Sunday 22 September 2019

PJ Mara's eclectic art collection is sold for €178k

The late PJ Mara and his wife Breda
The late PJ Mara and his wife Breda

Sarah Slater

The late Government spin doctor PJ Mara was, like his former boss Charlie Haughey, keenly interested in art.

Last week his eclectic collection of paintings and sculpture was sold at auction for more than €170,000.

Mara was the confidant and loyal press secretary of Taoiseach Charles J Haughey and their close relationship was lampooned by the late comedian Dermot Morgan.

Flamboyant, colourful, and gregarious, his legend was cemented after he was portrayed by Morgan as Haughey's foil in the RTE radio sketch show Scrap Saturday, where he was caricatured as the fearful lackey to the overly dominant Haughey.

A painting by Mary Swanzy
A painting by Mary Swanzy

The real PJ Mara was witty, urbane and, in his job as Government spin doctor, often abrasive.

Mara would later become the director of elections for Bertie Ahern, helping to secure a hat-trick of victories in 1997, 2002, and 2007.

But away from the corridors of power, Mr Mara put together an interesting and varied collection for the enjoyment of both himself and his wife Breda.

They included works by Mary Swanzy, Stella Steyn, Gerard Dillon, Markey Robinson and sculptor John Behan which went under the hammer last week.

In all 23 of the 25 lots were sold by Adam's Auctions last Wednesday for €177,900.

The PR maestro, who died in January 2016 after a long illness, lost his wife Breda 17 years ago and they had one son John. His home on Wellington Road, Ballsbridge, was put up for sale earlier this year for €2.75m.

According to a document lodged in the Probate Office in 2016, Mara, a widower, died intestate at the Beacon Hospital, leaving an estate valued at €1,593,213. A work, titled The Storm, a large oil on canvas by Mary Swanzy, sold for €100,000, €70,000 more than the guide price as a number of bidders vied for more than two minutes for the piece.

A Flight of Birds in bronze was bought for €14,000, while a Gerard Dillon painting, Petrushka, was snapped up for €5,700.

Several of the paintings and drawings sold were by Irish artist Sarah Purser, the previous owner of the three-storey house Mr Mara lived in on Wellington Road.

In June 2013, a decade after the death of his wife and at the age of 71, Mr Mara became a father again with the birth of a baby daughter.

After Haughey lost power in 1992, Mara went into business for himself as a PR adviser/lobbyist to a number of prominent business figures.

Mr Mara was born in 1942, and grew up on Millmount Road in Drumcondra on Dublin's north side. Mara went to the all-Irish speaking Christian Brothers secondary school, Colaiste Mhuire, on Parnell Square, but never went to university, which he would regret in later life.

He began work in Boland's Mill briefly before securing a job in Allied Textiles in Chapelizod. While still in his early 20s, he met and married Breda Brogan from Kinvara in Co Galway.

He then set up his own clothes company, Beeline, which he later sold to Penneys.

He is survived by his son John, daughter Elena, and partner Sheila.

Sunday Independent

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