Letters linked to struggle for independence set for auction
By Eoin English
Monday, October 15, 2012
Rare letters linked to Ireland’s struggle for independence, including a handwritten note by the British prime minister, which were found in a collection not seen in public for almost a century, will go on display in Cork today before the collection goes under the hammer.
Auctioneer Ted Hegarty said the public response to the auction of material from the Keyes McDonnell collection has been so overwhelming that he has arranged a viewing of key items in Cork City today.
Most of the items are from the Castlelack House collection of William Keyes McDonnell and his wife Kathleen, who played a significant role in the country’s fight for independence from 1913.
William’s father, Richard McDonnell, was a Catholic magistrate and the Keyes McDonnell family was closely associated with the families of former lords mayor Terence MacSwiney and Tomás MacCurtain.
William also organised the first Irish volunteer battalions in Kilpatrick and Bandon under direction from Eoin MacNeill.
His wife, Kathleen, whose father, a Healy, was originally from Donoughmore, was born in Bandon.
She was educated in the Ursuline Convent in Blackrock, Cork, and went to a finishing school in Upper Bavaria.
A keen sports woman, she joined the Muskerry Hunt after leaving school, and studied piano under Tilly Fleischmann.
During his valuation of the family’s collection, Mr Hegarty discovered a vast array of letters of historical interest from Terence MacSwiney, the British prime minister Lord Asquith and Lady Beaverbrook dated from the around the time of the 1916 Easter Rising, as well as a Walter Osborne sketch book, which hasn’t been seen in public for almost a century.
Among the more interesting items is a letter from MacSwiney, written during his detention at Dublin’s Richmond Barracks, thanking the Keyes McDonnells for their support, and a Kevin Barry memorial card.
There is also a large selection of letters which document the efforts made by Kathleen, author of There is a Bridge at Bandon, to get permission to visit, and to improve the conditions for prisoners.
She corresponded with 10 Downing St to make representations at the House of Commons to get permission to visit Wakefield prison, and subsequently received permission from Lord Asquith to visit.
His handwritten letter forms part of the collection.
Other letters demonstrate the efforts Kathleen, her sister and MacSwiney’s sisters, made to fundraise for the dependants of those in prisons like Wakefield and Frongoch.
“The importance of these letters documenting the women’s efforts lies in the fact that they didn’t even have ‘the vote’ at the time,” Mr Hegarty said.
Other items in the sale include a rare set of William Keyes McDonnell’s medals, and Walter Osborne’s sketch book.
It was a gift from the artist’s son-in-law Professor Stockley to William.
There will also be a large selection of antique furniture, silver, and glass, as well as a two-door Edwardian bookcase, and a Regency card table.
Among the Irish republican memorabilia is Tom Barry’s Guerilla Days in Ireland, which features a personal inscription by the author.
The items will be on view in the Imperial Hotel today, before tomorrow’s auction in Hegarty’s auction rooms, Bandon, at 7pm.