Michael Collins was an Irish revolutionary leader and politician who was also actively involved in the fight for independence, and who led the pro-Treaty forces against the anti-Treaty IRA under Éamon de Valera.
Collins was arrested for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising. He became a respected member of the Sinn Féin party while in prison, and in 1919, after his release, he was made the Minister of Finance for the Aireacht1, and he took over the day-to-day running of the government when de Valera went to America in search of international recognition and financial support for the newly declared Irish Republic. Collins offered another fledgling nation – Russia – financial support in the form of a 'National Loan', in return for official support and the Russian Crown Jewels as collateral.
Irish War of Independence
The Irish War of Independence, also called the Anglo-Irish War, lasted from January 1919 to July 1921. Michael Collins was the Director of Intelligence of the former Volunteers, now officially called Óglaigh na hÉireann2, and unofficially the Irish Republican Army. He organised guerrilla tactics against the British forces.
After the Anglo-Irish War, the president of the Dáil Éireann3, Éamon de Valera, sent Michael Collins as the head of the treaty delegation to Britain, the members of which had the power of plenipotentiaries, although unofficially they had been expected to refer with de Valera before signing any treaty. The British Prime Minister, Lloyd George, issued Collins an ultimatum, and to avoid war, as Collins knew the IRA did not have enough ammunition to continue fighting a war against Britain, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed on 6 December without de Valera's knowledge or permission. The Irish Free State was formed, as a Dominion of Britain, with executive authority ultimately vested in the King, but exercised by the Dáil Éireann4. Michael Collins argued the Treaty gave Ireland 'the freedom to achieve freedom'.
Collins became the Prime Minister of Ireland. The IRA also split, with those who supported Collins5 forming the nucleus of the new National Army, and those who opposed the treaty becoming the anti-Treaty IRA or the 'irregulars'.
Irish Civil War
The irregulars took control of the Four Courts Building in Dublin, and Michael Collins, threatened with British invasion and occupation, reluctantly started shelling the Four Courts building on 28 June, 1922. Seven hundred years of historical documents were lost in the ensuing battle, and the civil war was begun.
Michael Collins died in an ambush on 22 August, 1922 at the age of 31. He left a legacy as an idealistic young man who inspired and led a nation to independence. He was immortalised in the film Michael Collins starring Liam Neeson.