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Another wonderful offering from Margot Gearty.

In November 1908 four young Granard sisters were called to the parlour in the Loreto Boarding School, Bray, Co. Wicklow. They were informed by the Mother Superior that they were to return home immediately as their mother had died. “But it’s our father who was ill!” exclaimed Chrys, the eldest. Three months later their father also was dead. The loss of their parents was a devastating blow for the girls and their only brother Larry. The previous year, their nineteen year old twin sisters had died of tuberculosis, Lily at home in Granard and Rose a lonely death in a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland, where she had been sent in the hope of being cured. Now the remaining five teenagers had only each other.

They were placed in the charge of their uncle, Andrew Cusack, a draper in Granard. He took Larry, who was sixteen, out of St Mel’s College, Longford in order to run the family hotel, grocery and hardware business. Chrys was also kept at home to help. The three younger girls, Kathleen, Helen and Maud returned to the Loreto Convent in Bray.

But after the summer holidays of 1910 there was to be another change for the younger girls. Their guardian, an autocratic and

P H Pearse. My father carred his surname as his middle name

P H Pearse. My father carried Pearse's surname as his middle name

unconventional man, had decided to send them, together with his own daughter, Mary Cusack, to a new experimental school for girls at Cullenswood House, Ranelagh in Dublin. The school was called St Ita’s. The director was Padraig H. Pearse, B.A., Barrister-at-Law, a gentle idealistic visionary. His objective was to attempt for Irish girls what had been so successfully achieved for Irish boys at St Enda’s College in Rathfarnham.

From the prospectus I quote:

The primary aim of St Ita’s will be to foster the elements of character. It will endeavour to ground its pupils in sound moral and religious principles; to train them in practical Christianity and to awaken in them a spirit of patriotism and a sense of duty and obligation to their country.

The house-mistress was Mrs Bloomer, a Cambridge graduate. Others on the staff included Louise Gavan Duffy and the writter and critic Mary Maguire who would later marry Longford poet Padraig Colum. Willy Pearse was the Art Master. There were three teachers of music – for Irish Harp, strings, piano and singing. A wide variety of subjects appear on the school curriculum, including the sciences, classics, English, French and German while retaining an Irish tone to the school which would be bilingual.

Thomas MacDonagh

Thomas MacDonagh

Again from the prospectus I quote:

The grounds, which command a delightful view of the Dublin mountains, include a tennis lawn, a beautiful flower garden with vinery and conservatories, a well stocked orchard, a playing-field and an open-air gymnasium. The house is large and the rooms spacious and airy. The school will maintain that private and homelike character which has made St Enda’s so beloved of it’s pupils.

Small wonder that the three young Granard orphans and their cousin settled in quickly and happily to their new environment. Kathleen was appointed school captain while her cousin Mary Cusack became school secretary and co-editor of the Annals. In this booklet a photograph of Kathleen shows her wearing spectacles, looking studious and serious. She wears a high-necked broderie-anglaise dress and has quite an elaborate hairstyle. From the Annals also, one discovers that the school opened with only forty pupils – small in numbers perhaps but rich in experience. There were visits to the Municipal Art Gallery, to the Botanic Gardens and to the Abbey Theatre. The students had visiting lecturers, among them Sir Shane Leslie and a Miss Laird of London who spoke on Botany. They were addressed regularly every fortnight by Mr Pearse himself.

Visits were exchanged with the boys of St Enda’s for ceilidhes, debates and discussions. All Saints’ Day 1910 was celebrated by a fancy dress ball of major proportions with the girls making all their own imaginative costumes. Among the guests for the evening were the Pearses, Thomas McDonagh and Longford Poet Padraig Colum.

An entry in the school Annals dated the 6th of December records:

Five of our older girls went to a debate at St Mary’s University College, Eccles Street. The paper was read by Miss Askins on the topic ‘Self Government for Ireland’. We are all invited to a debate in University College on Wednesday the 14th of December which we hope to attend in a body. We also intend going to the Aonach to buy our Christmas presents.

St Ita’s closed it’s doors after only two years and with it ended this extraordinary experience for our young Granard friends. They went on to receive some business training before returning home to help their sister and brother in running their family business. They took their work seriously, stayed close as a family and started their own musical ensemble with which to entertain their many friends. They loved country life and went on long walks absorbing the beauties of their surroundings. They often took their visitors to climb the Granard Moat, just as we do today. St Ita’s had greatly enhanced their lives and instilled in them a love of nature their home and their country.

The story of Padraig Pearse would play a central role in the evolving Irish nation, while our little friend Kathleen, later known as Kitty, would become legendary simply because of Michael Collins, the man she fell so heart-breakingly in love with and who was to die at Beal na Blath on 22nd of August, 1922.

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I rang Margot Gearty today, the daughter of Larry Kiernan, Granard, who was son of Peter Kiernan and brother of Kitty Kiernan. Peter’s sister, Rose Ann was my Great-Grandmother, and my Grandfather was called Peter. We had a lovely chat and it was good to make the connection between these families again after so many decades. Margot is very bright, articulate, and awake to family history. After our call she very kindly wrote the following peice to help our understanding.

The Granard Connection

Every family has its own unique history. My own particular connection to Granard began the day my grandfather Peter Kiernan walked to Granard in the early 1870s to seek his fortune. Being a younger son, he left his home in the townland of Aughagreagh which is about five miles west of Granard. His family had worked a small farm there for many generations and continue to do so up to the present day.

Within ten years of learning his trade in the grocery/hardware business in Granard, Peter was ready to fulfil his dream of owning his own place. But meanwhile, and most significantly, he had met the woman who would be his wife, his friend and support for the rest of their lives together. Bridget Dawson, of Cloncovid, and Peter Kiernan were married in the old church of Mullahoran, Co. Cavan on October 4th 1886.

Business flourished in their new premises ‘The Corner House’ Granard.  Bridget, the Cavan woman, was shrewd and diplomatic while Peter was popular, respected and had a flair for business. A photograph from the Lawrence Collection (late 1890s) shows a thriving and lively three-story premises in a busy town.

The Kiernan family (from left) Lily, Helen, Bridget, Maud, Catherine, Peter, Rose, Christine, and Larry's foot in stirup

The Kiernan family (from left) Lily, Helen, Bridget, Maud, Catherine, Peter, Rose, Christine, and Larry's foot in stirup

Having lost their first baby at birth in December, 1887, Bridget gave birth the following year to twin girls Lily and Rose. After them came Christine, Lawrence Dawson, Catherine (Kitty), Helen and Maud in quick succession. The family remembered nothing but happiness from the years that followed. Twenty years later (1921) Kitty would write to her ‘very dear Micheal’

I’d love to feel you wanted me always beside you just the way Daddy and Mother used to be (Extract from Dermot Keogh and Gabriel Doherty. Michael Collins and the Making of the Irish State. Cork.1998. P.38)

Family folklore has it that after a busy day in the shop, the money counted and the children in bed, Peter would take Bridget into ‘the snug’ for a nightcap together. On the night of the 31st March 1901 he must have felt a happy and fulfilled man as he recorded on his census form that seventeen people resided in his home – his wife and seven children, six shop assistants and two domestic servants. He was also in 1899 elected as a member of Longford County Council.

The porch of the Greville Arms Hotel from an old photograph

The porch of the Greville Arms Hotel from an old photograph

Peter and Bridget purchased the Greville Arms Hotel after it’s proprietor William Mullen died in 1903. He also bought the shop next door which later became Kiernan Stores which stocked everything (according to adverts) ‘from a needle to an anchor’. Despite all these advances however, there was great cause for anxiety. In 1907 nineteen year old Rose was sent off to a sanatorium in Davos, Switzerland in the desperate hope of a cure for her tuberculosis. It was not to be. She died there in a strange land, while her twin sister Lily, too ill for treatment, died at home in Granard on 27th November 1907. Exactly a year later, their mother Bridget died suddenly – her life cut short at only forty five years. Two months later Peter himself died on January 19th 1909.

Their only son Larry (my father) had to return home from St. Mel’s College, Longford to take over the running of this little empire at only seventeen years old. His older sister Chris stayed at home in Granard to help him while Kitty, Helen and Maud were sent by their guardian – their uncle Andrew Cusack – a draper in Granard (where Durkins reside now), to a new experimental school for girls at Cullenswood House, Ranelagh, Dublin. This school was St.Ita’s ,(a sister school to St. Enda’s school for boys in Rathfarnham) – both of which had as their director Padraig H. Pearse, BA, Barrister-at-Law. Sadly, this school closed down in 1912 and the girls all returned home to Granard. Each took responsibility for one or other aspect of their expanding business. A new era for the family had begun.

The following few years have been well documented. Suffice to say that the family settled down to hard work and a variety of social activities bringing with them the creative skills and broad education they had had both at Loreto and at St. Ita’s.  Many suitors came on the scene for the four girls but it is Kitty’s blossoming romance with Michael Collins that concerns us here. This was a high profile love affair with hundreds of letters being exchanged between the two – the first being written by Collins in February or March 1919 – the last from Kitty on 17th August 1922.

For the purpose of this article I have included two letters from Michael Collins which have references specifically to Granard and County Longford. Despite the great affairs of State with which he was involved these letters show that he could still take time to show his interest not only in Kitty but in the minutia of life and business in a small midland town.

In one such letter, written on 8th November, 1921, having just arrived back in London for the Conference on the Treaty, he tells Kitty he has just been to at 8a.m.Mass and lit a candle for her. He continues

How did you get on yesterday?. Granard Market is held on an ill-chosen date.Monday – how could anyone be in a proper mood or manner for buying or selling on Monday morning? Of course this is the real explanation of the late hour of starting – isn’t it? Anyway I hope the day was not very strenuous for you and that you got through all right. Let me know please. ( Leon O’Broin. In Great Haste .The letters of Michael Collins and Kitty Kiernan. Dublin 1983)

Then in reply to a letter from Kitty written on May 22nd 1922 telling him of the death of Joe McGuinness (of Longford) whom she describes as “a very genuine sort of man and I liked him very much and got on well with him” Collins writes:-

He is a great loss to us, but apart from that I feel the personal loss much more keenly.He was the one responsible for the recent peace. (ibid)

In Great Haste: The letters of Michael Collins and Kitty Kiernan, Leon O’Broin. Dublin, 1983

In Great Haste: The letters of Michael Collins and Kitty Kiernan, Leon O’Broin. Dublin, 1983

Towards the end the letters become more somber. Collins and Kitty write to each other of Harry Boland’s death – each stricken by the tragedy and thinking back without bitterness on happier times. Kitty prays all day and goes with Larry to the funeral. Then came Arthur Griffith’s death. Someone has told Kitty, she writes to Collins ‘that if you go to the funeral to-morrow you will be shot, but God is very good to you, and we must do Lough Derg sometime in thanksgiving.

But it was not to be. The awesome tragedy of Collins death at Beal na Blath on August 1922 was the final grief for Kitty, her devastation total. Instead of the planned double wedding – Maud married Gearoid O’Sullivan in October of the same year – Kitty sat by her sister dressed in black from head to foot. My parents Larry and Peggy married in January, 1923 but Kitty does not appear in any of the photos. She lived with them in Granard for a few months, sitting in the drawing-room responding to the thousands of letters she received from Ireland and abroad. When she left to stay with Maud and take up a small government position, she seldom returned. The Pain of the memories was too great. In 1925 she married a friend and colleague of Collins – Major General Felix Cronin and had two sons.

I was born into the Greville Arms in 1933, the youngest of four children of Peggy and Larry. While having a rich and vibrant childhood we were touched by the spirit of the past. As we ate our meals in the coffee room, the framed eyes of Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith looked down upon us from handsome framed portraits on the walls. We children had black-bordered mortuary cards of Michael Collins in our prayer books. When we had measles and mumps the two impressive volumes of ‘Michael  Collins’- by Pieras Beaslai were eagerly read.

Book in which Margot's fuller article appears

Book in which Margot's fuller article appears.

Old family friends from ‘the Movement’ some by now government ministers or people in high office in the new state – called regularly and spoke of ‘the girls’ in hushed tones. ‘The girls indeed came themselves with their children, bringing excitement and glamour as ever. In 1940 Helen came back to Granard to die –aged only forty, elegant and lovely to the end. Six months later Maud died of the same ailment. Kitty lived only a few more years (1945) and was buried near the grave of Michael Collins at Glasnevin Cemetry. We watched sadly as our parents grieved for ‘the girls’ but on the 22nd December, 1948, a few days before Christmas, my father Larry died suddenly at home and with him the little empire that had been Kiernan’s Stores virtually came to an end. The depression of the 1950s took its toll and the next generation followed other paths. The Hotel changed hands in the early 1960s.

I lived near Granard up to 2004 but still return regularly, sometimes to have lunch in the Hotel or to take my visitors  to climb the Moat. I tell them of Collins letter to Kitty written from Cadogan Square Gardens,London SW, on his birthday 16th October 1921, during the treaty negotiations:

and how I wish I were there now – on the Moat. Last time I was on the Moat, early morning,. Do you remember?  I looked across the Inny to Derryvaragh over Kinale and Sheelin (and thought of Fergus O’Farrell) and turning westward saw Cairnhill where the beacons were lighted to announce to the men of Longford that the French had landed at Killalla. (Ibid)

Margot contributed a fuller article called, ‘the Granard Connection’, to an edited volume, Michael Collins and the Making of the Irish State, edited by Gabriel Doherty and Dermot Keogh. The collection also includes an article about Gearoaid O’Sullivan, friend of Collins and husband of Maud Kiernan.

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http://www.geocities.com/heathcliffiam/mclove.htm

Kitty Kiernan

The story of a love triangle between Michael, Harry Boland (Michael’s best friend), and Kitty is accurate. In 1918, Harry and Michael traveled to Longford where Kiernan and her siblings worked at taking care of the family business in Granard and stayed at the Greville Arms. At this time, Harry was the one dating Kitty and Michael’s interests were directed at Kitty’s sister, Helen. But Helen had another male friend seeking her affections and they eventually married, much to Michael’s dismay.

According to Sean MacEoin, Michael was originally attracted to Helen Kiernan ‘who oozed charm,’ but she was already engaged to a local lawyer, Paul McGovern. Frank O’Connor claimed that ‘on the night before her wedding [Michael] went to her hotel and pleaded with her not to go through with her marriage’ and that during the wedding speeches he was so agitated that he shredded his handkerchief. He then transferred his affections to a second sister, Kitty, with whom Harry Boland was also in love. Kitty had a very pleasing personality: clever, capable, articulate, well groomed, poised, always impeccably dressed, pretty rather than beautiful.  (James MacKay).

The friendship Boland and Collins shared grew as they spent an increased amount of time together and this must have played a role in Collins’ hesitation to go after Kitty immediately. By 1919, Boland was surely in love with her. Michael enjoyed escaping to the country to play tennis, talk, and dance. In the summer of 1920, Harry returned to Ireland from America to take a break. He and Kitty spent time together and when it was time for Harry to leave again, Michael walked Kitty to tell Harry goodbye at his own risk.

Julia Roberts as Kitty, with Collins (Liam Neeson) and Boland (Aidan Quinn), in the 1996 film, Michael Collins

Julia Roberts as Kitty, with Collins (Liam Neeson) and Boland (Aidan Quinn), in the 1996 film, Michael Collins

In 1921, Michael traveled to Granard alone and stayed with Kitty. He invited her to a horse show and they met a number of friends there, Harry included. During the latter part of the year, it was apparent that Harry and Michael were competing for Kitty’s love. Both wrote to her frequently while they were out of the country, Harry being in New York and Collins in London. The correspondence between Michael and Kitty has been recorded in the book In Great Haste, a phrase that usually appeared in the letters. Over time, Kitty chose Michael but it is not clear how she went about breaking off her relationship with Harry.

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Compiled from various sources.

Kitty Kiernan’s Aunt, Rose Ann Kiernan, from Aghagreagh, Granard, married Patrick Kiernan, Toome, on the 2nd Februrary 1888.  Peter Kiernan, their son, my grandfather, was Kitty’s first cousin.

Life had started out so promisingly for Kitty Kiernan. Born Catherine Bridget but more popularly know as Kit or Kitty, she had looks, charm and grace. Kitty was born into a very comfortably-off merchant family, in Granard, Co. Longford, in 1892, and educated in Loreto Convent, Co Wicklow, and in St Ita’s, the school founded by Padraig Pearse.

Kitty Kiernan

Kitty Kiernan

She had five sisters and one brother. Her parents, Bridget and Peter Kiernan, enjoyed a happy marriage, and life in the Kiernan home was a joyous one until Kitty reached her teens. In 1907 one of her twin sisters died in her late teens, this was followed in 1908 by the deaths of both her parents within a couple of months of each other. The family was to be further devastated by the death in 1909 of the other twin sister.

The Kiernan family owned the Greville Arms Hotel in the town, as well as a grocery shop, a hardware store, a timber and undertaking business and also a bar. Around the corner from the hotel they operated a bakery which supplied the town and most of the surrounding countryside. All the family worked in once capacity or another.

Kitty and her sisters figured prominently in the social life of the town, being good looking, affluent and stylish. The political changes that followed the rising in 1916 affected the Kiernan family significantly and Kitty in particular. In May 1916, Michael Collins and Harry Boland stayed in the Greville Arms Hotel and both of them developed a romantic interest in Kitty. She finally decided on Collins. They planned to marry and took occasional excursions to house-hunt whenever Collins could spare the time from affairs of the State.

They engaged in an intense and lengthy correspondence over the next few years and even through the delicate Treaty negotiations in London, he wrote to her every day. These letters were the subject of a book by Leon O’Broin, under the title “In Great Haste”. They give a great insight into Kitty’s attitude to life and her disinterest in any serious way in the political events of this time.
She was almost exclusively interested in their personal affairs, truly a reflection of the old adage, “Love is for men a thing from life apart, tis women’s whole existence”.

The awesome tragedy of Collins’ death at Béal na mBlath on 22 August 1922 was the final grief for Kitty, her devastation total. Instead of the planned double wedding—Maud married Gearoid (O’Sullivan) in October—Kitty sat by her sister dressed in black from head to foot.” (The original double wedding date had been set for October 19, 1922.)

Following Collins death in August 1922, Kitty was inconsolable for some time. She became introspective, lost her vivacity and gaiety. Letter writing which she had once enjoyed became an impossible chore for her and one in which she could no longer take any pleasure. Politics and treachery had deprived her of the life she had so looked forward to with Michael.

Kitty and Felix Cronin's grave, Glasnevin

Kitty and Felix Cronin's grave, Glasnevin

In 1925, Kitty married Felix Cronin, who was Quarter Master General in the National Army, they had two sons, the second of whom they called Michael Collins Cronin in memory of their dead friend. Even during her marriage, Kitty read and re-read the letters she and Collins had exchanged and she kept a portrait of Collins on display at all times.

This might have led to friction between them, there was always the risk of comparisons, but her sons have stated that the picture gave rise to no such difficulty.

Kitty and Felix were not entirely happy in their relationship. She was often moody and sharp-tongued. Kitty did not enjoy good health at this time and this no doubt contributed to her changeable humour.

Kitty Kiernan died on the 24th July 1945 and was buried in Glasnevin cemetery not far from where Collins lies. Felix joined her there 16 years later.

One cannot but be struck by the contrasts in Kitty’s life – at times a life of gaiety and a social whirl that many would envy, but also a life of tragedies which overshadowed everything. Leading one to believe that even the good times were tinged with a certain sadness for her.

Perhaps we should not be too quick to judge her sometimes petty attitudes, insecurities and moodiness. Who among us can say we would have escaped unscathed from so many untimely deaths of our loved ones, and so many unfulfilled hopes and promises in life?

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