TODAY, if we’re lucky, we might get a Valentine’s card from our lover, partner or even from a secret admirer, but there’s a man in Dublin who’ll be getting Valentine’s cards on his grave, many bunches of fresh flowers, and maybe even some soft toys too, despite the fact that he is 92 years dead this summer.
Michael Collins; revolutionary, charmer, politician, orator, diplomat and so much more, was only 31 when he was shot dead at Béal na Bláth, Co Cork, in 1922. His funeral was one of the biggest the country had ever seen and although he died without marrying his fiancée Kitty Kiernan, romance still follows him, as every February 14 the Irish hero receives Valentine’s cards and flowers on his grave from women who are still enamoured by the charismatic figure who never grows old.
Historian Shane Mac Thomais at Glasnevin Cemetery and Museum says the cards were noticed when the museum opened in 2010 but Collins may have been getting love notes well before that.
“They say things like, ‘My darling Mick, love’, lots of x’s things like that. I would presume they’re from women, but you never know,” he laughs. Mac Thomais says he has no idea if the cards come from the same people every year but he stresses cards sent through the post will not be placed on Collins’ grave.
“We just couldn’t do that — every week we have to clear his grave because of the sheer volume of cards and flowers. He gets Christmas wreaths too and notes throughout the year saying things like ‘You’re the best Irishman that ever lived.’ Collins has that status as a romantic leader and we find anytime we do anything about him online interest is huge.”
Great grandniece, Ballykissangel actress Dervla Kirwan says she is astonished that Collins gets Valentine’s cards but the Dublin woman is not surprised so many women find him attractive after all this time.
“He loved women, he knew how to talk to them and was clearly a very charismatic and sexual being,” says Kirwan. “He was the closest thing we had to a movie star in Ireland at that time but unlike celebrities today who are everywhere, Collins still to this day maintains his mystique.”
Kirwan says she always believed Collins had “kindness”, an attractive quality to a woman no matter what their age.
Another well-known descendant, former politician Nora Owen, is in agreement with Kirwan that Collins would have done more to further women’s interests had he lived, and that could be another reason why he is still held in high regard today.
“He respected women,” says Owen. “His sisters were strong women, as were his aunts with whom he stayed in London when he joined the civil service. He saw the work of women as being just as valuable as men’s. Of course he needed a network of women to give him information, but he didn’t see any difference between the sexes.”
Owen and Kirwan both agree Collins was also very aware of the women’s movement at the turn of the century. Seeing suffragettes in London, Collins, unlike others, wasn’t afraid of women benefiting from social change. He was ahead of his time, and this too makes him less of a figure from the past and more current, more real and accessible to his admirers.
A new generation who are enamoured by Collins is of no surprise to Owen. “Scratch the surface and we all have somebody whom we think is special and exciting and Michael Collins was exciting. Young people are learning about him in school, doing projects on him, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets Valentine’s cards for many years to come.”
From the pictures of the tall, handsome man in uniform to the familiar silent movies, Collins’s personal magnetism can never be ignored. “He always stood up straight, he always held his head up high, it was a very attractive quality,” she says.
Tour guide with Glasnevin cemeteries, Paddy Gleeson says for him Collins’s enduring appeal is obvious. “He’s our JFK as regards a romantic hero. There’s no other grave in Glasnevin Cemetery that gets anywhere near the attention as Michael Collins’ grave does.”
Kirwan doesn’t believe it’s ironic that a man who didn’t get to capitalise on love himself should be the focus of so much romance after his death.
“Sure, we’ll never know what happened between Collins and Kitty Kiernan, I’m sure he never would have pressed himself on women, or used his power. But he certainly understood women.”