Today is the 96th anniversary of the 'Big Fella', Michael Collins' funeral when an estimated 500,000, almost a fifth of Ireland’s population came to pay their respects.
Today marks the 96th anniversary of the funeral of Michael Collins, the beloved Irish Republican freedom fighter.
Thousands lined Sackville St (O’Connell St today) in Dublin’s city center for his funeral in August 1922, to pay tribute to “The Big Fellow,” a hero in the fight for Irish independence and a man who worked hard for the benefit of Ireland in the establishment of the Irish Free State.
Some 500,000 people, almost a fifth of the population of the country at the time, attended his funeral ceremony in Dublin’s Pro Cathedral, among them foreign and Irish dignitaries.
Born in 1890, the Corkman came from a family of republicans and served as Joseph Plunkett's aide-de-camp in the General Post Office (GPO) in Dublin during the 1916 Rising.
After his internment in Frongoch prison camp in Wales, Collins returned to Ireland and soon emerged as a major leader following the execution of the republican movement’s leadership in the aftermath of the Rising.
Named as Minister of Finance by Eamon de Valera in 1919, Collins’ influence on the fight for freedom continued to grow after his success in engineering de Valera’s escape from Lincoln Prison in England.
Collins also acted as Director of Intelligence for the Irish Republican Army during the War of Independence, organizing a special assassination unit called The Squad expressly to kill British agents and informers.
Collins left school at just 15 years of age, but despite that, such was Collins' strategic prowess that he was named as one of the Irish delegates to travel to England to negotiate with the British government when a truce was called in 1921. The negotiations eventually led to the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, which saw the establishment of the “Irish Free State” and the partition of Ireland into North and South.
Collins was a prominent advocate for the Treaty, despite referring to his signing of the agreement as being akin to signing his own death warrant, and he was one of the main political figures on the Pro-Treaty side of the Civil War that followed the implementation of the Treaty.
Unfortunately, Collins lost his life during the course of the Civil War at the hands of those who had fought alongside him in the War of Independence.
Traveling in a convoy through Béal na mBláth, Co. Cork, Collins had been convinced “they won’t shoot me in my own county.” The convoy was ambushed by anti-Treaty forces, however, and Collins received a single gunshot wound to the head that killed him instantly.
He is believed to have been shot by fellow Corkman Dennis “Sonny” O’Neill, a former member of the Royal British Constabulary who had fought for the British Army during World War I. O’Neill joined the IRA in 1918 and joined the anti-Treaty side during the Civil War.
Ireland’s loss was sorely felt and crowds flowed onto Dublin’s streets to say goodbye to their hero in a public funeral. His body had been transported by sea from Cork to Dublin and he lay in state for three days in Dublin City Hall, where not only republicans but British soldiers filed past his coffin to pay their respects.
Collins was laid to rest in Glasnevin Cemetery alongside all those national heroes who fought for Irish freedom.
* Originally published in 2015.