Kiernan, Catherine Brigid (‘Kitty’) (1893–1945), hotelier, and fiancée of Michael Collins (qv), was born 26 January 1893 in Granard, Co. Longford, fifth child and fourth daughter among six daughters and one son of Peter Kiernan, a shopkeeper and hotelier, and Bridget Kiernan; her eldest siblings, twin sisters, both died in adolescence (1907–09). She and her sisters were educated as boarders in the Loreto convent, Bray, Co. Wicklow, until the deaths of their parents within two months of each other (1908). Their relative and guardian, Andrew Cusack, a Granard draper and advanced nationalist, who also died shortly afterwards, sent them to resume their education with his own daughter at St Ita's, Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin, the progressive girls’ school recently founded by Patrick Pearse (qv). Thereafter Kitty assisted her surviving siblings in management of the family enterprises, the Greville Arms Hotel in Granard's main street, and adjoining shop, which comprised a grocery, hardware, timber, and undertaking business, and a public bar; they also owned and managed a bakery. Her brother, Laurence Dawson Kiernan, a shrewd businessman, and keen sportsman at tennis, coursing, and hunting, later became chairman for some twenty-five years of Granard district council, affiliated politically with Cumann na nGaedheal and Fine Gael. Trading in a bustling market town, the family thrived amid the general agricultural prosperity during the first world war. The four Kiernan sisters shared in beauty, charm, and grace, and were widely popular as party hostesses and guests. Lively and spirited, with a stylish sense of dress, Kitty was prone to unpredictable shifts of mood and a sharpness of tongue; her interest in politics was slight.
Kiernan met Collins during the successful Longford South parliamentary by-election campaign of Sinn Féin's Joseph McGuinness (qv) (May 1917), when Collins was among several election helpers who lodged in the Greville Arms owing to the pressure on accommodation in Longford town. Over the ensuing years the presence of four attractive sisters made the hotel popular with young male activists in the area on political business or holiday (the youngest sister, Maud, would marry (October 1922) Gearóid O'Sullivan (qv)); thus Kitty in 1918 also met Harry Boland (qv), a close personal friend of Collins and fellow member of the IRB supreme council. Though Boland was first to evince a romantic interest in Kitty, his courtship was complicated by his absence for most of the war of independence in the USA, associated with Éamon de Valera (qv) in seeking diplomatic recognition of the Irish republic (1919–21). Collins was initially attracted to Kitty's younger sister Helen, but, after her betrothal in 1919 to a Co. Fermanagh solicitor, gradually transferred his attentions to Kitty (who in the winter of 1920–21 was briefly engaged to a third man). In November 1920 the Greville Arms was among many Granard buildings burned by Black and Tans in reprisal for the assassination of an RIC district inspector while drinking in the hotel bar. Kitty and her siblings moved to a flat, and conducted their retail trade in alternative premises; the hotel reopened in 1922.
The triangular romantic complications intensified on Boland's six-week stay in Ireland during the truce (August–October 1921). Proposing marriage, he returned to America believing, or purporting to believe, his offer to have been accepted. On his departure, however, Kiernan decided finally in Collins's favour, determining ‘to marry the one I really love, and who loves me just as well as any of the others I had thought of marrying’ (Ó Broin, 80), despite persistent doubts about the depth of Collins's commitment and his reputed involvement with other women, such as Hazel Lavery (qv), against Boland's devotion and constancy. During the treaty negotiations in London (October–December 1921) she and Collins corresponded every second day, a practice they continued, amid infrequent visits, throughout the politically turbulent months that followed, Collins's letters composed ‘in great haste’ (a recurring envoi) amid the burden of his responsibilities, Kitty frequently distressed by his preoccupied inattention, complaining that ‘the first and best goes to Ireland, I am only a good second’ (Ó Broin, 196). Though Collins alluded to his betrothal during the dáil treaty debates (3 January 1922), the engagement was not formally announced, nor Kiernan named as his intended, until March 1922.
The denouement was famously tragic. During August 1922 Boland and Collins were both killed, on opposite sides of the civil war. Grief-stricken and bewildered about her future, Kiernan wandered among family and friends for over a year. She married (1925) Felix Cronin (d. 1961), from Lorrha, Co. Tipperary; a veteran of the war of independence and civil war, who had known Collins, he was serving quartermaster general of the national army. They had two sons, Felix Mary Cronin and Michael Collins Cronin. The marriage was unhappy, beset by incompatibility, Cronin's heavy drinking in the early years, and financial worries. After going on the reserve list with the rank of major general in 1929, Cronin was employed by Irish Hospitals Trust, frequently travelling overseas to promote sales of sweepstakes tickets. Losing the position at the outbreak of the 1939–45 emergency, he joined Fuel Importers, the state body established to oversee fuel supply, initially checking turf lorries in the Phoenix Park, but rising to become general manager. For several years Kitty was frequently in nursing homes suffering from nephritis, a progressive kidney disorder endemic in her family, and hypertension. She died suddenly 25 July 1945 of a cerebral haemorrhage in a nursing home at 36 Elgin Rd, Dublin, and was buried in Glasnevin cemetery. Her correspondence with Collins, preserved by her sons, was first made available for scholarly purposes to Margery Forester for her biography, Michael Collins: the lost leader (1971), and was published as In great haste (1983), edited, annotated, and introduced by León Ó Broin (qv); a revised and expanded second edition (1996) includes additional letters which came to light in the interim.