Newly revealed letters between the Irish revolutionary and his fiancée show Kiernan’s insecurities and Collins complaining about “extremists” as the Irish Civil War loomed.
Probably no love letters of any Irish politician have been so thoroughly vetted than those between Michael Collins and his fiancée Kitty Kiernan so the emergence of two new ones is a great surprise.
The Irish Post is reporting that the two new letters which have been discovered were written by Collins in the first half of 1922. They show the unease Collins is feeling as the Irish Civil War looms on the horizon.
Collins is weary of “extremists”
On June 1, 1922, just weeks before the Civil War began, Collins wrote that “Ireland will have cause to remember her present-day extremists.” He was probably talking about Eamon de Valera, Cathal Brugha and the Countess Markievicz. It is also kind of amusing to see Collins, the ultimate Irish extremist, complaining about other Irish extremists.
“The whole thing is ghastly,” he went on to write, “but I’ll tell you more about it when I see you. It was only after my scribble yesterday I heard of [fellow Sinn Féin politician] Joe McGuinness’ death.” Collins had helped McGuinness get elected to the British parliament in 1917 when he was still imprisoned in England. It was during this political campaign that Kiernan caught his eye in Longford. “He is a great loss to us but apart from that, I feel the personal loss much more keenly. He was the one most responsible for the recent peace. It makes the present position all the more tragic.”
In a letter dated March 31, 1922, Collins wrote:
“I am not very sanguine about the future from any point of view. We have however secured the release of all the prisoners.
“But the news from Ireland is very bad and the ‘powers that be’ here are getting very alarmed and there may be a bust-up any moment.
“Were it not for the awful consequences I’d almost welcome it.”
The letters are devoid of any romantic gossip or angst and more about the grim political realities of the day. “It would be so pleasant to be relieved of all responsibility—yet one has the responsibility it would be cowardly to shirk from standing up to it.
to it.” He concluded by saying, “The whole business is casting a gloom over me and in spite of what is a big human hope I cannot keep thinking that as a people we are destined to go on dreaming, vainly hoping, striving to no purpose until we are all gone.”
But Collins being Collins, he put his nose to the grindstone and moved on, putting the infant nation first without regard to his own well-being.
Leon O Brion collected the original letters in “Great Haste: The Letters of Michael Collins and Kitty Kiernan.” The letters give great insight into the lives of the woman from County Longford and the Cork revolutionary who made his reputation on the dangerous streets of Dublin between 1917 and 1922.
The letters reveal Kiernan’s petty jealousies, especially when Collins was negotiating the Treaty in London in the fall of 1921. She was reading about the dashing Collins in the newspapers and all the women he was seen with, especially Lady Hazel Lavery, wife of the prominent painter. Collins in the letters comes across as a devoted fiancé who is fighting exhaustion as he tries to hammer out a solution with Winston Churchill.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.dermotmcevoy.com. Follow The 13th Apostle on Facebook at www.facebook.com/13thApostleMcEvoy.