Ireland in danger of losing Yeats Family Collection

Letter urges Minister for Arts to snap up collection, which goes on sale in London

The Yeats Family Collection is due to go on sale in Sotheby’s in London, and includes letters to WB Yeats’s first lover Olivia Shakespeare. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

The Yeats Family Collection is due to go on sale in Sotheby’s in London, and includes letters to WB Yeats’s first lover Olivia Shakespeare. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

Poets Michael Longley and Paul Muldoon and the wife of the late Seamus Heaney are among over 80 signatories on a letter sent to the Minister for Arts, Heather Humphreys, urging her to “save for the nation” the Yeats Family Collection, which is due to be sold in London on Wednesday.

The collection features more than 200 lots illustrating the literary and artistic life of Ireland’s best-known cultural family.

On Sunday, the Department said it reiterated “its long-standing position of not commenting in advance of auctions”, although it did not rule out a late intervention.

“The Department has been working with the National Library and the National Museum in relation to the collection, and further announcement will be made in due course,” the statement read.

Previously bid

The Department has previously bid for items at auctions, although it makes a policy of not publicising this.

The collection comes from Cliff House, Coliemore Road, Dalkey, Co Dublin, which is the former house of poet WB Yeats’s son the late Michael Yeats, a Fianna Fáil senator and MEP, who died in 2007, and his wife Gráinne, a harpist, who died in 2013.

It is being sold by their children Caitríona, Siobhán and Pádraig, who live abroad.

The letter, which is published in Monday’s Irish Times, says: “In this decade of centenaries, preserving such a collection for the future benefit of Ireland has to be within the power of the Government and the national institutions concerned.

‘Broken up’

“Once the collection is broken up and sold, the chance will not come again. It is not too late to act.”

Signatories include scholars Lucy McDiarmid, Enda Longley, Nicholas Grene and Terence Brown along with a number of Irish writers, academics and artists.

The letter states the collection is “much more than just a family collection” and “illuminates the very making of modern Ireland a century ago”.

“Irreplaceable sketchbooks, notebooks, scrapbooks, manuscripts, letters, photographs, furniture, personal items (from chess sets to candlesticks) and an astonishingly rich array of rich artworks constitute a resource of the highest scholarly and artistic importance,” it says.