With all that was happening politically, it may seem that Michael never had time for love. But he did manage to have a few courtships and was rather popular with the ladies. According to Frank O'Connor's The Big Fellow, Michael once stopped a promising romance because the young woman believed that a girlfriend should not be obligated to care for a handicapped or ailing partner. Collins, feeling that loyalty was paramount, stopped the relationship then and there. Another account says that the young woman and Collins were sitting together when she made the comment to him and he simply picked up his hat and left, never to see her again. Of course his most well known relationship was with his fiancée, Kitty Kiernan (pictured above).
The story of a love triangle between Michael, Harry Boland (Michael's best friend), and Kitty is accurate. In 1918, Harry and Michael traveled to Longford where Kiernan and her siblings worked at taking care of the family business in Granard and stayed at the Greville Arms. At this time, Harry was the one dating Kitty and Michael’s interests were directed at Kitty’s sister, Helen. But Helen had another male friend seeking her affections and they eventually married, much to Michael’s dismay.
"According to Sean MacEoin, Michael was originally attracted to Helen Kiernan ‘who oozed charm,’ but she was already engaged to a local lawyer, Paul McGovern. Frank O’Connor claimed that ‘on the night before her wedding [Michael] went to her hotel and pleaded with her not to go through with her marriage’ and that during the wedding speeches he was so agitated that he shredded his handkerchief. He then transferred his affections to a second sister, Kitty, with whom Harry Boland was also in love. Kitty had a very pleasing personality: clever, capable, articulate, well groomed, poised, always impeccably dressed, pretty rather than beautiful" (James MacKay).
The friendship Boland and Collins shared grew as they spent an increased amount of time together and this must have played a role in Collins' hesitation to go after Kitty immediately. By 1919, Boland was surely in love with her. Michael enjoyed escaping to the country to play tennis, talk, and dance. In the summer of 1920, Harry returned to Ireland from America to take a break. He and Kitty spent time together and when it was time for Harry to leave again, Michael walked Kitty to tell Harry goodbye at his own risk. In 1921, Michael traveled to Granard alone and stayed with Kitty. He invited her to a horse show and they met a number of friends there, Harry included. During the latter part of the year, it was apparent that Harry and Michael were competing for Kitty’s love. Both wrote to her frequently while they were out of the country, Harry being in New York and Collins in London. The correspondence between Michael and Kitty has been recorded in the book In Great Haste, a phrase that usually appeared in the letters. Over time, Kitty chose Michael but it is not clear how she went about breaking off her relationship with Harry.
Collins is also rumored to have had affairs with Lady Lavery and Lady Londonderry, particularly during the Treaty negotiations in London. These claims could be the subject of fanciful gossip, however, because Collins was celebrated by high society on his trip to England. (It would be Sir John Lavery, husband of Lady Hazel Lavery, who would paint Collins's portrait, Love of Ireland, while his body was lying in state.) After a photograph was published of the Laverys driving Collins around town, the press linked Collins romantically with Hazel Lavery. Hazel was not ashamed of these rumors as it was no secret that she was sexually interested in Michael. After Michael was killed, Hazel showed letters allegedly written to her by Collins to Lord Birkenhead. He said that the romantic passages he read seemed to have been written in female handwriting. Moreover, the rumor of a Hazel-and-Michael love affair may have been exaggerated by Collins’s opponents as fodder for a campaign against him. Evidently, there was some kind of connection between Hazel and Collins’s opposition because Harry Boland possessed several letters written by Hazel and it is possible (though not certain) that they were associated. Rumors about Lady Londonderry and Collins being romantically linked may have stemmed from the same sort of situation. A woman named Moya Llewelyn Davies claimed that Collins had a dalliance with her as well. Davies was, at the least, an intelligence agent who assisted Collins. It was through Davies, in fact, that Hazel and Michael met because the two women were friends.
"Whether there was any truth in the gossip that linked Michael’s name with Moya Llewelyn Davies has never been satisfactorily resolved. Michael was on very close terms with both Moya and her husband, Crompton. She herself never concealed her affection for Michael. Rex Taylor, when working on his biography of Collins in the mid-1950s, had a bundle of Moya’s letters which implied a love affair. In a telephone conversation with Valentine Iremonger of the Irish Embassy he promised to send this material for copying and deposit in the National Library of Ireland; but he was forestalled by ‘two men in bowler hats’ allegedly representing the Llewelyn Davies family who repossessed the documents. Taylor’s biography has only a passing reference to Mrs. Llewelyn Davies, a quotation from a letter she wrote a J.M. Hone (biographer of Yeats) in 1942 which described Michael as: ‘a man with a great and tender heart, who loved the beautiful in nature and in art as far as he had time or opportunity to find it. His friends who wrote about him have distorted him as much or more than his enemies.’ Moya wrote her autobiography and showed it to Batt O’Connor, whom she had helped with his own memoirs. He and his wife were aghast when they read in the manuscript very revealing details about Michael and Moya. In a country where the censorship of books was notorious, Batt and his wife decided on a little censorship of their own. They confided the matter to Liam Tobin and Frank Thornton who, in time-honoured fashion, sent Moya death threats if she proceeded with publication. The book was never published, and the manuscript itself has apparently vanished. The matter reared its head on 23 August 1987 when The Sunday Press aired a rumour that Michael and Moya had had a child" (James MacKay).
Lady Londonderry at left and Lady Lavery at right.
There were other women in Collins’s life that he could have had some type of intimacy with. By the same token, there were probably many women assisting Collins who did not have any kind of sexual relationship with him. T. Ryle Dwyer, an author and historian, tackles the complicated subject of Michael's love life in his book Michael Collins: The Man Who Won the War. He writes:
"In later years some people―who never knew Collins―would suggest that he may have been homosexual. It has all been pure speculation, based largely on the portraits by (Piaras) Beaslai and Frank O'Connor, though neither author ever actually suggested it. O'Connor relied heavily on Collins' longtime friend Joe O'Reilly for his portrait, which showed Collins as a contradictory conglomeration of various characteristics―he was a buoyant, warm-hearted, fun-loving individual... but he was also a thoughtless, selfish, ill-mannered bully. While other young men went looking for a piece of ass, he was more inclined to go looking for 'a piece of ear.' He would burst into a room and jump on a colleague and wrestle him to the floor, and then begin biting the unfortunate friend's ear until the other fellow surrendered, often with blood streaming from his ear. It was certainly the portrait of a rather strange fellow... [later] it became possible to piece together some of his safe houses. Most were run by single women, the aunts or widowed mothers of colleagues. Others would later try to suggest that there was a sexual aspect to his relationship with those women, but no shred of evidence was produced to support this characterisation of him as a rampant philanderer. Those making the charge might just as easily have suggested that he or any other man who shared an apartment with a sister were engaged in an incestuous relationship."
In his film diary, Neil Jordan reveals how he had to tackle these rumors surrounding Collins' sexuality:
"Friday 14th April (presumably 1995). Good Friday.
...On Wednesday met Michael Keating, the ex-Lord Mayor of Dublin and Kevin O'Conner, a journalist from the Irish Independent. They told me that an unnamed friend of Mr. Keating, a solicitor, is in possession of Emmet Dalton's diary. ... The solicitor, who had been diagnosed as having terminal cancer, was in a state as to what to do with the papers. He had not released them previously because of the details he claimed they reveal about Collins's homosexual liasions. Emmet Dalton's main job was to pick up young privates for Collins, apparently. I ask them both have they seen the diaries. They say no, but they have photostats of certain pages--or printouts, I'm not sure. The whole scenario is far too fanciful, both neat and paranoid at the same time. I am not sure what they're approaching me for. I ask them and get an indeterminate reply. I tell them that if the diaries exist they should publish them. Then ask why they haven't insisted on viewing the documents themselves. They tell me, solemnly, that the cancer was misdiagnosed and the solicitor no longer felt the burden of revealing his terrible secret. They leave and I'm left musing as to what an ex-TD and Lord Mayor and the political correspondent of a major Irish newspaper are doing peddling such extraordinary stories."
It is unfair to characterize Collins as a seamy lothario without first conceding that there is no concrete evidence to support such a portrayal of him. While it is true that loyalty to one lover can connote loyalty to every other pursuit in life, it is probably not accurate either to imagine a virginal Collins married wholly to his career and dying without even one dalliance. As for the accusation of homosexuality, it does seem that people cannot imagine men sleeping in close, cramped quarters without dreaming up sordid scenarios of sex. This is quite unfortunate. Whether Collins was or was not a philanderer, was or was not homosexual, I think these matters mean little in the long run. Collins' contributions to the pursuit of Irish freedom are of far greater merit even though history doesn't grab the kind of attention that scintillating scandals do.
Naturally it is impossible for us to know all the workings of Michael’s private life and in the end, it seems a little less important to this site to discuss who Collins was or was not having sexual relations with. I understand that this does intrigue some people and it does reveal other aspects of Collins’s personality. If you would like to know more, I would suggest that you read the books In Great Haste by Leon O’Broin and/or Michael Collins and the Women in His Life by Meda Ryan.