“I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” – Banksy
St Mary’s Famine Museum were honoured to receive a visit by Ms Mary Bergin recently. Now in her 90th year and educated at the Presentation Convent here in Thurles, Ms Bergin was accompanied on her visit by a comrade, Ms Eileen Forbes.
It is seldom that Museum staff have the opportunity and great honour to discuss history with a lady who has such a vivid and clear recollection of the early 20th century, but to meet someone who personally knew Kitty Kiernan, the one-time fiancée of the great Michael Collins, was something truly inimitable.
Ms Bergin regularly met Kitty Kiernan as she walked along Dublin’s Harrington Street, the former going to her place of employment, the latter on her way to meet her later husband Felix Cronin.
Of course, Catherine Brigid Kiernan, better known as Kitty Kiernan (1892 – 1945) was a Co Longford woman widely recognised as the fiancée of assassinated Irish revolutionary leader, Michael Collins.
Kitty was born in Granard, County Longford and later educated in the Loreto Convent, in County Wicklow. She was the daughter of wealthy parents, Bridget and Peter Kiernan, and one of a family of seven children including twins, having five sisters and one brother. The Kiernan family were proprietors of the Greville Arms Hotel, a bakery, hardware store, timber yard, an undertakers business, together with a grocery shop and a public house.
In 1907 one of Kitty’s twin sisters died in her late teens, followed the following year (1908) by the deaths of both parents, both within a couple of months of each other. The family would be later devastated the following year (1909) by the death of the remaining twin sister.
Michael Collins, one of the principal founders of Irish State independence, and later Chairman of the Irish Provisional Government, was introduced to the bubbly and cheerful Kiernan sisters by his cousin Gearóid O’Sullivan. Gearóid was already courting Kitty’s sister Maud.
Collins in the first instance appears to have thrown an eye on another of the sisters, namely Helen, but she turned out to be already engaged. Seeing no future here he then turned his interests on the attractive Kitty. Kitty had already captured the interest of one Harry Boland, latter a friend of Collins. This interest would be however short lived and Collins and Kitty soon became engaged. They planned to marry in Dublin on November 22nd 1922, in a double ceremony to include her sister Maud and Gearóid O’Sullivan. The death of Collins four months earlier would result in only one wedding taking place with Kitty attending dressed in black.
Three years later, in 1925, Kitty would instead marry Felix Cronin, latter a Quartermaster General in the Irish Army. They would have two sons; the eldest was named Felix (Rex) Cronin the second named Michael Collins Cronin, obviously both named after her two great loves.
Kitty died of Bright’s disease (Kidney disease) as did all of her siblings, on July 24th 1945, and was laid to rest in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, not far from where Collins lies. Husband Felix and their son Rex were to join her there some 19 years later.
Kitty Kiernan and Michael Collins had both kept up lengthy correspondence with each other even while Collins was still in London during the Treaty negotiations and he had written to her every day. These letters are now the subject of a published book written by Leon O’Broin entitled “In Great Haste“.
Kitty Kiernan and indeed Ireland’s worst fears would be realized when Collins was assassinated by Denis ‘Sonny’ O’Neill at the age of just 31 years, near Béal na Bláth, County Cork, on August 22nd, 1922.