Collins, Eamon 1954-1999
COLLINS, Eamon 1954-1999
PERSONAL: Born 1954, in Newry, County Down, Ireland; murdered January 27, 1999, in Newry, County Down, Ireland.; son of Brian Collins (a border cattle and horse trader) and Kathleen Cumiskey. Education: Attended Queen's University, Belfast; degree in community education, Dublin. Religion: Catholic.
CAREER: Worked variously for the ministry of defense, London, England, as a border policeman, and as a customs officer; intelligence officer, Irish Republican Army (IRA).
(With Mick McGovern) Killing Rage (autobiography), Granta Books (London, England), 1997.
SIDELIGHTS: Eamon Collins was born in 1954 in Newry, County Down, Northern Ireland. The son of Roman Catholics, neither of whom were particularly political, he was raised on a horse and cattle farm until his parents separated when he was age five and his mother took him to live with his grandmother. In 1974 Collins was home on the family farm for a holiday from Belfast, where he was studying British law at Queen's University, when soldiers from the British Army's Parachute Regiment discovered what appeared to be explosives residue in his father's truck. They caught and abused Collins, beating him and threatening him with a gun. Once the "explosives" were proven to be creosote (a flammable tar created by wood smoke), he was released.
The incident turned Collins away from his studies; British law no longer seemed a valid subject to him. When the tentative peace between Catholics and Protestants crumbled in the wake of a strike by the Protestant paramilitaries, ending any hope of the two groups sharing political power, Collins began to consider the Irish Republican Army's (IRA) platform: that aggression was the only way to settle the situation. Jo Thomas, in a review for the New York Times Book Review, quoted Collins as saying that "only force would bring about justice for Catholics in this Protestant statelet. I can look back now and say that if power sharing had worked, I would not have ended up in the IRA."
In his autobiography, Killing Rage, Collins recounts his experiences as an intelligence officer for the IRA. Although he never killed anyone himself, he was responsible for the deaths of a number of people, marking them for assassination and calling in hit men to take care of the jobs. Some targeted individuals were policemen or off-duty soldiers, while others were people he knew, such as Ulster Defense Regiment (UDR) Major Ivan Toombs, whose funeral he attended. Still others were marked for death based on inaccurate information that Collins had obtained, as in the case of UDR member Norman Hanna, who was shot to death in front of his wife and children. It was later reported that Hanna had left the UDR six years earlier, which by IRA rules should have exempted him from becoming a target. Although Collins felt some guilt, he justified his actions as necessary for the greater good. Roane Carey, a reviewer for the Nation, quoted Collins, who stated that "I felt this savagery was the necessary price of our struggle to create a more just society. . . . We were involved in a war of attrition and even then I knew that my participation in that war changed me. . . . Every aspect of my life was dedicated to the purpose of death."
An arrest for a crime he did not commit ended Collins's IRA involvement. After five days of hard questioning and beatings by the police, he confessed to a number of crimes for which he was responsible, and turned state's witness. His family, however, convinced him to recant. While he was officially pardoned by the army according to IRA policy, Collins began to receive death threats, forcing a move from his home in Newry. Collins eventually returned and began speaking out against the army's publicly. Over a period of several years, IRA supporters burned Collins's car, attempted to hit him with a car, and set fire to his house. On January 27, 1999, his body was found by the side of the road near his home. Collins had taken his dogs for a walk and been attacked; his head was so badly beaten that police were not initially able to ascertain whether he had been shot as well.
Collins's book is his legacy, an explanation of the motivating factors behind a brutal situation from an insider's point of view. Kevin Toolis, a reviewer for the Manchester Guardian, commented that "Killing Rage is a document of an assassin; a descriptive guidebook on how to gather enough information to kill a man and an exposition of the moral cost that such deeds extract from the narrator's psyche." Thomas observed that "where Killing Rage succeeds—and it often does—is as an eyewitness account. Collins wanted to show the true horror of his experiences. He does."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Collins, Eamon, and Mick McGovern, Killing Rage, Granta Books (London, England), 1997.
Guardian (Manchester, England), April 5, 1997, Kevin Toolis, review of Killing Rage, p. T16; July 3, 1999, Kevin Toolis, "Eamon Collins," p. T16.
Nation, July 12, 1999, Roane Carey, "Republic of Pain," review of Killing Rage, p. 30.
New York Times, January 28, 1999, "Author of an Expose of IRA Is Slain, Apparently in Revenge," p. A7.
New York Times Book Review, November 21, 1999, Jo Thomas, "Defenders of the Faith," review of Killing Rage, p. 18.*