Michael Collins was born in Clonakilty, Ireland on the 16th of October 1890, to Michael John Collins and Marianne (O'Brien) Collins. He grew up in this part of Ireland, near Cork, went to school and worked as a journalist writing sporting reviews for local newspapers until he was fifteen. At that age he moved to London to work for the Gaelic Athletic Association. Throughout his childhood he had heard stories of persecution and terrible actions that the English took upon the Irish from men at work, teachers in school, and family members as well. By the time he moved to London he had with him credentials to become a postal worker, a love for sport, and a growing interest in the struggles for an Irish Republic.
In London Collins worked at the Postal Savings bank in west Kensington with one of his sisters until 1910, when he began to start working in the field of stockbroking. Also, his time in London saw him become highly involved in the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), through participation in sports like hurling and Gaelic football. Through the GAA Collins became quickly acquainted with the Irish community in London and basically alienated himself to the English community, unless business demanded otherwise. The great importance Michael Collins put on his Irish heritage even before he came to England grew vastly in his time there, and eventually led him to enter as a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1909. As time past, this began to be the item of sole importance in his life, no matter how hopeful success in the business world became; as shown by a writing he once made, "However happy I happen to be in a particular job, the thought is always with me that my future is otherwise than among the facts and figures of money. Yet I do not really dream of greater things . . . only the thought is always there." (Coogan, Collins 17) Eventually, Collins became very well known and highly respected throughout the IRB and took the position of treasurer of the London and Southern England sections. By 1915 he began to feel the tension that was growing in Ireland and new that he was going to have to return home and join in the fight that was about to spark up in grand military fashion. Even though he had some thoughts in the back of his mind about going to America to work along side his brother in Chicago, he knew that his real calling was to go back home and help his fellow Irishmen and IRB brothers fight for the home rule that they so desired for Ireland which kept being taken from their grasps.
The reason he had returned to Dublin was clear to Collins and he joined his fellow Irish Republican Brotherhood members to launch a planned take over of the Dublin General Post Office on Monday, April 24,1916. Before this Easter Rising took place however, forces had to be gathered. So while waiting for enough volunteers to flock form the rest of Ireland to Dublin for the uprising, and for final planning to be finished, Michael Collins went to work for the Plunkett family in their family bookstore. Also, Collins joined the Gaelic League, which was an organisation that stressed Irish pride through its Gaelic Language and culture. This was a league where many Irish rebels could be found as members at the time. When the time finally came to follow through with the planned uprising, ammunition supplies, men, and national pride were very low, but Collins and his fellow rebels including James Connolly, Padraig Pearse, Thomas Clarke, Joseph Plunkett, and Eamon DeValera all felt the need to revive that sense of national pride, and decided to follow through with a battle that they expected to lose. Although Collins was not the head of the take over, he did speak words that are remembered by many as inspirational upon entrance into the GPO when helped to tie up an english police officer and told him not to worry because the IRB does not shoot prisoners.(Coogan, Collins 39)
After the Rising was over the British took all of the rebel leaders captive, including Collins, and executed seventeen of them. Collins avoided execution but he spent several long months in the Frongoch internment camp along with many other Irish Rebels. While in prison Collins began to gain popularity as a leader among the other rebels (as did another hero of the Easter Rising that had a love/hate relationship with Collins in the years following named Eamon DeValera at Lewes prison), and led them through hunger strikes that would eventually aid in acquiring early releases for the prisoners. In December of 1916 Collins went home with one thing in his mind, revive the IRB and gain Irish Independence. By 1917 Collins had acheived positions of high power in both the Sinn Feinn and the IRB, and used his new power to help organize military and political attacks on the British. In 1919 he even conceived a plan, which he acted out himself, to break Eamon DeValera out of prison. These type of actions eventually made him a marked man by the British government. Michael Collins became the president of the IRB in December of 1920 and commanded rebel troops all over the country in guerrilla attacks on the British, which persisted until July of 1921. On July 12th Eammonn DeValera went to England to begin talks with the British Prime Minister Lloyd George that would hopefully lead to an Irish Republic. These talks did not go well. When arrangements were made again for peace talks, DeValera knew that his arguement for an Irish Republic would not be recognized, thus he sent Michael Collins and another leader (Arthur Griffith) to do the negotiating. Both men objected, believing that they were not capable for the negotiating, but were voted in by the Cabinet of the newly formed Irish Republic government.
After the negotiations were completed, Collins had signed a treaty that gave Ireland a Republic, excluding the Northern province of Ulster (which remained under complete British rule). Collins knew that this treaty would not be acceptable to many of his comrades in Ireland, however he believed that it would bring Ireland closer to the complete freedom that was not possible at the time. He was quoted to have said,"...I tell you, I have signed my death warrant." after signing the Treaty. (Barrett, Collins, 4) A civil war then broke out in Ireland as a response to the Treaty, with anti-treaty troops being led by Eamon DeValera, and pro-treaty fighters being led by Collins under his new title of Commander-in-chief of the Irish National Army. After much fighting Collins and his men had forced the anti-treatiests, called Irregulars, out of the main Irish cities and into the southwestern regions of the country.
On August 22, 1922 Michael Collins was killed while trying to, many believe, bring the civil war in Ireland to an end through talking to people in towns around his home in Clonakilty. He and some of his fellow fighters were ambushed while passing through a place called Beal Na Mblath, however Collins was the only man slain. Mystery still surrounds his death to this day. Some wonder if Irregulars were responsible, and others speculate that his own men might have killed him. Many feel that DeValera gave the orders for his murder. To this day, the killer of this great Irish patriot is unknown.