Obituary: The Earl of Iveagh

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The Independent Online
FOLLOWING on your obituary notices of the Earl of Iveagh (by Jeremy Warner and Lord Boyd of Merton, 4 July), may I contribute a few words on his book-collecting career? writes H. D. Lyon.

Inspired partly by Major JR Abbey, and partly by Mrs Clive Pearson, his wife's grandmother, Benjamin Iveagh began his bibliophile career, shortly after his marriage, by commisioning some notable modern bindings from leading British, Irish and French bookbinders. From this start, Benjamin (never 'Ben'), began to study and to collect Irish bindings from the mid-18th century, the period when Dublin became the centre of a great artistic revival. He dominated this field of collecting, forming a highly selective collection of such bindings while it was still possible to find them in fine condition. He had an amazingly good eye, and was able to identify the tools of the different binders. Dr Mirjam Foot is currently working on a book concerning this part of the Iveagh Library.

The second part of his collection was devoted to first editions of Irish literature through the centuries, beginning with Edmund Spenser, followed by Swift, Edgeworth father and daughter, Oscar Wilde, Synge, Yeats, Joyce, and many others. His collections of these authors are virtually complete. Benjamin was fascinated also by the scientific writings of Robert Boyle, Bishop Berkeley, Sir William Petty, and other writers connected with Ireland.

The third part of the Iveagh Library is devoted to Irish history and contains many rare first editions from the reign of Elizabeth I onwards. This section is strong in books and manuscripts of the 17th and 18th centuries. The collection of pamphlets of this period, both political and non-political, is very extensive.

Unlike some book collectors, Benjamin Iveagh enjoyed reading the books in his library, and in so doing became an authority on many aspects of Irish and Anglo- Irish history and literature. He was greatly helped in organising his library by his devoted librarian, Mary Lynch. She has catalogued and computerised the thousands of printed books and pamphlets. She is now working on the catalogue of the Iveagh collection of 20th-century manuscripts, notably the papers of Lennox Robinson, including much early material relating to the Abbey Theatre in Dublin.

It is indeed sad that such an enthusiastic and knowledgeable bibliophile has died so comparatively young, but let us hope that the library that he created will continue to interest his family and friends, both in Ireland and in England.