A NEW novel aims to shed light on the rumoured love triangle between West Cork’s Michael Collins, his girlfriend Kitty Kiernan, and Lady Hazel Lavery.
The book, A Great Beauty by A O’Connor, is based on the author’s interpretation of Collins’ introduction to Lavery during the 1921 Irish delegation to London.
In 1920, while the War of Independence is raging, Michael Collins falls in love with his best friend Harry Boland’s girlfriend Kitty Kiernan. As Michael becomes the most wanted man in the empire, he then becomes embroiled in a famous love triangle as he pursues the vivacious Kitty at the expense of his friendship with Harry.
As the truce is declared and Michael and Kitty become engaged, he is sent to London to negotiate a peace treaty with the British government. Lady Lavery was London’s most famous and beautiful socialite at the time, and the face on Irish banknotes for decades.
The Laverys offer their Kensington mansion to the Irish delegation and act as go-betweens with the British government. When Michael and Hazel meet, there is an instant attraction despite their differences in class and backgrounds.
Michael finds himself the centre of intense public fascination and he relies on Hazel to navigate him through London high society. Kitty can only look on in despair as Michael and Hazel become infatuated with each other.
As Ireland veers towards the Civil War, Michael is soon being accused of treason and Hazel of being a spy as the two are engulfed in rumours of an affair. When Hazel, Michael and Kitty arrive in Dublin that fateful week in August 1922, the Civil war is at its zenith – and this love triangle implodes with devastating results.
A O’Connor – the bestselling author of 14 novels, has meticulously pieced together the chain of events from that time.
A Great Beauty is O’Connor’s version of the fascinating account of a love and a relationship that both shocked and had deep political implications for Ireland at the time.
What intrigued O’Connor most with this story was the fact that even though Hazel was so familiar as the face on Irish bank notes for decades, so little was known about her or her intense relationship with Michael Collins, or the role she played in securing Ireland’s independence.
‘It was as if she had been airbrushed from history,’ says O’Connor.
‘It’s a little Downton Abbey, a little Great Gatsby, a little Lady Chatterley’s lover – and a whole lot of real life,’ he adds. The book is published by Poolbeg.