By Alison Martin
Whilst Michael Collins is a household name in Ireland, relatively few people will have heard of Michael’s older brother Johnny, (known as Seán). Unbeknown to many, despite being preoccupied with the running of the family farm, Seán was also active in politics, first as a supporter of William O’Brien’s All-for-Ireland League and then as a member of his local Sinn Féin party.
During the War of Independence, he assisted behind the scenes with the planning of ambushes. Moreover, following his brother’s death, he worked tirelessly to preserve his memory. Seán was born on a small farm in Clonakilty, Co. Cork, in 1878 and was the eldest of eight children born to Mary Anne O’Brien and Michael Collins Senior.
Despite having being educated largely in hedge schools, Collins Senior was a remarkably intelligent and cultured man who was eager to ensure his children got off to a good start in life. As the eldest son Seán would automatically inherit the family farm, hence from a young age his father taught him how to handle the crops and raise the livestock.
Being of an athletic disposition, Seán was well-suited to working on the farm and had been nicknamed ‘Shafter’ after winning a local weight throwing competition.
When his father died in 1897, eighteen-year-old Seán and his mother were entrusted with the task of running the farm. As the eldest brother, Seán also became a father figure to his younger brother Michael, who was just six years old.