Signed draft of Irish Constitution for sale as part of Seán MacEntee auction

Libraries of Conor Cruise O’Brien and Máire Mhac an tSaoi also included in sale this week

The library of the late former minister and journalist Conor Cruise O’Brien, which includes many signed books by and about him, as well as his working papers, will go to auction this week.

Birr-based Purcell Auctioneers will hold a live online sale this coming Wednesday, April 27th, of the libraries of Cruise O'Brien (1917-2008), his wife, diplomat and poet Máire Mhac an tSaoi (1922-2021), and her father, former tánaiste Seán MacEntee (1889-1984).

The sale includes Cruise O’Brien’s archive. Numerous signed books by Máire Mhac an tSaoi feature in the sale, as do her archive and working papers. The Seán MacEntee archive up for auction covers important letters from his time in office, and the Purcell sale has a large collection of original photographs that cover all three careers as well as various associated ephemera, including 1916 memorial cards.

Cruise O'Brien was minister for posts and telegraphs during the Fine Gael/Labour coalition in the 1970s, and held a key position in the UN's difficult operation in the Congo in 1960 and 1961. Mhac an tSaoi was one of Ireland's foremost Irish-language poets, as well as a critic, translator and scholar, having begun her working life in the diplomatic service.

The love affair and subsequent marriage of Cruise O’Brien and Mhac an tSaoi began in Davy Byrnes pub in Dublin and was later outed in the Congo under a cloud of scandal. The pair married in 1962 and their long and happy marriage ended in 2008, when Cruise O’Brien, “the fantastic father and husband” who could make Mhac an tSaoi laugh at breakfast, as she described in an interview with The Irish Times in 2015, died at the age of 91.

Belfast-born MacEntee served as tánaiste in Fianna Fáil administrations from 1959 to 1969, and also held roles as minister for finance, minister for industry and commerce, minister for local government and public health, minister for social welfare, and minister for health.


The top lot in the Purcell libraries auction is a draft of the Irish Constitution Bunreacht na hÉireann (€3,000-€6,000) dated to 1937. The draft was Seán MacEntee's copy, who was minister for finance at the time it was written. It is signed by a number of political dignitaries of the time, including Éamon de Valera, Seán T O'Kelly, and Seán F Lemass, among others. What is interesting about this copy is that it is accompanied by a letter on Office of Minister for Finance headed paper to Lottie Fairfield, an English woman who had once borrowed a frock from MacEntee's wife Margaret Browne. MacEntee had arranged for the signatures and his intention from the letter was to send the draft constitution to Lottie with the words, "I trust you will like it, the phrase is hardly applicable to a constitution."

Lot 405 is an original photograph of Irish republican Tom Barry's wedding party that includes de Valera and Countess Markievicz (€300-€600), while Lot 399 is an original photograph of an almost smiling Peig Sayers, with a large group of local people on the Blasket Islands (€50-€100).

Also of interest is Lot 31, an edition of On The Boiler by WB Yeats (€80-€120). Published by The Cuala Press, it is a second edition, but as the catalogue points out: “For all practical purposes this is the first edition, because all except for four copies of the first printing were destroyed by Yeats’s wife.”

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