The Life and Legacy of Michael Collins
The life of Michael Collins has been shrouded in mystery and controversy since his death over 90 years ago. He was a complex figure who has been portrayed as both a terrorist and a freedom fighter, depending on one’s point of view. In this essay, I will attempt to provide a balanced view of Collins and his role in the Irish independence movement. I will also compare and contrast his methods with those of another well-known revolutionary, Che Guevara.
2. Michael Collins and the Irish Republican Brotherhood
Collins was born in rural Ireland in 1890 into a large Catholic family. He was educated by the Christian Brothers and later worked as a clerk in the Post Office. In 1909, he joined the Gaelic League which was working to revive the Irish language. It was through this organization that he became involved in the nationalist movement.
In 1913, Collins joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), a secret society dedicated to overthrowing British rule in Ireland and establishing an independent republic. He quickly rose through the ranks of the organization and became one of its most active members. He was involved in several failed attempts to import guns and ammunition from Germany for use in an uprising against the British.
3. The Easter Uprising of 1916
The IRB finally succeeded in staging an uprising against the British on Easter Sunday, 1916. The rebellion was led by Patrick Pearse and James Connolly and was supported by a small number of Irish Volunteers and Citizen Army members. The rebels seized control of several key buildings in Dublin, including the General Post Office (GPO). They issued a proclamation declaring Ireland to be an independent republic.
The rebellion was quickly put down by British troops who bombarded the GPO with artillery fire. Most of the rebel leaders were arrested and executed, but Collins managed to evade capture. The uprising was widely unpopular with the Irish people at the time, as it resulted in widespread destruction and death in Dublin city centre. However, it did serve to radicalize many nationalists, including Collins, who now saw violent revolution as the only way to achieve independence.
4. The War of Independence
After the Easter Rising, Collins became one of the most wanted men in Ireland. He went into hiding and began organizing resistance to British rule from his base in Dublin Castle. He raised money for weapons and explosives by robbing banks and post offices. He also set up a network of spies within Dublin Castle to gather information on British military movements.
In 1919, Collins became Director of Intelligence for the newly formed Irish Republican Army (IRA). He oversaw a campaign of guerrilla warfare against the British which included ambushes, raids, and bombings. His biggest success came in November 1920 when he orchestrated the assassination of fourteen British intelligence officers in Dublin, an event which became known as “Bloody Sunday”. This campaign of violence reached its peak during what is known as “The Black and Tan War” which lasted from January to July 1921.
5. The Treaty Pact
In July 1921, British Prime Minister Lloyd George called a truce in order to negotiate a settlement with the Republicans. The negotiations took place in London and were attended by representatives from both sides, including Collins on behalf of the Republicans. After several months of talks, an agreement was finally reached which resulted in the creation of the Irish Free State; a self-governing country within the British Empire.
The agreement was not popular with all Republicans, as it left Ireland partitioned and under the Commonwealth. Collins was one of the signatories of the Treaty and he returned to Dublin to sell it to his fellow Republicans. This resulted in a split within the IRA, with those in favour of the Treaty (the “Pro-Treaty” side) pitted against those against it (the “Anti-Treaty” side).
6. Collins’ Death
Collins attempted to seek a united solution and pacify the anti-treaty forces, but this only served to make him more enemies. On August 22, 1922, he was ambushed and killed by anti-treaty Republicans while travelling in an armored car in County Cork. His death plunged the country into a civil war which lasted for over a year and claimed the lives of thousands of people.
Michael Collins was a complex figure who played a key role in the Irish independence movement. His methods were often brutal and controversial, but they were effective in winning support for the cause. His legacy is still hotly debated in Ireland today and will likely continue to be so for many years to come.