Michael Collins was a key figure in Ireland’s battle for independence from British rule in the early 20th century. He fought in the Easter Rising as a young man in 1916 and was imprisoned but spared execution.
When he was released Collins became a major player in the Irish resistance. He took over the Irish Republican Brotherhood and was put in charge of the Irish Revolutionary Movement when Éamon de Valera travelled to America to gain support for the Irish cause.
It was around this time that Collins met Kitty Kiernan. Kitty was from County Longford, from a wealthy family that owned several local businesses. Collins met her during a by-election in 1917.
Collins was travelling with his friend and comrade Harry Boland. Both men took an instant liking to Kitty. She enjoyed the attention she was receiving and watching the men compete for her affections.
Kitty chose to be with Collins
After a period of toying with both men, Kitty made her decision and informed Boland that she wanted to be with Collins.
Boland was devastated as he believed he would win her heart. There is no question that the grappling for Kitty’s love put a huge strain on the relationship of the two men.
Now engaged to be married, Collins and Kiernan had to be separated as his work took him across Ireland and back to Dublin.
Collins was leading the Irish forces against British troops. He was a skilled military tactician and had learned his lesson from the Easter Rising. Collins saw first-hand how the Irish had been easily penned into St Stephen’s Green leaving them defenceless. He wasn’t going to let his men suffer under the same tactical naivety.
Collins organised his men to attack the British in short, sharp bursts, giving them no time to respond. He had a network of spies and gunmen across Dublin that enabled him to stay one step ahead of the British troops.
Collins wrote to Kitty everyday
Throughout this time, Collins stayed in contact with Kitty by post, writing a letter every day. He wrote of his love for her and the pressure he felt leading his troops. He travelled to see her whenever possible but had to keep a low profile as he had a £10,000 bounty on his head from the British government.
After the British suffered several defeats at the hands of Collins’ men, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was drawn up. Collins was one of the envoys that went to London to negotiate the terms. He signed the Treaty but faced a backlash from many Irish republicans when he returned to Ireland. They felt he had made too many concessions to the British.
Collins had spent one last night with Kitty before he left for London and the two made plans to marry in June 1922. Kitty wrote to him of her love for him and their time together. Collins warned her to be careful about what she wrote, aware of the possibility of the letters being intercepted.
‘I’ve signed my own death warrant’
A civil war had broken out in Ireland after Collins signed the Treaty. His followers were battling the anti-treaty factions, led by Collins’ former comrade, Éamon de Valera. Collins said after he signed the Treaty that he had effectively signed his own death warrant. His fears turned out to be well founded.
Collins continued to write to Kitty throughout the civil war, indicating that he was feeling the strain of the responsibility of so many lives.
The government troops were gaining the upper hand, and Collins arranged a secret meeting with de Valera to try and settle the dispute without further bloodshed. However, his convoy was ambushed by gunmen on his way to the meeting. Instead of fleeing the scene, Collins ordered his men to get out of the car and return fire. This they did, but Collins was shot in the head and died instantly.
News of his death reached Kitty and left her inconsolable. She read and re-read his letters to for days on end.
Kitty eventually married Felix Cronin, a Quartermaster General in the Irish Army. However, she never forgot her love for Collins and hung a portrait of him in the living room of her marital home. She also named her second son Michael Collins Cronin as a tribute to her love for him.