Michael Collins, now 84, was the third man on the first space flight that landed man on the moon in July 1969 45 years ago this month. He was the astronaut who stayed with the orbiter while Buzz Aldrin and Niall Armstrong made it to the surface.
I was reminded of the greatness of America reading about his Irish grandfather and the amazing struggle he had in life. I wonder what the emigrant Irishman from Cork would have thought of the fact that his grandson would take part in arguably the greatest story in the history of mankind -- the first trip to the moon.
His grandfather, Jeremiah Bernard Collins, had left Dunmanway, County Cork in the early 1860s as a young boy to join the rest of the family in Cincinnati, Ohio. Family legend has it that he served as a drummer boy in the Civil War, and at age 16, helped to drive a herd of horses into Texas to replace the cavalry mounts that had been lost to the war. He made his way to New Orleans, where he worked for James Lawton, a grocer.
Jeremiah worked his way up to running the stables for the delivery wagons, and eventually married Kate Lawton, his employer's daughter. They moved across the river to Algiers, near the terminus and rail repair shops of the Southern Pacific Railroad, which employed many workers of Irish descent. There, they established a dry goods store, with a pub in the back. Jeremiah and Kate's eleven children would work there, serving beer and food to railroad men. The first-born son was named for Kate's father: James Lawton Collins, father of the astronaut.
Collins the astronaut and his wife Patricia Finnegan have been honored by our sister publication Irish America.