Toledo mayoral candidate D. Michael Collins is not the first in his extended family to venture into the world of politics and government.
He shares that affinity with another Michael Collins, the dynamic leader of the Irish Rebellion who negotiated the 1921 peace treaty with England that produced the boundaries of modern Ireland.
“I think it is safe to say that I am related to the patriot, patriarch, Michael Collins, and what the family there now tell me is we are all cousins, three times removed,” Mr. Collins said last week.
The exact family connection between Toledo’s Mr. Collins and the Michael Collins of Irish history remains a mystery to the family, both here and back in the old country.
“That was a troubled time, and there wasn’t much said about it,” said Maurice “Moss” Collins, 67, a first cousin to D. Michael Collins. Moss Collins, who lives near Dublin and develops property in London, spoke to The Blade by phone last week. He said families were divided in the civil war of the time.
“There was definitely a connection,” Moss Collins said, adding mysteriously, “There was so much hidden, there had to be a connection.”
Michael Collins was known as a brilliant military tactician and administrator and a great orator. He fought in the 1916 Easter Rising and barely avoided being executed. Later, he negotiated an agreement with the British to give Ireland its independence, but the agreement was bitterly opposed by other patriots because it left Northern Ireland under British control.
He also was not afraid to order assassination hits and was planning a guerrilla war in Northern Ireland even after negotiating the Anglo-Irish Treaty. He was assassinated in 1922 while riding in a car in County Cork. He was 31.
At one time D. Michael Collins (his first name is actually Dennis) believed that Michael Collins was his grand-uncle, and that’s what he told The Blade in 1996, when a movie celebrating the life of Michael Collins was released.
Now he says he believes that his grandfather and Michael Collins were cousins, at best. “He [Michael Collins] was from from County Cork, and my grandfather’s farm is in County Cork. That’s where the family farm is,” Mr. Collins said.
Mr. Collins, 69, is a retired police officer who was elected to Toledo City Council in 2007 and re-elected in 2011. He was not seen as a likely winner when he dove into this year’s race for mayor. But he came in second place in the Sept. 10 primary out of a field of eight candidates and will face incumbent Mayor Mike Bell, also an independent, in the general election.
Mr. Collins has a portrait of Michael Collins in his office on the 21st floor of Government Center, a recent gift from a friend. He won’t say whether he plans to mount it in the mayor’s office on the 22nd floor if he wins the election, saying interior decorating is the last of his concerns right now.
Back in time
The lineage of the famous Michael Collins has been tracked by some back to the 1700s. But even with Internet-tracked genealogy, nobody in the local Collins clan has definitely found a link with “the Michael Collins.”
Bill Martin, national organizer of the Collins 22 Society that is dedicated to the memory of Michael Collins, said in an email, “I would not doubt the authenticity of Mr. [D. Michael] Collins’ claim.
“The Collinses are a large and extended clan across the world from West Cork, Ireland. They were dispossessed of their lands in West Limerick in the first Anglo Norman invasion of 1172 and settled around Clonakilty in Cork,” Mr. Martin wrote.
Mr. Collins has made six trips to Ireland, where he has visited the family farm in Mullenataura, also spelled Mullintoura, in County Cork. The farm belonged to his grandfather, John Collins, then was taken over by his Uncle Bill, and is now farmed by his cousin, John.
That farm is about a 90-minute drive from the family farm of Michael Collins near Clonakilty, in the same County Cork.
He said a cousin’s mother “recalls Michael Collins coming by the house when they were there.” But after Michael Collins’ assassination in 1922 the family stopped talking about it, in part because Mr. Collins’ two eldest uncles, William and John, took opposite sides in the civil war that followed.
Uncle John sided and fought with the Irish Republican Army forces loyal to Michael Collins. Uncle Bill sympathized with Eamon de Valera, who had been the new country’s president.
“There was a big rift in the family because John was an IRA person and Bill was a de Valera person, and that really ticked off [Uncle John’s family] because here we are directly related to Michael Collins and my Uncle Bill was supporting de Valera, the man that was responsible for his death,” Mr. Collins said.
‘The hero he was’
Toledo’s Mr. Collins said he has read books about Michael Collins and said he is now being recognized “as the hero he was.”
One of his Irish relations that D. Michael Collins has stayed with in Ireland is Brendan Collins, 37, and his wife Annette, who live not far from Mullenataura.
“The family has always said that we are related to the Michael Collins since we were very young but it would be back several generations,” Brendan Collins told The Blade. “It could be four or five times removed.”
D. Michael Collins learned about an Irish program to encourage clean yards and public spaces known as Tidy Towns from Brendan and Annette and has incorporated it in his platform for mayor.
Mr. Collins’ wife, Sandra Drabik, also has attempted research into her husband’s family lore but said Ireland’s turbulent history has resulted in records gaps.
“He has other relatives that are doing the work, and I don’t think they have figured it out either,” Ms. Drabik said.
She researched her husband’s background enough to help him get a European passport which designates him as a citizen of Ireland.
D. Michael Collins’s father, Michael John Collins, was one of four siblings who immigrated to Toledo. He came the first time in 1939 for about a year and then again in 1942, when he enlisted in the Army to fight in World War II, which earned him naturalization.
He died in 1962 at the age of 59, after being kicked by a horse. Mr. Collins’s mother, the former Gertrude Helmer, of German ancestry, died in 2006 at the age of 93.