Prelude to the Easter Rising of 1916

Prelude to the Easter Rising of 1916
The Signatories of the Proclamation

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Michael Collins

Michael Collins

We spoke of Michael Collins in the 1916 Rising. However, Michael survived the Rising and was involved in "The Troubles (the 1922 Civil War).

Michael ("Mick") Collins (Irish: Mícheál Ó Coileáin; 16 October 1890 – 22 August 1922) was an Irish revolutionary leader, Minister for Finance and MP for Cork South in the First Dáil of 1919, Director of Intelligence for the IRA, and member of the Irish delegation during the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations. Subsequently he was both Chairman of the Provisional Government and Commander-in-chief of the National Army. Throughout this time, at least as of 1919, he was also President of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He was shot and killed in August 1922, during the Irish Civil War.

Although most Irish political parties recognise his contribution to the foundation of the modern Irish state, supporters of Fine Gael hold his memory in particular esteem, regarding him as their movement's founding father, through his link to their precursor Cumann na nGaedhael. Like all senior Sinn Féin members, Collins was nominated in the 1918 general election to elect Irish MPs to the British House of Commons in London. As was the case throughout much of Ireland (with many seats uncontested), Collins won for Sinn Féin, becoming MP for Cork South. However, unlike their rivals in the Irish Parliamentary Party, Sinn Féin MPs had announced that they would not take their seats in Westminster, but instead would set up an Irish Parliament in Dublin.

That new parliament, called Dáil Éireann (meaning "Assembly of Ireland", see First Dáil) met in the Mansion House, Dublin in January 1919, although De Valera and leading Sinn Féin MPs had been arrested. Collins, tipped off by his network of spies, had warned his colleagues of the dangers of arrest; de Valera and others ignored the warnings, believing if the arrests happened they would constitute a propaganda coup. In de Valera's absence, Cathal Brugha was elected Príomh Aire ('Main' or 'Prime', Minister', but often translated as 'President of Dáil Éireann'), to be replaced by de Valera, when Collins helped him escape from Lincoln Prison in April 1919.

In 1919, Collins had a number of roles. That summer he was elected president of the IRB (and therefore, in the doctrine of that organisation, de jure President of the Irish Republic). In September he was made Director of Intelligence of the Irish Republican Army, as the Volunteers had come to be known (the organisation's claim to be the army of the Irish Republic was ratified in January 1919). The Irish War of Independence in effect began on the same day that the First Dáil met on 21 January 1919, when an ambush party of IRA volunteers acting without orders and led by Seán Treacy, attacked a group of Royal Irish Constabulary men who were escorting a consignment of gelignite to a quarry in Soloheadbeg, County Tipperary. Two policemen were shot dead during the engagement and the ambush is considered to be the first action taken in the Irish War of Independence.

On 14 April 1922, a group of 200 anti-Treaty IRA men occupied the Four Courts in Dublin in defiance of the Provisional government. Collins, who wanted to avoid civil war at all costs, did not attack them until June 1922, needing to know the result of the general election which proved favourable to his party. British pressure also forced his hand. On 22 June 1922, Sir Henry Wilson, a retired British Army field marshal now serving as Military Advisor to the Craig Administration, was shot dead by two IRA men in Belgravia, London. At the time, it was presumed that the anti-Treaty faction of the IRA were responsible and Winston Churchill told Collins that unless he moved against the Four Courts garrison, he (Churchill) would use British troops to do so.

It has since been claimed that Collins ordered the killing of Wilson in reprisal for failing to prevent the attacks on Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland. Joe Dolan — a member of Collins' "Squad" or assassination unit in the War of Independence and in 1922 a captain in the National Army — said this in the 1950s, along with the statement that Collins had ordered him to try to rescue the two gunmen before they were executed. In any event, this forced Collins to take action against the Four Courts men and the final provocation came when they kidnapped J.J. "Ginger" O'Connell, a provisional government general. After a final attempt to persuade the men to leave, Collins borrowed two 18 pounder artillery pieces from the British and bombarded the Four Courts until its garrison surrendered.

This led to the Irish Civil War as fighting broke out in Dublin between the anti-Treaty IRA and the provisional government's troops. Under Collins' supervision, the Free State rapidly took control of the capital. In July 1922, anti-Treaty forces held the southern province of Munster and several other areas of the country. De Valera and the other anti-Treaty TDs sided with the anti-Treaty IRA. By mid-1922, Collins in effect laid down his responsibilities as Chairman of the Provisional Government to become Commander-in-Chief of the National Army, a formal, structured, uniformed army that formed around the nucleus of the pro-Treaty IRA. The Free State Army that was armed and funded by the British was rapidly expanded with Irish veterans of the British Army and young men unassociated with the Volunteers during the war to fight the civil war.

Collins, along with Richard Mulcahy and Eoin O'Duffy decided on a series of seaborne landings into republican held areas that re-took Munster and the west in July-August 1922. As part of this offensive, Collins travelled to his native Cork, against the advice of his companions, and despite suffering from stomach ache and depression. Collins reputedly told his comrades that "They wouldn't shoot me in my own county."

It has been questioned why Collins put himself in such danger by visiting the south of the country while much of it was still held by hostile forces. What historian Michael Hopkinson describes as 'plentiful oral evidence' suggests that Collins' purpose was to meet Republican leaders in order to bring the war to an end. In Cork city, he met with neutral IRA men Seán O'Hegarty and Florrie O'Donoghue, with a view to contacting Anti-Treaty IRA leaders Tom Barry and Tom Hales to propose a truce. Hopkinson asserts though that, although Éamon de Valera was in west Cork at the time, "there is no evidence that there was any prospect of a meeting between de Valera and Collins."

Collins' personal diary outlined his plan for peace. Republicans must 'accept the People's Verdict' on the Treaty, but could then 'go home without their arms. We don't ask for any surrender of their principles'. He argued that the Provisional Government was upholding 'the people's rights' and would continue to do so. 'We want to avoid any possible unnecessary destruction and loss of life. We do not want to mitigate their weakness by resolute action beyond what is required'. But if Republicans did not accept his terms, 'further blood is on their shoulders'.

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