Sunday, 13 November 2011

Michael Collins IRA

Michael Collins IRA

Michael Collins was born on 16th October 1980 in a small village known as Sam’s Cross in the county of Cork.  His father was Michael John Collins who at the ripe age of 60 married a young woman of only 23 years.  They had eight children, with Michael being the youngest, and he was born when his father was aged 75.  His father passed away when Michael was only 6 years old.  In that short time, his father had instilled in his son a deep love of Irish history, ballads and poems.

Michael Collins IRA
In his youth he was taught by Denis Lyons who belonged to the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and was heavily influenced by his teachings.  Michael Collins attended the local national school at Lisavaird.

The local blacksmith, James Santry was a Fenian and he also helped instil in Michael the importance of being Irish.  His mother, worried that Michael could fall in with bad company, sent him to Clonakilty to live with his sister and study for the Post Office examinations.

At the age of 15 he moved to London to live with his sister Hannie in Kensington and formed part of a large Irish community who lived and worked there.  He worked himself as a clerk in the Post Office for the next nine years.  In 1909 he joined both the Gaelic League and Sinn Fein and then returned to Dublin to fight in the Easter Rising.

Captain Michael Collins

Michael Collins was second in command to Joseph Plunkett and held the grade of Captain Michael Collins for the short period of the rising.  In truth his actual role was considered to be a fairly minor one and at the end he was not hanged like the main leaders but was instead arrested and interned.  He was initially interned at Richmond Barracks and was then sent to the internment camp in Frongoch in Wales and was released in December 1916.  While in Frongoch, others recognised his abilities as both a good organiser and a leader of men.

Michael Collins - Director of Organisations

On his release he was given the title of Director of Organisations for the Volunteers.  He was also elected on to the executive committee of Sinn Fein in 1917. Over the next two years he formed an intelligence network, organised a national loan to help fund a rebellion and created an assassination squad which came to be known as the “Twelve Apostles”.

The British now declared him a wanted man and placed a price of £10,000 on his head.   It seemed his single minded goal was to achieve an independent Ireland by any means possible.  He was a no-nonsense, straightforward man who fully understood what was needed to wage a guerilla war against the British.  This task was made easier for him when the British tried to introduce conscription in 1918.  This simply made the Irish people angry and united against all things British.

Collins had been made President of the IRB Supreme Council and the IRB had by this stage succeeded in infiltrating the Irish Volunteers.  He also held the position of Minister of Finance in the Dail Government.  De Valera’s Minister of Defence in the Dail was a man known as Cathal Brugha and he resented the popularity that Collins had with the Volunteers.  It was Brugha who changed the Volunteers and declared the Army of the Irish Republican Army. Micahel Collins was to become the Commander of this newly formed Irish Republican Army (IRA) and they attacked in the main the Royal Irish Constabulary and the Army.

Britain responded to the setting up of this army with violence and special forces were sent over to put martial law in place.  These forces became known as the “Black and Tans” after a very popular Limerick hunt group, and from their uniform of dark green and khaki uniforms.  They were joined by another force called “The Auxillaries” known for their exploits in the Great War.

It was inevitable that a pattern would be established of murder and reprisals.  The IRA employed guerilla tactics using what were known as “flying columns” to fight these forces. The IRB and the IRA had not been popular with the Irish people generally when they had been attacking the RIC, but due to the savageness of the Crown forces, these new attacks on the British found acceptance.  Each and every reprisal that took place from the Crown forces embedded within the Irish people that the British were indeed the oppressors of the Irish people.

In November 1920 Collins and his squad assassinated 14 British soldiers and in reprisal the Black and Tans fired on a crowd watching a football match in Croke Park.  Twelve people lost their lives including one player.

The IRA in 1921

In May 1921 the IRA set on fire the Custom House in Dublin but the entire Dublin IRA brigade was arrested by the Crown forces.  The IRA was by this time virtually on their knees but the Bristish were also demoralised with public opinion dreadfully against them for their continued reprisals. This began what became known as the Treaty Talks.

A truce was signed and De Valera held exploratory talks with the British Prime Minister Lloyd George.  These broke down because Lloyd George would not agree to the setting up of an Irish Republic.  In September 1921 de Valera was elected President of the Irish Republic and he now wished to negotiate as a representative of a sovereign state.  George would not recognise this and again refused.  The position of Lloyd George remained that he would only discuss as to how Ireland could reconcile their national aspirations within a framework of nations collectively known as the British Empire.

De Valera knew that his dream of either a Republic or a United Ireland could not be won at any such conference with the British and he refused to attend.  Instead de Valera sent Collins and Arthur Griffiths, despite neither of these wishing to attend.  Many consider this to be the worst decision ever made by de Valera.  Collins viewed himself as a soldier and neither he nor Griffiths were experienced negotiators.

They went nonetheless and the position soon became clear that including Ulster in any idea of a United Ireland was not up for discussion, and the general principle of the British Empire remained.  Collins did however hope that a boundary commission could be drawn up for Ulster and would include Fermanagh and Tyrone in any newly formed Free State.

Despite knowing that a treaty like this would be very unpopular in Ireland, Collins reckoned it was at least a step towards Irish independence and was better than an all out war, which he knew they could not win. De Valera resigned and was replaced by Griffiths with Collins elected as Chairman of a new Provisional government.

The Civil War

The IRA instantly split into pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty forces.  Many did follow Collins and Richard Mulcahy the Minister of Defence transformed the pro-Treaty troops into the Free State Army.  The anti-Treaty troops then became known as the Irregulars.  Collins did try everything he knew to avoid this civil war but in this he failed.

He also made a highly controversial decision by arming both the pro and anti-Treaty troops in the North of Ireland, and all this served to achieve was a legitimisation of the anti-Treaty troops in the Free State.  The Civil War broke out and in Dublin Cathal Brugha was killed.  Griffths also died from a brain haemorrhage in 1922.  The Civil War lasted for 10 months before the better equipped Free State forces drove the Irregulars from the towns and cities.

Michael Collin’s Death

Collins was ill from a stomach ache and also was suffering from a cold but decided to visit his own troops in the county of Cork where he was born.  He was advised against this but was convinced the Irregulars would not shoot him in his own county.  His convoy was ambushed but there was just one single death, that of Collins.

His death remains controversial to this day, many believing that it was the work of the Irregulars whereas others are convinced he was killed by his own men.  He became known as the “Big Fellow” and his body was shipped to Dublin where it lay in state for three days.  Tens of thousands paid their respects before he was buried in Glasnevin.

I would now recommend that you read about the Irish War of Independence