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Image of the Week ~ Michael Collins

Michael Collins/Mícheál Ó Coileáin (16 October 1890 – 22 August 1922), packed a huge amount into a very young life. Leaving home at 15, he spent nearly a decade in London, working mostly in the financial services sector. He returned to Ireland just in time for the 1916 Rising in Dublin and served as Joseph Plunkett's aide-de-camp in the GPO. Collins went on to play a prominent role in the Irish War of Independence and the Civil War, a conflict which ultimately ended his extraordinary life.

A bust of Michael Collins at the site of his original home in Woodfield, Sam's Cross, near Clonakilty, Co. Cork. I would highly recommend a visit to this site as well as the Michael Collins Centre and Michael Collins House, both of which are excellent (click on any photo to see it enlarged).

Interned in Frongoch prison in Wales, Collins sharpened his revolutionary tendancies in what was christened the 'university' as the British had unwisely imprisoned the Irish Republican prisoners in one place. In 1919, De Valera appointed Collins as Minister for Finance and Collins demonstrated considerable skill in leading a Finance Ministry that organised a large bond issue in the form of a "National Loan" to fund the new Irish Republic.

A shattered GPO where Collins fought with several of the key figures from the 1916 Easter Rising.

In September 1919, with the Irish War of Independence raging, Collins was made Director of Intelligence for the Irish Republican Army. Collins' activities across the Irish War of Independence, the Treaty Negotiations and the Irish Civil War are well documented and it is easy to see why he is regarded as arguably one of the most remarkable figures in 20th Century Irish history. Sadly, it was an Irish bullet that took Collins' life at Béal na mBláth (Mouth of Flowers), ironically in County Cork.

Collins' legacy continues to be debated 100 years on and will probably go on being discussed by historians and the general public for another 100 years. Regardless of the final verdict of history, there is no denying the price Collins paid as part of the effort to achieve Irish independence, however imperfect it remains.

Collins had a habit of putting his head down when photographs were being taken, one of the reasons was he didn't want his identity to be too easily available to the 'G-Men' (G-Division) in Dublin Castle.

Above is but one example, a couple more follow.

Collins to the right in a wedding photograph, again with his head down.

The above photograph is interesting because it depicts the Irish team that negotiated the famous 'Treaty' with a British team comprised of Lloyd George and Winston S. Churchill. Even at this stage Collins wasn't willing to look at the camera.

It's easy to understand Collins' paranoia, his family home (foundations pictured above) was burned down on the 7th of April, 1921 by the Essex Regiment led by Major Percival. Percival is interesting because twenty years later as General Percival, he would preside over the greatest surrender of British forces in British military history, when 200,000 troops lay down their arms and walked into Japanese captivity in 1942.

Collins was also the most wanted man in Europe at the time with a reward on his head of £10,000 (equivalent to around €360,000 today). The British warned that "Collins will stop at nothing and is an expert shot.” Collins often dressed as a well-to-do businessman and would cycle around Dublin. He is also known to have dressed in relgious garb and to alter his physical appearence. It seems to me at least that Collins believed in 'hiding in plain sight' and passed through many a British checkpoint, which would have required nerves of steel as capture would most certainly have meant torture and probably death.

One of many posters giving Collins' details. The RIC, detectives of G-Division, the Black and Tans as well as British Military Intelligence (the Cairo Gang) were all involved in the hunt for the 'Big Fella' but somehow he managed to stay one step ahead of the pack. I heard it said that in one particular day in Dublin, Collins moved from safe-house to safe-house a remarkable 8 times in order to allude the 'forces of law and order'.

The last photograph taken of Collins sees him leaving the Munster Arms in Bandon, about to make his way back to Cork City via Béal na mBláth.

Mícheál Ó Coileáin

Corkman ~ Patriot ~ Leader

(16 October 1890 – 22 August 1922)

For more see the following:

For Michael Collins House, Clonakilty, click here

For the Michael Collins Centre, click here

For a short RTE documentary on Michael Collins, click here

For Michael Collins: The Intelligence War In Dublin during the War of Independence, click here



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