The Death Of Michael Collins

Got this ages ago and talking to a friend reminded me about it! Enjoy!

( This is an alternate obituary for Michael Collins. From a imaginary New York newspaper)

Dublin 1972

Its been an hour since the news broke of Michael Collins death . The bars of Dublin and Derry have fallen silent . Old men are crying. Michael Collins. The Big fellow! The man who made Ireland! Died today…

‘One day he’ll be a great man. He’ll do great work for Ireland.’

Michael Collins was born in Woodsfield , West Cork in 1890. Into what the RIC called a “Brainy family” His father Michael John Collins had married late, in life to the twenty three year old Marianne O’Brien. Michael was the third son, the youngest of eight children. Despite the death of Michaels father, when he was six. Michael’s childhood was happy. On his deathbed Michael’s father called his Son to his side and told his family. ‘One day he’ll be a great man. He’ll do great work for Ireland.’

Michaels quick mind made him a success at school. It was during his education that Michael was introduced into the twilight world of the Fenians. West Cork was the birthplace of O’Donovan Rosa. The founder of the Fenian movement. A group or Irishmen whom pledged allegiance to “the Irish republic now virtually established”. The local blacksmith and his teacher were Fenians. Michael would later credit these men with setting him on his life’s path.

At the age of eleven Michael began to subscribe to the United Irishman. A newspaper edited by Arthur Griffin. Michael wrote, “In Arthur Griffith there is a mighty force in Ireland. He has none of the wildness of some I could name. Instead there is an abundance of wisdom and an awareness of things which are Ireland Twenty years later Michael Collins would sit beside Griffith and negotiate the Anglo-Irish treaty.

“An arrow pointed at the heart of the empire.”

At 15 Michael emigrated to London. After taking the civil service entry exam. He obtained work as a clerk at the West Kensington post office. Young Michael settled into life among the Irish community in London easily. Joining the GAA, and the Irish league. Michael impressed Sam Maguire the founding father of the GAA. Maguire would describe Michael as “An arrow pointed at the heart of the Empire!” Michael took his politics with him . It was in London where Michael would join Sinn Fein and the Irish republican brotherhood. The heirs to the Feinan movement.

It was a restless time in Ireland. The Liberals had with the support of the Irish party won a majority in Westminster. The price of Irish support would be Home Rule. Devolution of power to an Irish parliament in Dublin. In Ulster, the Northern and most economically developed part of an Ireland. A million Irishmen of Protestant stock. Looked at the prospect of Home rule with horror. Fearing it would wreck Ulster’s industries and force Catholicism on them. Events took a militant turn. A solemn league and covenant gathered a Million signatures. People pledged to resist Home Rule The Ulster Volunteer Force was formed to resist the imposition of Home rule on Ulster.

In response to the events in Ulster. An Irish volunteer movement was formed. For a while, it seemed that civil war was about to break out in Ireland.

The outbreak of war in Europe in 1914, which lead quickly to a bloody stalemate. Led some Irish men to recall the old Fenian Maxim. “England’s problems are Ireland’s opportunity.” The IRB looked to Germany as the enemy of my enemy. Michael would tell his friends. That Germany would soon finish off Russia and then God help Britain and France.

“A Greek tragedy”

It was the Easter rising of 1916. The IRB had infiltrated the Irish volunteer movement. Causing it to split in two. Most Irish Volunteers followed John Redmond the leader of the Irish party advice and went off to fight for King and Country. Confident in the promise of Home Rule.

It was with the 13000 men of the breakaway faction of the Irish volunteers.( Who were often called the Sinn Fein volunteers.) That the IRB hoped to strike a blow for Irish freedom Yet the Germans did not send the troops the Irish rebels hoped would join them. A shipment of Rifles, ammo and Gold was scuttled by the Germans after it was discovered by the British. Seeing that no German help was coming. The leader of volunteers Eoin McNeill countermanded the orders for maneuvers in Dublin.

Collins returned to Ireland in 1916 determined to take part in events.

Despite this led by Padric Pearse, around 1200 Irish Volunteers seized several buildings in Dublin. In the hope it would inspire a national uprising against the British. People remembered Captain Collins for his clear head, while events around him into a violent farce. Later Collins would recall the words of McBride “Never let it happen again. Never hole yourself up in one spot where They can then turn all there strength against you”.

This would be demonstrated by Eamon De Valeria at Boland’s Mill. De Valeria refused to obey orders and surrender. De Valeria would be pulled out the wreckage half dead.

De Valeria’s American citizenship and wounds would allow him to escape the Firing squad. Though it was only a temporary reprieve. De Valeria never fully recovered his health. His wounds would send him to an early grave in 1922.

Michael Collins later compared the events of the Easter rising to “A Greek tragedy.” The national uprising the rising’s leaders had hoped for, never materialized. In fact Collins and his comrades were jeered as they were away into captivity.

Collins narrowly avoided being executed and escaped with a prison sentence. In the Frognach internment camp in Wales. He used the time well, learning French. It was at Frognach, that Michael Collins gifts came to the attention of his peers. His fellow prisoners said that he had the guards in his pocket. Michael was the Irish prisoners Mr Fixit.

Collins was released as part of an amnesty. Ireland was beginning to worry the British government. For a while Collins considered emigrating to New York. How lucky for Ireland that he didn’t ….

The Ireland, Collins had returned to in December 1916, was changing. The execution of the leaders of the Easter rising, soured the mood of the Irish against the British government. Cathal Brugha and James Connolly had to face their firing squads propped up in chairs. They were too weak to stand. It was feared that the British government would try and enforce conscription in Ireland. The prospect of Home Rule seemed to be slipping away. Collins showed that he had learnt the events of 1916. In 1918 he declined a German offer of assistance in the event of another Irish rising.

The 1918 election brought victory for Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein deputies refused to sit Westminster and set up a rival parliament in Dublin. Nominating Eamon De Valera as President.

It in those days that the name of Michael Collins became a legend. “The Man on the bicycle”, “The Man the British couldn’t catch’…Cycling arround Dublin with 10 000 pounds on his head.

Some of Collins escapades would seem farfetched in a Hollywood movie. At one point he even managed to gain entry into the archives of Dublin castle. Where he copied and destroyed British documents. Collins rescued De Valera from Lincoln Jail, In England. Embarassing the British into freeing more Irish prisoners. To make it look that De Valeria’s escape had been part of their strategy When stopped by British army and RIC patrols. Michael would brazenly chat to them. Often complaining loudly about the “Damn Fenians.”

On another occasion Michael Collins managed to convince a British Officer that the entry in a notebook he was carrying said refills rather then rifles. Whilst the officer studied an Artist sketch of Michael Collins.

Collins had realized that while it would be impossible for the Irish to defeat the British government militarily. As Lloyd George observed during the Anglo Irish treaty. it would be possible for the British Government. To have a Soldier guarding every Man, Woman and Child In Ireland.Colins realised he could make Ireland ungovernable. Informers and RIC officers were shot. Barracks were burnt. The British government retaliated by sending some of it best men after Collins. The Cairo group, named as they recruited from British intelligence in Cairo. Collins had them promptly shot.

All this while running the national loan. The war budget of the Irish rebels. To pay for Guns. To pay for the running of the arbitration courts. The running of the Diall and the publicity campaigns in America.

Lloyd George would remark…

“Where was Michael Collins during the war? He would have been worth ten brass hats!

We should not be misty eyed about those days.As a British politician said. “We have Murder by the throat in Ireland”. The British government retaliation too Colin’s and his comrades. With the Auxilary cadets and The Black and Tans. They were given a free hand in Ireland. Not that there wasn’t Blood on Irish hands. Policemen in sleepy villages were murdered in front of their Wives. In the North, both sides fought a bloody sectarian war.

Fortunately saner heads prevailed……

The 1922. Anglo-Irish Treaty

“Three weeks”

Collins despite protesting that he was a soldier and not a politician. Accompanied Arthur Griffith to London. To treat with Lloyd George Government. The first time that the Irish and Westminster had come to terms since Elizabeth the 1st.

The treaty divided Ireland into two. 26 of Ireland’s 32 counties would gain independence within the British empire. The Irish Free state. The Free state would have it’s own currency, and Army. Answering to an Irish parliament based in Dublin. The Irish free state’s head of State would be the King. Represented in Ireland by a Governor General. Irish deputies would have to swear an oath of allegiance to the King. The British would maintain Naval bases at 4 key Irish ports.

A Boundary Commission would decide the border between Northern Ireland and the Free state.

Collins called the Treaty as“ A stepping stone to freedom” He was under no illusions that the British could impose themselves on Ireland if they chose. Collins would later admit that the Irish could have held out for just three weeks.

Collins persuaded Griffith to send Tom Barry to sit on the Boundary Commission. Barry was no politician. He had fought for the British army in the 1st world war. Then had gone onto lead the Third Cork Brigade of the IRA! Barry was the type of man who’d pick a fight in an empty room. This actually made him ideal for the Boundary Commission. Barry was determined not to give up a square inch of the sacred soil of Ireland. Future historians credit Barry with gaining for the free state the parishes of Crossmagalen and Cullyana in South Armagh.

After the Dail passed the motion accepting the treaty the Irish government A few “Die hards”

lead by Erskine Childers and Austin Stack refused to accept this. The city centers of Cork and Limerick were seized. For a few awful days Ireland sank into civil war. Collins best friend Harry Boland was killed, fighting on the side of the “Die hards”.The Free State lost Emmet Dalton in the fighting to retake Cork. Mercifully Liam Lynch .The leader of the Die hards was killed in a road accident at the beginning of the fighting. The Fighting fizzled out.

With order in the country restored. Collins treatment of the Die Hard’s was mild. The leaders were given prison sentences. The younger members were sent into exile to the US or Australia.

After the British withdrawal Collins turned his attention to domestic matters. The Shannon scheme which produced Hydro electric power. Sugar beet farming was introduced as a cash crop, and as animal fodder. A push for electrification was made. Which bore fruit particularly in Rural areas. Irish was introduced in Schools. A drive was made to build up an Irish merchant marine, and fishing fleet.

The SSE

The British withdrawal did not spell the end of Ireland’s problems. The “Incidents” showed that it would not take a lot to tip Ireland into civil war. Ireland was awash with guns, and gunmen. Northern Ireland had been created by the British Government to secure the position of 1 million Unionists whom wished to stay within the United kingdom. It’s citizenry were determined to stay British no matter what the cost. Unfortunately a third of Northern Ireland’s population saw themselves as Irish. Collins was sorely tempted to arm the Northern Catholics. There was even a skirmish between Northern Irish and Free state forces at Pettaloe.

The “Northern Question ” and sporadic Republican activity in the Free state led to the establishment of the Saorstat Securis Eireran. The SSE. The Irish state security service.

Collins own experience in “The Troubles.” Convinced Him, of the Truth in Walshingham’s maxim. “Intelligence is never too dear’ Michaels horror at the civil war in all but name of the Incidents. As well as the contiuning question of Northern Ireland

The SSE was to be Irelands eyes and ears in the world. The SSE was at first concerned with Northern and the UK. The SSE was charged with gaining the intelligence, and creating the conditions that would one day would allow for the reunification of Ireland. Strictly political at first. The joke was the SSE job was to get pictures of Carson in bed with a dead whore or a live Priest!

The SSE also dealt with internal matters. There were still dissident groups of republicans causing mischief. Often terrroising the South’s Protestants The SSE proved it worth by moving against a group of Free State Army officers who were talking about mutiny in 1924. The SSE also gave Kevin O’Higgins the information and the muscle He needed to break the Republican movement in the Free state.

Despite being an organization dedicated towards the restoration of Irish unity. The SSE is credited with convincing Collins that Irish unity could only be achieved at a terrible cost. As the Irish historian Connor Cruise O’Brien would put it. “A shabby coated dictatorship.”

In 1932 Collins party was voted out of office. Poblatcha a Fail ( the Republic is our Destiny). Led by the “Two Seans” entered office. Collins toyed with retiring from political life. For a while he did. Collins tried to lead the life of a back bench TD. It was not enough for Him. Returning to help put the 1936 constitution through the Dail. Which abolished the oath of Allegiance and the position of Governor General.

The coming of War

With the rise of Hitler, and War in Europe seeming inevitable. Collins was able to turn events to his countries advantage. The British claim on the Treaty ports were relinquished.

The Munich crises enabled Collins to put the conscription act through the Irish parliament. In practice the conscription bill was more concerned with making work for Irelands Youth rather then matters military. Though preparations were made for war. Airfields built. Road and rail links improved. Many a young man from the West of Ireland gained a trade.

The Spanish civil war.

The Spanish civil war presented a problem for the Collins government. The Republicans hostility to the Catholic church and rumors of atrocities committed against Priests and Nuns. Troubled this deeply Catholic country. Collins in the end decided to let volunteers fight for Franco. A move that gathered much criticism from the European and British left. Though it wasn’t known at the time many of those volunteers were actually Irish defense force personnel, and SSE. Whom were only too eager to talk to their German and Italian allies about their equipment.

The Collins government also responsible for the Bilbao boatlift. 50 000 Basque refugees were given asylum in Ireland at the end of the war. The little Euskera in Dublin’s North end becoming the home for Eire’s Basque community. This had an unforeseen effect of reducing the power of the Catholic church. The piety of the Basques impressed the Irish. The Catholic hierarchy attempts to explain their support for Franco were greeted with derision.

World War Two

The Second World War would bring Michael Collins to the fore In 1938 the UK had renounced it’s claims on the “treaty ports” Naval bases guaranteed to the RN by the Anglo-Irish treaty.

Yet it was clear that in the event of another War. Ireland by accident of geography would have a part to play

On September 28th 1940 Collins entered the War. Brushing aside calls for neutrality from Ireland and Irish America. In return for a second and final partition of Ireland. The RN and the RAF were given access to the Irish ports, and airfields. The Catholic areas of the Northern Ireland such as Derry were reunified with the Republic.

In the winter of 1940 that Collins visited the US . In an attempt to mobilize American support for the War. Having annoyed some Irish American leaders by entering the war. Collins campaigned for the US support for the Allies. On a ticket of a crusade against Nazism. Often sharing a platform with Jewish and Polish groups. Rather then making appeals for the“Old Country”. Collins trip to the US was an astounding success. How many other visiting world leaders, have been publicly scolded by the First Lady for keeping the President up all night! Memories of “ Mick’s” trip to the White House makes even the most jaded Washington correspondent misty eyed. Collins even found time to visit Charlie Chaplin on the set of the Great Dictator

Historian’s have described Irelands main contribution to the war as diplomatic. Yet in the early months of 1941. Irish Victory Bonds bought desperately needed guns. The raising of Irish “Volunteer” units from exiled Irishmen in the US. The“ Meager brigade,” and the “Flying Wolfhounds”.

Armed with the latest American weapons. The Irish added some extra teeth to the Allies in the dark days before American entry into the war.

Once the US entered the war. Collins shamelessly used American money to build up the Irish economy. American loans paid for an expansion of Irish universities and infrastructure. Collins and Lemass claimed these funds were needed to paid for the training of the Irish officers. The influx of American troops into Ireland. Created an instant market for Irish steak and stout. The“Yanks” also spent their dollars in the dance halls and Bars of Ireland. The influx of American troops into Ireland allowed Collins admistration to quietly liberalize. The concessions made to accommodate our American guests stayed. Nor where men who fought Rommels Afrika Corps, or who waded ashore at Normany. As eager to accept the words of Priests as well Gospel. As the old song goes. “How you gone keep them on the farm when they’ve seen Paree?”

Irish diplomacy did bear some unexpected fruits. The Free French found it necessary on occasion to transfer operations to Dublin. Particularly after the destruction of the French fleet at Oran. Collins was also able to put the French he learnt in Frognach to good use. Often stepping in to smooth things over between the Free French and their Anglo Saxon allies. Ireland had in fact contributed a regiment. The inaccurately named Sarsfield brigade to the Free French cause. The French would return the favor, allowing “Les braves Irlandes” to join the EEC in 1958.

The SSE would prove a thorn in the side of Nazi Germany. After German warplanes bombed Dublin in 1941 Collins ordered the assination of Kesselring in retaliation. SSE agents operating behind German lines kept the fires of liberty smoldering in Occupied Europe. Collins was determined to demonstrate to the leadership of the Third Reich there actions would have consequences.

Post war

As the war wound down. Collins government gave asylum to Two hundred thousand Eastern European refugees. This years European Cup Winners Cup soccer final, was won by Sligo Slovakia. The Irish government also quietly accepted many children from Occupied Europe abandoned by their Wermacht fathers.

Although Ireland had not suffered much physical damage during the war. Despite the bombing raids on Dublin, Waterford, and Cobh. Collins was able to use the prestige Ireland had gained in the war. To take a larger slice of Marshall aid then Ireland really deserved. This with Lemass astute trade deals with the UK. In which Irish beef, fish and butter were swapped for Coal and machinery. Tourism was encouraged with too. In the gray years after the war. A trip to Butlins at Kilkee and Tralee brought some color into the life of many British families. Collins cheekily also encouraged many investment Britain’s moneyed classes too. What wags would call “the retreat from Moscow!” The Collins administration made efforts to make sure that American servicemen who had acquired a taste for Guinness or Murphy’s did not go without back home.

The Irish were among the founding members of Nato. Irish Garda helped train the Police forces of the Federal republic of Germany.

Collins as President saw Ireland joining the EEC. The US bases at Shannon and Cobh, a testament to Collins view of Ireland. A small but active player in the affairs of the world. Ireland was one of founding members of the UN. A small detachment of Irish troops fought in Korea. Irish peace keepers are active today in Cyprus and the Congo.

Collins as the elder statesman of Irish politics intervened on Noel Browne’s behalf during the 1951 Mother and Child affair. An event which is credited as breaking the power of the Catholic church in Ireland.

The Irish population grew and the economy blossomed. Emigrants returned home. The Boston and Glasgow accents one hears in any barroom in Ireland today. Testify to the success of Ireland. Truly Ireland is now “A Nation once again”

Stepping down from the Irish presidency in 1966. Collins had become in later life concerned with the plight of the Third world. Famously on a visit to DC in 1962 Collins had be separated from Vice President Nixon in an argument about US foreign policy

Collins who never married will be buried next to his sweetheart Kitty Keirnan

When we look at the people History calls great. Can we say that Napoleon or Julius Caesar made there people happier, or richer. How many politicians truly leave their Countries stronger then they found it. How often can we say that one person has made the sum of human happiness greater?

If you seek a monument to Michael Collins look at the Ireland. A wealthy and confident society. One at peace with itself and the world.

Author: Stephen

Cork born and bred, proud European and Irishman. Involved in many organisations and politics. Also writes for SpirtualityIreland.org and UCC Express.

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