Irish History: Volume XVIII
Real Life Irish Love Stories, Part 2
Valentine’s might be a few days gone, but we’re stretching the celebration of love into a week this year by coming back with a part 2 (check out part 1 here!) of love stories in Irish history. While Irish love stories may not always be happy ones, they are often the big, beautiful, epic love stories we associate with literature and poetry…except these ones are real. As another ill-fated lover in Irish history, Oscar Wilde, once said: “The truth is rarely pure and never simple, ” and, even more appropriately, “Hearts are made to be broken.”
Charles Stewart Parnell and Kitty O’Shea
A bit of a scandalous story, but one beloved in Irish history all the same, Parnell was known as the “uncrowned king of Ireland” before he met Kitty O’Shea. Parnell was a formidable Irish politician in the late 19th century who wielded almost unheard of power in his campaign against British rule, making him a hero to all of Ireland as he backed the bid for Irish independence (even the British were impressed!) But public favor turned against him when it was revealed he had risked his career for love of a married woman—Kitty O’Shea, wife of fellow politician, Captain O’Shea. Many people knew of the affair, including O’Shea (it was called “the worst kept secret in London,”) as the couple had been together for many years and even had multiple children together. The real scandal came when O’Shea filed for divorce (he had been waiting for an inheritance from one of Kitty’s relatives that never came,) something unheard of in highly Catholic Ireland. O’Shea spitefully made the divorce as public as possible, which caused Parnell to be forced to step down from his position as the leader of the Irish party lest he destroy Ireland’s chance at independence. Parnell and Kitty married in a register office when they were denied a church wedding, and lived the rest of their short lives in obscurity—but at least together.
Michael Collins and Kitty Kiernan
Michael Collins was an Irish nationalist revolutionary who was imprisoned, but luckily not executed, for his part in the Easter Rising of 1916—after which he met Kitty Kiernan, the daughter of wealthy landowners in Longford in 1917. After a bit of a competition for her affection between Collins and his friend, Harry Boland, Kiernan chose Collins and they embarked on a love affair that would last the rest of Collins’s life. Shortly after their first meeting, the couple was engaged to be married, but as Collins became a major player in the Irish resistance to British rule, him and Kiernan often found themselves separated. As Collins became a brilliant tactician and made devastating blows against English forces, he wrote to Kiernan every day of his love for her--over 300 letters. His hard work led to the Anglo-Irish treaty, but even as he signed it, Collins knew many would disagree with how many concessions he had made—and he was right. The signing of the treaty was the beginning of the Irish Civil War, which led to Collins’s eventual death at the hands of an anti-treaty faction. While Kiernan was inconsolable for a time, she did eventually marry—though she kept a portrait of Collins hung in her home for the rest of her life, and even named her second son Michael Collins Cronin, as proof of her enduring love.
Patrick Kavanaugh and Dr. Hilda Moriarty
As many Irish love stories begin, this one too begins with a poet: this time, with impoverished poet Patrick Kavanaugh and his love for a young medical student named Hilda Moriarty. When Kavanaugh moved to Dublin from Monaghan he first lived in a boarding house on Baggot Street, near Raglan Road, where he first spotted a beautiful, dark-haired young woman he immediately fell for. The paired dated for a short time before Moriarty moved on at her parent’s behest (and because of her own disinterest,) largely owing to the fact that there was 18 years between them—Hilda was 22 when they met, and Kavanaugh 40. But while Moriarty finished her medical degree and went on to marry Donagh O’Malley (a political leader under multiple Irish governments, eventually the Minister for Education,) Kavanaugh never stopped loving Moriarty and even immortalized his love in verse. Kavanaugh’s poem “Dark Haired Miriam Ran Away” (Miriam being his pseudonym for Hilda to save her any embarrassment) eventually became the beloved Irish song “Raglan Road,” known best for its opening: “On Raglan Road on an autumn day I saw her first and knew / That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue.” Kavanaugh became a lauded name in Irish poetry over his lifetime and when the documentary Gentle Tiger was made about him after his death in 1987, Hilda Moriarty was interviewed about her influence on his work and opened up about their continued friendship that had led to some of his greatest work.
Next week we’ll be back with something more uplifting, but we’ll leave you with one more Oscar Wilde quote to lift your spirits: “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.” Aka, we know when to sign off. Happy Valentine’s Day!
This post is part of a series. Read our last Irish history post, with three more love stories from Irish history, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
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