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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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