a picture of Michael Collins
On August 22nd, in the year 1922, in County Cork, Ireland, Michael Collins already had a long history of being a target and getting involved in things that placed his life in danger. He was a nationalist with very strong political views and had been part of the Irish Easter Rising. In 1916, he had joined protests against the rule of the British so that an independent Irish Republic could be created. But the Irish nationalist force was disorganized when they tried to seize important Dublin buildings, and Michael was arrested for being part of it.
Michael and the IRA
This only made him a hero to the people who supported the movement, so in 1919, he was made the commander of the Irish Republican Army, also known as the IRA. He fought bravely in the Irish War of Independence from 1919 to 1921 and had been part of violent operations during that time, but he was well respected by the people who followed him.
This was why he was elected to join a delegation to Westminster, London, to help form an Anglo-Irish treaty. Michael signed the treaty on December 6th in 1921, which saw twenty-six of Ireland’s thirty-two countries as a free, independent nation. Eventually, they took control of their own problems and started governing themselves. The last countries in Ireland not part of it could either side with the British or with the Free State.
The Republic’s president, a man named Eamon de Valera, didn’t like it and wanted the treaty to be ratified. He wasn’t the only one who felt that the treaty was a betrayal to their ideals. They blamed Michael for this.
A Civil War
Thus, a civil war began, with Michael right in the middle—the pro-treaty Free State army against the anti-treaty Republicans. The British government wanted to resolve the problem. They put a lot of pressure on Michael to restore order or they would abolish the treaty.
Michael chose to fight the anti-treaty Republicans, which resulted in eight days of fighting in Dublin, from June 28th to July 5th in 1922. Dozens of people were killed and the IRA surrendered. Now, Michael was hated.
Michael was in the process of returning to Cork to show support to the Free State army. Many of his team told him not to. A roadblock forced the cars to stop and they were shot at by the IRA in an ambush. Michael grabbed a rifle, but he was quickly shot in the head and killed.
The suspicious thing was that no one else was killed in the firefight—just him. So, people believed that the ambush was an intentional assassination.
The shooter wasn’t officially known but a lot of people think that it was Denis O’Neill, who was a sniper in the British Army in World War One. He was known to use dumdum bullets that explode on impact. People think that those bullets are what caused the excessive damage to Michael’s skull. In 2014, it was discovered that Denis was indeed part of the ambush. But he didn’t admit to being the one to shoot Michael. He maintains that Michael hadn’t been assassinated, so no one knows for sure who was behind it. Was it it really was Denis, or even an assassination?