National library buys earliest draft of Juno and the Paycock

Handwritten 1923 draft extends to 62 pages and reveals Sean O’Casey’s early idea for play

The earliest draft of Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock has been purchased by the National Library for €175,000.

The handwritten draft contains O’Casey’s early concept of the play and differs significantly from the published version.

The 62-page manuscript – written in a child’s school exercise book – dates from 1923 and was sold in a rare books auction at Sotheby’s in Manhattan.

The school book, labelled in red ink with the title Juno and the Peacock, contains “first drafts of Acts I and II, fragments of Act III, a synopsis of the play, numerous listings of characters, miscellaneous notes and comments, and two pencil sketches of Captain Boyle’s head in profile, in ink with a few pencil notations”, according to Sotheby’s catalogue.


Value: $300,000

It was acquired by phone bid for the library with special allocation funding from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the National Library of Ireland (NLI) trust. It was valued at up to $300,000 (€280,000) ahead of Friday’s auction.

NLI director Dr Sandra Collins said the library looked forward to “reserving this precious piece of Irish history and literature and exhibiting it in the library for all to enjoy”.

The National Library has substantial holdings of O’Casey’s paper, his personal library, writing desk and other artefacts.

The manuscript was owned by the late Robert S Pirie, an American lawyer and one of the world’s leading book collectors, who died in January 2015.