William Collins Ireland: Who was the ‘King of Sheffield’ Willy Collins, as huge memorial is unveiled at Shiregreen Cemetery

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It was one of the most extravagant funerals Sheffield has ever witnessed, and it was all for one individual named Willy Collins, branded the 'King of Sheffield'.

But, as a huge memorial is unveiled at Shiregreen Cemetery, who is he and why was he so, influential?

Willy, popularly known as Big Willy, died unexpectedly on July 7, 2020 after collapsing while on holiday in Majorca, Spain with his family. He was 49.

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The popular Sheffield traveller had flown to Spain on July 3 to celebrate his wife Kathleen's 48th birthday.

Willy Collins, who was known to many as Big Willy Collins, tragically died earlier after collapsing while on holiday with his family in Port de Pollença on the Spanish island of Majorca in July 2020.Willy Collins, who was known to many as Big Willy Collins, tragically died earlier after collapsing while on holiday with his family in Port de Pollença on the Spanish island of Majorca in July 2020.
Willy Collins, who was known to many as Big Willy Collins, tragically died earlier after collapsing while on holiday with his family in Port de Pollença on the Spanish island of Majorca in July 2020.

Hundreds of mourners from the traveller community attended his burial that August, with 30 horses trailing his 22-carat gold casket, which was delivered on a monster truck and carried to the cemetery in a horse-drawn carriage.

Now a ‘one-of-a-kind’ headstone, made from Italian-made Carrara marble, has been unveiled in honour.

Here's everything you need to know about Willy and his passing, which has left a lasting impact on Sheffield.

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His funeral saw smoke bombs, quad bikes, and a 22-carat gold casket as hundreds of mourners turned up to pay their respects.His funeral saw smoke bombs, quad bikes, and a 22-carat gold casket as hundreds of mourners turned up to pay their respects.
His funeral saw smoke bombs, quad bikes, and a 22-carat gold casket as hundreds of mourners turned up to pay their respects.

Who is Willy Collins and when did he meet his wife?

Born in Ireland, Willy Collins, often known as Big Willy Collins. was 49 years old when he passed away in July 2020 while on holiday with his family in Port de Pollença, Majorca, Spain, to celebrate his wife Kathleen's 48th birthday.

A bare-knuckle fighter and father-of-nine, Willy moved to Sheffield as a boy in 1980 and grew up in Pitsmoor.

He used to train at Brendan Ingle's gym in Wincobank, and despite the fact that he and his wife moved around, Sheffield was always home, and they eventually settled in Darnall.

Willy Collins and his wife, Kathleen.Willy Collins and his wife, Kathleen.
Willy Collins and his wife, Kathleen.

Willy had about 400 nieces and nephews as the patriarch of the Collins clan, and Kathleen says he adored his family, including his children and grandchildren.

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He met Kathleen when she was 11 years old and the couple tied the knot six years later and enjoyed over 30 years of marriage before his untimely death.

Kathleen said although he was a bare-knuckle boxer, he never looked for trouble as he was more of a 'peacemaker'.

"Everybody knew him for fighting, he was the King of Sheffield and was very well-respected. People used to call him the gentle giant - he would be the first person to pay for anything if somebody needed it and was just loved by everyone."

She said Willy was called ‘big daddy’ by all the children and grandchildren and his nephews also looked up to him as a father rather than an uncle.

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What did he die of?

Years before his death, Willy had a near-death experience as he was left fighting for life after an attack in which his brother, Anthony, known as 'Marty Boy', died.

They were stabbed at the Afro Caribbean Club, Spital Hill, when a dispute in the club turned violent.

Drug dealer Mark Lloyd Roberts, who was in his 30s and from Burngreave Road, left the club after an initial argument and returned in combat gear and a balaclava, armed with two knives.

He stabbed Anthony through his heart and left Willy with serious chest and lung injuries.

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After Willy's death, his post-mortem revealed that he died of natural causes after a bleeding ulcer in his stomach burst to cause a haemorrhage.

He was laid to rest at Shiregreen Cemetery, with crowds of loved ones paying their final respects.

Kathleen said the two brothers were ‘finally back together again’.

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