National Library makes major WB Yeats acquisitions

It has made an advanced purchase of letters before they went to auction

National Library makes major WB Yeats acquisitions

This photo was taken when William Butler Yeats was 58 | Image: Flickr/National Library of Ireland

The National Library of Ireland (NLI) has announced details of a number of major new Yeats acquisitions.

They include the purchase from the Yeats family of more than 500 letters between WB Yeats and his wife, George Yeats.

The letters were due to be auctioned by Sotheby’s in London on September 27th.

But the National Library was offered the opportunity to acquire them for the national collection several months before the auction.

In a statement, the NLI says: "Agreement was reached that the letters should not be included in the sale, and they are now being purchased privately for €725,000, a purchase made possible by special allocation funding of €500,000 provided by Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys, with the balance covered from the NLI’s own resources."

Image: National Library of Ireland

The letters show many facets of their relationship through more than 20 years.

They begin with love letters written in the days before their marriage in October 1917.

The correspondence from George Yeats to WB Yeats includes letters written during the Irish Civil War, as well as discussing the Abbey Theatre.

Image: National Library of Ireland

There is also a small group of other Yeats family letters.

In addition to the letters, the National Library has purchased a number of items at auction, for €72,675, supported by funding of approximately €50,000 from a family charitable trust.

All of the items were by the poet’s artist father John Butler Yeats, including a watercolour self-portrait, portraits of the artist’s daughters Susan Mary 'Lily' Yeats and Elizabeth Corbet 'Lolly' Yeats as adults, and sketches of them as children.

The NLI has also announced the forthcoming donation by the Yeats family of both the remaining Yeats family archive and items currently on loan to the NLI for its Yeats exhibition.

The donations are valued at an estimated €8.4m.

Largest Yeats collection in the world

Commenting on the acquisitions, Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys said: "I am delighted that, over the past number of months, I have been in a position to assist both the National Library of Ireland and the National Museum of Ireland in acquiring significant additional sets of letters, items of furniture and other artefacts.

"These acquisitions add substantially to the State’s archive of Yeats material.

"The co-operative approach in managing the acquisition between the museum and library will also allow for major exhibitions to be held in the future using the collections of both institutions."

NLI director, Dr Sandra Collins, added: "WB Yeats spent many happy years writing in the National Library, so it is really fitting that we hold the most important collection of Yeats material in the world, now enhanced even further by these extensive new acquisitions."

Speaking on behalf of the Yeats family, Caitríona Yeats said: "The Yeats family are delighted that the largest Yeats collection in the world is housed in the National Library of Ireland.

"The Nobel Medal he received in 1923, and a vast quantity of Yeats family papers and books, are now in the library.

"We are pleased that this material is in the safe hands of the library’s archivists and that it is available to those interested in studying and writing about one of Ireland’s great poets WB Yeats."