Michael Collins

Michael Collins - Public domain
Michael Collins - Public domain

Michael Collins (1890-1922) was a major player in the struggle for Irish independence. He was the instigator of a veritable guerrilla war against the British government, and managed to obtain negotiations to obtain an independent and autonomous Republic of Ireland… on the condition that the North would be left to the English.

Biography of Michael Collins

A Youth cradled by the Irish Nationalist Dream

Michael Collins - Public domain

Michael Collins – Public domain

Born in Woodfield, County Cork, on October 12, 1890, Michael Collins was the third boy, and the last of eight children.

By the time Collins grows up, his family is living comfortably. His father, a member of the Fenians, instilled revolutionary political values in him at an early age, in favour of Irish nationalism.

At the age of 7, Collins sadly lost his father, and his mother took charge of his education by enrolling him in the British Post Office entrance exam, which he passed with flying colours and which precipitated his departure from home to London.

From the age of 15 to 25, he lived in London, working in the financial department of the British Post Office, and then changed jobs many times.

1909: Collins joins the IRB

Collins decided to join the IRB in 1909. He was 19 years old at the time.

1914: The First World War shook Europe. Michael Collins is then informed of a project: that of a generalised insurrection. It is the Easter Uprising, a revolt in which Ireland intends to take advantage of the weakening of England in these times of war, to overthrow the British and thus declare an official Republic of Ireland.

Wishing to help, Michael Collins left London for Dublin in 1916. A fine strategist, and endowed with a recognized analytical capacity, he was then appointed Financial Advisor to Count Plunkett and participated in the organization of the revolt. When the revolt broke out, Collins fought alongside great nationalist leaders such as Patrick Pearse, with whom he took the Central Post Office by storm.

The insurrection was a military disaster quickly crushed in blood by the English.

Collins escaped unharmed from the insurrection and persevered.

Like many insurgents Collins is arrested and sent to the Frongosh internment camp in Wales. By the time the insurgents were liberated, he had already become one of the leaders of Sinn Féin.

By October 1917 Collins became a member of the party executive and director of the Irish Volunteer Organization.

Collins learned through his own network of informants that the British were planning a mass arrest of Sinn Féin’s leading MPs. He therefore alerts those concerned, but Eamon De Valera orders the leaders to ignore this information, calling into question the reliability of this news.

The threat is nevertheless very real, and the MPs are finally arrested: only Collins manages to escape arrest.

In April 1919 Collins broke De Valera out of Lincoln prison. During the summer he was elected President of the IRB and decided to restructure the organization into a real army.

The War of Independence breaks out

Michael Collins - Public domain

Michael Collins – Public domain

In September, Collins was appointed Director of Intelligence Services at the IRA. The War of Independence (1919-1921) begins on the day of the first session of the new Irish Parliament with the assassination of two policemen in County Tipperary.

In 1919 Collins was appointed Minister of Finance by De Valera. While most of the ministries had only a theoretical existence due to threats of arrest or even assassination from the Royal Irish Constabulary or RIC, the Black and Tans, the Auxiliaries or the British army, Collins launched into a large organization of his ministry.

He set up massive financial fund-raising to finance the Republic of Ireland, such as the creation of a special group of assassins called the Twelve Apostles in charge of the low works of the IRA.

His actions make him a leader, as well as a symbol of a real threat that is highly disturbing to the British authorities. So much so, that his head is then put a price on his head for the sum of 10,000 pounds sterling. But Collins is not only disturbing the British. His positions collide with those of De Valera. The rivalry between the two men is boundless and De Valera tries to isolate Collins in order to keep him away from Ireland… In vain.

The Treaty of London Scandal

Always eager to formally obtain independence from Ireland and its Republic, Collins was appointed by Eamon de Valera to negotiate a treaty in London in 1921. He then left with his sidekick Arthur Griffith (1871-1922).

Unfortunately for Collins, the signature of the Treaty in London will cause a real Irish Civil War (1922/1924), where the pro-treaty will face the anti-treaty for more than 2 years.

In spite of the scandal, Collins is at the head of the provisional government. He also assisted Arthur Griffith (1871-1922), who became President in January 1922, in the establishment of the Free State.

Towards the middle of 1922, Michael Collins relinquished his responsibilities to the government and became commander-in-chief of the national army.

In April 1922, Eamon de Valera ordered 200 anti-treaty men to invade the Four Courts. Collins, in response, was given the heavy task of bombing the building.

After a few months of fighting, Collins was finally forced to move to County Cork. It was at Béal na mBláth, that Collins’ convoy was ambushed by the Republicans. Collins was shot in the head on August 22, 1922. He was 31 years old.