1922, beginning the civil war. While visiting pro-treaty troops as commander-in-chief and searching for a basis for peace, he was killed in a west Cork ambush on 22 August 1922. Rumour and speculation have since run riot on the circumstances of his death. Lately debate has centred on what Collins might have contributed to Ireland had he lived. Undoubtedly the pro-treaty side lost its most charismatic figure and the Northern Ireland government its most fervent opponent.

Michael Hopkinson

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Collins, Michael

Michael Collins, 1890–1922, Irish revolutionary leader. He spent the years from 1907 to 1916 in England, during which period he joined the Fenian movement. He took part in the Easter Rebellion in Dublin in 1916 and was imprisoned for the rest of the year. One of the Sinn Féin members who set up the Dáil Éireann in 1919, he led the Irish Republican Army in the guerrilla campaign against British rule that eventually forced the British government to sue for a truce. Although a convinced republican, Collins, with Arthur Griffith, negotiated and signed the treaty (1921) that set up the Irish Free State (see Ireland) because he felt it the best settlement with England possible at that time. He was finance minister in Griffith's government for a brief time before being assassinated by extremist republicans.

See biographies by F. O'Connor (1937), E. Neeson (1968), M. Forester (1971), T. P. Coogan (1990), T. R. Dwyer (1990), and P. Hart (2006).

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Collins, Michael

Collins, Michael (1890–1922) Irish revolutionary, leader of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). He was imprisoned for his role in the Easter Rising (1916). A leading member of Sinn Féin, he helped establish (1918) the Dáil Eireann (Irish assembly). He and Arthur Griffith negotiated the treaty (1921) that created the Irish Free State and the partition of Ireland. He was assassinated by extremist republicans.

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Collins, Michael

Collins, Michael (b London, 1962). Eng. clarinettist. Finalist in BBC TV Young Musician of the Year 1978. Played Musgrave's conc. at Proms, 1984. NY début 1984. Prof. of cl., RCM from 1985. Prin. cl., Philharmonia Orch. from 1988.

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