Michael Collins passed away today, April 28, 2021, at the age of 90. Here, a look at the life of a NASA astronaut that was the grandson of a poor farmer from Co Cork.

Michael Collins was the third man on the first space flight that landed man on the moon in July 1969.

The grandson of an Irish farmer flew Columbia, the Apollo 11 command module, around the moon while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made the first crewed landing on the surface.

Along with his Apollo 11 crewmates, Collins was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1969 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2011.

Michael Collins. Photo: Getty Images

Michael Collins. Photo: Getty Images

I was reminded of the greatness of America while 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.

June 16, 1969: Michael Collins laying down, observing a checklist in a simulator of the command module. (Public Domain / NASA)

June 16, 1969: Michael Collins laying down, observing a checklist in a simulator of the command module. (Public Domain / NASA)

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.

In January 2020, The Kennedy Center featured Michael Collins reflecting on the historic Apollo 11 mission:

* Originally published in 2016, last updated in April 2021.

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