October 16, 1890
August 22, 1922
Beal na Blath, Ireland
Leader of the Irish independence movement
"Think, what have I got for Ireland? Something she has wanted this past 700 years. Will anyone be satisfied in the bargain? Will anyone? I tell you this, I have signed my death warrant."
T he story of Irish independence from Great Britain covers more than a century of fighting and bloodshed. During and after World War I (1914–18), Michael Collins was a military leader of the pro-independence forces that eventually took control of the island nation. During the final battles, which raged from 1916 to 1922, Collins played a number of key roles: military strategist, finance minister, and treaty negotiator.
But, eventually, Collins agreed to a treaty short of full-fledged independence. His decision enraged some supporters of Irish independence, and in 1922 Collins was assassinated by supporters of the same cause to which he had devoted his life.
Collins's life showed how terrorism—or guerrilla attacks, depending on one's point of view—can play a role in nationalist movements.
An Irish childhood
Collins, born in 1890, lived a pleasant rural Irish childhood near the little town of Sam's Cross in County Cork in Ireland. He lived on a 60-acre farm owned by his father, Michael John Collins, who had not married until he was fifty-nine years old (and was seventy-five when Collins was born). Ireland in 1890 was ruled by Britain, when the British Empire was at the height of its worldwide power and influence. It was first invaded by the Normans (from France) in the twelfth century and had become part of the British Empire in 1801. The nineteenth century had been an eventful time in Irish history. More than a million people died from starvation or disease and at least another million left the country during the great potato famine that lasted from 1845 to 1849. Irish independence fighters had been active on and off for a hundred years.
Collins grew up hearing patriotic stories and songs—as well as stories about terrorist attacks on the government in London, England, twenty years earlier—while sitting around the kitchen table in his family's farmhouse. Members of his family had long had ties to the cause of Irish nationalism, and his uncle could remember Irish patriots of the eighteenth century.
In 1896 Collins's father suffered a heart attack and died a few months later. On his deathbed, his father pointed at Collins and declared: "Mind that child. He'll be a great man yet and will do great things for Ireland."
Collins attended his local school, in which one teacher taught all the children from ages five to eleven. The headmaster (principal) there, Denis Lyons, was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), an organization that wanted independence for Ireland as a republic. The village blacksmith, James Santry, who worked near the school, also influenced Collins. He remembered later that Lyons and Santry first instilled in him pride of being Irish. There was irony in this because the national school system had been set up by the government specifically to prevent children from being taught Irish nationalist sentiments.
Words to Know
- a person involved in a small group of warriors that use ambush and surprise attacks to combat larger forces.
- a person who believes that his or her nation is superior in all ways.
- Home rule:
- a system that put the Irish in charge of affairs in Ireland but left the British in charge of international affairs.
At the age of eleven Collins went to a nearby school to study for the civil service examination—a test that people who
wanted to work for the government had to pass—and lived with an older sister in the small town of Clonakilty, where Collins had been born and where his sister's husband owned the local newspaper. Young Collins was occasionally assigned to cover a wedding or a sports match.
In 1906 Collins moved to London. It was common at that time for young men to leave Ireland for England, where there were better jobs available. There he began working at the Post Office Savings Bank. He spent most of his free time with a close friend from home, Jack Hurley, and lived mainly with other young men who had come to London from Ireland. Collins became a leader of the Gaelic Athletic Association in London, a group that played Gaelic football.
Three years later, in 1909, Collins joined the IRB. The IRB was part of a larger movement called the Fenians, which had been organized in the 1850s to fight for Irish independence. It was named after an ancient band of knights said to have roamed Ireland in the third century b.c.e. The Fenians believed in using violence to achieve independence. The IRB also was active in North America among Irish immigrants. It tried to organize an invasion of British-ruled Canada in 1867, rescued prisoners from western Australia in 1876, and built a submarine to attack the powerful British Royal Navy in 1881.
In London Collins became increasingly involved in the Irish independence movement. He had studied the background of unsuccessful uprisings in Ireland and concluded that lack of organization was to blame. Collins decided that he would be the one to fix that problem.
Collins returned to Ireland from Britain in early 1916. His plan was to take part in a revolt to declare Irish independence. Although Collins had decided that disorganization had been the death of Irish independence in the past, Easter, 1916, proved to be no better an uprising.
The plan had been to seize control of the center of Dublin and to defend it against English forces posted outside the city. Collins was assigned to help the chief military strategist of the uprising, Joseph Mary Plunkett (1887–1916). Plunkett was oddly unqualified for the job: he had no military experience of any kind and was largely ruled by his romantic imagination. About fifty of the Irish Volunteers—most of whom, like Collins, had returned home to Ireland from London—were camped around the house of Plunkett's sister, not far from Dublin. There, while waiting for the uprising, Collins could be heard reciting a speech by an earlier Irish rebel, Robert Emmet, who had led a failed uprising in 1802.
On the eve of the uprising, one of the leaders, Roger Casement, had been sent to pick up arms from a German submarine (the Germans were helping the Irish rebels in order to
strike a blow against Britain, their enemy in World War I). But Casement was arrested, and the arms were never delivered. A leader of the Irish Volunteers became disgusted and insisted that the uprising be called off. He even put an advertisement in the Sunday Independent newspaper announcing that maneuvers had been canceled for the weekend. Other leaders decided to put off the attack by twenty-four hours, until Monday morning.
On Monday morning Collins put on a military uniform—as did most of the Irish Volunteers, although not all the uniforms were the same—and set off for the center of Dublin. At 11 a.m. a group of fifty-seven rebels got on the tram (train) into Dublin, sitting among the other passengers, who complained when they were bumped by the Volunteers' rifles. The commander of the operation ordered the conductor to skip all the stops until the O'Connell Bridge, which they were to guard to keep British soldiers from coming into the city. More complaints were heard from the passengers as the tram rushed past their normal stops.
The rebels gathered in the center of Dublin and marched on the General Post Office. Some people on the street did not realize anything unusual was happening until the marchers got to the building and gave the order to charge. On the ground floor, Collins took delight in smashing the windows and blocking them, the better to defend the building. But apart from a group of British soldiers on horseback that came down the street, no counterattack was made.
It was not until Thursday that the British attacked, and then it was not as the rebels had imagined. Instead of storming the General Post Office, the British army parked some heavy artillery a few blocks away and started firing shells. The next day, incendiary shells (designed to start fires) started coming into the General Post Office, setting the building on fire. By Saturday, the rebels had surrendered. The uprising was over.
Despite the silly beginnings, the deaths were real: 450 people died, and more than 2,600 were injured.
Having been in Dublin for only a few months, Collins was arrested and sent on a cattle boat to Britain. The rebellion had been put down, but the Irish revolution had started.
Turning defeat into victory
The British reaction to the rebellion was swift and harsh. The leaders were rounded up, and fifteen of them were executed, acts that generated more sympathy for the rebel cause than the Easter Rising had.
The prisoners not judged to be leaders of the uprising were sent to a prison camp in Wales, a principality of Great Britain, east of Ireland and west of England, where they were largely free to conduct military training exercises, hold athletic contests, and talk about what went wrong in Dublin. It was here that Collins got his nickname, "The Big Fella." The name did not come so much from his physical size—he was not quite 6 feet tall—but from a manner that offended some people. He seemed overly impressed with his own importance and to have a bullying manner. He was highly competitive about everything and hated to lose.
During the time the rebels were in prison, they developed friendships that lasted long after they were released. In the camps, Collins emerged as an energetic and organized leader.
But after their anger over the Easter Rising had settled, the British authorities realized they were creating a much bigger problem for themselves in the form of sympathy for the rebels. Before Christmas 1916 Britain released many of the prisoners, Collins among them.
Back in Ireland, Collins plunged into organizing Irish nationalists. Working as the employment secretary of the Irish National Aid and Volunteer Dependents Fund—an outgrowth of his political work—Collins tried to revive the Volunteer movement from which fighters had come. But he quickly realized that a new nationalist political movement, Sinn Féin, was more likely to win popular acceptance. Collins began recruiting for Sinn Féin.
Sinn Féin did well in the polls; one of their winning candidates was still being held prisoner because of the Easter Rising. Worried about public reaction, the British quickly released all the remaining prisoners.
The period following the Easter Rising of 1916 was one of confusion and conflict among supporters of Irish independence. Some were willing to settle for "home rule, " with the Irish in charge of affairs in Ireland, but leaving the British in charge of international affairs. Others would settle for nothing short of full independence, like the United States achieved after 1776. A third idea was to form two nations—Britain and Ireland—under a single monarch, an arrangement adopted from the Austro-Hungarian empire. New efforts were made to organize armed groups to fight for independence. By 1917 some Irish nationalists thought the cause of Ireland should be put before an international conference that was expected to settle World War I.
Among the new generation of leaders of the movement were Collins and another veteran of the Easter Rising, Eamon de Valera (1882–1975), who was about to become the president of Sinn Féin. De Valera was also elected to head the Irish Volunteers, which served as Sinn Féin's armed wing. Eventually he would become president of the Republic of Ireland.
In 1918 Collins was named director of organization of the Irish Volunteers as well as adjutant general, in charge of training and discipline. Although Ireland was not an independent nation and did not have its own army, the Irish Volunteers began to take on the appearance of a regular armed force. As Collins traveled throughout Ireland, organizing the Irish Volunteers, he was being watched by police. In the spring of 1918 Collins was about to become an underground terrorist.
Independence … sort of
In the spring of 1917 the British government had once again played into the hands of the nationalists by proposing to extend the military draft from England to Ireland, to make up for losses in World War I. Opposition to the draft was immediate and helped to bring together Irish politicians previously at odds on the subject of independence. So upset did some feel over the proposed draft that assassination squads were sent to London to shoot at members of the British cabinet. But before these plans could be put into action, the British decided to put off introducing the Irish draft.
Despite the setback of the Easter Rising, the Irish independence movement continued to gain strength. In some respects, British efforts to squash the movement only helped it. In May 1918 the British arrested many of the leaders of Sinn Féin for their continuing campaign against British rule. The arrests caused a popular uproar. In the meantime, more radical (extreme) Sinn Féin members like Collins, who had avoided arrest, took control of the party while the more moderate leaders sat in jail.
In July the British government banned all public meetings, even football games, without a permit. Collins promptly began organizing games without permits and held almost two thousand political rallies, also without permits. Ireland seemed to be sliding toward mass disobedience.
In December 1918 British Prime Minister David Lloyd George (1863–1945) called national elections for Parliament (the British governing body) just a month after fighting in World War I ended. In Ireland, Sinn Féin put up candidates throughout the country. With many Sinn Féin leaders still in prison, Collins played a central role in organizing the election.
Collins was also running for office, and in his standard election speech he asked voters to endorse the idea that Ireland should be a fully independent country. He told voters that any solution that deprived the people of Ireland of full control over both internal and external affairs would not be acceptable—although in time, something less than full independence was accepted.
The results of the voting were strongly in favor of independence. The Sinn Féin candidates won 73 out of 105 seats. Clearly the majority in Ireland favored independence. In January 1919 two dozen of the newly elected members of Parliament met in Dublin and declared they were in favor of "an independent Irish republic." They decided not to attend English Parliament. The feelings expressed during the Easter Rising now had the power of a popular vote behind them.
On the same day the members-elect said they were going to establish their own Irish government, two policemen were ambushed and killed while accompanying a load of explosives to a quarry in Soloheadbeg, Ireland. It was not Collins's doing, but he was blamed for it. It seemed to be the first blow for Irish independence. In fact it was locally planned; Collins had been in England, figuring out the details of an operation to free the leaders of Sinn Féin from jail.
Supporters of an independent Ireland now had to make it happen; Britain was not about to accept the loss of Ireland without a fight.
Collins became director of intelligence (espionage or spying) for the Irish Volunteers. Intelligence was a point of pride for the British, who became embarrassed when they were outdone by the Irish in the struggle for independence. Collins organized his intelligence with an aim of going to war against Britain, but not fighting a conventional battle but a guerrilla war of surprise attacks. He was not always in agreement with other leaders of the independence movement on the tactics to use against the British.
When the rebel Irish organized their own republican government on April 1, 1919, Collins also was named minister of finance. He was only twenty-nine years old and lacked experience in money matters. But he did have a following in the independence movement, and he had proved himself effective in the tasks he was given, including arranging for the newly recognized Irish prime minister, De Valera, to be freed from jail.
Two months after the formal Irish declaration of independence, De Valera sailed for the United States to raise funds. He stayed away from Ireland for eighteen months. In the meantime, Collins and another independence fighter, Cathal Brugha, were left in charge of fighting the British for Irish independence.
As a first step the Irish Volunteers swore loyalty to the new Irish Parliament, called the Dáil éireann in the Gaelic language. Their name also changed. Instead of the Irish Volunteers, they became the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
In September the British outlawed the new IRA, the Sinn Féin, and the Dáil. Collins went underground (into hiding), concentrating on fighting a guerrilla war for Irish independence.
From the standpoint of English authorities, Collins had become a terrorist. From the viewpoint of those in Ireland who favored independence, he was an underground guerrilla fighter and hero. From either point of view, he was highly effective.
Collins had already successfully recruited spies from the Irish Constabulary, which patrolled the countryside, and the Dublin police, which were responsible for the country's largest cities. Spies within these organizations helped keep Collins informed of planned moves by the police anywhere in the country.
Collins also organized a special group within the IRA, called "the Squad." Its purpose was to murder British agents. As intended, the possibility of being suddenly killed served to terrorize people connected with the British government in Ireland. The police offered a 10,000-pound reward for Collins's capture. But British intelligence lacked a good photograph of Collins, so their target could freely bicycle through Dublin without being caught.
Britain also brought in a special police force to deal with the IRA. They were called "Black and Tans" after the colors of their uniforms. They soon gained a reputation for being ruthless and vicious in their pursuit of the rebels. The IRA responded in kind, and the battle for the independence of Ireland saw horrifying acts committed on both sides.
British authorities also recruited a group of undercover agents who had been active in Egypt; they were soon called the Cairo Gang. Realizing the threat that these officers posed, Collins obtained the names of the agents by October 1920. On November 21, 1920, Collins sent execution squads to various hotels and rooming houses in Dublin. Nineteen members of the Cairo Gang were killed.
The Black and Tans struck back quickly. The same afternoon the IRA attacked the Cairo Gang, the Black and Tans drove armored cars into a Dublin park where a Gaelic football game was taking place and shot fourteen people. November 21, 1920, would become known as Bloody Sunday.
The following month De Valera returned from his long fund-raising tour in the United States. Collins, who had always been an impatient man, quickly became annoyed with De Valera, who was more inclined to think things over carefully. Collins's brash style, in turn, irritated De Valera.
In May 1921 another round of Parliamentary elections was held. Again Sinn Féin swept Ireland. It became clear to the British government that popular feelings in Ireland ran toward independence. In June 1921 Prime Minister George invited De Valera, as the head of Sinn Féin, to come to London to discuss peace and the establishment of a new republic. De Valera agreed, and a truce between the two sides was set for July 11, 1921. Peace talks were scheduled for the autumn, but there was a surprise. Instead of De Valera, Collins and Arthur Griffith (a founder of Sinn Féin) were chosen to represent the new Republic of Ireland.
Talks began on October 10 and progressed slowly for nearly two months. Finally, on December 6, 1921, the British prime minister insisted: either sign an agreement or call off the talks and resume fighting. Collins and Griffith agreed, but not happily. "I have signed my death warrant," Collins remarked as he signed the treaty at 2:10 a.m.
The reason was not hard to understand: Collins had agreed to something less than full independence for Ireland. Britain had agreed only to grant Ireland a status somewhat like Canada or Australia: free to rule itself at home, but still part of the British Empire. Collins felt it was the best he could achieve under the circumstances. Some people back home felt differently.
Some historians believe that De Valera had purposely placed Collins in a difficult situation. Realizing that he could not achieve in negotiations all that was wanted—the British were not going to give in to all the Irish demands—De Valera gave a no-win task to Collins, whom he did not especially like, and who might pose a political challenge to De Valera later on.
The Free State … and civil war
When Collins returned with the treaty, De Valera rejected it and resigned as head of the new Irish government. Despite this, the Dáil approved the treaty on January 14, 1922, establishing the mostly Catholic twenty-six counties of southern Ireland as the Irish Free State, with the status of a dominion of Britain. (The six largely Protestant counties of the North remained under British rule.)
The treaty split the Irish Parliament into two camps: proand anti-treaty. In the absence of De Valera, Collins became chairman of the provisional government, which took over from the former British administration. It was Collins who formally took control over Dublin Castle, the symbolic center of British government in Ireland for more than 750 years.
In April 1922 some units of the IRA seized control of the Four Courts building in Dublin, and a week later troops loyal to the new Irish Free State attacked them. A civil war had started. Ironically, Collins, who had been one of the most militant fighters for Irish independence, was fighting his former colleagues over the issue.
Some of Collins's closest friends were killed in fighting the IRA troops in and around Dublin in the summer of 1922. Elsewhere in Ireland, troops of Collins's provisional government fought to regain control of towns that had been taken by the Republicans (IRA).
On August 22, 1922, Collins was on an inspection tour in the area of Cork, at a spot named Beal na Blath (in Gaelic, "The Mouth of Flowers") not too far from where he was born, when Republicans attacked his party.
Collins was killed immediately by a gunshot wound to the head.
For More Information
Coogan, Tim Pat. Michael Collins: The Man Who Made Ireland. Boulder, CO: Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 1996.
Dwyer, T. Ryle. Big Fellow, Long Fellow: A Joint Biography of Collins and De Valera. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.
Mackay, James A. Michael Collins: A Life. North Pomfret, VT: Mainstream Publishing, 1997.
O'Connor, Frank. The Big Fellow. New York: Picador USA, 1998.
Daly, Steve. "The Fighting Irish: Liam Neeson and Director Neil Jordan Waged a 12-year Battle of Their Own to Bring the Story of the Controversial Irish Revolutionary Michael Collins to the Screen—and the Rest Is History." Entertainment Weekly, October 18, 1996, p. 22.
Born: October 16, 1890
Died: August 22, 1922
West Cork, 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 (1872–1922), 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.
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.
After the truce of July 1921, Collins reluctantly agreed to Irish president Eamon de Valera's (1882–1975) 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.
Taylor, Rex. Michael Collins. London: Hutchinson, 1958.
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.
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.
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. □
Revolutionary leader, signatory of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, and commander in chief of Free State forces during the Civil War, Michael Collins (1890–1922) was born on his family's farm at Woodfield, Clonakilty, Co. Cork, on 16 October. He emigrated to London in 1906, where he held several clerical jobs and participated in the Gaelic League, the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), and, from 1909, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB).
After his internment at the Frongoch prisoner-ofwar camp for his role in the Easter Rising in 1916, Collins established contacts with other internees who aided his advance in the IRB and the reorganized Sinn Féin Party. Elected MP for South Cork, he entered Dáil Éireann in January 1919. As Eamon de Valera's minister for home affairs and minister for finance, he spearheaded the successful campaign to raise loans for Dáil operations in defiance of the Crown regime. Concurrently, as director of organization and director of intelligence for the Irish Volunteers, he oversaw arms acquisitions and, critically, established an effective network of spies and a squadron of gunmen that blunted the Dublin and provincial police through intimidation and assassination. Some colleagues (notably minister for defense Cathal Brugha) distrusted the use of the IRB, of which Collins was president.
In autumn 1921, Collins and Arthur Griffith led the Irish plenipotentiaries who negotiated the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Although the treaty recognized a separate Northern Ireland state and identified the Irish Free State as a Crown dominion, Collins signed it on 6 December 1921, believing that it offered the Irish people a stepping-stone to total independence. He and Griffith carried this argument in the Dáil in January 1922 despite opposition from de Valera and others. When these opponents withdrew, Collins became chairman of the provisional government formed to implement the treaty. Attempting to avoid a rupture in Volunteer and Sinn Féin ranks, Collins cooperated with antitreaty forces in the north and agreed with de Valera to run Sinn Féin candidates as a bloc in the June 1922 general election. Under pressure from Britain and from antitreaty forces that had seized positions in Dublin and the provinces, he belatedly abandoned this strategy. Protreaty candidates won the election, and civil war erupted. As his Free State troops advanced rapidly in the south and west, Collins was ambushed and killed at Béal-na-mBláth, Co. Cork, on 22 August 1922, while making an ill-considered inspection tour.
In his brief career Collins established a controversial dual legacy. Some decry his methods, and others emphasize his willingness to compromise as fundamental to the ultimate establishment of an Irish Republic in 1949. What is clear is that his direction and discretion were indispensable to achieving the settlement of 1921 to 1922.
SEE ALSO Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921; Boundary Commission; Civil War; de Valera, Eamon; Griffith, Arthur; Irish Republican Army (IRA); Sinn Féin Movement and Party to 1922; Struggle for Independence from 1916 to 1921; Primary Documents: The Anglo-Irish Treaty (6 December 1921)
Béaslaí, Piaras. Michael Collins and the Making of a New Ireland. 1926.
Coogan, Tim Pat. The Man Who Made Ireland: The Life and Death of Michael Collins. 1992.
Ó Broin, Leon. Michael Collins. 1980.
Timothy G. McMahon
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).
Michael Collins ★★★ 1996 (R)
Collins (Neeson) was a revolutionary leader with the Irish Volunteers, a guerilla force (an early version of the IRA) dedicated to freeing Ireland from British rule by any means necessary. After a number of successful moves against British intelligence, Collins is unwillingly drawn into a statesman's role as negotiations for an AngloIrish Treaty begin in 1921, ultimately dividing the country in two and leading to Collins' own assassination. Controversy surrounded the film as historians, politicians, and the media took potshots at director Jordan's admittedly personal look at the complexities of Irish life and one of its equally complicated heroes. 117m/C VHS, DVD . Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn, Alan Rickman, Stephen Rea, Julia Roberts, Ian Hart, Sean McGinley, Gerard McSorley, Stuart Graham, Brendan Gleeson, Charles Dance, Jonathan Rhys Meyers; D: Neil Jordan; W: Neil Jordan; C: Chris Menges; M: Elliot Goldenthal. L.A. Film Critics ‘96: Cinematog.; Venice Film Fest. ‘96: Golden Lion, Actor (Neeson).
Collins, Michael, remarkable English clarinetist; b. London, Jan. 27, 1962. He commenced clarinet training when he was ten, and later pursued his studies with David Hamilton at the Royal Coll. of Music in London; later was a student of Thea King. While still a student, he attracted notice as winner of the BBC-TV Young Musician of the Year prize. In 1984 he made his debut at the London Promenade concerts as soloist in Thea Musgrave’s Clarinet Concerto, and that same year he appeared for the first time at N.Y.’s Carnegie Hall. In 1985 he became the youngest prof, ever appointed to the faculty of the Royal Coll. of Music. In 1988 he became principal clarinetist of the Philharmonia Orch. in London. In addition to his appearances as a virtuoso soloist with orchs., he also played in many chamber music settings and appeared in duo recitals with Mikhail Pletnev. His extensive repertoire, ranging from the masters to contemporary composers, showcases a musician whose virtuosity is equalled by impeccable taste.
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire
COLLINS, Michael. Irish, b. 1964. Genres: Novels. Career: Writer and computer programmer. Northwestern University, Chicago, IL, head of computer lab, creative writing teacher;. Publications: The Meat Eaters, 1992, in US as The Man Who Dreamt of Lobsters, 1993; The Life and Times of a Teaboy, 1994; The Feminists Go Swimming, 1996; The Emerald Underground, 1998; The Keepers of Truth, 2001; The Resurrectionists, 2002. Address: c/o Author Mail, Simon & Schuster, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020, U.S.A.