MICHAEL COLLINS Biography - Pioneers, Explorers & inventors


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Name: Michael Collins                                                                         
Born: 31 October 1930                                                                         
When Michael Collins came to Dublin in early 1916 the scene was being set for an               
armed insurrection. The IRB's military expert, Joseph Plunkett, appointed him as               
a staff officer and he kept in regular contact with two older IRB members, Tom                 
Clarke and Sean Mac Diarmada. The Easter Rising, when it did come, was an                     
organisational disaster. Eoin MacNeill, the founder of the Irish Volunteers,                   
issued orders to abandon all plans for a Rising. The IRB countermanded this                   
order. Despite the confusion, the Volunteers, together with Irish Citizen Army,               
succeeded in taking over some of the main buildings in the city. Michael Collins               
fought in the GPO alongside the leaders of the Rising, Padraig Pearse and James               
Connolly. After five days of fighting the Volunteers were forced to surrender.                 
The Rising was denounced in the newspapers of the time and members of the public               
were angry about the destruction of the city. But the public mood changed                     
quickly when the leaders of the rebellion, including Clarke and Mac Diarmada,                 
were executed over a ten-day period. Connolly, who was the last to face the                   
firing squad, had to be strapped to a chair, as he could not stand upright                     
because of his injuries. The Rising and its aftermath were to make a deep and                 
lasting impression on Michael Collins. Later he wrote: "They have died nobly at               
the hands of the firing squads. So much I grant. But I do not think the Rising                 
week was an appropriate time for the issue of memoranda couched in poetic                     
phrases nor of actions worked out in a similar fashion. Looking at it from the                 
inside ....it had the air of a Greek tragedy about it .... Of Connolly and                     
Pearse I admire the former the foremost. Connolly was a realist, Pearse the                   
direct opposite...On the whole I think the Rising was bungled terribly, costing               
many a good life. It seemed at first to be well organised, but afterwards became               
subjected to panic decisions and a great lack of very essential organisation and               
Collins and his fellow Volunteers were rounded up and sent on a cattle boat to                 
English prisons. At first he was held in Stafford jail and then, at the end of                 
June, the prisoners were transferred to Frongach camp in Wales. The British                   
government, anxious to defuse the growing public sympathy for the rebels in                   
Ireland, released the internees on the 22 December, 1916. On returning home                   
Collins quickly found employment as secretary of the Irish National Aid and                   
Volunteer Dependants Fund. He used his position to revitalise the Volunteer                   
movement and attract new recruits to the IRB. But it was Sinn Fein, and not the               
IRB, which had gained most from the fallout of the Rising, despite the fact that               
Griffith had been opposed to it. Initially suspicious of Sinn Fein, Collins                   
realised that it was a radical nationalist party that could defeat the IPP. He                 
campaigned vigorously in a series of by-elections, first in Roscommon and then                 
in Longford. In the Longford by-election Collins nominated Joe McGuinness, who                 
was still serving a prison sentence for his part in the Rising. Using the slogan               
"Put him in, to get him out", McGuinness was elected. The effect of the by-election           
victories was almost immediate. The British released the remaining 120 prisoners.             
Among the prisoners released were two senior surviving officers, Thomas Ashe and               
Eamon de Valera. De Valera had not been executed in 1916 because he was born in               
the United States. Ashe was elected president of the IRB but was soon arrested                 
for making seditious speeches. Because he was refused political status, Thomas                 
Ashe went on hunger strike and died five days later when the British tried to                 
force feed him. The funeral arrangements were made by Michael Collins. At the                 
graveside a section of uniformed volunteers stepped forward and fired a volley.               
Then Collins gave a brief oration: "Nothing additional remains to be said. That               
volley which we have just heard is the only speech which it is proper to make at               
the grave of a dead Fenian." Collins then wept in what was a very rare public                 
display of grief.                                                                             
Collins now organised the election of de Valera as president of Sinn Fein in a                 
deal with Arthur Griffith. Sinn Fein's main aim was now the "international                     
recognition of Ireland as an independent Irish Republic." The militants                       
dominated Sinn Fein and Collins began organising an effective intelligence                     
gathering operation. Among those he recruited, to spy for him were Joe Kavanagh               
and Sergeant Ned Broy detectives in G division. The G-men, as they were known,                 
were at the heart of British intelligence in Ireland. Having people on the                     
inside was to prove an invaluable source of information for Collins.                           
Early in 1918 Collins was arrested for making a speech against conscription in                 
Legga, County Longford. During his many visits to Longford Collins would stay at               
the Greville Arms in Granard, run by "four beautiful sisters and their brother."               
Michael had fallen in love with Kitty , the second eldest sister. His chief                   
rival for her hand was his comrade in the IRB, Harry Boland. Collins was jailed               
in Sligo but applied for bail. Once out on bail he went on the run.                           
All over the country anti-conscription campaigns took place. The British decided               
to arrest the leading nationalists in an attempt to stop the anti-conscription                 
protests. Collins was tipped off about the planned arrests by his informants and               
told de Valera and the Sinn Fein executive what was about to happen. They                     
decided that they would win an even greater moral and political victory if they               
were arrested. Sean McGarry, the president of the IRB, was also arrested and                   
Collins quickly succeeded him as the president of The Organisation, as it had                 
become known.                                                                                 
The arrests only succeeded in fuelling nationalist resentment even further.                   
Collins and Harry Boland were now in effective control of the republican                       
organisations and they set about preparing Sinn Fein for the forthcoming General               
Election. This came when Lloyd George called a snap election following the end                 
of the First World War. The elections were a triumph for Sinn Fein. They won 73               
seats, compared with 6 for the IPP. Michael Collins was elected unopposed for                 
the South Cork constituency.                                                                   
On 21 January 1919, Sinn Fein's newly elected candidates assembled in Dublin's                 
Mansion House to form the first national assembly in over a century. This day                 
also marked the beginning of the War of Independence, when a group of Volunteers               
shot dead two policemen at Soloheadbeg in County Tipperary. The new parliament                 
was to be known as Dail Eireann and it began by passing a declaration of                       
independence. Only 27 of the 73 Sinn Fein TD's (members of parliament) could                   
attend. Collins and his fellow TD Harry Boland were absent. They were in England               
organising de Valera's escape from Lincoln Jail. Within five weeks the remaining               
republican prisoners were released. When the Dail reassembled in April, Eamon de               
Valera was elected its president. Cathal Brugha was appointed as Minister of                   
Defence and Michael Collins became Minister for Finance.