Friday 24 November 2017

Letters show Lavery 'frozen' in grief by O'Higgins's death

RARE BEAUTY: Lady Lavery was also romantically linked to Michael Collins
RARE BEAUTY: Lady Lavery was also romantically linked to Michael Collins

Shane Hickey

AS the remains of Kevin O'Higgins lay in the Mansion House following his assassination in 1927, the mourners who came to pay their final respects had no idea of the complicated personal life that the politician, credited as one of the founders of the State, left behind.

The married man with two children, described as the "moral architect" of the new nation, had become besotted with one of the most influential and beautiful women of the Twenties, Lady Hazel Lavery.

A series of letters have now emerged which detail how Lady Lavery, whose image was reproduced on punt notes, was "frozen in misery and utterly alone" following his shooting, which happened as he walked to midday Mass close to his home in Booterstown, south Dublin.

The three letters and a single telegram, which are being auctioned next week, were sent from Lady Lavery to Gen Eoin O'Duffy, then garda commissioner, and detail how she asked him to put a white heather brooch, apparently given to her by O'Higgins, on the body for his final "journey".

Lady Lavery, who was born in Chicago and was described as the "most beautiful girl in the Midwest" when in her teens, has long been romantically linked with Michael Collins. After his death in 1922, she was said to have transferred her affections to O'Higgins.

In the first of the letters, she asks O'Duffy to bring flowers to the Mansion House to lay with the body.

"I know you were near him at the last, and I think you will do me a great favour because he would wish you to. If you can, will you put one of these flowers somewhere near to him – even a tiny blossom, it would comfort me," it states.

"He gave me this little brooch of white heather, and I would love to have him go on his journey with it from me. I am only asking you because I am so miserable and alone. I saw him all day on Thursday, and this morning I had a letter from him, written on Saturday. It is all such a cruel, cruel thing – for us all and our Ireland."

Another, dated just over two weeks after the assassination, asks whether O'Duffy was able to put the personal memento with the body.

"I know it seemed a strange thing to ask," she wrote. "But there was no one else I could trust and I thought you might just tuck it in quietly somewhere near his hand where no one would ever see."

Her final letter to O'Duffy, sent 10 days later, thanks him for his help.

"Your help and swift understanding seemed to melt the ice around my heart. I've felt frozen in misery and utterly alone. I still feel that to someone, sometime during those hours of shadow, he must have spoken of me, said a word for me, some word I would have known and understood but I realise the difficulty."

She writes how she looks for a letter from O'Higgins every morning, saying he had written to her practically every day in the months prior to his death but then comes the "cruel implacable truth" of his passing.

Sinead McCoole, who wrote Hazel: A Life of Lady Lavery, said her reaction was similar to her reaction following the death of Collins.

"It is very similar to the way she reacted in the aftermath of Collins's death and then she selected one of his men to do the same thing with rosary beads of hers," Ms McCoole said.

"One of the things with him [O'Higgins] was that his interest in going to London was in relation to spending time with her but it is very interesting because she had this thing about her involvement and her role. The over-dramatisation of 'you must put this in' and this gesture, it was like as if she wished to control something which was out of her realm."

The historian describes Lady Lavery as a brilliantly intelligent woman who, among others things, assisted George Bernard Shaw with some of his writing.

The letters were part of a selection of documents which were found in a house in Co Wexford among some Christmas decorations by a woman clearing out her deceased father's possessions. They were part of papers gathered by O'Duffy's private secretary, Capt Liam Walsh, for an unpublished biography of the commissioner.

They will be put up for sale – with a guide price of between €1,000 and €1,500 – by auctioneers Fonsie Mealy at the Clyde Court Hotel in Ballsbridge, Dublin, on Tuesday, July 23.

Irish Independent

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