Childhood & Early Life
His tombstone depicts October 12, 1890, as his birthday although many sources mention it as October 16, 1890. He was born as the youngest child and third son of Michael John and Mary Anne O'Brien in Woodfield, Sam's Cross (presently ‘Michael Collins Birthplace’), in County Cork, Ireland.
His father was a farmer and member of the IRB movement. In fact, republican links of his family trace back to the 1798 rebellion.
Collins, a sharp and intelligent boy had a feeling of Irish nationalism ingrained in him since childhood. His inspirations remained local blacksmith, James Santry whose family took part in the 1798, 1848 and 1867 rebellions and his Lisavaird National School headmaster Denis Lyons, a member of IRB.
He studied at ‘Clonakilty National School’ from 13 years of age staying with his sister Margaret and her better-half Patrick O'Driscoll. He assisted O'Driscoll, the founder of ‘The West Cork People’ newspaper with reporting and other newspaper jobs.
In February 1906 he appeared in the British Civil Service exam in Cork and relocated to London at his elder sister Hannie’s home. There he started serving Blythe House Post Office Savings Bank.
In 1910 he joined ‘Home and Company’ in London as a messenger. Meanwhile he studied law at King's College London.
He got introduced to the IRB in his teens by republican Sam Maguire. He joined Guaranty Trust Company of New York in 1915. Next year he came back to Ireland and joined ‘Craig Gardiner & Co’ as a part-timer.
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‘Easter Rising’ that commenced on Easter Monday in April 1916 in Ireland saw him serving as aide-de-camp of Joseph Mary Plunkett (a member of the IRB Military Committee that was responsible for devising armed insurrection) at the Dublin GPO that remained headquarters of the uprising's leaders.
He was confined with thousands of others at the Frongoch internment camp in Wales and later released with other Frongoch prisoners in December 1916. Gradually he became a prominent figure in the independence movement.
Following his release, he was made Secretary to the ‘National Aid and Volunteers Dependents Fund’ (NAVDF) and many secret organisational data and contacts were forwarded to him.
By late 1917, he became a member of the executive of the organisation founded by Arthur Griffith called Sinn Féin in 1905. The main objective of this group was to unite different groups struggling for Irish independence movement.
The 1918 general elections saw Sinn Féin winning 73 seats out of 105 in Ireland.
Elected candidates of Sinn Féin declined to acknowledge Parliament of the United Kingdom and instead set up a revolutionary, unicameral parliament of the Irish Republic called ‘Dáil Éireann’ on January 21, 1919. The First Dáil was set up and the Irish War of Independence began on that day.
Collins, an elected Sinn Féin MP for Cork South was inducted as Minister for Finance in 1919 by Éamon de Valera, the Príomh Aire that is 'President of Dáil Éireann who was elected president of Sinn Féin in 1917.
Collins became President of IRB and in September 1919 he became Director of Intelligence of IRA, the official armed force of Ireland. He also became Adjutant General and Director of Organisation of the Volunteers.
He directed guerrilla warfare of IRA in response to attempts by the British to suppress Irish republican movement and also developed ‘The Squad’, a dedicated unit to kill British agents and informers thus disabling British intelligence system in Ireland and put in a potent Irish network in its place.
A truce was agreed with Britain in July 1921. The Irish delegation was led by Collins at the peace conference held in London resulting in the Anglo-Irish Treaty that was signed on December 6, 1921.
The treaty resulted in emergence of Irish Free State with 6 northern counties, mainly the Unionist ones choosing to remain under the Crown and outside the Free State. However, the republican movement by that time was fractioned into the ones opposing the treaty and the ones supporting it.
On January 16, 1922, the Provisional Government of Ireland took to office and Collins became the Chairman of the Provisional Government Cabinet while retaining his position as Finance Minister.
In pursuit of re-kindling armed conflict with the British, 200 Anti-Treaty IRA men led by Rory O'Connor overpowered Four Courts and other buildings in central Dublin on April 14, 1922.
Collins ordered bombardment of the courts with artillery shells to ouster the members of the Anti-Treaty IRA which marked the beginning of the Irish Civil War. In July 1922 he relinquished his position as Chairman of the Provisional Government so as to serve as Commander-in-Chief of the National Army.
Later he made efforts to initiate peace talks to re-unify the virtuous forces who struggled for Irish Independence through negotiations; however his assassination in an ambush in County Cork by Anti-Treaty forces on August 22, 1922, as also death of Griffith led to the end of such efforts of Free State.