A soldier and politician who was prominent in the struggle for Irish independence in the early 20th century. He agreed to the partition of Ireland and the creation of the Irish Free State, becoming leader of its provisional government.
Michael Collins was born on 16 October 1890 near Clonakilty in County Cork, the son of a farmer. After leaving school he worked for the Post Office, spending nine years in London where he became involved in radical Irish nationalist politics.
By 1908 he was a member of Sinn Féin, and a year later he joined the clandestine Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). He then returned to Dublin in January 1916 and took part in the Easter Rising, but after its failure he was imprisoned, although he was later released in December of that year.
In 1918, the British government attempted to introduce conscription in Ireland and Collins went on the run to avoid the call-up. He became the IRB's organiser-in-chief and assembled a network of spies within government institutions.
In the 1918 December general election, Sinn Féin took 73 of 105 Irish seats, with Collins winning his seat for South Cork. In Dublin, January 1919, they declared themselves a sovereign parliament - Dáil Éireann - and then declared independence. Éamon de Valera was elected president of the Dáil and Collins was appointed minister of home affairs and later minister of finance. In this role he organised the hugely successful Dail loan which financed the republican government.
Collins is most famous for his leadership of the republican military campaign against Britain (the War of Independence) through the Irish Republican Army (IRA). He directed a group of gunmen tasked with assassinating British agents whose campaign culminated on 21 November 1920 with the killing of 14 British officers in Dublin. In the day of violence that followed, British forces opened fire at a Gaelic football game, killing 12.
When a truce was agreed with Britain in July 1921, Collins and de Valera were the two most powerful men in republican Ireland. Collins led the Irish delegation at the peace conference in London which resulted in the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921. This brought the Irish Free State into existence and partitioned the island, with six predominantly Unionist counties in the north remaining outside the Free State. The Treaty was passed by the cabinet in Dublin by one vote, with de Valera opposed, and was accepted by the Dáil by a very small majority. Collins became chairman and finance minister of the provisional government.
The republican movement was now split into those who opposed and those who supported the treaty. In April 1922, a group of anti-Treaty IRA men took control of the Four Courts Building in Dublin. With support from London, Collins ordered it to be attacked, marking the beginning of civil war in Ireland. Collins took charge as commander-in-chief of the pro-treaty, Free State army. His campaign was successful but before its conclusion, on 22 August 1922, he was assassinated by anti-treaty forces in an ambush in County Cork.
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