Clonakilty, in County Cork in 1890.He was the third son and the youngest of eight . His father, also called Michael Collins,
was 75 years of when Michael was born. On his deathbed the father pointed
to his youngest child and urged his family to mind Michael because, 'One day he'll be a great man. He'll do
great work for .' Michael was 6
years of age at the time.
During those six years Michael had been greatly influenced by his father, who
his children to learn ballads and poetry. West Cork was the of Fenianism, the Irish nationalist movement
founded in the 19th . Jermiah
O'Donovan Rossa, one of its founders, had been a in a school in Rosscarberry, three miles away from the Collins
Michael's own teacher, Denis Lyons, was a member of the Fenian organisation, the IRB
(Irish Republican Brotherhood) and was to prove an
inspirational . The local
blacksmith, James Santry, was also a .
Young Michael would often call to his forge to hear stories of earlier Irish in 1798 and 1848. Years later Michael
Collins was to recall that,
"In Denis Lyons and James Santry I had my first tutors capable of, because of
their alone, infusing into
me of the Irish as a race."
As a child Michael also read widely. He was familiar with Shakespeare and the
of the 19th century.
Every week he read the nationalist "The Freeman's Weekly" and "The Leader". When only 11
years of age Michael began to to
'The United Irishman', edited by Arthur Griffith. Almost 20 years later, Griffith and
Michael Collins would be the
most important Irish representatives in the Treaty with Britain. Griffith was the founder of Sinn Fein, a
nationalist party that exists to this day.
At that time Sinn Fein was not a republican party. Griffith believed that a Republic
was and that Home Rule, which
the constitutional nationalists ,
was inadequate. His goal was an Ireland
with the same monarch as England. While this did not accord with the Fenian view, Griffith
did have a profound influence on the young Michael Collins. At the age of 12 he wrote,
"In Arthur Griffith there is a mighty in Ireland. He has none of the wildness of some I could name. Instead there
is an abundance of and an
awareness of things which are Ireland."
The young Michael Collins was a keen sportsman. He played the local game of road
. He enjoyed the Irish game , and was fond of fishing. But it was his
prowess as a wrestler for which Michael was noted. He took on all comers, and rougher
bouts usually ended with Collins biting the of his opponent. Later during the War of Independence he would often break
the mounting tension by insisting on "a bit of ear", as he called it, with
In July 1906, at the age of 15, Michael Collins emigrated to London where he worked as
in West Kensington Post
Office. He quickly found his feet in the strong Irish in London. He joined the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), the
Gaelic League, which promoted the revival of the Irish , and Sinn Fein. In November 1909 he was inducted into the Irish
Republican Brotherhood (IRB). At this time the IRB was in decline, but the failure of the
Irish Parliamentary Party (IPP) to achieve Home Rule through means attracted younger members to the organisation. Shortly
after joining the IRB Michael left the Post Office and took up a post with a stockbroking
company and later he worked in the Whitehall Labour Exchange. Finally, before to Ireland, he worked briefly with an
American firm, the Guaranty Trust Company.
Outside of work Collins wrote papers on Irish history and current
events. The question had now moved to the centre of the political stage.
The election results of 1910 gave the IPP the balance of power and its leader, John
Redmond, demanded the of Home
Rule. The Home Rule Bill, which came before the House of Commons in April 1912, met with
stiff from the Ulster
Unionists. Under the Home Rule scenario they feared that the Protestant culture would lose
out to the Catholic nationalist .
In 1913 the Ulster Unionist leader, Sir Edward Carson, organised the Ulster into the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and
threatened to set up a government
in Belfast if Home Rule was introduced. Nationalists in Dublin by forming the Irish Volunteers. Although
founded by Eoin O'Neill, a professor in University College Dublin, IRB members were active
behind the . Seeing the , Redmond managed to gain control of the
executive of the Irish Volunteers. With the outbreak of the First World War, Redmond in the House of Commons that the Volunteers
and the UVF come together to Ireland
against invasion. With the question of Home Rule now deferred until after the war, the
Irish Volunteers into two camps.
The majority followed Redmond's advice and joined the British war effort in the hope
of Home Rule, while a minority
dominated by the IRB stayed at home to organise rebellion.