A Letter from Ireland:
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Have You Heard of The Irish Patriot called Michael Collins?

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We take a look into the tribal background – and home – of an Irish Patriot called Michael Collins who was made famous by his deeds in the history books and movies.

Céad Míle Fáilte – welcome to the Letter from Ireland for this week. How are things in your part of the world? The birds are singing here in Cork this morning, and the frogs jumping in the pond – we’ll just have to wait for the weather to catch up with all this spring activity! I hope you aren’t suffering too much from the extreme weather many of us seem to be experiencing at the moment.

I’m on a glass of water from the well as we start into today’s letter – and I do hope you’ll join me now with a cup of whatever you fancy yourself.

Last week, we spoke about the “Start of an Irish Spring” – how the ancient Celtic festival of “Imbolc”/Saint Brigid’s day celebrates the start of spring here in Ireland. Well, I’m delighted to say that Carina has recorded a podcast episode all about Imbolc, Saint Brigid and many of the Irish customs that our ancestors would have adopted at this time of year. Maybe you’ll even recognise one or two yourself? You can go here to listen to this podcast episode.

For the the rest of this letter we’ll have a look at one ancient Irish tribe that gave us a number of Irish surnames – and one descendant of this group who achieved fame both inside and outside Ireland.

The Tribal Homelands of Michael Collins.

Ireland was a land of Tribes and Kingdoms for many centuries – some might say this still carries on today in the form of Irish family, parish and community!

One of these tribes was called the Uí Fidghente, who occupied a land stretching across what is now the west and south of County Limerick. As Irish surnames started to emerge from the 900s, the following names came out of this tribal group:

Brouder, Clerkin, Flannery, Heffernan, Kealy/Queally, Kenneally, MacEniry, O’Connell, O’Dea, Quin, Ring and Tracy.

However, by the 900s, two particular families came to dominate the Uí Fidghente – families that later adopted the surnames “Collins” and “O’Donovan”. Are any of your Irish surnames listed above? Do feel free to leave a comment below and let me know.

However, the rise of the neighbouring Dal gCais tribe in the Clare/Limerick area – and later incursion of the Norman Fitzgeralds – caused both the Collins and O’Donovan families to head further to the south-west of Ireland to find new lands. By the early 1200s, both families had settled into their new home around the modern West Cork town of Drimoleague – and over the following centuries the surnames spread out from this area, mostly further across County Cork.

I have written before about the O’Donovan family name, but now we will turn our attention to one Collins family in particular. A Collins family that ended up on a farm in the townland of Woodfield, just outside the modern town of Clonakilty.

A Look Inside The Home of Michael Collins.

Are you familiar with the life and history of the great Irish leader, Michael Collins? There is so much written about his short and eventful life before he was taken from us at the early age of 32. However, I did notice that Neil Jordan released his 1996 movie, “Michael Collins” – starring Liam Neeson – and if you’ve not seen it already, it will help you catch you up on the life and times of this charismatic Irish leader. In the meantime, we’ll have a look a little closer to home.

A Statue of Michael Collins in Clonakilty.

Sometime in the mid-1800s, Michael John Collins took over the tenancy on a 90 acre farm in Woodside – it was a farm that had been in the family for several generations. He worked hard and was an intelligent man – a mathematician in his spare time – but it was late in life before he had the luck to meet and marry Mary Ann O’Brien. She was only 23 to his 60 years, but the couple went on to have eight children together – five girls and three boys, and they named their youngest son Michael.

A short six years after Michael was born, his father died of old age and Mary Ann was left with eight young children and a large farm to run. But she seemed to manage well with the help of her family and community. By the time we meet the family in the 1901 census, She has been a widow for five years and her eldest son is working on the farm. She has two daughters working away from home. The youngest child, Michael, has already acquired the nickname “The Big Fella” on account of taking on – and succeeding – at jobs that were obviously too big for him.

Have a look inside Michael Collin’s household in the 1901 census by clicking here.

(Note: Tick the “Show all information” box when you get there to see more about each individual).

By the time of the next census in 1911, Collins was working in London and training to be a stockbroker and accountant. Five years later he was a volunteer in the 1916 rising. The census of 1921 was suspended due to the Irish War of Independence, during which Michael Collins was one of the Republican leaders.

However, the life of Michael Collins came to a sudden end when he was assassinated in his native County Cork in August 1922 – towards the end of a short, vicious, Civil War. His funeral took place in Dublin, and the procession was attended by an estimated half a million people.

The Grave of Michael Collins in Glasnevin Cemetery.

To this day, the stories, history and myths surrounding Michael Collins travel through the imaginations of so many Irish people around the world. Every year, on Saint Valentine’s Day, a number of admirers still leave bouquets of flowers on his simple grave in Glasnevin cemetery in Dublin. His grave remains the most-visited in this cemetery of over one million souls.

That’s it for this week, as always do feel free to Hit Reply and share your stories, comments and Irish surnames in your family.

Slán for this week,

Mike and Carina.

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