Michael Collins (Irish leader)

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Michael Collins
Irish: Mícheál Ó Coileáin
Michael Collins himself
Chairman of the Provisional Government[1]
In office
January 1922 – 22 August 1922
Preceded by New office
Succeeded by W. T. Cosgrave
Minister for Finance
In office
2 April 1919 – 22 August 1922
Preceded by Eoin MacNeill
Succeeded by W. T. Cosgrave
Minister for Home Affairs
In office
22 January 1919 – 1 April 1919
Preceded by New office
Succeeded by Arthur Griffith
Teachta Dála
In office
May 1921 – August 1922
In office
December 1918 – May 1921
Constituency Cork South
Personal details
Born (1890-10-16)16 October 1890
Sam's Cross, County Cork, Ireland
Died 22 August 1922(1922-08-22) (aged 31)
Béal na Bláth, County Cork, Ireland  
Political party Sinn Féin
Religion Roman Catholicism
Military service
Nickname(s) The Big Fellow
Years of service 1909–22
Rank Commander-in-chief

Michael Collins (Irish: Mícheál Ó Coileáin;[2] 16 October 1890 – 22 August 1922) was an Irish revolutionary leader, Minister for Finance and Teachta Dála (TD) for Cork South in the First Dáil of 1919, Director of Intelligence for the IRA, and member of the Irish delegation during the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations. Subsequently, he was both Chairman of the Provisional Government and Commander-in-chief of the National Army.[1] Collins was shot and killed in an ambush in August 1922 during the Irish Civil War.

Although most Irish political parties recognise his contribution to the foundation of the modern Irish state, supporters of Fine Gael hold his memory in particular esteem, regarding him as their movement's founding father.

Early years[edit]

Born in Sam's Cross, near Clonakilty, County Cork, Collins was the third son and youngest of eight children. Most biographies state his date of birth as 16 October 1890, but his tombstone gives his date of birth as 12 October 1890.

Referred to in a British secret service report as "brainy", the Collinses were a close, warmly supportive family of over-achievers. Part of an ancient clan, widely spread over County Cork, they had a rich intellectual life, and republican connections which can be traced back to the 1798 rebellion.[3]

Collins’ father, Michael John (1816-1896), was a farmer by profession. A mathematician in his spare time, he had been a member of the republican Fenian movement. The elder Collins was 60 [4] years old when he married Mary Anne O'Brien, then 23,[4] in 1876.[5] The marriage was apparently happy. They brought up eight children on a 90-acre (36 ha) farm called Woodfield, which the Collins had held as tenants for several generations.

On his death bed, his father (who was the seventh son of a seventh son) predicted that his daughter Helena (one of Michael's elder sisters) would become a nun. She later did, known as Sister Mary Celestine, based in Whitby.[6] He then turned to the family and told them to take care of Michael, because "One day he'll be a great man. He'll do great work for Ireland." Michael was six years old when his father died.[7]

Collins was a bright and precocious child, with a fiery temper and a passionate feeling of nationalism. He named a local blacksmith, James Santry, and his headmaster at Lisavaird National School, Denis Lyons, as the first nationalists to personally inspire his "pride of Irishness." Lyons was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB); while Santry’s family had participated in, and forged arms for, the rebellions of 1798, 1848 and 1867.[3][8]

There are a number of anecdotal explanations for the origin of his nickname, "The Big Fellow". The most authoritative comes from his family, stating that he was so called by them while still a child. It had been a term of endearment for their youngest brother, who was always keen to take on tasks beyond his years. It was certainly already established by his teens, long before he emerged as a political or military leader.[9]

At the age of thirteen and a half, he boarded at Clonakilty National School. During the week, he stayed with his sister Margaret Collins-O'Driscoll and her husband Patrick O'Driscoll, while at weekends, he returned to the family farm. Patrick O'Driscoll founded the newspaper "The West Cork People" and Michael helped out, with general reporting jobs and preparing the issues of the newspaper.[10]

After leaving school aged 15, Collins took the Civil Service examination in Cork in February 1906,[11] and was then employed by the Royal Mail[12] In 1906, at the age of 15, he moved to the home of his sister Hannie (Johanna) in London, where he became a messenger at a London firm of stockbrokers, Horne and Company.[11] While in London he lived with his elder sister Hannie, and studied at King's College London.[13] He joined the London GAA and, through this, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a secret, oath-bound society dedicated to achieving Irish independence. Sam Maguire, a republican from Dunmanway, County Cork, introduced the 19-year-old Collins into the IRB.[14] In 1915, he moved to the Guaranty Trust Company of New York where he remained until his return to Ireland the following year[15] joining part-time Craig Gardiner & Co, a firm of accountants in Dawson Street, Dublin.[16]

Easter Rising[edit]

The struggle for Home Rule, along with labour unrest, had led to the formation in 1913 of two major nationalist paramilitaries responsible for the Easter Rising: The Irish Citizen Army was established by James Connolly and labour unions, to protect strikers from violence during the 1913 Lockout. The Irish Volunteers were created in the same year, by the IRB and other nationalists, in response to the formation of the Ulster Volunteers, a loyalist body pledged to oppose Home Rule by force.

An organizer of considerable intelligence, Collins had become highly respected in the IRB. This led to his appointment as financial advisor to Count Plunkett, father of one of the Easter Rising's organisers, Joseph Mary Plunkett. Collins took part in preparing arms and drilling troops for the insurrection.

The Rising would be Collins’ first appearance in national events. When it commenced on Easter Monday 1916, Collins served as Plunkett’s aide-de-camp, at the rebellion’s headquarters in the General Post Office (GPO) in Dublin. There he fought alongside Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, and other Rising leadership.

The Rising is generally acknowledged to have been a military disaster. Yet the insurgents achieved their goal of holding their positions for the minimum time required, to justify a claim to independence, under international criteria.[17]

Arrested along with thousands of other participants,[15] Collins fortuitously missed being included in the first rounds of executions of the Rising’s leadership. Soon after, public outcry put an end to such executions. The balance of those arrested were subsequently imprisoned at Frongoch internment camp in Wales.

Collins first began to emerge as a major figure, in the vacuum created by the executions of the 1916 leadership. He began hatching plans for "next time" even before the prison ships left Dublin.[18]

At Frongach, he was one of the organizers of a program of protest and non-cooperation with authorities, similar to that later carried on by IRA internees of the 1980s. The camp proved an excellent opportunity for networking with physical-force republicans from all over the country, of which he became a key organizer.[19][20]

While some celebrated the fact that a rising had happened at all, believing in Pearse's theory of "blood sacrifice" (namely that the deaths of the Rising's leaders would inspire others), Collins railed against the military blunders made; such as the seizure of indefensible and very vulnerable positions like St Stephen's Green, which were impossible to escape from and difficult to supply.

Public outcry placed pressure on the British government to end the internment. In December 1916, the Frongach prisoners were sent home.


Before his death, Tom Clarke, first signatory of the 1916 Proclamation, and widely considered the Rising's foremost organizer, had designated his spouse, Kathleen (Daly) Clarke, as the official caretaker of Rising official business, in the event that the leadership did not survive.

By June 1916, Mrs. Clarke had sent out the first post-Rising communiqué to the IRB, declaring the Rising to be only the beginning, and directing nationalists to prepare for "the next blow." Soon after his release, Mrs Clarke appointed Collins Secretary to the National Aid and Volunteers Dependents Fund (NAVDF); and subsequently passed on to him the secret organizational information and contacts which she had held in trust for the independence movement.

Collins became one of the leading figures in the post-Rising independence movement, spearheaded by Arthur Griffith, editor/publisher of the main nationalist newspaper, The United Irishman; (which Collins had read avidly as a boy.) [19] Griffith’s organization, Sinn Féin, had been founded in 1905 as an umbrella group to unify all the various factions within the nationalist movement.

Under Griffith’s policy, Collins and other advocates of the "physical-force" approach to independence, gained the cooperation of non-violent Sinn Féin; while agreeing to disagree with Griffith’s moderate ideas of a dual-monarchy solution, based on the Hungarian model.[21]

The British government and mainstream Irish media had wrongly blamed Sinn Féin for the Rising. This attracted Rising participants to join the organization, in order to exploit the reputation with which such British propaganda had imbued the organization. By October 1917, Collins had risen to become a member of the executive of Sinn Féin and director of organisation for the Irish Volunteers.

Éamon de Valera, another veteran of 1916, held office in the Irish Volunteers as well. In 1917 he vied for the presidency of Sinn Féin against Griffith, who diplomatically stepped aside. In order to prevent a split in the movement he’d founded, he supported de Valera's presidency of the organization.[21]

First Dáil[edit]

Members of the First Dáil
First row, left to right: Laurence Ginnell, Michael Collins, Cathal Brugha, Arthur Griffith, Éamon de Valera, Count Plunkett, Eoin MacNeill, W. T. Cosgrave, Kevin O'Higgins (third row, right)

In the 1918 general election, Sinn Féin swept the polls throughout much of Ireland, with many seats uncontested, and formed an overwhelming parliamentary majority in Ireland. Like many senior Sinn Féin representatives, Collins was elected as an MP for Cork South, with the right to sit in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom in London. Unlike their rivals in the Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP), Sinn Féin MPs had announced that they would not take their seats in Westminster, but instead would set up an Irish Parliament in Dublin.[22]

Before the new body’s first meeting, Collins, tipped off by his network of spies, warned his colleagues of plans to arrest all its members, in overnight raids. De Valera and others ignored the warnings, on the argument that, if the arrests happened, they would constitute a propaganda coup. The intelligence proved accurate. De Valera, along with Sinn Féin MPs who followed his advice, were arrested; while Collins and others evaded incarceration.

The new parliament, called Dáil Éireann (meaning "Assembly of Ireland", see First Dáil) met in the Mansion House, Dublin in January 1919. In de Valera's absence, Cathal Brugha was elected Príomh Aire ('First' or 'Prime' Minister, but often translated as 'President of Dáil Éireann'). The following April, Collins engineered de Valera's escape from Lincoln Prison in England; after which Brugha was replaced by de Valera.

No state gave diplomatic recognition to the 1919 Republic, despite sustained lobbying in Washington by de Valera and prominent Irish-Americans and at the Paris peace conference.

In January 1919 the Dáil ratified the Irish Republican Army's (IRA) claim to be the army of the Irish Republic. (The Irish Volunteers began to be referred to as the IRA since their internment at Frongach. Up until the Civil War, the two terms were used interchangeably.)

Minister for Finance[edit]

In 1919, the already busy Collins received yet another responsibility when de Valera appointed him to the Aireacht (ministry) as Minister for Finance.[23] Understandably, in the circumstances of a brutal war, in which ministers were liable to be arrested or killed by the Royal Irish Constabulary, the British Army, the Black and Tans or the Auxiliaries at a moment's notice, most of the ministries existed only on paper, or as one or two people working in a room of a private house.

This was not the case with Collins, who produced a Finance Ministry that was able to organise a large bond issue in the form of a "National Loan" to fund the new Irish Republic.[24] According to Batt O'Connor, the Dáil Loan raised almost £400,000, of which £25,000 was in gold. The loan, which was declared illegal, was lodged in the individual bank accounts of the trustees; the gold was kept under the floor of O'Connor's house until 1922.[25] The Russian Republic, in the midst of its own civil war, ordered Ludwig Martens, head of the Soviet Bureau in New York City, to acquire a "national loan" from the Irish Republic through Harry Boland, offering some of the Russian Crown Jewels as collateral (the jewels remained in a Dublin safe, forgotten by all sides, until the 1930s, when they were found by chance).

War of Independence[edit]

The Irish War of Independence in effect began on the day that the First Dáil convened, 21 January 1919. On that date, an ambush party of IRA volunteers including Dan Breen and Seán Treacy, attacked a pair of Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) men who were escorting a consignment of gelignite to a quarry in Soloheadbeg, County Tipperary. The two policemen were shot dead during the engagement. This ambush is considered the first action in the Irish War of Independence.[26]

The engagement had no advance authorization from the nascent government. However, Collins, in Dáil discussion of the incident, implicitly accepted responsibility on behalf of the IRB. The legislature’s support for the armed struggle soon after became official.[19][27][28]

From that time, Collins filled a number of roles, in addition to his legislative duties. That summer he was elected president of the IRB (and therefore, in the doctrine of that organisation, de jure President of the Irish Republic). In September, he was made Director of Intelligence for the Irish Republican Army, who now had a mandate to pursue an armed campaign, as the official military of the Irish nation. With Cathal Brugha as Minister of Defense, Collins became Director of Organization and Adjutant General of the Volunteers.

Collins was determined to avoid the massive destruction, military and civilian losses, for merely symbolic victories, which had characterized the 1916 Rising. Instead, he directed a guerrilla war against the British, suddenly attacking, then just as quickly withdrawing, minimizing losses and maximizing effectiveness.[29][30]

As the war began in earnest, de Valera travelled to the United States for an extended speaking tour to raise funds for the outlawed Republican government. It was in publicity for this tour that de Valera was first referred to as "President". While financially successful, grave political conflicts followed in de Valera's wake there, which threatened the unity of Irish-American support for the rebels. Some members of the IRB also objected to the use of the presidential title, with regard to their organization’s constitution.[19][21][31]

Back in Ireland, Collins arranged the "National Loan"; organised the IRA; effectively led the government, and managed arms-smuggling operations. Local guerrilla units received supplies, training, and a largely free hand to develop the war in their own region. These were the "flying columns" who comprised the bulk of the War of Independence rank and file. Collins, Dick McKee, and regional commanders such as Dan Breen and Tom Barry oversaw tactics and general strategy. They were supported by a vast intelligence network of men and women in all walks of life, which reached deep into the British administration in Ireland.[32][33]

It was at this time that Collins created a special assassination unit called The Squad, expressly to kill British agents and informers. Criticized for these tactics, Collins cited the universal war-time practice of executing enemy spies, who were, in his words, "hunting victims for execution." Campaigning for Irish independence, even non-violently, was still targeted both by prosecutions under British law, entailing the death penalty; and also by extra-legal killings, such as that of Tomas MacCurtain, nationalist mayor of Cork City.

In 1920, the British offered a bounty of £10,000 (equivalent to GB£300,000 / €360,000 in 2010) for information leading to Collins’ capture or death. Yet he and the national forces continued to evade capture and to carry out devastating strikes against British forces; frequently operating out of safe-houses in the shadow of government buildings, such as Vaughan's and An Stad.

The Crown responded with escalation of the war, with the importation of special forces such as "The Auxiliaries", the "Black and Tans", the "Cairo Gang", and others. Many were, officially or unofficially, given a free hand to institute a reign of terror, shooting Irish people indiscriminately, invading homes, looting and burning.[19][34]

In 1920, following Westminster’s prominent announcements that it had the Irish insurgents on the run, Collins and his Squad wiped out a number of top British secret service agents, in a daring series of coordinated raids known as Bloody Sunday. A stampede of panicking British operatives sought the shelter of Dublin Castle next day. Near the same time, Tom Barry’s 3rd Cork Brigade took no prisoners in a bitter battle with British forces at Kilmichael. In many regions, the RIC and other crown forces became all but confined to the strongest barracks in the larger towns, as rural areas came under rebel control.[35][36]

These republican victories were impossible without widespread support from the Irish population, including every level of society, and reaching deep into the British administration in Ireland: a pattern of guerilla success against sophisticated imperialist powers, which the 20th century would see frequently repeated around the world.[37]

At the time of the ceasefire in July 1921 a major operation was allegedly in planning to execute every British secret service agent in Dublin, while a major ambush involving eighty officers and men was also planned for Templeglantine in Co. Limerick.[19][38]

The Truce[edit]

In 1921, General Macready, commander of British forces in Ireland, reported to his government that the Empire’s only hope of holding Ireland, was by martial law, including the suspension of "all normal life." [39]

Political considerations regarding Westminster’s global foreign policy ruled out this option: Irish-American public opinion was important to US support for British agendas in Asia. Closer to home, Britain’s efforts at a military solution had already spawned a powerful peace movement, demanding an end to the slaughter in Ireland. Prominent voices calling for negotiations included the Labour Party, the London Times and other leading periodicals, members of the House of Lords, English Catholics, and famous authors such as George Bernard Shaw.[40][41]

Still it was not the British government which initiated negotiations. Individual English activists, including clergy, made private overtures which reached Arthur Griffith. Griffith expressed his welcome for dialogue. An MP, Brigadier General Cockerill, sent an open letter to Prime Minister Lloyd George, which was printed in the Times, outlining how a peace conference with the Irish should be organized. The Pope made an urgent public appeal for a negotiated end to the violence. Whether or not Lloyd George welcomed such advisors, he could no longer hold out against this tide.[19]

In July, Lloyd George’s government offered a truce. Arrangements were made for a conference between British government and the leaders of the yet unrecognised Republic.

There remains considerable controversy as to the two sides’ capability to have carried on the conflict much longer. Collins is alleged to have said that the IRA was weeks—or even days—from collapse for want of ammunition. Yet, in his words on the record, "There will be no compromise and no negotiations with any British Government until Ireland is recognized as an independent republic . . . The same effort that would get us Dominion Home Rule will get us a republic." [42] At no time had the Dáil or the IRA asked for a conference or a truce.[43]

However, the Dáil as a whole was less uncompromising. It decided to proceed to a peace conference; although it was ascertained in the preliminary stages that a fully independent republic would not be on the table, and that the loss of some northeastern counties was a foregone conclusion.[27][44]

Those in the rebel forces on the ground first heard of the Truce only imperfectly, when it was announced in the newspapers. They had not been included in consultations regarding its terms. This gave rise to the first fissures in nationalist unity, which were to have serious consequences later on.[45][46]

De Valera, who was widely acknowledged as the most skillful negotiator in the Dáil government, undertook the initial parlays, agreeing the basis on which talks could begin. Soon after the Customs House battle, the first meetings were held in strict secrecy, with Andrew Cope representing Dublin Castle’s British authorities. [get date in Neligan] Later de Valera travelled to London for the first official contact with Lloyd George. The two met one-on-one in a private meeting, the proceedings of which have never been revealed.[19][47]

During this Truce period, in August 1921, de Valera sued for and obtained from the Dáil official designation as President of the Irish Republic.[48] Not long after, the Cabinet was obliged to select the delegation which would travel to the London peace conference and negotiate a treaty. In an extraordinary departure from his usual role, de Valera at this point adamantly declined to attend, insisting instead that Collins should take his place beside Arthur Griffith there.[49][50]

Collins strenuously resisted this appointment. He protested that he was "a soldier, not a politician"; and that his exposure to the London authorities would reduce his effectiveness as a guerilla leader should hostilities resume. (He had kept his public visibility to a minimum, during the conduct of the war. Up to this time, the British still had almost no photographs of him.)[51][52]

The Cabinet of seven split on the issue, and de Valera cast the deciding vote. Many of Collins’ associates warned him not to go, that he was being set up as a political scapegoat. Following intense soul-searching and all-night consultations with his most trusted advisors, he resolved to attend, "in the spirit of a soldier obeying orders." In private correspondence he foresaw the catastrophe ahead, "Let them make a scapegoat or whatever they like of me. Someone must go." [27][51]

Anglo-Irish Treaty[edit]

The Irish delegates to London were, upon de Valera's insistence, designated as "plenipotentiaries": that is, functionaries invested with full authority to sign an agreement on behalf of the Dáil government. The Treaty would then be subject to approval by the full Dáil.

The majority of the Irish Treaty delegates, including Arthur Griffith (leader), Robert Barton and Eamonn Duggan (with Robert Erskine Childers as Secretary General to the delegation) set up headquarters at 22 Hans Place in Knightsbridge on 11 October 1921 and resided there until conclusion of the negotiations in December. Collins shared quarters at 15 Cadogan Gardens with the delegation’s publicity department, secretary Diarmuid O’Hegerty, Joe McGrath; as well as substantial intelligence and bodyguard personnel including Liam Tobin, Tom Cullen, Ned Broy, Joe McGrath, Emmet Dalton and Joe Dolan of the Squad. [53]

The British side was represented by PM Lloyd George, Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill, and F. E. Smith, 1st Viscount Birkenhead, among others.

Two months of arduous wrangling ensued. The Irish delegation made frequent crossings back to Dublin to make progress reports and confer with their Dáil colleagues. However, Collins, in his correspondence, and in subsequent Dáil debates, expressed the delegates’ frustration in being unable to obtain clear instructions as to whether or not they should accept the terms on offer and sign the Treaty.[19][51][54]

In November, with the London peace talks still in progress, Collins attended a large meeting of regional IRA commanders at Parnell Place in Dublin. In a private conference, he informed Liam Deasy, Florence O’Donoghue and Liam Lynch that "there would have to be some compromise in the current negotiations in London. There was no question of our getting all the demands we were making." He was advised by Liam Lynch not to bring this out in the full assembly. Reviewing subsequent events, Deasy later doubted the wisdom of that advice.[55]

The negotiations ultimately resulted in the Anglo-Irish Treaty which was signed on 6 December 1921. The agreement provided for a Dominion status "Irish Free State", whose relationship to the British Commonwealth would be modeled after Canada’s. This was a compromise, half-way between an independent republic and a province of the Empire.

The settlement essentially vacated the Treaty of Limerick of 1688, and overturned the Act of Union by recognizing the native Irish legislature’s independence. Under a bicameral parliament, executive authority would remain vested in the king, but exercised by an Irish government elected by Dáil Éireann as a "lower house". British forces would depart the Free State forthwith, and be replaced by an Irish army. Along with an independent courts system, the Treaty granted a level of internal independence that far exceeded any Home Rule which had been sought by Charles Stewart Parnell or his Irish Parliamentary Party.[56]

It was agreed that counties with a large unionist population, concentrated in a relatively small area in eastern Ulster, would have a chance to opt out of the Free State, and remain under the Crown. An Irish Boundary Commission was to be established to draw a border (which ultimately came to encompass a six-county region.) Inclusion in the Free State was to be subject to a vote of the majority population in each county. Collins anticipated no more than four counties would the northeast statelet, making it economically unviable; and that this would facilitate the re-unification of all 32 counties in the foreseeable future.[57][58]

While it fell short of the republic that he'd fought to create, Collins concluded that the Treaty offered Ireland "the freedom to achieve freedom." It essentially offered a chance to remove the gun from Irish politics, to seek further independence through a native government and legislature.[59]

Nonetheless, he knew that elements of the Treaty would cause controversy in Ireland. Upon signing the treaty, Birkenhead remarked "I may have signed my political death warrant tonight", to which Collins replied "I may have signed my actual death warrant".[23] [38]

Treaty debates[edit]

This remark encapsulated his acknowledgement that the Treaty was a compromise, which would be vulnerable to charges of "sell-out" from purist Republicans. It did not establish the type of fully independent republic which Collins himself had shortly before demanded as a non-negotiable condition. The "physical force republicans", who made up the bulk of the army which had fought the British to a draw, would be loath to accept dominion status within the British Empire, or an Oath of Allegiance mentioning the King. Also controversial was the British retention of Treaty Ports on the south coast of Ireland for the Royal Navy. These factors diminished Irish sovereignty, and threatened to allow British interference in Ireland's foreign policy.[60]

Collins and Griffith were well aware of these issues, and strove tenaciously against British resistance, to achieve language which could be accepted by all constituents. They succeeded so far that the oath was made to the Irish Free State, with a subsidiary oath of fidelity to the King as part of the Treaty settlement, rather than to the king unilaterally.

It is generally allowed that, had the nationalist leadership united in support of the Treaty, there would have been no split in the army, such as to precipitate actual civil war. However, immediately on the delegation’s return from London, de Valera led a vocal charge against the delegates, whom he called "traitors".[61]

This was despite the fact that de Valera, the nationalists’ most able negotiator, had refused strenuous pleas from Collins, Griffith and others to lead the London negotiations in person; had been fully informed of the process at each stage; had refused the delegates’ continual requests for instructions; and in fact had been the architect of the original decision to enter negotiations, without the possibility of an independent republic on the table.[19][62]

However, there remains a school of thought which considers de Valera's protests to have been reasonable, motivated by deep moral objections; and which sees Collins in a negative light, as having irresponsibly signed away the nation’s interests, due to incompetence or a self-serving agenda.

The Treaty controversy split the entire nationalist movement: Sinn Féin, the Dáil, the IRB and the army each divided into pro- and anti-Treaty factions. The Supreme Council of the IRB, which had been informed in detail about every facet of the Treaty negotiations and which had approved many of its provisions, voted unanimously to accept the Treaty; with the single notable exception of Liam Lynch: later COS of the anti-Treaty IRA.[29] [63]

The Dáil debated the Treaty bitterly for ten days until it was approved by a vote of 64 to 57.[64] Having lost this vote, de Valera announced his intent to withdraw his participation from the Dáil, and called on all deputies who had voted against the Treaty to follow him. A substantial number did so, officially splitting the government. This set the stage for civil war.

A large part of the Irish Republican Army opposed the Treaty. Some followed the political lead of anti-Treaty TDs; others acted on their own convictions, with more or less equal suspicion of politicians in general. Anti-Treaty IRA units began to seize buildings and take other guerilla actions against the Provisional Government. On 14 April 1922, a group of 200 anti-Treaty IRA men occupied the Four Courts in Dublin, under Rory O’Connor, a hero of the War of Independence. It was the centre of the courts system, until then, run by the British. Although charged by his Free State colleagues with putting down these insurgents, Collins resisted firing on former comrades, and staved off a shooting war, throughout this period.[65][66]

While the country teetered on the edge of civil war, continuous meetings were carried on among the various factions, from January to June 1922. In these the nationalists strove to resolve the issue without armed conflict. Collins and his close associate, TD Harry Boland were among those who worked desperately to heal the rift.[19][67]

To foster military unity, Collins and the IRB established an "army re-unification committee", including delegates from pro- and anti-Treaty factions. The still secret Irish Republican Brotherhood continued to meet, fostering dialogue between pro- and anti-Treaty IRA officers.

In the IRB’s stormy debates on the subject, Collins held out the new Free State Constitution as a possible solution. Collins was then in the process of co-writing that document: striving to make it a republican constitution, which included provisions that would allow anti-Treaty TDs to take their seats in good conscience, without any oath concerning the Crown.[68]

The North[edit]

After the Treaty was signed, loyalist ultra-conservatives combined to wage a violent campaign against Irish nationalist insurgency in the northeast; if not against the continued existence of any Irish Catholic community there. With this agenda, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) was created, along with the notorious "Specials": a force of amateur and retired soldiers, given a free hand to kill and terrorize Catholics.[69][70]

In the northeast, there were continual breaches of the Truce by "unauthorized loyalist paramilitary forces"; often with the collusion of British officers and government officials. Massacres and pogroms against Catholics in the Northeast were unleashed by Anglo-ascendancy leadership there, in an effort to crush the IRA, and drive Catholics (that is, those of indigenous Irish descent) out of the northeast counties.[19][71]

The few incidents detailed here give only an idea of the shooting war which was raging in the northeast, at the same time that Collins and the Free State Cabinet were struggling to build a peacetime government. In the same period, London was stepping up pressure regarding the Provisional Government’s failure to take aggressive military action against anti-Treaty units in the south.

In March Collins met Sir James Craig, Prime Minister for the northern statelet, in London. They signed an agreement declaring peace in the north. It promised cooperation between Catholics and Protestants in policing and security, a generous budget for restoring Catholics to homes which had been destroyed, and many other enlightened measures.[72]

The day after the agreement was published, a policeman was shot dead in Belfast. In reprisal, a large force of uniformed police broke down the doors of Catholic homes nearby, and shot residents in their beds, including several children. There was no response to Collins’ demands for an inquiry. He and his Cabinet warned that, without action by Craig, they would deem the agreement broken.[73]

In his continual correspondence with Churchill over violence in the north, Collins protested repeatedly that such breaches of the Truce threatened to invalidate the Treaty entirely.[74] The prospect of a renewal of the war with England was imminent. So much so that on 3 June 1922, Churchill presented to the Committee of Imperial Defense his plans "to protect Ulster from invasion by the South." [75]

Throughout the early months of 1922, Collins had been sending IRA units to the border and sending arms and money to the northern units of the IRA. Possessing evidence of the British government’s collusion in what became known as "The Orange Terror", Collins joined other IRB and IRA leadership in developing secret plans to launch a clandestine guerrilla war in the northeast. Some British arms which had been surrendered to the Dublin Provisional government were turned over by Collins to IRA units in the north. In May–June 1922, Collins and IRA Chief of Staff Liam Lynch organised an offensive including both pro- and anti-Treaty IRA units along the border area. Because of this, most northern IRA units supported Collins and 524 individual volunteers came south to join the National Army in the Irish Civil War[33]

Collins, with the support of Griffith and the Cabinet, kept up a "three-tier strategy of public, political and military pressure" regarding northern outrages.[19] Negotiations with the London and Belfast governments continued, with numerous promises made and broken along the lines of the March 1922 Agreement. Within days of a public commitment by Dublin not to send troops into the northeast, Churchill sent 1000 British troops into Pettigo, a village on the border. The troops shelled the village and fired on Free State troops, killing three. On 5 June B-Specials sprayed the Mater Misericordae Hospital in Belfast with machine gun fire. Collins’ demands for a full, joint inquiry were flatly refused by Churchill.[76]

In the midst of all this, Civil War in the south broke out, and put Collins’ campaign for the north on hold; as it happened, permanently. Had Collins lived to continue his approach to this situation, including guerrilla operations, it is impossible to predict how Northern Ireland’s troubled history might have been changed.

Provisional government[edit]

Under the Dáil Constitution adopted in 1919, Dáil Éireann continued to exist. De Valera resigned the presidency and sought re-election, but Arthur Griffith replaced him after a close vote on 9 January. Griffith chose as his title "President of Dáil Éireann" (rather than "President of the Republic" as de Valera had favoured.) [77]

The Dáil government still had no legal status in British constitutional law. The provisions of the Treaty required the formation of a new government, which would be recognized by Westminster as pertaining to the Free State dominion, established by the Treaty.

Despite the abdication of a large part of the Dáil, the Provisional Government (Rialtas Sealadach na hÉireann) of the new Free State was formed, with Arthur Griffith as President of the Dáil, and Michael Collins Chairman of the Provisional Government Cabinet (i.e., Prime Minister). Collins also remained Minister for Finance.[78]

In British legal theory Collins was now a Crown-appointed prime minister of a Commonwealth state, installed under the Royal Prerogative. To be so installed, he had to formally meet the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Viscount Fitzalan (the head of the British administration in Ireland). According to the republican view, Collins met Fitzalan to accept the surrender of Dublin Castle, the seat of British government in Ireland. Having surrendered, Fitzalan still remained in place as viceroy until December 1922.

The Provisional Government’s first obligation was to create a Constitution for the Free State. This was undertaken by Collins, with the input of a team of solicitors. This became the Irish Constitution of 1922.[79] Although revised in the 1930s, the present Constitution of Ireland (Bunreacht na hÉireann [80]) remains largely Collins’ work.

Collins drew up a republican constitution which, without repudiating the Treaty, would include no mention of the British king. His object was for the Constitution to allow participation by dissenting TDs, who opposed the Treaty, and refused to take any oath mentioning the Crown.

Under the Treaty, the Free State was obliged to submit its new Constitution to Westminster for approval. Upon doing so, in June 1922, Collins and Griffith found Lloyd George determined to veto the provisions they had fashioned to prevent civil war.[81]

These meetings with Lloyd George and Churchill were bitterly contentious. Collins, although less diplomatic than Griffith or de Valera, had no less penetrating comprehension of political issues. He complained that he was being manipulated into "doing Churchill’s dirty work," in a potential civil war with his own former troops.[82][83]

The Pact elections[edit]

Negotiations to prevent civil war, resulted in, among others, "The Army Document", published May 1922, signed by an equal number of pro- and anti-Treaty IRA officers, including Collins, Dan Breen, Gearoid O’Sullivan, and others. This manifesto declared "a closing of ranks all round is necessary" to prevent "the greatest catastrophe in Irish history." It called for new elections, to be followed by the re-unification of the government and army, whatever the result.

In this spirit, and with the organizing efforts of moderates on both sides, the Collins-De Valera "Pact", was created. This agreed that new elections to the Dáil would be held, with each candidate running as either pro- or anti-Treaty; and that, regardless which side won a majority, the two factions would then join to form a coalition government.

A referendum on the Treaty was also projected at this time, but it was never to take place. The Pact elections therefore comprise the record of the Irish public’s direct response to the Treaty. They took place on 16 June 1922. The results were: Pro-Treaty Sinn Féin 58 seats; anti-Treaty 35; the Labour Party 17, Independents 7, Farmers 7; and 4 Unionists from Trinity College Dublin.[84]

The assassination of Sir Henry Wilson[edit]

Six days after the Pact elections, with the ink on the Free State Constitution barely dry, Sir Henry Wilson was assassinated on 22 June 1922, in broad daylight, on the steps of his London home, by a pair of London IRA men. A British Army field marshal, Wilson had recently resigned his commission and been elected an MP for Northern Ireland. He had a long history as one of the chief British commanders against Collins in the Irish conflict. He was then serving as Military Advisor to the Craig Administration, [34] in which role he was responsible for the B-Specials, and for other loyalist violence in the north.

The order to shoot Wilson has been attributed to Irish leaders including Collins and Rory O’Connor, but with dubious authority. Although unquestionably killed by the two IRA men, who were captured and confessed, no one has ever taken responsibility for ordering the shooting. While Wilson had certainly been a potential target for Collins’ Squad during the War of Independence, all outstanding orders had been unilaterally cancelled when those forces stood down at the Truce. O’Connor explicitly denied any involvement, as did the IRB on behalf of Collins, and Arthur Griffith on behalf of the Provisional Government. No direct statement appears to have been made on the subject by Collins, in the subsequent two months that he survived Wilson.

The debate concerning Collins’ involvement was continued in the 1950s, when a number of statements and rebuttals on the subject were published in periodicals. These were re-printed with additions in Rex Taylor’s 1961 book Assassination: the death of Sir Henry Wilson and the tragedy of Ireland. Participants in that discussion were Joe Dolan, Florence O’Donoghue, Denis P Kelleher, Patrick O’Sullivan, and others.[85][86]

Civil War[edit]

Main article: Irish Civil War

The Irish Civil War remains the most controversial, the most poorly recorded, and the most understudied episode of all this history. Any short article of the present kind can provide certainty only on those few events which are undisputed. Other aspects must be read with the disclaimer that further study is needed; which historians are still in the process of undertaking.[87]

The death of Sir Henry Wilson caused a furor in London. Powerful conservative voices, who had opposed any settlement with the Irish rebels, drowned out moderates, with calls for a violent response. Under this pressure, Churchill issued an ultimatum, demanding that the Provisional Government end the anti-Treaty occupation of the Four Courts, or face a full-scale military invasion.[88]

Days later, anti-Treaty IRA kidnapped J.J. "Ginger" O'Connell, a Free State general. These two developments led to the Provisional Government’s 27 June 1922 order serving notice on the Four Courts garrison to surrender the building that night or face military action "at once".[89]

Collins’ position in this conflict was extraordinary indeed. "A majority perhaps" of the army he’d led in the War of Independence were now ranged against the Free State which he represented. The force which, by the will of the electorate, he was obliged to lead, had been re-organized since the Truce. From the nucleus of the pro-Treaty IRA, a more formal, structured, uniformed [37][38] Free State Army was now armed and funded by the British. It had been rapidly expanded with Irish veterans of the British Army and others who had not fought on the nationalist side before.[38][39] It was now ten times the size of the force which had won independence; yet heavily populated with former British Army personnel. Collins’ profoundly mixed feelings about this situation are recorded in his private and official correspondence.[90][91][91][92][93][94]

In preparation for a siege, artillery was provided by the British to the Free State Army. Emmet Dalton, a former British officer of Irish origin, now a leading Free State commander, was allegedly placed in charge of it. [36]

There is no definite record as to who gave the order to begin shelling the Four Courts. Historians have only presumed that it was Collins. There is only anecdotal evidence as to how and when the ultimatum was served on the anti-Treaty garrison; whether adequate time was allowed the Four Courts men to surrender, or whether shelling began precipitately while the garrison was loading up their arms to leave the building. Further study remains to be done, in this most critical event of 1922, which actually started the Civil War in earnest.[95][96]

Fierce fighting broke out in Dublin between the anti-Treaty IRA and the Free State troops. Much of O’Connell Street suffered heavy damage, the Gresham Hotel was burned, and the Four Courts reduced to a ruin. Still, under Collins's direction, the Free State rapidly took control of the capital.

By July 1922, anti-Treaty forces held much of the southern province of Munster and several other areas of the country. At the height of their success, they administered local government and policing in large regions.[97]

Collins, along with Richard Mulcahy and Eoin O'Duffy decided on a series of seaborne landings into republican held areas, which re-took Munster and the west in July–August.

Also in July, Collins set aside his title as Chairman of the Provisional Government to become Commander-in-Chief of the National Army.[98] There is controversy about this change, especially in view of subsequent events: what, if anything, it said about his relationship with the Cabinet; what role, if any, others in the government may have played in it; what connection it had, if any, with the tragedy which followed.[99][100]

Civil War peace moves[edit]

There is considerable evidence that Collins's journey to Cork in August 1922 was made in order to meet republican leaders with a view to ending the war. If so, it would explain a good deal which remains mysterious about the journey.

The question of his involvement in peace negotiations is hotly debated by historians. It has ramifications for opposing political viewpoints about him; and especially about his death.

If this was a peace mission, it was without any record of official involvement and sanction from the Provisional Government Cabinet. This is not necessarily out of keeping with the general nature of peace negotiations in wartime. The first contacts with British negotiators had been "a dead secret," even from many of his associates.[101] Nor was Collins unknown to make bold, controversial moves on his own initiative. Private and personal correspondence indicates that there was less than perfect trust and cordiality between Collins and some members of his Cabinet. On no issue was there more friction between the Ministers than on the conduct of the war, and the treatment of anti-Treaty combatants.[102]

A remarkable number of meetings, including leading figures on both sides, did take place in Cork, on 21 – 22 August.[103] In Cork city, Collins met with neutral IRA men Seán O'Hegarty and Florrie O'Donoghue, with a view to contacting Anti-Treaty IRA leaders Tom Barry and Tom Hales to propose a truce.[41] The anti-Treaty side had called a major convocation of officers to Béal na Bláth, a remote crossroads, with ending the war on the agenda.[104]

De Valera was present there, and his assistant reported that a meeting between him and Collins was planned. A local initiative in Cork City, The People’s Rights Association, had been mediating a discussion of terms between the Provisional Government and the anti-Treaty side for some weeks.[19][105]

Peace terms were detailed in Collins' correspondence and diary. Republicans would be obliged to "accept the people's verdict" on the Treaty, but could then "go home without their arms. We don't ask for any surrender of their principles." This indicates that Collins favoured a policy of amnesty, without sanctions. It is alleged that anti-Treaty veterans of the War of Independence might be offered a choice of taking their place either in Free State Army, in the civil service, or even in clandestine operations against para-militaries in the north.[106]

This is highly significant, in view of draconian policies, including widespread executions without trial, which were pursued by the Free State government, following on the deaths, within days of each other, of Collins and Arthur Griffith. The end of Collins and Griffith was the end of Free State efforts to reunite the victorious War of Independence forces, via a negotiated settlement in the Civil War.[107]


Collins’ death remains an unsolved mystery, for a number of reasons. The only witnesses were Free State Army members of Collins’ convoy, and the anti-Treaty ambushers. As these were the participants, whose actions are in question, their accounts may not be objective. No two witnesses’ statements match: each one contradicts the other. There is no complete record as to who comprised these two parties. Most remarkably, none of the witnesses were ever questioned by the authorities. Their accounts have been handed down through newspapers, biographers, private documents, and personal contacts.

As all the issues about it cannot be explored in this space, only the bare facts are included here. Yet even these may be contradicted in some sources.

In August 1922, the Civil War seemed to be winding down. The Free State had regained control of most of the country. Collins was making frequent trips to inspect areas recently recovered from anti-Treaty forces.[108]

His plan to travel to his native Cork on 20 August was considered particularly dangerous, and he was strenuously advised against it, by several trusted associates. County Cork was an IRA stronghold, much of it still held by anti-Treaty forces. Yet he seemed determined to make the trip without delay. He had fended off a number of attempts on his life in the preceding weeks. Having acknowledged more than once, in private conversation, that the Civil War might end his life at any moment, he several times assured his advisors, "They won’t shoot me in my own county," or words to that effect. [40]

On 22 August 1922 Collins set out from Cork City on a circuitous tour of West Cork. He passed first through Macroom, then took the Bandon road via Crookstown. This led through Béal na Bláth, an isolated crossroads. There they stopped to ask a question of a man standing at the crossroad, who was an anti-Treaty sentry. He and an associate recognized Collins in the back of the open-top car.[109]

This is quoted as what led to an ambush being laid by an anti-Treaty column there, on the chance that the convoy might return.[110]

Between 7:30 and 8PM, Collins’ convoy approached Béal na Bláth for the second time. By then, most of the ambush party had dispersed and gone for the day, leaving just five or six men on the scene. Two were disarming a mine in the road, while three on a laneway overlooking them, provided cover. A dray cart, placed across the road, remained at the far end of the ambush site.

Shots were exchanged. Collins was the only fatality. Almost every other detail of what happened is uncertain, due to conflicting reports from participants, and other flaws in the record.

Some of the details most disputed among the witnesses are: how the shooting started; what kind of fire the convoy came under; where the ambushers’ first shots struck; where Collins was and what he was doing when he was hit; whether anyone else was wounded; whether the armoured car’s machine gun was fully functional throughout the engagement; who moved Collins’ body; who was nearby when Collins fell.

Many questions have been raised concerning the handling of Collins’ remains immediately following his death: the inordinately long time the convoy took to cover the twenty miles back to Cork City; who searched his clothes; what became of documents he was known to have been carrying on his person (such as his field diary, which did not turn up until decades afterward.)

The medical evidence is also lacking. There are but imperfect records as to what doctor examined the body; whether an autopsy was performed, and by whom; to what hospital his body was taken, and why; most importantly, what was the precise number and nature of his wounds.

Writers on the subject such as J Feehan and SM Sigerson have called for a full forensic examination of Collins’ remains, in order to attempt to settle at least some of these controversies concerning his end.[111][112]

Funeral of Michael Collins in the Pro-Cathedral, Dublin (contemporary newspaper depiction of the state funeral)
Seán Collins beside the coffin of his brother Michael Collins
Collins's grave, Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin


Collins' body was transported by sea from Cork to Dublin. He lay in state for three days in Dublin City Hall where tens of thousands of mourners filed past his coffin to pay their respects, including many British soldiers departing Ireland who had fought against him. His funeral mass took place at Dublin's Pro Cathedral where a number of foreign and Irish dignitaries were in attendance. Some 500,000 people attended his funeral, almost one fifth of the country's population.[19]

However, no official inquiry was ever undertaken into Collins’ death. Consequently, there is no official version of what happened, nor any authoritative, detailed contemporary records.[113]

In this vacuum, independent investigations and conspiracy theories have put forward a number of suspects as executing or ordering his death, including an anti-Treaty sharpshooter, members of his own escort, the British secret service, and de Valera himself.

De Valera is alleged to have declared in 1966: "It is my considered opinion that in the fullness of time history will record the greatness of Michael Collins; and it will be recorded at my expense" [114]

At the date of this article, four books have been devoted entirely to the study of Collins' death (in chronological order): "The Day Michael Was Shot" by Meda Ryan; "The Shooting of Michael Collins: Murder or Accident?" by John M Feehan; "The Dark Secret of Béal na mBláth" by Patrick Twohig; and "The Assassination of Michael Collins: What Happened at Béal na mBláth?" by SM Sigerson.

Personal life[edit]

Michael Collins’ meteoric public life, spent embroiled in violent national revolution, has engendered conflicting political interest in controlling his personal characterization in the historical record; which can range from canonization to demonization.

His personal life was primarily defined by his background. His siblings, cousins, neighbours and relations provided young Collins with a secure support system and lively social life, including friends of all ages.

His elderly, learned father inspired Collins' fondness and respect for old people. His self-sacrificing mother, who had spent her youth caring for her invalid mother and raising her own brothers and sisters, was also a powerful influence. The entire management of the Collins farm fell to her, as her husband succumbed to old age and passed away. In a society which honoured hospitality as a prime virtue, Mrs Collins was eulogized as "a hostess in ten thousand." Her five daughters avowedly doted on their youngest brother.[7][19]

The Collins home’s spirit of self-sacrifice, welcome and inclusiveness later proved key in Collins’ capacity to unify people from both genders and all walks of life, and orchestrate them in an effective, enthusiastic, cooperative force for Irish self-determination.[115]

Collins' revolution was also a family affair. Throughout the independence struggle, he continued to work closely with his brothers, and with cousins such as Nancy O’Brien, one of his most important moles in the British administration.[19]

He was very much a "man’s man", fond of rough-housing and outdoor sports. Having won a local wrestling championship while still a boy, he is said to have made a pastime of challenging larger, older opponents, with frequent success. A very fit, active man throughout life, in the most stressful times, he continued to enjoy wrestling as a form of relaxation; and valued friendships which afforded opportunities to share these athletic pursuits.[19]

Intensely hard-working, Collins could be abrasive, demanding, and sometimes inconsiderate of those around him. Yet frequently apologized for his own temperament, with gestures such as candy and other small gifts; sometimes delivered at great personal risk in Dublin’s wartime environment.[116][117]

Unlike some of his political opponents, he was characterized by many close personal friendships within the movement. It has been justly said that while some were devoted to "the idea of Ireland," Collins was a people person, whose patriotism was rooted in affection and respect for the people of Ireland around him. Among his famous last words, is the final entry in his pocket diary, written on the journey which ended his life, "The people are splendid." [118][119][120]

His personal warmth and charm were combined with an uncanny ability to inspire confidence in a wide range of people. As proved after his death, no other Irish leader of the time matched his remarkable ability to recruit people of every kind to the movement, win their trust and loyalty, pinpoint their capacities and unite them in coordinated action, of maximum value to the cause.[121]

Collins was a complex man, whose character abounded in contradictions. Although Minister of Finance, and an accountant by pre-war profession, he seems never to have pursued personal profit; indeed was sometimes during the war all but homeless. While clearly fond of command, and keen to take charge, he had an equal appetite for input and advice from people at every level of the organization; prompting the comment that "he took advice from his chauffeur." [122] Although acknowledged by friends and foes as "head centre" of the movement, he continually chose a title just short of actual head of state; becoming Chairman of the Provisional Government only after the abdication of half the Dáil forced him to do so. While his official and personal correspondence records his solicitous care for the wants of insurgents in need, during the war he showed no hesitation in ordering the death of opponents who menaced nationalist lives.[123]

Certainly a man of fierce pride, his pride was tempered by a sense of humour, which included a keen sense of the absurd in his own situation.[124] While mastermind of a clandestine military, he remained a public figure. When official head of the Free State government, he continued to cooperate in the IRA’s secret operations. Although capable of bold, decisive actions on his own authority, which caused friction with his colleagues; at critical junctures, he bowed obediently to majority decisions which were profoundly disadvantageous and dangerous to his own interests (such as his appointment to the Treaty negotiating team.)

These may constitute contradictions in his character. Yet they are also contradictions of the unique position he occupied, in a time of social upheaval, when the usual parameters and paradigms of society are in a state of flux.

Relationships with women[edit]

The formative role of the many strong, competent, loving women around him produced a man who deeply respected women and thrived on female company of all ages. It manifested also in sensitive, nurturing care toward those he was responsible for. His appointment as aide-de-camp to 1916 Rising organizer Joseph Plunkett, whose chronic health problems were a challenge to his presence at the GPO HQ, is indicative of these qualities. Both his official correspondence and countless personal memoires record empathy and sensitivity in his personal attention to the needs and hardships of Volunteers and their families.[19]

Collins' lifetime exactly coincided with a period of aggressive, mass agitation for women’s rights. The female suffrage movement was in Ireland often closely linked with the campaign for Irish independence. Many proponents belonged to both "camps". Full enfranchisement for women became enshrined in the 1916 Proclamation, the legal founding document of the Republic of Ireland. This was the political climate Collins grew up and prospered in. Yet he remained one of the few great men of the time who did not omit to use gender-inclusive language in his speeches, and to explicitly acknowledge women’s contributions and concerns on a regular basis therein. All of this belies the far-fetched "Mick the misogynist" quip which has been occasionally offered, (along with every vice and virtue that could be attributed to him.) [125][126]

Collins’ predecessor in the independence movement, Charles Stuart Parnell, was defeated by a sexual scandal. Collins’ detractors have occasionally attempted to raise similar issues. Reported to have sown some wild oats during his teen career in London (albeit while living under the roof of an older sister,) no scandal concerning his sexual life has ever been substantiated.

Collins' intimate connections appear to have been no less healthy, vigorous, and well-conducted than other aspects of his life: his relations with women affectionate and normal, providing no evidence either of inexperience, excess or aberration.[127][128]

At the same time, he may be said to have been never without female companionship. He carried on dating and epistolary relationships with a number of women such as Susan Kileen and "Dilly" Dicker, who also worked with him in positions of great trust during the struggle for independence. Their correspondence shows that they remained on friendly terms until the end of his life.

In 1921-22, he became engaged to Kitty Kiernan, and made plans for a normal family life after the war. Of their voluminous correspondence, 241 letters survive. They provide an important record, not only of their intimacy, but of his daily life.[129]

Detailing his exhausting schedule, during the concurrent national crisis, their letters document the challenges the couple faced in getting quality time together, under the circumstances. In so doing, they prove it quite doubtful that he could have simultaneously devoted much attention to any additional liaison. Allegations of affair(s) with English society women at this same time are unsubstantiated, and fraught with suspicious political connotations. Those concerning Hazel Lavery originate chiefly with that lady herself, and are unsupported by comparable evidence.[130]


Memorial cross at Béal na Bláth.

An annual commemoration ceremony takes place each year in August at the ambush site at Béal na Bláth, County Cork, organised by The Béal na mBláth Commemoration Committee. In 2009, former President of Ireland Mary Robinson gave the oration. In 2010 the Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan, Jnr became the first Fianna Fáil person to give the oration. In 2012 on the 90th anniversary of the death of Collins, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny gave the oration, the first serving head of government to do so.

There is also a remembrance ceremony in Glasnevin Cemetery at Collins's grave, at the anniversary of his death.

The Central Bank of Ireland released gold and silver commemorative coins on 15 August 2012. Both coins feature a portrait of Michael Collins designed by Thomas Ryan based on a photograph taken not long before his death.[131]


Collins bequeathed to posterity a considerable body of writing: essays, speeches and tracts; articles and official documents in which he outlined plans for Ireland’s economic and cultural revival; as well as a voluminous correspondence, both official and personal. Selections have been published in "The Path to Freedom" (Mercier, 1968) and in "Michael Collins in His Own Words" (Gill & Macmillan, 1997). In the 1960s, Taoiseach Sean LeMass, a veteran of the 1916 Rising and War of Independence, credited Collins’ ideas as the basis for his successes in revitalizing the Ireland's economy.


The Collins 22 Society established in 2002 is an international organisation dedicated to keeping the name and legacy of Michael Collins in living memory. The patron of the society is Ireland's former Minister for Justice and TD Nora Owen, grand-niece of Michael Collins.

In popular culture[edit]


The 1936 movie Beloved Enemy, starring David Niven, is a fictionalised account of Collins's life. Unlike the real Michael Collins, the fictionalised "Dennis Riordan" (played by Brian Aherne) is shot, but recovers. Hang Up Your Brightest Colours, a British documentary by Kenneth Griffith, was made for ITV in 1973, but refused transmission. It was eventually screened by the BBC in Wales in 1993 and across the United Kingdom the following year.

In 1969 Dominic Behan wrote an episode of the UK television series Play for today entitled 'Michael Collins'. The play focused on Collins' attempt to take the gun out of Irish politics and took the perspective of the Republican argument. At the time of writing the script, the troubles had just begun in Northern Ireland and the BBC were reluctant to broadcast the production. An appeal by the author to David Attenborough (Director of Programming for the BBC at that time) resulted in the play eventually being broadcast; Attenborough took the view that the imperatives of free speech could not be compromised in the cause of political expediency.

An Irish documentary made by Colm Connolly for RTE Television in 1989 called The Shadow of Béal na Bláth covered Collins's death. A made for TV film, The Treaty, was produced in 1991 and starred Brendan Gleeson as Collins and Ian Bannen as David Lloyd George. In 2007 RTÉ produced a documentary entitled Get Collins, about the intelligence war which took place in Dublin.[132][133]

Collins was the subject of director Neil Jordan's 1996 film Michael Collins, with Liam Neeson in the title role. Collins's great-grandnephew, Aengus O'Malley, played a student in a scene filmed in Marsh's Library.

In 2005 Cork Opera House commissioned a musical drama about Collins.[134] "Michael Collins" by Brian Flynn had a successful run in 2009 at Cork opera house and later in the Olympia Theatre in Dublin.

Infamous Assassinations, a 2007 British documentary television series, devoted its third episode to the death of Collins.


Irish-American folk rock band Black 47 recorded a song entitled "The Big Fellah" which was the first track on their 1994 album Home of the Brave. It details Collins's career, from the Easter Rising to his death at Béal na Bláth. Irish folk band the Wolfe Tones recorded a song titled "Michael Collins," also about Collins's life and death, although it begins when he was about 16 and took a job in London. Celtic metal band Cruachan recorded a song also titled "Michael Collins" on their 2004 album Pagan, which dealt with his role in the Civil War, the treaty, and eventual death. Also a song by Johnny McEvoy, simply named "Michael", depicts Collins's death and the sadness surrounding his funeral. The poem "The laughing boy" by Brendan Behan lamenting the death of Collins was translated into Greek in 1961 by Basilis Rotas. In October of the same year, Mikis Theodorakis composed the song "Tο γελαστό παιδί" ("The laughing boy") using Rotas' translation. The song was recorded by Maria Farantouri in 1966 on the album "Ένας όμηρος" ("The hostage") and became an instant success. It was the soundtrack of the movie Z (1969). "The laughing boy" became the song of protest against the dictatorship in Greece (1967–1974) and remains to date one of the most popular songs in Greek popular culture.


Mary Kenny wrote a play Allegiance, about a meeting between Winston Churchill and Michael Collins. The play was adapted for stage in 2006 for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with Mel Smith playing Winston Churchill and Michael Fassbender, a great great grandnephew of Michael Collins, playing Michael Collins.[135][136]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Mr. Michael Collins". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 1 June 2009. 
  2. ^ "Evidence of an Irish politician's scruples on expenses ... in 1922". The Irish Times. 8 November 2010. 
  3. ^ a b Coogan, TP "Michael Collins" London; Arrow Books, 1991
  4. ^ a b "17th July 1815 - Baptism of Michael Collins' father". Church Records on Irish Genealogy Site. Retrieved 6 March 2013. 
  5. ^ "26th February 1876 - Marriage of Michael Collins' parents". Church Records on Irish Genealogy Site. Retrieved 6 March 2013. 
  6. ^ http://www.communigate.co.uk/ne/slaggyisland/page10.phtml
  7. ^ a b memoires of Mary Collins-Powell and of Sister Celestine (Helena Collins)
  8. ^ Michael Collins, personal correspondence October 1916
  9. ^ memoires of Mary Collins-Powell and of Sister Celestine (Helena Collins); family correspondence, cousin Michael O'Brien 1922
  10. ^ West Cork People issue dated 22-08-2002, p. 3
  11. ^ a b Examining Irish leader's youthful past - from the BBC
  12. ^ British Postal Service Appointment Books, 1737-1969 about Michael J Collins
  13. ^ King's College London's list of notable alumni
  14. ^ Mackay, James. Michael Collins: A Life. p. 38
  15. ^ Stewart, Anthony Terence Quincey. Michael Collins: The Secret File. p. 8
  16. ^ p46 James Alexander Mackay Michael Collins: a life Mainstream Publishing, 1996
  17. ^ Clarke, Kathleen, "Kathleen Clarke: Revolutionary Woman" Dublin: O'Brien Press Ltd 2008
  18. ^ Nancy O’Brien, cousin of Michael Collins, quoted in Forester, Margery, "The Lost Leader" London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1971
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Coogan, TP "Michael Collins" 1990
  20. ^ Teiliflís Gaeltachta / Radio Teiliflía Éireann "An gCoilaiste Réabhloid" 2010
  21. ^ a b c Feeney, Brian "Sinn Fein: a Hundred Turbulent Years" Dublin; O'Brien Press Ltd., 2002
  22. ^ "Michael Collins". ElectionsIreland.org. Retrieved 1 June 2009. 
  23. ^ Mackay, p. 116
  24. ^ [1] Collins 22 Society Page on "The National Loan 1920"
  25. ^ [2] O’Connor, Batt "With Michael Collins in the Fight For Irish Independence" 2nd ed., Millstreet: Aubane Historical Society. (p87)
  26. ^ Breen, Dan "My Fight For Irish Freedom" Dublin, Talbot Press 1924
  27. ^ a b c Dáil na hÉireann
  28. ^ Sigerson, SM "The Assassination of Michael Collins: What Happened at Béal na mBláth?" Kindle Direct Publishing 2013
  29. ^ Michael Collins, personal correspondence 1916-17
  30. ^ Barry, Tom "Guerrilla Days in Ireland" Dublin, Irish Press 1949
  31. ^ Clarke, Kathleen "Kathleen Clarke: Revolutionary Woman" Dublin O'Brien Press Ltd 2008
  32. ^ Barry, Tom "Guerrilla Days in Ireland" Dublin, Irish Press 1949
  33. ^ O’Donoghue, Florence and Josephine "Florence and Josephine O'Donoghue's War of Independence" Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 2006
  34. ^ Clarke, Kathleen "Kathleen Clarke: Revolutionary Woman" O'Brien Press 2008
  35. ^ Barry, Tom "Guerrilla Days in Ireland" Dublin, Irish Press 1949
  36. ^ Neligan, David "The Spy In the Castle" London, Prendeville Publishing 1999
  37. ^ Deasy, Liam "Brother Against Brother" Cork, Mercier 1982
  38. ^ a b http://generalmichaelcollins.com/Michael_Collins_Life_and_Times/8.THE_TRUCE.html
  39. ^ Wilson Diaries, Vol II p 293
  40. ^ Cabinet Office, (Westminster government) London
  41. ^ British Cabinet minutes, 1921
  42. ^ Michael Collins, quoted by columnist CW Ackerman August 1920
  43. ^ Deasy, Liam "Brother Against Brother"
  44. ^ Phoenix, Eamonn "Michael Collins - The Northern Question 1916-22" in "Michael Collins and the Making of the Irish State" (Doherty & Keogh, editors)
  45. ^ Deasy, Liam "Brother Against Brother"
  46. ^ O'Donoghue, Florence "No Other Law" Dublin, Irish Press 1954
  47. ^ Neligan, David "The Spy In the Castle" London, Prendeville Publishing 1999
  48. ^ Coogan, Tim Pat. The IRA: A History, p. 76
  49. ^ British Cabinet minutes, memoranda
  50. ^ De Valera, Eamonn, correspondence to Michael Collins, 13 July 1921
  51. ^ a b c Michael Collins, correspondence
  52. ^ O'Connor, Batt "With Michael Collins in the Fight For Irish Independence" 1929
  53. ^ Mackay, p. 217
  54. ^ O'Broin, Leon "Michael Collins"
  55. ^ Deasy, Liam "Brother Against Brother"
  56. ^ Dáil na hÉireann, The Treaty Debate
  57. ^ Phoenix, Eamonn "Michael Collins - The Northern Question 1916-22", in "Michael Collins and the Making of the Irish State" (Doherty & Keogh, editors)
  58. ^ Michael Collins correspondence 1922
  59. ^ Collins, Michael "The Path To Freedom" Cork, Mercier 1968
  60. ^ Dáil na hÉireann, The Treaty Debate
  61. ^ Dáil na hÉireann, The Treaty Debate
  62. ^ O'Broin, Leon "Michael Collins" Dublin, Gill & MacMillan 1980
  63. ^ Coogan, Michael Collins, pp. 236–276.
  64. ^ Debate on the Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland... from University College Cork
  65. ^ Provisional Government minutes, Public Records Office, Dublin
  66. ^ O'Donoghue, Florence "No Other Law" Dublin, Irish Press, 1954
  67. ^ Fitzpatrick, David "Harry Boland's Irish Revolution" Cork, Cork University Press, 2003
  68. ^ O'Donoghue, Florence "No Other Law" Dublin, Irish Press, 1954
  69. ^ Mulcahy papers UCD, Northern Division Intelligence Report 26 Oct 1921
  70. ^ Macready personal correspondence 10 Dec 1920
  71. ^ Taylor, Rex "Assassination" London; Hutchinson 1961
  72. ^ British Cabinet Office
  73. ^ MC official correspondence, 5 and 10 April 1922
  74. ^ Michael Collins letter to Churchill 6 June 1922
  75. ^ British Cabinet minutes 16/42 Public Records Office, London
  76. ^ correspondence between Michael Collins and Winston Churchill June 1922
  77. ^ Younger, Calton "Arthur Griffith" Dublin, Gill & Macmillan 1981
  78. ^ Provisional Government minutes, Public Records Office, Dublin
  79. ^ The Constitution of the Irish Free State 1922 http://www.ucc.ie/celt/online/E900003-004/
  80. ^ http://www.constitution.org/cons/ireland/constitution_ireland-en.pdf
  81. ^ Coogan, TP "Michael Collins"
  82. ^ Provisional Government minutes, Public Records Office, Dublin
  83. ^ Michael Collins - Winsonn Churchill correspondence June 1922
  84. ^ Public Records Office, Dublin
  85. ^ Taylor, Rex "Assassination: the death of Sir Henry Wilson and the tragedy of Ireland" Londo,; Hutchinson 1961
  86. ^ Sigerson, SM "The Assassination of Michael Collins: What Happened at Béal na mBláth?" Kindle Direct Publishing 2013
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  88. ^ Taylor, Rex "Assassination" London, Hutchinson 1961
  89. ^ Provisional Government minutes, 27 June 1922, Public Records Office, Dublin
  90. ^ The Politics of the Irish Civil War by Bill Kissane (ISBN 978-0-19-927355-3), page 77
  91. ^ a b The Green Flag: The Turbulent History of the Irish National Movement by Robert Kee (ISBN 978-0-14-029165-0), page 739
  92. ^ p. 122, Tom Garvin (2005) 1922: The Birth of Irish Democracy. Gill & Macmillan Ltd.
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  94. ^ Feehan, John M "The Shooting of Michael Collins: Murder or Accident?" Cork, Mercier 1981
  95. ^ Feehan, John M "The Shooting of Michael Collins: Murder or Accident?" Cork, Mercier 1981
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  97. ^ Clarke, Kathleen "Kathleen Clarke: Revolutionary Woman" O'Brien Press 2008
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  99. ^ Feehan, John M "The Shooting of Michael Collins: Murder or Accident?" Cork, Mercier 1981
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  101. ^ Neligan, David "The Spy In the Castle" London, Prendeville Publishing 1999
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  106. ^ Feehan, John M "The Shooting of Michael Collins: Murder or Accident?" Cork, Mercier 1981
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  109. ^ Feehan, John M "The Shooting of Michael Collins: Murder or Accident?" Cork, Mercier 1981
  110. ^ Deasy, Liam "Brother Against Brother"
  111. ^ Sigerson, SM "The Assassination of Michael Collins: What Happened at Béal na mBláth?" Kindle Direct Publishing 2013
  112. ^ Feehan, John M "The Shooting of Michael Collins: Murder or Accident?" Cork, Mercier 1981
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  114. ^ Dolan, Anne (2006). Commemorating the Irish Civil War: History and Memory, 1923-2000. Studies in the Social and Cultural History of Modern Warfare 13. Cambridge University Press. p. 87. ISBN 978-0-521-02698-7. 
  115. ^ Osborne, Chrissy "Michael Collins Himself" Cork, Mercier 2003
  116. ^ O'Broin, Leon "Michael Collins" Dublin, Gill & MacMillan 1980
  117. ^ Michael Collins personal correspondence
  118. ^ Michael Collins field diary, 22 August 1922
  119. ^ Barry, Tom "Guerrilla Days in Ireland" Dublin, Irish Press 1949
  120. ^ O'Connor, Batt "With Michael Collins in the Fight For Irish Independence" 1929
  121. ^ Osborne, Chrissy "Michael Collins Himself" Cork, Mercier 2003
  122. ^ Neligan, David "The Spy In the Castle" London, Prendeville Publishing 1999
  123. ^ Collins, Michael (Costello, Francis J, Ed.) "Michael Collins In His Own Words" Dublin, Gill & Macmillan, 1997
  124. ^ Michael Collins personal correspondence
  125. ^ McCoole, Sinead "No ordinary women: Irish female activists in the revolutionary years, 1900-1923" Dublin, O'Brien Press 2008
  126. ^ Collins, Michael (Costello, Francis J, Ed.) "Michael Collins In His Own Words" Dublin, Gill & Macmillan, 1997
  127. ^ Ryan, Meda "Michael Collins and the women in his life" Cork, Mercier Press 1996
  128. ^ Sigerson, SM "The Assassination of Michael Collins: What Happened at Béal na mBláth?" Kindle Direct Publishing 2013
  129. ^ O'Bróin, Leon "In Great Haste: the letters of Michael Collins and Kitty Kiernan" Dublin, Gill & MacMillan 1996
  130. ^ Sigerson, SM "The Assassination of Michael Collins: What Happened at Béal na mBláth?" Kindle Direct Publishing 2013
  131. ^ CoinUpdate.com
  132. ^ RTE.ie, "Get Collins"
  133. ^ IMDb.com, "Get Collins"
  134. ^ Cork Opera House
  135. ^ Interview with Fassbender
  136. ^ OnstageScotland, "Allegiance"


  • Beaslai, Piaras (1926). Michael Collins and The Making of the New Ireland. Dublin: Phoenix. 
  • Collins, Michael (1922). The Path to Freedom. Dublin: Talbot Press. 
  • Coogan, Tim Pat (1996). Michael Collins: The Man Who Made Ireland. Roberts Rinehart Pub. ISBN 1-57098-075-6. 
  • Coogan, Tim Pat (2002). Michael Collins: The Man Who Made Ireland. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-312-29511-1. 
  • Deasy, Liam (1992). Brother Against Brother. Mercier. 
  • Doherty, Gabriel (1998). Michael Collins and the Making of the Irish State. Mercier. 
  • Dwyer, T. Ryle (1999). Big Fellow, Long Fellow: A Joint Biography of Collins and De Valera. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-7171-4084-9. 
  • Dwyer, T. Ryle (2005). The Squad and the Intelligence Operations of Michael Collins. Mercier Press. ISBN 1-85635-469-5. 
  • Feehan, John M. (1981). The Shooting of Michael Collins: Murder or Accident?. Mercier. 
  • Feeney, Brian (2002). Sinn Féin: One Hundred Turbulent Years. O'Brien Press. 
  • Hart, Peter (2007). Mick: The Real Michael Collins. Penguin. 
  • Mackay, James (1997). Michael Collins: A Life. Mainstream Publishing. ISBN 1-85158-857-4. 
  • Neligan, David (1999). The Spy in the Castle. Prendeville Publishing Ltd. 
  • O'Broin, Leon (1983). In Great Haste: The Letters of Michael Collins and Kitty Kiernan. Gill and MacMillan. 
  • O'Connor, Batt (1929). With Michael Collins in the fight for Irish independence. London: Peter Davies. 
  • O'Connor, Frank (1965). The Big Fellow: Michael Collins and the Irish Revolution. Clonmore & Reynolds. 
  • O'Donoghue, Florence (1954). No Other Law. Irish Press. 
  • O'Donoghue, Florence (2006). Florence and Josephine O'Donoghue's Irish Revolution. Irish Academic Press. 
  • Osborne, Chrissy (2003). Michael Collins Himself. Mercier. 
  • Sigerson, S M (2013). The Assassination of Michael Collins: What Happened at Béal na mBláth?. Kindle Direct Publishing. 
  • Stewart, Anthony Terence Quincey (1997). Michael Collins: The Secret File. University of Michigan. ISBN 0-85640-614-7. 
  • Talbot, Hayden (1923). Michael Collins' Own Story. London: Hutchinson. 
  • Taylor, Rex (1958). Michael Collins. Hutchinson. 

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John P. Walsh
(All-for-Ireland League)
Sinn Féin Member of Parliament for Cork South
Constituency abolished
New constituency Sinn Féin Teachta Dála for Cork South
Constituency abolished
New constituency Sinn Féin Teachta Dála for Cork Mid, North, South, South East and West
Succeeded by
Seat vacant
New constituency Sinn Féin Teachta Dála for Armagh
Succeeded by
Seat vacant
Political offices
New office Minister for Home Affairs
Jan–Apr 1919
Succeeded by
Arthur Griffith
Preceded by
Eoin MacNeill
Minister for Finance
Succeeded by
W. T. Cosgrave
New office Chairman of the Provisional Government
Jan–Aug 1922