Family archive of ‘enigmatic’ Elizabeth O’Kelly donated to Maynooth University Library

Family archive of ‘enigmatic’ Elizabeth O’Kelly donated to Maynooth University Library
Elizabeth O’Kelly

By Gordon Deegan

A family archive of Elizabeth O’Kelly, who donated her €30m fortune to five Irish charities, has been described as a “treasure trove” of information on the “fascinating and deeply private woman”.

Earlier this month it emerged that Ms O’Kelly donated €30m to five charities: the Irish Cancer Society, the Irish Heart Foundation, the Irish Society for Autism, the RNLI, and the Irish Kidney Association.

Ms O’Kelly died in her 93rd year in December 2016 and archivist at Maynooth University Library, Roisín Berry, confirmed that the executors of Ms O’Kelly’s estate donated her family archive to the library in September.

Ms Berry described Ms O’Kelly as “a fascinating and deeply private woman” and said the archive will provide “a treasure trove” for researchers.

The archive, across eight boxes, contains diaries, photos, letters, travel journals, sketchbooks, legal documents, financial material, and postcards.

The material includes a wedding day photo of 21-year-old Ms O’Kelly and her husband, Major John William O’Kelly, who was 41 years her senior.

The archive also contains a heartrending sketch of Elizabeth when she was a toddler, by her mother, Alice Marie Sykes.

Ms Berry said that the donation “has provided us with the opportunity to learn more about the fascinating life of this enigmatic woman”.

She said: “Elizabeth valued her privacy but the archive allows us to get a glimpse of some of the people and places that meant something to her.

“What is fascinating about Elizabeth is her courage, to live her life according to her own rules, and her extraordinary generosity in her dealings with others.

“Elizabeth was a deeply private woman who avoided the limelight at all costs.

“She captured the imagination of Irish people because of her incredibly generous actions but also because of this desire to remain hidden and unknown,” said Ms Berry.

“The archive will shed new light on this fascinating woman, her early tragic life and the loved ones that she lost, and how this shaped her into the exceptionally thoughtful woman that she became. Her great love of family, friends, and home shines through in each document, as does her respect for the past and preserving her family heritage.

“The Elizabeth O’Kelly Archive captures the very essence of this enigmatic figure,” said Ms Berry.

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