Are the Irish proud of the IRA

Michael Collins - Terrorism Strategist

Restless mind

Michael Collins (Irish: Micheál Ó Coileáin) was born on October 18, 1890 in Clonakilty, southern Ireland, as the youngest of eight children. His father, then 75, was a farmer.

Michael grew up with a close family bond. In elementary school, Rector Denis Lyons attested the mathematically gifted and attentive boy a "great interest in political issues with an above-average interest in things that affect the welfare of his country".

But the rector also observed a "restlessness of mind" in his pupil. Michael Collins lived this out in all kinds of sporting activities - especially in spontaneous wrestling matches and in Gaelic football, an Irish version of football.

His friends experienced the character of the tall, dark-haired man as contradicting one another: On the one hand, he is described as a cheerful young man who always felt like a joke. Warm-hearted, thoughtful, and generous are other traditional traits.

On the other hand, there are reports of thoughtlessness, selfishness and a tyrannical behavior towards inferior people.

Nation outpost

After school, Michael Collins embarked on a career in civil service. At the age of 16 he moved to London and took up a position at the state postal savings bank "Post Office Savings Bank".

From 1910 he worked for a stockbroker for four years, and then until 1915 he worked as a clerk at the state employment agency in Whitehall. Most recently, until his return to Ireland in 1916, the ambitious Collins made a name for himself in finance as an employee at the London branch of the Guarantee Trust Company of New York.

Michael Collins, like his Irish friends, had never integrated into British society. "We saw ourselves as an outpost of the nation," he told his biographer Hayden Talbot. And: "We were proud of our isolation and kept it up to the end."

The young Irishman was all the more involved in the activities of his compatriots. In 1907, for example, he eagerly collected money to support Sinn Féin, founded in 1905 by his idol Arthur Griffith. The aim of the new party was the independence of Ireland from Great Britain.

As an active party member, Collins gave radical lectures at meetings. He called for the abolition of the clergy and accused England of deliberately causing the great famine of 1847.

In 1909 Michael Collins joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and later became Treasurer of the County of Southern England. As a kind of forerunner of the later Irish Republican Army (IRA), the IRB fought for the national freedom of Ireland in the form of an independent republic.

At this point, Collins moved away from the Sinn Féin principle of nonviolence. For him, the only way to solve the Irish question was by force.

From the Easter Rising to Captivity

When the IRB and the Irish Volunteer Force (IVF) planned an uprising in Ireland against British rule, Michael Collins returned to Ireland in 1916.

On Easter Sunday, April 24, 1916, the rebels wanted to proclaim the Republic of Ireland. The English bloodily put down the revolt that went down in history as the Easter Rising.

Collins was imprisoned with around 1,800 other Irish people. From his captivity in the north Welsh camp of Frongoch, Collins analyzed the failure of the uprising: It was foolish to oppose the British armed forces in direct confrontation and to concentrate the forces only on one area. The next opportunity had to be more broadly based.

Terrorist methods used by an intelligence chief

Immediately after his release from Frongoch in late December 1916, Collins went as treasurer to the Dublin welfare organization Irish National Aid and Volunteers, which supported the Irish rebels and their families financially. He put a lot of energy into the more efficient organization of the IRB and IVF.

In 1919 the latter was renamed the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Michael Collins continued to build a secret service within the IRA that he had already started with the Irish Volunteer Force.

As Treasury Secretary of the Irish Provisional Government, which was banned by the British, it was Collins' main task to organize money for the struggle for Ireland's independence. Irish government bonds, also banned by England, were the method of choice.

The way in which Collins promoted these bonds among the Irish people is exemplary of the methods used by the IRA man.

Collins initially had a commercial for the bonds shot. With this, armed IRA units stormed the cinemas in Ireland. The projectionists were forced to show the film at gunpoint. In Collins's view, terror was the only effective weapon against the British Empire.

On the one hand, he put the IRA secret service on strategically important English statesmen and had them murdered. On the other hand, he also thought arbitrary terror was useful: IRA people shot police officers indiscriminately on Collins' instructions - simply because they represented England.

The murder of Constable Mulhern in Cork aroused particular disgust among the population. He was shot dead in the Catholic Church during Sunday mass in 1920.

His fate: too clumsy on the political floor

Sinn Féin founder Arthur Griffith described Michael Collins as the "man who won the war," by which he meant the Anglo-Irish war from 1919 to 1921.

In fact, Michael Collins, as head of the Irish Volunteers organization and as head of the IRA's intelligence service, used guerrilla tactics to get the British government to make an offer of a ceasefire to the Irish independence movement.

He also headed the Irish delegation that negotiated with the then British War Minister Winston Churchill for Ireland's freedom.

Finally, on December 6, 1921, Michael Collins signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which sealed the division of Ireland into the independent Irish Free State in the south and Northern Ireland, which remained part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

Collins commented on his signature: "I may have signed my actual death warrant."

Michael Collins was popular with his supporters for his charismatic demeanor, but he was not a political leader. Rather, Collins looked with contempt at those who seek political independence for Ireland. As an organizational talent and strategist, he was able to operate efficiently from underground.

But his inability to assert himself in the political struggle for power was his undoing. His companion Eamon de Valera - the head of government elected by the Irish parliament Dáil Éireann - resented him at times for enjoying a higher popularity and respect among the Irish people than he himself.

Quite a few political comrades accused Michael Collins of not having reached an agreement by signing the Anglo-Irish Treaty, but of betraying Ireland.

On August 12, 1922, Sinn Féin founder Arthur Griffith died, and at his funeral, Collins was warned by Bishop Fogarty: "Michael, you should be prepared - you could be next."

In fact, Collins died just days after that. On August 22, 1922, his car was ambushed in West Cork. The shooting lasted 40 minutes, then a bullet hit Collins behind the right ear. Collins was dead. He was buried on August 28, 1922 in the city of Glasnevin.