It was inspiring to see how successful the 100th anniversary of Michael Collins’ death was. Certainly the assassination of the “Lost Leader” at the age of 31 was a tragedy – and yet a century later his life was also the source of celebration and national pride.
Speaking at a Collins 22 luncheon at Wynn’s Hotel on Monday, Enda Kenny said Collins laid the foundation for modern Ireland and that what the country has achieved since then he owes much to his patriotism.
And it’s striking how close Collins is to different generations: he comes across as a man of history who also comes across as so contemporary. His practicality in organizational and especially in financial matters deserves special mention. Historian Michael Doran explained at an event in Clonakilty that when the provisional government ran out of funds, Collins borrowed from the people by issuing bonds – every penny of which was accounted for and every penny repaid. His financial honesty was legendary.
He was a man who could be ruthless during the Revolutionary War; But the brutality of the war often sickened him, and he worked hard to prevent civil war.
He revered Ireland’s past – his own father was born in 1815 and the lore of famine was strong. And yet he urged the Dáil to look to the future and build an independent Ireland, made possible, albeit limited, by the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921.
Collins could be strict, no-nonsense and disciplined, as evidenced by his daily diaries (recently published by the Royal Irish Academy). He could also be tender and vulnerable, as evidenced by his affectionate letters to his fiancé, Kitty Kiernan.
What remains of his communications with Lady Hazel Lavery, who did so much to facilitate the social context of contract negotiations, reveals a deeply romantic streak.
“Because of your eyes and the voice I love,” he addressed her in a poem he wrote, continuing: “I am an eagle and you are a dove… wild is my nest in the mountain above / Do you want to fly there.” me beautiful white dove?” There is no evidence that the relationship was consummated, but it was special and evoked in Michael the bravery of the knightly chivalry.
Collins was a well-rounded and complex person, and complexity involves contradictions. As the leading light of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), he was anti-clerical in his youth, once threatening to shoot the Bishop of Cork – the hierarchy denounced and sometimes excommunicated revolutionaries. And yet in London Michael attended Mass at Brompton Oratory daily and always sent Kitty an account of how he had lit a candle for her and gone to the sacraments.
He could swear with the best of them, although admittedly swearing wasn’t as explicit back then as it is now – a favorite word of his was “lousy”. He drank and smoked and had a fondness for cream buns at a time when many Irish revolutionaries were abstinent teetotalers. But he also stopped smoking his Three Castle Ciggies when he had to, as an act of self-discipline.
Collins left school at 15, so he didn’t have much more than a primary education – but his math skills got him into the British Post Office Savings Bank. As a young man in London, he was always trying to improve himself by keeping notebooks of complex words and concepts; Self-improvement also came through the GAA. His older sister “Hannie”, a cultured woman, introduced him to theaters and galleries. (Another sister, Helena, was a nun of mercy with the religious name Sister Mary Celestine: she eventually became the Reverend Mother in her convent in Yorkshire – evidently she too had leadership qualities.)
Collins was in some respects a modernist: he believed in a secular constitution for Ireland. But he was never left – he’d grown up on a small farm rarely associated with socialism (and Bolshevism was alarming at the time).
He probably wouldn’t be called a feminist – he wasn’t sure about the place of women in Parliament, possibly because he was ridiculed by Constance Markievicz, who claimed he was going to marry King George V’s daughter, Mary (a complete fabrication ). But women were generally positive about Collins: writer Barbara Cartland wrote that “no wonder Michael Collins was never caught – any woman would have liked to hide him”.
The treaty is now recognized as a landmark legal document that enabled the creation of an Irish state. Collins was not alone in this endeavor, of course – Arthur Griffith was the leader and a key influence. But it must be admitted that Collins had a “star quality” that endured through the arc of the century.
He also had a sense of humor. When Winston Churchill reminded him that he too had a bounty on his head (when he was being hunted by the Boers in the 1890s) – of just £25 – “While we’ll put £10,000 on your head, Michael!” replied Collins : “You would have to factor in inflation.”
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/michael-collinss-star-quality-still-shines-bright-a-century-on-from-tragedy-that-befell-him-41932865.html Michael Collins’ star quality still shines brightly, a century after the tragedy that befell him