Michael Collins is a name that bears a great deal of pride with it in Ireland. In his short 31 years, this man accomplished so much for a country with but one goal, true independence. In the battle for Irish independence from the British Commonwealth, Michael Collins was always at the forefront. He began as just a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a strong Irish nationalist group, but throughout his years he quickly progressed and became not only a strong military leader but also an important part of treaty negotiations.
Collins’ first testament to his devotion to the cause of Irish independence was the Easter Rising of 1916. In 1916, Collins had just returned from London where he had attended King’s College and had joined the IRB. Shortly after his return home, he was involved in the Easter Rising in Dublin during Easter Week 1916. This rising was ultimately a military failure for the Irish, as they were greatly outnumbered by the British forces, but many saw it as a victory for the Irish in that a rising had happened at all. Collins did not see it this way. He observed the military leadership and tactics of those around him and would later tweak and adjust them and ultimately become a military success. Collins’ use of critical reflection on the tactics used in the rising allowed him to cripple the British forces during the Irish War of Independence by realizing that the best way to combat the large numbers of British soldiers was guerilla warfare.
The promise and prominence Collins showed as a military leader was cause for Eamon de Valera, the president of the revolutionary government, the Irish Republic, to appoint Collins to take part in treaty negotiations with the British to end the War of Independence. Collins was a realist and understood that there was no chance of the British granting true freedom to Ireland and understood the best that could be done at this time was to receive, as Collins called it, “Not freedom but the power to achieve freedom.” This meant that Ireland would be come a self-governing state but still part of the British Commonwealth. Collins always stood firmly by his beliefs and what he thought to have the best consequences. After signing the treaty, Collins understood the implications of it and the divide it would bring to the country. He stated, upon signing the treaty, “I may have signed my actual death warrant.” When Collins returned to Ireland after treaty negotiations, the country we deeply divided.
Shortly after the treaty was signed, the country broke out into a Civil War, with those supporting the treaty pitted against those who opposed it because Ireland was not officially free yet. Collins lived up to his quality of standing by his beliefs by commanding the pro-treaty side. On August 22nd, anti-treaty IRA members attacked Collins’ convoy and he chose to stop and face them instead of the viable option of escaping. Collins was killed in the resulting gun battle, but his work on achieving a certain level of freedom for Ireland was never forgotten, and was the cornerstone when crafting the New Constitution of Ireland in 1937 that officially made it a free state.
Few leaders in Ireland will ever possess the legacy that Michael Collins does. Collins, the military leader, the treaty negotiator, the staunch realist will always be remember in Ireland as the man who achieved so much for the country’s freedom in so little time he had here.