Michael Collins was a hero of the Irish War of Independence and a passionate fancier of the Kerry (or Irish) Blue Terrier dog breed. In this article, we'll take a close look at Collins himself, his background, actions and writings, as well as his dealings with Irish Blues. Next we'll examine his hopes for boosting the status of the Blue Terrier in his native Ireland, and we'll examine (as best we can) the aftermath and outcome of those efforts. Subsequently, and this will likely be old news for most readers of this posts, we'll detail the temperament of the Kerry Blue Terrier, delineating the most notable traits and characteristics of this beloved breed. Finally, we'll examine some of the last writing of Mr. Collins as regards his hoped for Irish national temperament, and we'll see whether that temperament is manifest at all within the breed of dog we all treasure so much.
First up, who was Michael Collins? The answer to this question depends upon which side of the Irish Sea you call home and from what source you seek your information. The BBC website gives a bare bones description of the man, noting that he directed a group of spies and later gunmen who killed 14 British officers in Dublin in 1920. The Ireland Calling website describes Collins as a leading candidate for the honor of greatest Irishman that ever lived, stating his sterling reputation is built upon the depth and breadth of his accomplishments.
The key facts of Collins’ life are these: he was born in 1890 in County Cork and as a young man was an important figure in the Easter Rising of 1916. He led the operations in the subsequent Irish War of Independence and attained the rank of general. He was a part of the group who negotiated the peace treaty with the British that brought the Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland) into existence. Later he was elected a member of the first Irish parliament and served as Ireland's Minister of Home Affairs and also Minister of Finance.
The peace treaty with the British was viewed as a sellout by many Irish and led to a short-lived civil war between the main Irish factions that lasted into 1922. In August 1922, Collins was shot dead by a sniper’s bullet under what are still murky circumstances at best. Ultimately the deal that Collins made with the British became the de facto and de jure reality, and southern Ireland became a fully independent republic, while Ulster remained under British control, as it has until this day.
As for Kerries (or Irish Blues), while the aforementioned saga was being played out, Collins owned an Irish Blue he named Convict 224. The identity of the person for whom the dog was named is not certain, but he appears to have been the incarcerated number of one of Collins’ fellow inmates while they were imprisoned by the British. Collins was apparently a breeder and exhibitor of the Irish Blues, and thanks to the breed itself and Collins’ popularity the breed soon became the unofficial mascot of the Irish revolutionaries. In early 1922 Collins sponsored an act of the Irish parliament designed to make the Irish Blue Terrier (called the Kerry Blue by the British) the national dog of Ireland. Historians have sought records from that era, but as one might suspect, record keeping was spotty, and no evidence exists that Collins’ legislation was ever heard, debated, or voted upon. It is certainly understandable that given the civil war raging then in Ireland, the Irish believed there were far more pressing matters at hand than creating a national dog of Ireland. So without Collins’ support, the matter apparently died on the vine, and since then no national dog of Ireland has been officially recognized.
But all is not lost for us Kerry fanciers. In a written document created shortly before his death entitled The Path Forward, Collins wrote a history of the struggles for independence and of his hopes for Ireland. Many of his hopes rested upon what Collins saw as the Irish national character. He described it in these terms:” The freedom, strength, and greatness [of Ireland] will be measured by the independence, …physical strength, and intellectual greatness of the people. We have a sturdy and intelligent people. This is where our Irish temperament, tenacity of the past, its vivid sense of past and future greatness, readiness for personal sacrifice, belief and pride [in ourselves] can play a unique part. Let the nation show its true and best character: use its courage, tenacity, clear swift intellect, its pride in the service of the national ideal, as our reason directs us.” Thus did Collins write hopefully about the Ireland he hoped to see built, an Ireland based in no small part upon the characteristics of the Irish people set forth above.
And are those characteristics found within the Kerry Blue Terrier? Here’s what one website says about Kerries. “Kerry Blue Terriers are energetic, athletic, and intelligent dogs. This lively breed is playful, at times even rowdy…Kerry Blues are affectionate, devoted members of their human family. Loyal and fearless toward their loved ones. High-spirited and headstrong, high energy level and intelligent.”
It seems obvious, then, that the description of the Kerry Blue Terrier in many ways intersects with and overlaps the description given by Collins of his hoped for Irish temperament Said another way, the Kerry Blue is the canine exemplar of the ideal attributes that Collins set forth for his Irish brothers and sisters. Although never finalized by legislative fiat, can there be any doubt that the Kerry is indeed, the national dog of Ireland?