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Row over who owns €800k Jackie letters

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

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 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.

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.

Sheppard’s claims 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. 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 the alleged actions could have an adverse impact on the value of the collection which, auctioneer Philip Sheppard suggested, could attract bids of between €800,000 and €3m.

Among various concerns was that what appeared to be photos of some of the letters had been published in the Boston Globe.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly last week granted an ex parte application by Maurice Collins SC, for Sheppard’s, for various injunctions.

When the matter returned to court yesterday, Mr O’Neill 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.

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 29, 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.