Their relationship shocked London High Society and in Ireland was only spoken about in whispers – until now.
Michael Collins – he was Ireland’s greatest hero.
Lady Hazel Lavery – she was London’s most famous and beautiful socialite and the face on Irish banknotes for decades.
– A Great Beauty
[ About the Book ]
A Great Beauty is based on actual events.
1920, while the War of Independence is raging, Michael Collins has fallen in love with his best friend Harry Boland’s girlfriend Kitty Kiernan. As Michael becomes the most wanted man in the empire, he has become embroiled in the 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. Little does Kitty realise that once Michael arrives in London they are about to become ensnared in another love triangle when he is introduced to Lady Hazel Lavery.
Lady Hazel Lavery is the most famous and beautiful hostess in London. Wife of the celebrated artist Sir John Lavery, she is determined to use her friendships with men like Winston Churchill to secure peace in Ireland.
The Laverys offer their Kensington mansion to the Irish delegation and act as a go between 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 when 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 they are engulfed by 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.
[ My Review – A Great Beauty ]
A Great Beauty is the latest novel from A. O’Connor, the bestselling author of fourteen novels. Just published on November 12th with Poolbeg Books, this a book that both enthralled and intrigued me. Ireland’s fight for Independence is still a very decisive subject for many but for those who lived through the War of Independence and the Civil War it was to have an enormous impact on their lives and the generations of families that followed.
Described as ‘a little Downton Abbey, a little Great Gatsby, a little Lady Chatterley’s lover – and a whole lot of real life,’ A Great Beauty was inspired by O’ Connor’s fascination with the remarkable and little known relationship between two of Ireland’s icons and how our history books portray the enigmatic Lady Hazel Lavery.
‘Hazel Lavery 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.‘ – A. O’ Connor
I was born and bred in Cork, with strong roots to the county. I am a mix of O’ Driscoll, Murphy and, would you believe Collins. In primary school I always thought I was related to, West Cork born, Michael Collins, as my maternal grandmother was from Skibbereen, West Cork. In fact it is thought that she was present in the very last photo (see below) taken of Michael Collins as he left The Eldon Hotel in Skibbereen on 22nd August 1922.
Michael Collins and Eamon DeValera were both very historic figures in Ireland following the Easter Rising in 1916. Initially both were on the same side striving for a single goal, independence. But as the 1920s arrived, Ireland was still a country struggling to gain it’s foothold on the world stage, as the War of Independence raged on.
DeValera was recognised and known to all but Michael Collins had stayed in the shadows, never caught on camera, allowing him a certain level of autonomy as he worked tirelessly for the freedom of the country he loved so dearly.
A. O’ Connor picks up on Michael Collins’ story just before he travelled to London to negotiate a deal with the British government. We get an insight into his life, his friends, his love and his developing relationship with Kitty Kiernan. Michael Collins’ ability to avoid the eye of the British army and that of the fearful Black and Tans allowed his private life to be kept just that, private. Kitty Kiernan was a respected business woman but had no interest in the spotlight or in politics. She knew the risks she took with the friendships she forged and as the months passed and as a terror swept across her own community, Kitty also knew their lives were all about to change irreparably.
With a very unstable truce in place in Ireland, DeValera sent Michael Collins to London to act as chief negotiator and to come home with a deal that would be approved and accepted on all sides. The world held it’s collective breath, the media were awaiting the news but what really happened behind closed doors? A. O’ Connor lifts the lid with this extraordinary insight into the man that was Michael Collins and the woman who was by his side during these tough weeks and months, Lady Hazel Lavery.
Lady Lavery was the face on the banknotes when I was growing up but little did I know, until now, the story behind that face. Her personal story, her passion for a country that was not of her birth, her 100 percent commitment to achieving peace and her adoration and respect for Michael Collins is an incredible story. Their relationship, to this day, is one of whispers and rumours. Many knew of their close friendship but of their suspected romance, very little is documented….until now.
A. O’ Connor paints a very different picture of a the hardened soldier Michael Collins. A man thrown into a political minefield with no experience and a passionate temper, Lady Hazel Lavery took him under her wing helping him to temper his moods and adopt a more sartorial persona. I was amazed at the softer side of his personality, his emotional outbursts and his romantic ideals. He accomplished the best deal he could. He learnt to read the person behind the mask and he became more sociable in a group. For a time the lifestyle suited him. But on his return to Ireland in 1922 everything changed….
“Think what have I got for Ireland … Something which she has wanted these past 700 years, will anyone be satisfied with this bargain, will anyone? I tell you this, early this morning I have signed my death warrant.”
– Michael Collins
A Great Beauty reads like a great romance between two star-crossed lovers. At times I was suspect of the man that was developing in front of my eyes. Was Michael Collins really like this? Did he live a more lavish and passionate time in London than I had expected? Did he fall in love with Lady Hazel Lavery? I now have more questions than I ever had. We will never know what happened that fateful day in Béal na mBláth in West Cork on an August day in 1922 when the life of Michael Collins was cut short. We will never know how history would have been rewritten but A. O’ Connor’s writing of this novel will reignite the interest and the curiosity of many, myself included, of the man known as The Big Fella and of the woman who stood close by him in the shadows, the mysterious Lady Hazel Lavery. Lady Hazel Lavery remains an enigma to me but after reading this novel I have been doing my own research into this incredible person, a woman who inspired such devotion and respect from those close to her.
A Great Beauty is a fascinating and compelling read for all with a passion for historical fiction, but it is also much more than that. This is a story about desire, about romance and about love. It is quite clear the amount of research that was undertaken to assemble this tale, bringing to life in such detail the lives of these extraordinary people, these heroic individuals on all sides who sacrificed so much. The story of Michael Collins, Lady Hazel Lavery and Kitty Kiernan will continue to intrigue for many years as the air of mystery remains over this enthralling period of Irish and English history.
[ About the Author and his Inspiration for A Great Beauty ]
A. O’Connor is the bestselling author of fourteen novels, including The Armstrong House trilogy which, as well as being one of Ireland’s favourite series, has been translated into German and Russian and is an Amazon bestseller.
After the success of last year’s By Royal Appointment, a fictionalised account of the relationship between King Edward VII and Irish actress Nellie Cliffden, O’Connor has turned his attention to the remarkable and little known relationship between two of Ireland’s icons – Michael Collins and Lady Hazel Lavery.
By meticulously piecing together the chain of events from that time, A Great Beauty, is a 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.
In this year of the centenary of the start of the War of Independence, O’Connor re-introduces Hazel Lavery to the world and through the story of Michael Collins’s controversial private life tells the fascinating and epic journey of Ireland’s turbulent journey to Independence.