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Friday, October 29, 2010

History Essay: Michael Collins

Michael Collins by CircleGuy
Michael Collins was born in October 1890 in Sam's Cross, West Cork. His father, also named Michael, was a member of the rebublican Fenian movement, but he had settled to take care of his family. After leaving school, Michael Collins (jr.) went to London where he worked for the Royal Mail. While there he lived with his older sister and attended King's College London. He joined the London Gaa, and through this, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), a secret oath-bound organisation dedicated to achieving Irish independance.

Before the Easter Rising of 1916 he moved back to Ireland. He became well known during the Rising as a skilled organiser of considerable intelligence, and was highly respected among the IRB. He fought alongside Patrick Pearse in the General Post Office (GPO) in Dublin. The Rising was a complete failure, as it was certain to do. Collins extremely disagreed with Pearse's tactics, such as seizing indefensible and vulnerable positions like St.Stephen's Green, which was impossible to escape from and difficult to supply. Collins, like many of the remaining volunteers, was arrested (nearly executed) and imprisioned in Frongach Internment Camp in Wales. Here he solidified his place as one of the major members of the new movement and the Sinn Féin party, which had been wrongly blamed for the Rising.
Like all senior Sinn Féin members, Collins was nominated in the 1918 for the Westminster elections. He won for Sinn Féin, becoming the MP for Cork South. However, he and other Sinn Féin MPs didn't take their seats in London, instead forming a new parliament in Dublin. This new parliament, named Dáil Éirinn, met in the Mansion House, Dublin in January 1919. Cathal Brugha was named the President of the Dáil in the absence of Eamonn de Valera. This lasted until April 1919, when Collins helped de Valera escape from Lincoln Prison.
Collins had a number of roles in 1919. He was elected head of the IRB and he was made Director of Intelligence of the Irish Republican Army, as the Volunteers had come to be known. The War of Independance began on the same day as the first Dáil met, when 2 policemen were shot in an ambush in Soloheadbeg, Co.Tipperary. He was appointed as Minister for Finance by de Valera, and it was now his job to raise money for the Republic. He was able to organise a large bond issue in the form of a National Loan to fund the Republic. The finances were so well done that the Russian Republic, in the midst of it's civil war, offered the Russian Crown Jewels as collateral for a national loan. He also created a secret group, called "The Squad", which carried out assassinations on key British personal who were hunting Collins. He organised special groups of IRA guerilla fighters called Flying Columns, the most famous of these being Tom Barry's Column of West Cork. In 1920, the British offered a bounty of £10,000 for information leading to the capture or death of Collins. His fame had become so great that he was nicknamed "The Big Fellow".
Following the truce of July 1921, arrangement was made for a conference between the British government and the yet unrecognised Irish Republic. Other than the Soviet Union, no other state gave recognition to the Republic, despite lobbying in Washington by de Valera. In August 1921, de Valera had the Dáil promote his office from Prime Minister to President of the Irish Republic, which made him the equivalent to King George V in the negotiations. When George V pulled out of the negotiations however, so did de Valera. Instead, with the reluctant agreement of his cabinet, de Valera nominated a team of delegates headed by Arthur Griffith, with Collins as his deputy. While Collins thought that de Valera should lead the delegation, he agreed to go to London.
Collins himself protested his appointment as envoy plenipotentiary (the one who had power on the envoy), as he was not a statesman and his revelation to the British would reduce his effectiveness as a guerilla leader if the war continued. He knew that the treaty, in particular to the issue of partition, would not be well received back in Ireland, and upon signing the treaty he said "I have signed my own death warrant". The negotiations resulted in the Anglo-Irish Treaty which was signed on December 6th 1921. It created a new 26 County state known as the Irish Free State (the other 6 had be set partitioned in the earlier Government of Ireland Act). The new state was a Dominion state of the Commonwealth of Great Britain, which meant it handled all policies which had to be authorised by the King. Republicans saw it as sell-out, with the replacement of the Republic (which, according to them, was established in 1916) with Dominion status within the British Empire. The main problem with Dominion status was that to be elected into government, you had to swear an allegance to the King, and the Republicans felt they had already made an oath to the Republic in 1916. Sinn Féin, and as a result, the IRA split over the Treaty, and the Dáil debated it bitterly for ten days until it was approved by a vote of 64 to 57. De Valera joined the anti-treaty side opposing the Free State. He was very unhappy that Collins had signed the treaty without his authorisation.
When de Valera resigned as President, Arthur Griffith replaced him. He named Collins as "President of the Provisional Government" (Prime Minister), and he also remained as Minister for Finance.
The partition between the Free State and Northern Ireland wasn't as controversial. One reason for this is that Collins was secretly planning to launch a full-scale guerrilla war against the North. Collins and IRA Chief of Staff Liam Lynch organised an offensive of both Pro and Anti Treaty IRA along the border. It was called off under British pressure on 3 June. Had he survived, it was likely he would have launched that full-scale war on the North, and because of this willingness, the majority of the IRA in the North supported Collins and even went South to join the Free State Army during the Civil War.
In the months leading up to the civil war, Collins tried to appease the Anti-Treaty side and heal the rift between them. He proposed a coalition government to be installed in the next election, and that the Free State would have a "republican" constitution, which would have no mention of the King. This was rejected by the British, as they thought it was too soon after the Treaty was signed to change it. Collins was therefore unable to reconcile with the Anti-Treaty side and Civil War was inevitable.
On 14 April 1922, a group of 200 Anti-Treaty IRA men occupied the Four Courts in Dublin in defiance of the Free State. Collins, who wanted to avoid Civil War at all costs, didn't attack them until June 1922, when British pressure forced him to. On 22 June 1922, Sir Henry Wilson, Military Adviser to James Craig, was shot by two IRA men in London. It was presumed that it was the Anti-Treaty IRA, but it was infact two former members of Collins' Squad. Winston Churchill, British PM, told Collins that if he didn't move against the IRA in the Four Courts, he would. After one last attempt to persuade the men to leave failed, the Free State shelled the Four Courts with artillery borrowed from the British. This led to fighting in the streets of Dublin, which brought back memories of the 1916 Rising. Soon the Free Staters took control of Dublin.
Although they had control of Dublin and the surrounding counties, the Anti-Treaty IRA had control over Munster. To retake Munster they had to sail from Dublin and land in Republican controlled areas. As part of this operation Collins visited his native Cork, against the advice of his closest companions. Collins told them "They wouldn't shoot me in my own county." It has been suggested that he was there to propose a truce with Tom Barry and other Anti-Treaty IRA leaders.
On the road to Bandon in Béal na mBláth, Collins' party had stopped to ask directions, however the man they asked was a member of the local Anti-Treaty IRA. An ambush was prepared for their return journey, as the only other roads from Bandon to Cork were made impassable by the Anti-Treaty IRA. Most of the ambush party went to a nearby pub, but the 5 who remained opened fire on the convoy. Instead of fleeing in his car or going into an adjacent armoured car, Collins ordered his men to stop and return fire. He was shot, and his body was loaded into the touring car and driven back to Cork. From here it was shipped to Dublin where his funeral took place, where 500,000 people attended, nearly one fifth of the country's population.
The civil war did not carry on for longer after Collins death. What Collins did in the War of Independance, to the Treaty negotiations and in the civil war affected Irish life and politics for the next 90 years.

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