Nearly every other person you meet in Ireland will tell you they’re somehow connected to the Irish freedom fighter Michael Collins. We’d grown up hearing that we were related to ‘The General’, but no one seemed to know exactly how. When we were learning about him in history at school I tried to find out a bit more but of course this was a few years before the World Wide Web, and even recently it was difficult to trace your Irish family history online: so many common names, and so many parishes.
The weird thing was that we presumed the connection, if there was one at all, was via my grandfather’s side of the family, because his brothers had all fought in the War of Independence. Turns out this was a family story that had somehow become distorted. In fact, my mother told me that when she was growing up her mother and grandmother (my great grandmother) had spoken of being related to ‘The General’ many times.
So, a few years ago one of my cousins, who lives in Ireland, decided to do the research and find out if there was an actual Michael Collins connection or whether it was just one of those family myths.
It took him the best part of a year, with a lot of searching of parish records and so on, but eventually he got the facts he was looking for: Michael Collins’ mother, Marianne/Mary Ann (there are a lot of variants of spellings), had a sister, called Juliann O’Brien. One of Juliann O’Brien’s children was my great grandmother, also Juliann. Therefore, my great grandmother and Michael Collins were cousins.
Of course, Michael Collins had A LOT of cousins (these weren’t small Irish families) but it’s interesting to think that my great grandmother – also from Cork of course – would have known Michael and his siblings.
For us, it’s a weird feeling, knowing that we are – however distantly – related to such an important figure in the history of Ireland. I can’t say there’s a huge family resemblance – to me he actually looks a bit like Kenneth Branagh. Perhaps this family connection is where we all get our fighting spirit from though, who knows. But it’s a strange thing to see a statue of one of your distant ancestors in a square in Dublin. I should probably get round to watching the film Michael Collins, at some point. Not least because Liam Neeson is in it.