Pleas for State to buy War of Independence letters

The auction of a unique collection of War of Independence letters is to go ahead tonight despite calls for the collection to be kept in public ownership.

Auctioneer Ted Hegarty confirmed that, as of last night, he had received no offers for the Keyes McDonnell collection, and will put it under the hammer as planned in individual lots in Bandon, Co Cork, at 7pm.

However, it is understood that the National Gallery has made enquiries about a Walter Osbourne sketch book that makes up part of the collection.

Mayor of Bandon Cllr Gillian Coughlan (FF) urged the State to step in to ensure the collection is kept in the public domain.

“These papers are a vital insight into the struggle for independence almost 100 years ago,” she said.

“The story of the Keyes McDonnell family is recorded in the book There is a Bridge in Bandon — a unique record of that time.

“This documentation is a vital source of that history.”

She said the documents could help teach students about this crucial period in Irish history.

“The collection will complete the picture and gives a greater understanding of what happened at the time,” she said.

“Preserving the collection wouldn’t cost a huge amount of money and I just hope that a solution can be found.”

The Keyes McDonnell family, based at Castlelack near Bandon, Co Cork, played a key role in Ireland’s struggle for independence.

William and his wife Kathleen were closely associated with the former lords mayor of Cork, Terence MacSwiney and Tomas MacCurtain.

William organised the first Irish volunteer battalions in Kilpatrick and Bandon, under direction from Eoin MacNeill.

However, the family has decided to sell its collection of papers — one of the most complete sources of historical documentation relating to the War of Independence in the West Cork region.

It includes a letter from Mr 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 a large selection of letters, including to No 10 Downing St, documenting Kathleen’s efforts to get permission to visit, and to improve the conditions for prisoners, particularly in Wakefield prison.

One of the letters is a handwritten note from British prime minister Lord Asquith giving his permission for her to visit.

Other letters demonstrate the efforts Kathleen, her sister and MacSwiney’s sisters made to raise funds for the dependants of prisoners.

Mr Hegarty said the collection could be bought for between €8,000 and €10,000.

“When we set out on this auction, we wanted to do two things,” he said.

“One was to give exposure and respect to the historical figures involved, and to the family selling the material.

“And two, to try and maximise the amount to be realised — to try to do the best for our local client.”

* The auction takes place in Hegarty’s auction rooms, in Bandon, at 7pm.

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