Copies of collection of Jackie Kennedy letters handed to court

Sheppard’s auctioneers claim letters worth up to€3m are owned by All Hallows College

An expert on rare books has handed into the Commercial Court copies made by him of the entire collection of letters written by the late Jackie Kennedy, wife of assassinated US president John F Kennedy, to an Irish priest, over a period of 14 years.

Owen Felix O’Neill, with an address in Cahir, Co Tipperary, had copied the entire collection of letters and those copies will remain in a locked safe in the Central Office of the Four Courts pending the outcome of legal proceedings taken against him by MJ Fine Art Ltd, trading as Sheppard’s Irish Auction House, of Durrow, Co Laois, the court heard yesterday.

Sheppard's claim the letters are owned by All Hallows College, Drumcondra, Dublin, and are to be auctioned by the firm on behalf of the college on June 10th next. The firm holds the original letters while the college has copies of them, it was stated.

Sheppard's sought injunctions against Mr O'Neill last week after saying it believed alleged actions by Mr O'Neill could have an adverse impact on the value of the collection which, Philip Sheppard suggested, could attract bids of between €800,000 and €3 million.


Among various concerns expressed by the firm was that what appeared to be photos of some of the letters had been published in the Boston Globe which had described Mr O’Neill has purchaser of the letters, a description which was “wholly untrue”, Philip Sheppard said.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly had granted an ex parte application (one side only represented) by Maurice Collins SC, for Sheppard's, for various injunctions, incuding orders restraining Mr O'Neill holding himself out as the owner or seller of the letters or passing on any copies or extracts from them to third parties.

When the matter returned to court today, Mr O’Neill was in court and was represented by Sara Moorehead SC who said he was prepared to give undertakings in the form of the injunctions.

Mr O’Neill “strongly disputes” many of the assertions made to the court last week, counsel said.

The judge was told physical copies of the letters made by Mr O'Neill were before the court and he was handed a large folder of documents. The only electronic copy of the documents held by Mr O'Neill had been wiped, Ms Moorehead said.

Mr O’Neill had made copies of the letters at All Hallows College and the computer on which he scanned the material had been wiped, Ms Moorehead said. He had no other copies of the material in his possession, she added.

Mr O'Neill also consented to the application by Sheppard's to have its proceedings against him fast-tracked in the Commercial Court, the big business division of the High Court.

Pending the hearing of the case on May 29th, Mr Collins said they wanted the court orders to continue, rather than have them substituted by undertakings, in circumstances including that court orders would bind all persons aware of them and not just Mr O'Neill.

Mr Justice Kelly said he would continue the orders. His decision to do so was not a reflection on the integrity or probity of Mr O’Neill and he was not casting the slightest aspersion on Mr O’Neill’s undertaking but orders would bind all third parties, he said.

Agreeing to transfer the case for hearing in the Commercial Court, the judge noted Mr O’Neill wished to file a replying affidavit and said he was entitled to time to do so.

The correspondence between Jackie Kennedy and Fr Joseph Leonard – a Vincentian priest who lived in All Hallows College in Drumcondra, Dublin – extends from 1950 to 1964. The letters were "effectively the autobiogrpahy" of Jackie Kennedy and there was "enormous interest" in them worldwide, Philip Sheppard told the court last week.

Mr O’Neill, described as a consultant to Sheppard’s concerning rare books, was present when the letters were disclosed to representatives of Sheppard’s at All Hallows, he also said.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times