In this room we concentrate on The Young Fella Michael Collins’ before he became the Big Fella and the environment in which he grew up and his early influences.
Collins was born in 1890 a few miles west of Clonakilty on a large farm in the townland of Woodfield.
The Collins farm itself, the largest in the area at some 80 acres, was divided into several separate plots scattered around the townland. Michaels father Michael senior was also born there in 1815 and had claimed that at that point the family had been on the land for seven generations. It came into his care when he inherited it from his brother Paddy.
Michael Senior married Marianne O’Brien, a farmer’s daughter from just up the road in 1875. She was almost forty years his junior. The had eight children of which Michael was the youngest. Said to have been his father’s favourite, young Michael would follow him everywhere on the farm. However Michael Senior died when Michael was just six years old. Thereafter he was solely cared for by his mother with the help of his older siblings. The Collins family were comparatively wealthy and by the time Michael was ten they had moved into a new farmhouse which was the finest in their townland and which they referred to as ‘Woodfield House.’
The Collins household was a political one, but its politics were of a more varied pallet than you would imagine would borne such a revolutionary. There was some republicanism going back to Fenian times when one of Collins’ first cousins was imprisoned as a Fenian. Likewise, there is some evidence to suggest that Michael Senior had been a Fenian in his younger years. Two of Collins’ uncles were imprisoned for assaulting a land agent who had been trampling their crops during the famine. But by the time of Collins’ youth his father’s politics seem to have moderated. He read a moderately nationalist newspaper called the Weekly Freeman and had broken a boycott in defence of a Protestant friend. He even received a beating for doing so. Collins’ older brother Seán ran for local election as part of William O’Brien’s political movement and one of his O’Brien uncles was an O’Brienite councillor. William O’Brien provided political opposition to John Redmond’s Irish Parliamentary Party but was not overtly republican.
Both of Michaels parents valued education and encouraged their kids into education and public employment. Collins himself also came to have a high regard for formal schooling. In 1903, Michael Collins, then aged 13, moved in with his sister Margaret and her husband Patrick O'Driscoll. Collins had moved to attend the local Boys First National School to study for the Civil Service exams. O’Driscoll, a fiery character, a keen intellect, newspaper editor and owner, and also an O'Brienite was likely a key influence on the teenage Collins.
Collins sat the civil service exams in February 1906. He finished in the top 15% of his class even though he was younger than most in taking the exam. He was eventually offered a position of Boy Clerk at the West Kensington Post Office Bank in London and moved over to his sister Hannie there in the summer of 1906 aged just 15.