The Collins Clan

The Collins Crest.

By Adam Farley, Editorial Assistant
June / July 2013

Collins, also sometimes found as Cullane or O’Cullane, is one of the most common surnames in Munster. It originates from the sept of Ó Coileáin, which extended from County Cork to south Limerick. The name itself is thought to come from the Irish coileán, meaning a whelp or a young dog. In the 13th century, the Ó Coileáins were chased southward into Cork after losing a war with the Geraldines and settled near their kinsmen, the Ó Cuilleáins. It is not unlikely that both these names derive from the Irish diminutive of cú, or hound, which we well know from the most famous of Irish hounds, the Hound of Ulster, Cú Chulainn.

Both Ó Coileáin and Ó Cuilleáin were eventually anglicized to Collins, which was an existing English surname, so the number of Collinses around the world is pretty staggering. Although the surname is itself a diminutive (and the English Collins is actually a double diminutive, from the medieval nickname “Col” for Nicholas, which became Colin, little Col), the Collinses of history have little reason to be called pups.

Jerome Collins (1841–1881) was the founder of Clan na Gael and was an early 19th century Arctic explorer. The astronaut Eileen Collins (b. 1956) was the first female pilot and commander of a space shuttle and has graced the cover of this magazine on more than one occasion. But she’s not the only astronaut by the name of Collins. Irish-American astronaut Michael Collins (b. 1930) commanded the Apollo 11 module while Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong moonwalked, prompting the 1970 Jethro Tull song “For Michael Collins, Jeffrey and Me,” about being left behind.

Another American Collins, Susan Collins (b. 1952), is the senior Senator from Maine and has been described by Time as one of “the last survivors of a once common species of moderate Northeastern Republican.” She is currently the chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (and is not to be confused with Suzanne Collins, the best-selling author of the Hunger Games trilogy).

The earliest Collins of note is the Irish language poet Seán Ó Coileáin (anglicized as John Collins) (1754–1817), best known for the famous poem “Machtnamh an Duine Dhoilíosaigh” (translated as “Lament Over Timnoleague Abbey”) in the 18th century. A poet who merged romanticism with Gaelic traditions, Ó Coileáin was a favorite to translate by later Anglo-Irish writers like Samuel Ferguson and James Clarence Mangan. Continuing with artist Collinses, Judy Collins (b. 1939), on this issue’s cover, is one of the best-known songwriters and folk musicians of the 20th century, associating with Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and Leonard Cohen, among many others, in New York’s Greenwich Village folk scene from the early 1960s onward.

Billy Collins (b. 1941), dubbed by the New York Times in 1999 as “the most popular poet in America,” was U.S. Poet Laureate from 2001-2003 and New York State Poet Laureate from 2004-2006. His short ode for the centennial of Grand Central Terminal, “Grand Central,” can currently be read inside many New York City subway cars as part of the MTA’s Poetry in Motion program.

Returning to Irish-born Collinses, Michael Collins (b. 1953) is the current Ambassador to the United States. Educated at Blackrock College and Trinity College, he entered the Dept. of Foreign Affairs in 1974. Tommy Collins (b. 1957) is a filmmaker and producer born in Co. Donegal and raised in Derry. His 2007 film Kings, Ireland’s first bi-lingual feature film, was nominated for a record 14 Irish Film and Television Awards and won five, including Best Irish Language Film.

The eldest of three William Collinses, born in Co. Wicklow in 1740, was an art dealer and biographer of the famous English painter George Morland after emigrating to England. His son William Collins (1788-1847) informally studied under Morland and became one of the most popular pre-romantic landscape painters of 19th-century England. William Collins III better known as Wilkie Collins (1824–1889), was a novelist, essayist, playwright, and short story writer who penned more than 200 works, most notably The Woman in White (1859), which has been adapted for TV roughly once every 20 years by the BBC since 1957. He is also the namesake for Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker’s son, James Wilkie Broderick.

Contemporary author Michael Collins (b. 1964) was shortlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize for his book The Keepers of Truth.

This brings us to the most famous Michael Collins of all, and perhaps the most famous of all the Irish Collinses. Defying the etymology of his surname, “The Big Fella” of Fine Gael (1890–1922) was definitely no whelp in stature or politics, commanding troops in the Irish War for Independence and the Irish Civil War before being killed in an ambush in 1922.

If there is a theme among these Collinses, it’s the one stated at the outset: from the A train to the Arctic, from the Senate to the stars, the Clann na t-Ó Coileáin (or Clann na t-Ó Cuilleáin, depending) aren’t diminutive in the slightest.

25 Responses to “The Collins Clan”

  1. The Collins Arms shield, not crest, is shown above. The two lions rampant represent the two ancient kings from whom the Collins of Ireland descend.

  2. Geoffrey Collins says:

    Any chance of a get together? In the North East?

    • Casey Sedik says:

      Michael C is my cousin removed by 2 generations. My Aunt Joan is putting together a comprehensive family history. I live in NYC. Feel free to email!


  3. I was told that most of our bloodline is Native American and that we should rent a stadium and have a reunions there is a lot of Collins in The USA

    • Angelique Collins says:

      Haha, surprisingly enough, I’m a Collins in the U.S. who is also of Native American heritage!

    • Marco says:

      Collins from Ireland mostly Munster. We go from South Limerick to County Cork. No native American in Collins but maybe from other side of family

    • Aiden Collins says:

      My great grandpas name was harold, you arent from around arkansas or the pnw are you?

  4. Sherrey myers says:

    My grandfather’s mother was a Collins he said her family was from the county of cork. He also has pictures of his grandmother as a baby with her parents and sibling after arriving here in the U.S. always wanted to know what our crest looked like.

  5. Mime says:

    My great great grandfather was from COUNTY Cork He immigrated to the US IN 1880 ..WITH HIS MOTHER he had 6 six in NYC

  6. Alan Collins says:

    My grandfather’s name was John Henry Collins , I have been trying to put together a family tree but I haven’t been able to get past him , he passed away in 1954 and I can’t find much information as to his father’s name…I believe my grandfather was born between 1895 and 1900 , I never met him I was born in 1958 , my dad James was born in 1927 he was about 90 % Irish so if by chance anyone may have known of a John Henry Collins I could use some information.. thanks

    • Marco says:

      Where is your Dad from in the United States? There is a John Henry Collins born 1898 in Georgia. Had a Thomas and Albert as his sons. Try Family Search. Set up a free account and start putting in any and all information you have thus far
      Hope this helps!

  7. Ianthe Collins says:

    I am a collins my grandfather was born in 1902 he was from Cuba came to Jamaica as a soldier and stayed here .I am a Jamaican

    • T. Collins says:

      Hello, I’m also a Collins from Jamaica. I’m currently working on my family tree and trying find as much family as i can on my father’s side. Interested in sharing some info? I would greatly appreciate any knowledge you may have. Link me pon mi emai:
      Best Regards

  8. Catherine Collins says:

    Wow interesting read I am half Irish American and a Collins. And I know that most of my Collins roots are based out of Dublin Ireland. So this really was quite interesting.

  9. Angela Evans says:

    I am in the US and working on my many Collins lines. I have DNA tested many family members. I have a few lines that connect to Ireland, England , would love to get my lines straightened out. I do connect to the Muleungeon Collins families of the TN and KY areas and am trying to prove they connect to the Lumbee Indians of Pee Dee area SC leading back further to Ireland. We are on my Heritage, 23 and me, gedmatxh and other sires. I also have many Colllins matches on my maternal German side.

  10. Michael Collins says:

    Do alot of people with the last name collins have blue eyes?

    • Geoffrey says:

      Speaking personally Michael – yes!

      • JODY COLLINS says:


    • Larry Collins says:

      My father, John Emerson Collins, had blue-green eyes. Depending on his emotional state they would look more blue (blissful) or green (upset/angry)

  11. Abds says:

    Hey I’m looking to find my family that lives in the USA and Canada I’m from the collins y haologroup my father lineage Carry R-L21 is anyone on here carrying the same then please kindly consider getting in touch

    • Victoria Collins says:

      He there ABDS,
      My last name is Collins. I have a lot of familiy within Canada and USA. My history seems to abruptly stop around 1840, perhaps with immigration or the alleged story is that a young girl got pregnant, gave the child the fathers name ‘ collins ‘ and was then raised as her brother.

      if you’re able to see my email in this pls reply! I’d love to know if we’re related, I know my sister has done the 23 and me DNA


  12. Jody Collins Shively says:

    Hi all,
    I am in the US and searching for my roots. My great grandfather immigrated in the 1860s from Cork. His name was Philip Daniel Collins. He married Agnes Fineran from Roscommom. Would love to find relatives!

  13. Amber says:

    My great grandmother was Beatrice Collins. She lived in Limerick and settled in Canada. She moved to the States and settled in L.A.

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