Catherine Brigid Kiernan was born in 1892 in Granard, County Longford. Known to everyone as Kitty, she was educated at the Loreto Convent in County Wicklow and St Ita’s, Rathfarnham, County Dublin. From a family of five sisters and one brother, Kitty’s parents Peter and Bridget ran the Greville Arms Hotel in Granard as well as a number of other shops. Tragically in 1908 both of her parents died within a few months of each other, leaving Kitty and her siblings to run the various businesses.
Kitty was described as not having much interest in politics. She was attractive with a lively personality, bright and affectionate. Like many young girls, she liked fine clothes, romantic novels and enjoyed singing and dancing. She was also deeply religious.
Kitty first met Michael Collins in 1918 when he stayed at the hotel in Granard with his friend Harry Boland. The two men were canvassing for the by-election in County Longford. Both Collins and Boland fell under Kitty’s spell and Harry referred to Michael as his “formidable opponent” in the fight for Kitty’s affections.
In 1919 Éamon de Valera went to America to raise funds and awareness for Sinn Féin and the fight for Irish Independence. He asked Harry Boland to accompany him and the two men were away for almost two years. With Boland out of the country, Collins saw his opportunity and redoubled his attentions towards Kitty. By the time of the truce in the War of Independence in 1921, Kitty was in regular contact with both men.
In December 1921, Michael Collins was sent to London with a group of plenipotentiaries to negotiate a Treaty with the British. While there he wrote Kitty daily love letters, while at the same time Boland was writing to her from America asking her to visit him there and to marry him. But Collins was winning out, and rather than heading westwards, Kitty decided to visit Michael in London.
In the Spring of 1922, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was passed and as the country split into those who supported the Treaty and those who did not, Michael Collins became Commander-in-Chief of the Free State Army. Having returned to Ireland, Harry Boland supported the anti-Treaty side, and worked “like the divil”, as Michael said, against his former friend, and now rival in politics and love.
Michael Collins proposed marriage to Kitty on the 8th October 1921 in the Grand Hotel in Greystones. When Michael announced his engagement in the Dáil Harry magnanimously sent a letter to Kitty congratulating her on the news.
As the Civil War progressed in Ireland, in the wake of the Treaty, Kitty was anxious to fix a date for her wedding. She hoped to have a double wedding with her sister Maud, who was due to marry Gearóid O’Sullivan. But before a day could be chosen, on the 22nd August 1922, Michael Collins was assassinated by Anti-Treaty, Irregular forces at Béal na mBláth, County Cork. Harry Boland had died a fortnight earlier having been shot by Free State soldiers in Skerries, County Dublin. Both of Kitty’s suitors were now dead. Maud and Gearóid married in October 1922 and Kitty sat by her sister dressed in black from head to foot.
After Collins’ death, Kitty spent more than a year wandering from relative to relative carrying the precious souvenirs of her dead lover.
In 1925 she married Felix Cronin, who was Quartermaster General in the Irish Army. They had two sons, the second of whom they called Michael Collins Cronin.
She died of Bright’s Disease (Kidney disease) on July 24 1945. She requested that she be buried as close as possible to her great love, Michael Collins. She is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, not far from where Collins lies, and was joined there 16 years later by her husband Felix.