A new heritage plaque celebrates Irish nationalist Michael Collins

2022 marked the centenary of the death of Irish patriot Michael Collins. Last July I attended the unveiling of a plaque in Islington on a building that played a key role in Collins’ life.  

Michael Collins plaque on Barnsbury Street

The Islington Heritage Plaque commemorating Michael Collins at 2B Barnsbury Street, N1 1PN (Photo: Caroline Morrison)

Michael Collins, born in County Cork, was a key figure in the struggle for Irish independence in the early 20th Century.  He played a crucial role in the self-government negotiations that resulted in the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921. 

In 1906 Collins moved to London to live with his sister and worked as a clerk in the Post Office Savings Bank, West Kensington. You can see the Islington Heritage Plaque that commemorates his connection with the borough outside the Aria shop at 2B Barnsbury Street, N1 1PN.  This was once home to Barnsbury Hall where Michael Collins, aged just 19, was initiated into the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) in November 1909.

The IRB was a clandestine Irish nationalist organisation founded in Dublin in 1858. Michael Collins’ strong political awareness brought him to the attention of many like-minded expatriates in London. He was introduced to the IRB by fellow Cork man, Sam Maguire, a Senior Clerk from Mount Pleasant Post Office. Sam Maguire’s name lives on via the All-Ireland Gaelic Football Championship trophy, aka, the Sam Maguire Cup.  

Collins’ initiation in Islington was a major landmark in his life and from then on his involvement in the IRB consumed his life.  He quickly rose through its ranks in London and returned to Ireland to pursue his vision for Irish independence.

In 1922 the Anglo-Irish Treaty was ratified in the Dáil, the lower house of the Irish parliament, by 64 votes to 57.  Many viewed it as a betrayal of the Irish Republic proclaimed during the 1916 Easter Rising and some found it difficult to accept a partitioned Ireland.  

In the Irish Civil War that followed Michael Collins argued that the treaty was a step towards full independence.  Collins led the campaign against the anti-treaty rebels and became Commander of the ‘pro-treaty’ army.  But this was short lived as a month later the Irish Republican Army (IRA)  ambushed and fatally shot Collins while he was touring West Cork. He was  31-years old.  

In modern-day Ireland many see Michael Collins as a unifying figure and in addition to the plaque in Islington there have been several ceremonies since 2022 to to mark the centenary of his death.

Caroline Morrison is an Islington Guided Walks guide. You can see all of Islington’s heritage plaques on the Islington Life website.