Items belonging to Michael Collins’ love purchased at an online auction in Churchill, Donegal.

Donegal antiques collector Cliffy Kelly got a big surprise when he purchased a cigar box at an online auction—in it were letters bearing the handwriting of Kitty Kiernan, who was engaged to marry Michael Collins at the time of his death in 1922.

Kelly, in an ironic twist, runs Mary Alice’s Antique Shop in, of all places, Churchill (aka, Church Hill), Donegal, which is about eight miles from Letterkenny. Winston Churchill, of course, was Michael Collins primary opponent between 1919 and 1922 and the man who put a £5,000 bounty on the Big Fellow’s head in 1920 after Collins eliminated two of Churchill’s most prized spies in Dublin.

“When you see a box like that you know yourself what the box is worth and you gamble on the contents,” Kelly told the Donegal Democrat. “It’s more for the fun of going through the boxes and finding out what is in it.”

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In the box he discovered religious medals that belonged to hunger strikers, along with scapulas and rosary beads and a mass card that commemorated the tenth anniversary of Collins’ death in 1932. But besides the medals there were also three handwritten notes in the hand of Kitty Kiernan. One of the notes, dated St. Patrick’s Day 1927 read: “In Rememberee (sic) of our beloved friend General Michael Collins, born 1890, murdered 1922. Always loved and Remembered by your loving friend Kitty Cronin Kiernan.”

Kitty Kiernan.

Kitty Kiernan.

There was also an envelope addressed to Kiernan: “To Kitty, best wishes and fond memories of the old days. Sean Mac. Bless his memory forever. Big Fella RIP.” Could the “Sean Mac” have been General Seán MacEoin who, like Kitty, hailed from County Longford? MacEoin was very close to Collins and it is said that he was to be Collins’ best man at his wedding.

Kelly was overcome when he read the contents of the box. “I read it and I was taken aback. I did get very emotional touching it and the thought of what they were. Then I started digging deeper and reading the contents.”

Kelly’s brother Kiernan, a historian, has already contacted the National Library and the National Museum about donating the contents. “I want to do a lot of work (to find out more about the items),” Kelly said. “I am more interested in the historical value than the monetary value. It depends what the result of that work is, if they are needed somewhere else.”

Kitty Kiernan went on to marry Felix Cronin, a quartermaster in the National Army, and they had two children together. She died in 1945 of Bright’s Disease and is buried only yards from General Collins in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

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* Dermot McEvoy is the author of the The 13th Apostle: A Novel of Michael Collins and the Irish Uprising and Our Lady of Greenwich Village, both now available in paperback, Kindle and Audio from Skyhorse Publishing. He may be reached at dermotmcevoy50@gmail.com. Follow him at www.dermotmcevoy.com. Follow The 13th Apostle on Facebook at www.facebook.com/13thApostleMcEvoy.

Michael Collins and his love Kitty Kiernan.