Catherine Brigid “Kitty” Kiernan, Irish woman widely known as the fiancée of Irish revolutionary leader and Chairman of the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State, Michael Collins, is born on January 26, 1892, in Granard, County Longford.
Kiernan is born to Peter Kiernan and Bridget (née Dawson). She is educated at Loreto Convent, County Wicklow. Hers is a very comfortably-off merchant family with five sisters and one brother. Her parents enjoy a happy marriage, and life in the Kiernan home is joyous until Kitty reaches her teens. On November 27, 1907, her sister, Elizabeth Mary (a twin), dies at the age of eighteen of pulmonary tuberculosis, while Elizabeth’s twin sister, Rose, apparently dies the same year in Davos, Switzerland, which would also indicate tuberculosis as a cause of death. Her mother dies on November 29, 1908 of apoplexy, while her father dies almost exactly a year later, on November 9, 1909, of pneumonia. The Kiernan family owns 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 operate a bakery which supplies the town and most of the surrounding countryside. All the family works in one capacity or another.
Michael Collins, one of the principal founders of the independent Irish state, is introduced to the vivacious Kiernan sisters by his cousin Gearóid O’Sullivan, who is already dating Maud Kiernan. Collins initially falls for the captivating Helen Kiernan, but she is already engaged to someone else. He then turns his interests to Kitty, who has already captured the interest of Collins’ friend Harry Boland. However, it is Collins to whom Kitty becomes engaged, with plans to marry Collins in a November 1922 double ceremony to include the nuptials of Maud and Gearóid. Collins’ assassination four months earlier, on August 22, 1922, near Béal na Bláth, County Cork, results in a single wedding taking place.
On June 10, 1925, Kiernan marries Felix Cronin, who is Quartermaster General in the Irish Army. They have two sons, Felix Jnr. and Michael Collins Cronin. Felix Jnr. and his son Rex are interred with his parents in Glasnevin Cemetery.
Kiernan dies, aged 52, of a cerebral hemorrhage on July 24, 1945, and her grave is close to that of Collins. Felix Cronin dies suddenly on October 22, 1961, while playing golf at Woodbrook Golf Club and is also buried in Glasnevin.
Kiernan and Michael Collins keep up a lengthy correspondence and while Collins is in London during the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations, he writes to her every day. The bulk of these letters are 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. These letters are the subject of a book written by Leon Ó Broin entitled In Great Haste. In 2000, some of the 300 letters sent by Kiernan and Collins to each other go on permanent display at the Cork Public Museum. These letters give a great insight into her attitude to life and into the political events of this time.
Former Fine Gael minister Peter Barry donates 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, is conserved at the Delmas bindery at Marsh’s Library in Dublin. The letters are also catalogued and then returned to the Cork Public Museum. The Peter Barry collection also contains letters from Harry Boland, a friend of Collins and former suitor of Kiernan.
In the 1996 film Michael Collins, Kiernan is played by American actress Julia Roberts though some reviewers are critical of the character’s development.
A number of Irish pubs are named in memory of Kiernan, such as one in Donnycarney, Dublin, one in Waterford, and one in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn in New York. A similar pub in Linz, Austria is closed in 2009.