P. S. O'Hegarty and his Collection


P. S. O’Hegarty (1879-1955)

The strengths of Spencer’s Irish collections owe much to the keen and far-sighted collecting of P. S. O'Hegarty, an Irish civil servant, bookseller, historian, critic, and revolutionary. Born in Carrignavar, Cork, Patrick Sarsfield O’Hegarty entered civil service as a clerk in the Post Office. He was active in several nationalist organizations, including the Gaelic League and the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the revolutionary fraternal organization committed to establishing an independent Irish republic. Although O’Hegarty was posted to Great Britain throughout WWI, fellow Fenian Seán MacDiarmada had informed him in 1915 of plans for what would become the Easter Rising. In 1918, O’Hegarty refused to take the oath of allegiance required of Irish civil servants by Britain and returned instead to Ireland. There he ran The Irish Bookshop in Dublin and continued his writing on politics and history. In 1922, following the Anglo-Irish War, O’Hegarty became Secretary of Ireland’s Department of Posts and Telegraphs, a position that he kept until his retirement in 1945.

O’Hegarty’s love of books knew few bounds, quite literally. He had the pockets of his jackets altered so that he might more easily carry a volume (or two, or three…) with him as he went about his day. His many passions and associations left him well-positioned to collect materials in Irish literature, history, and culture. In 1955, KU acquired from O’Hegarty his collection of the poet W. B. Yeats. Following O’Hegarty’s death, KU purchased the remainder of his library from his widow, Mina. The shipments from Ireland weighed 11 tons, and its 25,000 items have immeasurably strengthened KU’s resources for the literature and history of Ireland.

Photograph of P. S. O’Hegarty in his library. Dublin, circa 1955. O’Hegarty Accession File


A History of Ireland under the Union, 1801 to 1922O’Hegarty was almost as avid a writer as he was a reader. In addition to his many contributions to periodicals, he published a number of volumes on Irish history and politics, including John Mitchel: An Appreciation (1917), Ulster: A Brief Statement of Fact (1919), A Short Memoir of Terence MacSwiney (1922), and The Victory of Sinn Féin (1924). His best-known study, A History of Ireland under the Union, 1801 to 1922 (1952), was the culmination of a life spent thinking about and making Irish history. In his dedicatory preface, O’Hegarty writes,

No people that does not know its past can build wisely. I have tried to set down in this book what happened in the political history of that last phase of Ireland’s captivity when she was attacking, suffering only momentary setbacks, and recovering her national liberties one by one.

O’Hegarty, P. S. A History of Ireland under the Union, 1801 to 1922. London: Methuen[1952]. O’Hegarty D623


Photograph of John Daly, Tom Clarke, and Seaghan MacDermott [Seán MacDiarmada]This portrait of John Daly, Tom Clarke, and Seán MacDiarmada is inscribed on the verso by Clarke—“with fond wishes”—to O’Hegarty. All four men were members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood; MacDiarmada and Clarke would later be executed as leaders of the Easter Rising. Given that fate, Clarke’s inscription, dated July 9, 1912, is rather haunting:

  “We’ll keep pegging away—” if we can’t reach it, others certainly will.

Photograph of John Daly, Tom Clarke, and Seaghan MacDermott [Seán MacDiarmada]. Inscribed on verso by Clarke. Inscribed Dublin, July 9, 1912. P. S. O’Hegarty Collection photographs



Eleven issues of Fianna Fáil were published before authorities suppressed it. The weekly journal was the work of Terence MacSwiney, the future Lord Mayor of Cork, who would die on a hunger strike while imprisoned by the British. P. S. O’Hegarty had been a schoolmate of MacSwiney’s and wrote a memoir of “Terry” after his death. This front-page article about the unjustified transfer of a “Mr. O’Hegarty” from the Post Office in Cork concerns not Patrick, but his younger brother Sean. However, politics also led the Post Office to transfer the elder O’Hegarty to Great Britain, where he was kept under surveillance throughout the war.

Fianna Fáil: A Journal of Militant Ireland, No. 5 (October 24, 1914). O’Hegarty G27


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In addition to books, periodicals, and ephemera, P. S. O’Hegarty also collected manuscripts as he could acquire them. The two school notebooks on display appear to have belonged to Joseph Mary Plunkett, one of the leaders of the Easter Rising. Poor health often interrupted Plunkett’s education, and he was nearing nineteen when he arrived at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire to follow the school’s two-year Philosophy course. Scholars have yet to analyze these notebooks to assess their significance and authenticity. The open volume contains Plunkett’s philosophy notes.

Plunkett, Joseph Mary.  Philosophy and Chemistry notebooks from Stonyhurst College. Lancashire, 1906, 1907. P. S. O’Hegarty Collection manuscripts



The works of poet and playwright W. B. Yeats were one of P. S. O’Hegarty’s great collecting passions. Yeats died in France in January of 1939, and the letter on display from the poet’s sister thanks O’Hegarty for sending his condolences. Elizabeth (Lolly) Yeats writes of her brother, “to spend even an hour or so in talk with him made the world seem a finer place […].” A decade after the poet’s death, O’Hegarty’s daughter Gráinne would marry Yeats’s son Michael. 

Letter from Elizabeth Corbet Yeats to P. S. O’Hegarty. Dundrum, County Dublin, February 11, 1939. MS 25 Ea.5.2

Click on the image of the first page of the letter to go to the record view for all six pages of the letter.



Though P. S. O’Hegarty’s collection is remarkable for the depth of its Irish materials, the Cork native was a reader of varied tastes. His library also includes excellent holdings in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century English literature, French literature, and children’s literature, especially boys’ novels and magazines.

St. John, Percy B. The Blue Dwarf, A Tale of Love, Mystery, and Crime. London: Hogarth House., [circa 1880]. O’Hegarty D283 Vol. 2 of 3


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Following the arrival of O’Hegarty’s library at KU in 1959, some noteworthy volumes were pulled out and added to other collections. Both this volume of plays by Molière and this first edition of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol come from O’Hegarty’s library, though neither is housed at an O’Hegarty call number. O’Hegarty’s copy of L’Escole des maris (The School for Husbands) is the earliest printed edition of a play by Molière in KU Libraries’ collections.

Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843. B931

Molière. L’Escole des maris. Paris: Claude Barbin, 1662. [Bound with L’Escole des femmes (1663), Le Malade imaginaire (1683) and Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (1674).] Summerfield A734.



O’Hegarty’s copy of Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room (1922) boasts an interesting provenance. It belonged to Yeats’s sister Lily and bears her bookplate (reproduced here). The volume is open to a passage in which Woolf’s title character briefly contemplates Irish Home Rule.

Woolf, Virginia. Jacob’s Room. [London]: Published by L. & V. Woolf at the Hogarth Press, 1922. O’Hegarty B1893.

Lily Yeats's bookplate from her copy of Virginia Woolf's Jacob's Room