The Avondhu - By The Fireside
He then moved on to another upholstery firm and by the time he had decided to leave the upholstery business altogether for better things, he had been earning the largest wage ever paid to one of his trade in Boston.
Things were now beginning to move for Patrick Collins. He had never forgotten Ireland and although he was only four when he was brought to American, he had heard from his mother the circumstances under when she was obliged to leave her native land. He joined a branch of the Fenian Brotherhood in 1864 and certainly made his presence felt, because in the following year he was a delegate to the national convention of the organisation. Although only 20 at this time he was very much a man of non voilence and following the fall of the Fenians in 1867 here at home, he left the organisation.
By now Patrick Collins had considerable experience behind him and his thoughts turned to local politics. He joined the local Democratic Party. Over the years since he had left school at 12, he had been educating himself through books, night school and studying the history of his adopted country. Very quickly his talents were recognised and he was elected as a Democrat in a local election. He was now 24 years of age and beginning to make his mark.
During the years that he had been working in the upholstery business he had saved a considerable sum of money and he now got himself a job with a law firm as a clerk and at the same time he used his money to take lectures at the Harvard Law School. This was a very bold step to take for Patrick Collins who had left school at the age of 12 but he was very determined to succeed. He saw that by being a lawyer and in politics there were many ways by which he hoped to change things for the better for all classes and creeds and he worked extremely hard at his studies.
By this time too he had made remarkable progress in the Democratic Party and quickly came to the notice of those at the top. For example, within a few days of he joining the law firm he was elected a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and was re-elected the following year. His studies at Harvard were very successful and he was called to the Bar in 1871 at the age of 27, truly a fantastic achievement and he immediately opened his own law office.
He did have in mind the idea that he would go to Heidleberg in Germany to study civil law and languages following his call to the Bar. By that time, however, the Democratic Party was so impressed by him that they prevailed on him to stand for the Senate. Reluctantly he agreed and was elected in 1870, the youngest man to have been elected that year. While in the Senate, he was prominent in many debates, speaking strongly to allow Catholic clergy to minister in the prisons and charitable institutions and he fought hard to have the special oath for Catholics in the Senate abolished.
Patrick Collins married Mary Carey, a girl of Irish descent, in Boston in 1873. He was now 29, a successful lawyer and politician although a self-educated man. They had three children, a boy and two girls. Because of the major role he played in the election of William Gaston as Governor of Boston, Collins was rewarded with the post of Judge Advocate General of the State of Massachusetts, a very prestigious appointment. He was known to many afterwards as General Patrick Collins.
In the year 1879 Charles Stewart Parnell visited America seeking financial assistance on behalf of the Land League. Patrick Collins was a member of the committee that welcomed him to Boston and was instrumental the following year in laying plans for the formation of the American (auxiliary) Irish National League. Subsequently, he presided over it for the next 15 months and in that time over $350,000 were sent from America to Ireland to help Parnell’s cause. During that period too, thanks to Patrick Collins’ great organising ability, over 1,100 branches of the American Irish National League were formed in the US and Canada and they provided much needed funds for the Land League campaign here in Ireland.
In 1882 Patrick Collins was elected to Congress for a two year term. He was now a very big name and was re-elected in 1884. He wasn’t over keen to be in Congress and was somewhat of a reluctant national politician. Nevertheless he served with great distinction. As his 4 year term drew to a close he announced in an open letter that he didn’t wish to stand for a further term. Strong pressure was put on him to continue and he served a further two years, six years in all.
While in Congress he was very prominent on many committees, at all times seeking to better the lot of the less fortunate. He really wasn’t cut out for high politics, his enormous integrity and honesty preventing him at all times from compromising his principles in any way whatever. He found that being in Congress was also very expensive.
FREEDOM OF THE CITIES
During his second term he visited London in 1885 where he was entertained to dinner by Parnell and his party. Then in July of 1887 came a very distinct honour when he was conferred with the Freedom of the Cities of Dublin and Cork, and was in fact the first American to receive both. In the conferring of the Freedom of the city of Dublin, both Collins and Wm. O’Brien, the distinguished Mallow man, were presented with it on the same day, 22nd July 1887. Referring to Patrick Collins, one Corporation member who was unable to be present, wrote in a letter to the Lord Mayor:
“It is right that we should honour our countrymen in America for the mighty help they have given us in our struggle; for in conferring the Freedom of our city on Patrick Collins, the President of the National League, we are not merely appreciating his own worth, we are also testifying our gratitude to them with whom he had his home who although far away from Ireland still do not forget the land that bore them and their forefathers”.
In the year 1888 Patrick Collins was given the highly responsible position of presiding over the Democratic Presidential Convention at which Cleveland was nominated as candidate. He lost that election, but four years later however, Cleveland was elected President of the United States. Patrick Collins played a major role through a great speech he made in getting Cleveland chosen as Democratic candidate and then having him elected as President.
The President was very anxious to repay Collins for the great work he had done for him and the Democratic Party. There were many prestigious posts on offer, but as Patrick Collins had never amassed great wealth the only reward for his stewardship that he could afford to accept from Cleveland was the post of Consul General in London. This would be the equivalent of Ambassador today. On the surface this would appear to be a rather delicate move on Clevland’s part because of Collins connections with the Fenian Brotherhood in his earlier years.
There was no problem whatsoever in that regard and he was declared fully acceptable to the British Government. He served with great distinction in that post between the years 1893 and 1897 and managed to save some money while posted in London.
MAYOR OF BOSTON
On his return to Boston he focussed his attention mainly on local politics.
In 1899, he stood for Mayor of Boston but lost due to a split in the Democratic Party. Many Democrats didn’t see eye to eye with Collins because of his great integrity and his strong belief that the spending of public money should always be done wisely, prudently and with full accountability. Two years later in 1901 he was elected Mayor of Boston and again in 1903. He in fact got the support of many Republican business men who agreed very much with his politics. Another thing in his favour was that despite his Irish Catholic background, he was very acceptable to the Yankee Bostonians as being both a political reformer and gentleman. This was a far cry from the mid 1850s and the Know Nothing persecutions.
As Mayor of Boston, Patrick Collins served with great distinction. His administration appealed very strongly to the business men in the community. He also gave his subordinates full responsibility but held them rigidly accountable for strict adherence to business principles. Shortly after becoming Mayor, Prince Henry, brother of Emperor Wm. II of Germany, came to the United States. He visited Boston and it fell to Collins to entertain him there. This he did with great hospitality, so much so that the Emperor later offered him a decoration which he politely declined.
In Patrick Collins’ election for a second term as Mayor, he had a majority greater than any other Mayor before him. In fact, because of the enormous success of his first term, the Republican Party found great difficulty in finding a suitable candidate to osspse him. It was during his second term of office that his health began to fail and her was forced to reduce his activities. Sadly, he died suddenly on September 14th, 1905.
His death caused a great void in Boston politics and the Boston Globe newspaper devoted over a dozen pages to his memory in the form of tributes from all shades of public opinion.
A former Mayor of Boston in a tribute to him, wrote: ‘Patrick Collins was a man of remarkable personablity and talents, not only standing at the very head of our citizens of Irish blood, but holding a high position among representative Americans. As Mayor of Boston he had achieved an unique position in the public mind and the absolute integrity and independence of his administration
of the office was known to all men.’
PROMINENT MEMORIAL ERECTED
There is no doubt but were it not for health problems Patrick Collins would have been asked to stand for the third term as Mayor of Boston. Shortly after his death, the Secretary of State in President Cleveland’s Cabinet organised a committee to raise money for a suitable memorial. The necessary funds were collected within a month and contributed by people of all religious and political persuasions.
The large monument was originally sited at the junction of Commonwealth Avenue and Charlesgate in Boston and was unveiled by Collin’s son, Paul on the 2nd November 1908. This was made of granite, and the huge block had a bust of Patrick Collins on top and on two sides of the block were female figures depicting Erin and Columbia. The inscription which was written by the President of Harvard read as follows: ‘A Talented, Honest, Generous Serviceable man.’
In September 1960, the memorial was relocated at a new site on Commonwealth Ave. as the building of a fly over at the original site obscured it from view.
During Patrick Collins’ term as Mayor of Boston, he commanded the confidence of members of all parties, however they might differ from him on details of policy, etc. His integrity was never questioned. He was a true friend of Ireland, a man of sterling qualities who throughout his life never forgot the country of his birth and its people. His love for Ireland never diminished yet he was a staunch upholder of the traditions and principles of America, the country of his adoption. A very interesting quote from him in that regard was: “I kneel,” he said “at the altar of my fathers and I love the land of my birth, but in American politics I know neither colour, race or creed. Let me say that there are no Irish voters among us. There are lrish-born citizens like myself here and there will be many more, but the moment the seal of the Court was impressed upon our papers we ceased to be foreigners and because of this, Americans we are and Americans we remain”.
Patrick Collins was a great family man, a man of outstanding character. He was head and shoulders above many of his country men who entered law and politics in the US.
Fermoy can be justly proud of this emigrant who having left school at the age of 12, educated himself and rose to great heights, both in politics and in law against all the odds.