Catherine Brigid (Kitty) Kiernan (1892 – 24 July 1945) was an Irish woman widely known as the fiancée of assassinated Irish revolutionary leader and Chairman of the Provisional Government, Michael Collins.
Kitty Kiernan was born in Granard, County Longford and educated in Loreto Convent, County Wicklow. Hers was a very comfortably-off merchant family with five sisters and one brother. Her parents, Bridget and Peter Kiernan, enjoyed a happy marriage, and life in the Kiernan home was joyous until Kitty reached her teens. In 1907 one of her twin sisters died in her late teens, 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 remaining 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 one capacity or another.
Relations with Michael Collins
Michael Collins, one of the principal founders of the independent Irish state, was introduced to the vivacious Kiernan sisters by his cousin Gearóid O'Sullivan, who was already dating Maud Kiernan. Collins initially fell for the captivating Helen Kiernan, but she was already engaged to someone else. He then turned his interests to Kitty, who had already captured the interest of Collins' friend Harry Boland. It was Collins to whom Kitty became engaged, with plans to marry Collins in a November 1922 double ceremony to include the nuptials of Maud and Gearóid. Collins' death four months earlier resulted in a single wedding taking place.
Later life and death
In 1925, Kitty married Felix Cronin, who was Quartermaster General in the Irish Army. They had two sons, the second of whom they called Michael Collins Cronin. The first child was named Felix Cronin; he and his son Rex (Felix) are buried next to Kitty and Felix.
She died of Bright's disease (as did all of her siblings), on 24 July 1945, and was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, not far from where Collins lies. Felix Cronin was buried there 19 years later.
Kitty Kiernan and Michael Collins kept up a lengthy correspondence and while Collins was in London during the Treaty negotiations, he wrote to her every day. These letters are the subject of a book written by Leon O'Broin entitled "In Great Haste". Kitty's worst fears were realized when Collins was killed in action at the age of 31 near Béal na Bláth, County Cork, on 22 August 1922.
In 2000, some of the 300 letters sent by Kiernan and Collins to each other went on permanent display at the Cork Public Museum. These letters give a great insight into Kitty's attitude to life and into the political events of this time.
Former Fine Gael minister Peter Barry donated his collection of historic letters to the Lord Mayor of Cork, on behalf of the municipal museum. The collection, purchased from the Cronin family in 1995, was conserved at the Delmas bindery at Marsh's Library in Dublin: the letters were also catalogued and then returned to the Cork Public Museum. The Peter Barry collection contains letters from Harry Boland, a friend of Collins and former suitor of Kitty Kiernan.
There are also a number of letters to Collins from various individuals and to Kiernan from others. The bulk of the letters between Collins and Kiernan were written between 1919 and 1922, and through their almost daily contact emerges a picture of the dreams and aspirations of the man often called Ireland’s "lost leader" and the woman with whom he wanted to share a "normal" life.
"Their correspondence represents a unique and revealing portrait of a remarkable man and an ordinary woman made extraordinary by tragic circumstances," said a museum spokesperson.
In popular culture
A number of Irish pubs are named in memory of Kitty Kiernan, such as one in Donnycarney, Dublin, Waterford, in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn and New York. A similar pub in Linz, Austria was closed in 2009.
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