Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys TD, announces major acquisitions of Yeats archive

Following the conclusion of the auction by Sotheby’s in London of material from the Yeats family collection, the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys, has today (Wednesday, 27 September) announced that the State, through the National Library of Ireland and the National Museum of Ireland, has acquired significant elements of the collection with financial support from the Minister.

“Over the past 9 months, I have been working with the National Library and the National Museum to ensure the purchase for the State of significant items, as identified by both institutions, which were due to be auctioned in London today. These items will now form part of the national collections of our cultural institutions. In particular, the correspondence acquired by the National Library will significantly enhance what is already the largest collection of Yeats material in the world – a collection which began, as far back as 1936,” stated Minister Humphreys.

“In total, over the past two years the State has acquired material from the Yeats family collection amounting to a value of over €4m through direct purchase and donation using the tax relief system provided for under Section 1003 of the Taxes Consolidation Act.”

In July this year the Minister provided €650,000 to the National Library and National Museum as follows:

  • €500,000 was provided to the National Library for the purchase of a collection of letters between WB Yeats and his wife George (purchase price of €725,000);


  • €150,000 was provided to the National Museum for the purchase of furniture and other artefacts (purchase price of €170,800).


Towards the end of 2016, the Minister provided the National Library with two tranches of funding for elements of the collection as follows:


  • €118,000 towards the purchase of 10 letters between James Joyce and Yeats and the Yeats Dream diary (purchase price €293,256);


  • €400,000 to enable the Library to purchase the Yeats Family library – which will complement Yeats’s own library, which is already in the possession of the National Library (purchase price €436,349).


In addition to these purchases, the donation by the family of Yeats’s Nobel medal and certificate in 2016, and a further donation of material which is currently being finalised under Section 1003 this year, will have a total value of almost €2.5m.


The acquisition of additional sets of letters and items of furniture adds 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 using the collections of both institutions.

The Minister also noted that the National Library had also purchased a number of additional artefacts at today’s auction to the value of over €72,000.


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Note for Editors

The objects that have been acquired by the National Museum include:

  • A walnut writing table that fitted over the side of WB Yeats’s bed, which he used while convalescing towards the end of his life.
  • A Burmese giltwood coffer used to store manuscripts.
  • A chest of drawers decorated on the inside with paintings by his brother, Jack.
  • A collection of ‘occult’ artefacts which show the influence of occultism and spiritualism on his work.
  • A series of Japanese masks. Yeats incorporated elements of Noh Theatre into his own playwriting.
  • The collection includes W.B Yeats’s presentation set of the first issue of the Irish Free State coinage, given to him by the Minister for Finance in 1928. Yeats was the head of the advisory committee that selected the design of the first Irish Free State coinage. Seven artist’s entries were considered, the winner being the English sculptor and designer Percy Metcalfe.


Over the years the National Library has built up a major collection of Yeats material including:

  • Original manuscripts of the poems ‘Oisin’ and the ‘Wanderings of Usheen’ by WB Yeats;
  • Manuscripts, typescripts, corrected proofs and other notes of 19 plays by WB Yeats;
  • Four volumes of cuttings of reviews of the earlier work of WB Yeats and some articles by him; WB Yeats correspondence re Abbey Theatre;
  • Extensive manuscript materials, drafts, revisions, etc. of the poems of WB Yeats;
  • Papers of WB Yeats and Jack B Yeats;
  • Collection of papers of WB Yeats, mainly relating to spiritualism and the occult, consisting of 100 notebooks and copybooks and 130 files of loose papers, in 9 archival boxes;
  • The personal library of William Butler Yeats;
  • WB Yeats’s Nobel medal and diploma plus correspondence relating to the award of the Nobel Prize;
  • Correspondence between James Joyce and WB Yeats and Dream Diary of George Yeats and
  • The Yeats family library.

Much of this was acquired with the assistance of the Government of the day, through the use of tax incentives as well as through generous donations from the family.

Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, 23 Kildare Street, Dublin , D02 TD30. Tel: 01 631 3800 / LoCall: 1890 383 000

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