Saturday 18 November 2017

Books expert hands copies of Jackie Kennedy letters to court

Owen Felix O’Neill leaving court
Owen Felix O’Neill leaving court
Philip Sheppard
Fr Joseph Leonard with Jackie Kennedy

Tim Healy

A RARE books expert has handed into court copies he made of the entire collection of letters from former US first lady Jackie Kennedy to an Irish priest.

Owen Felix O'Neill, with an address in Cahir, Co Tipperary, has also wiped an electronic copy of the documents which he had on his computer, the Commercial Court heard.

Mr O'Neill had copied the entire collection of letters which are at the centre of a legal wrangle ahead of a high-profile auction. 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.

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 10 next. The firm holds the original letters, while the college has copies of them, the court has heard.

Sheppard's sought injunctions against Mr O'Neill last week claiming his alleged actions could have an adverse impact on the value of the collection.

Auctioneer Philip Sheppard suggested the letters could attract bids of between €800,000 and €3m.


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 autobiography" of Jackie Kennedy and there was "enormous interest" in them worldwide, the court heard 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.

Among various concerns expressed by the auctioneers was apparent photos of some of the letters published in the 'Boston Globe', which had described Mr O'Neill has purchaser of the letters. This description was "wholly untrue", Mr Sheppard said.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly last week granted an application by Maurice Collins SC, for Sheppard's, for various injunctions. These included orders restraining Mr O'Neill from holding himself out as the owner or seller of the letters, or from passing on any copies or extracts to third parties.

When the matter returned to court yesterday, 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. But Mr O'Neill "strongly disputes" many of the assertions made to the court last week, she 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.

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.

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

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News