Wednesday 13 December 2017

Books specialist 'threatened war' over auction of Jackie Kennedy's €3m letters

Jackie Kennedy wrote numerous letters to an Irish priest
Jackie Kennedy wrote numerous letters to an Irish priest
President Kennedy and wife Jackie
Philip Sheppard of Sheppard Irish Auction House
Fr Joseph Leonard and Jackie Kennedy
Collage of letters between Fr Joseph Leonard and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (Jackie Kennedy) CREDIT: Sheppard’s Irish Auction House.

Tim Healy

LETTERS from former US First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy to an Irish priest are now at the centre of a legal dispute.

The High Court has granted temporary injunctions preventing an expert on rare books representing himself as the owner of the valuable cache of letters.

The letters from the widow of John F Kennedy, which are owned by All Hallows College in Drumcondra, Dublin, could fetch an estimated €3m when they are by sold by Sheppard's auctioneers next month.

The archive of her 14-year-long correspondence with Fr Joseph Leonard – a Vincentian priest who lived in All Hallows College – will be sold at an auction on June 10.

Eoin Felix O'Neill, with an address in Cahir, Co Tipperary, may have taken photos of some of the letters without permission of their owners or seller and provided those photos to the 'Boston Globe' newspaper, it is alleged.

Mr O'Neill appeared to have been "miffed" at not being mentioned in connection with the discovery when articles were published about the letters, which extend from 1950 to 1964, in the 'Irish Times' earlier this week, Mr Justice Peter Kelly was told yesterday.

Details of some of the letters, written before and after Mrs Kennedy became First Lady, have been published in the paper.

Mr O'Neill – who was present at All Hallows College when the existence of the letters was first disclosed to Sheppard's Auctioneers – would be entitled to commission in relation to the sale of the letters, the judge said.

When he realised they were likely to attract substantial amounts of money, it seemed he became disenchanted with the terms of that commission, the judge said.

The court was told Mr O'Neill walked out of a meeting with auctioneers Philip and Michael Sheppard earlier this week after making "strange comments", the judge said. It is alleged he threatened to "go to war" with the auctioneers, who are based in Durrow, Co Laois.

Mr O'Neill's alleged assertion he was going to "get the letters sold" appeared to be a "ridiculous" claim when the letters were not his to sell, the judge added.

He made additional orders restraining Mr O'Neill publishing any of the letters or holding himself out as having the authority to negotiate their sale or publication.

Those orders were sought on the basis of concerns by Sheppard's that Mr O'Neill may have photographed some of the letters and may have been behind the publication of some of them by the 'Boston Globe' this week.

Mr Justice Kelly directed no details of the making of them could be published before 8pm yesterday after concerns were expressed Mr O'Neill might be alerted by media reports to the orders being made before they could be served on him.

MJ Fine Art Ltd, trading as Sheppard's Irish Auction House, sought those orders, plus another order restraining Mr O'Neill passing on any confidential information or trade secrets of the firm, as part of intended proceedings where the firm is also seeking damages against Mr O'Neill.

The court was told Mr O'Neill had been a client of the firm for some years and last December agreed to act as a consultant to it concerning rare books for which he was paid expenses and commission representing 3pc of the "hammer price".

There was no written contract and the firm said it had offered to pay Mr O'Neill an additional sum relating to the Kennedy letters.

In evidence, Philip Sheppard said he felt it was put under pressure to do so by Mr O'Neill and that meant Mr O'Neill was getting a percentage of the sale of material not within his particular expertise. He was concerned Mr O'Neill's actions could adversely impact on the value of the letters which could attract bids from between €800,000 to €3m.

The letters were "effectively the autobiography" of Jackie Kennedy, a very private person, and there was "enormous interest" in them worldwide, he said.

His firm became aware of the letters after representatives from All Hallows attended a valuation evening, hosted by Sheppard's.

As a result, representatives of the firm and Mr O'Neill later visited the college when they were shown the letters.

His firm agreed to sell the letters for the college at auction.

The case comes back before the court next Monday.

Irish Independent

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