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Private letters offer rare insight into life of Churchill's Irish right-hand man

Letters written by former British government minister Brendan Bracken are among over 750 historic lots up for sale at an auction in Dublin later this month.

FOR OVER three decades, Tipperary native Brendan Bracken was a trusted aide of Winston Churchill.

The son of a republican, he admitted himself to a British public school and broke into the London publishing industry, where he came to move in similar circles as the future prime minister.

They became so close that in 1940, according to his biographer Charles Lysaght, Churchill told King George VI: ”He has sometimes been almost my sole supporter in the years when I have been striving to get this country properly defended.”

Bracken went on to serve as a wartime minister in the Conservative government and later founded the Financial Times newspaper, but he always tried to conceal his Irish heritage, historians say.

Even in death, he sought privacy, ordering in his will that all his private papers be destroyed.

Now, however, over half a century after his passing, a new tranche of correspondence bearing Bracken’s name has turned up for auction.

original Source: Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers

The collection – estimated to worth between €1,750 and €2,500 – has attracted considerable attention from historians and collectors alike, according to Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers, which is running the sale.

The 16 signed letters include 12 addressed to his mother and a further four to his brother, and they offer a rare insight into Bracken’s life in the 1920s and early 1930s, before his political rise.

The first, dated 20 June 1920, was written from the Liverpool school where he briefly taught.

In it, Bracken tells his mother, with whom he had had a fractious relationship, about his financial struggles.

“I have not been able to afford to go to [a doctor], or to even get my glasses changed … I am in indifferent health and will soon be without a post as I am leaving here at the end of the term …

I do not feel like answering the taunts etc which I have received, & no useful purpose can therefore be served in endeavouring to convince you that I am other than you imagine.
I will respect your evident wishes, that you do not desire to have any more to do with me … [but] should you desire to keep in touch I will do so.

540x360 Brendan Bracken served as Churchill's private secretary for a short time during the war. Source: Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers

Another letter to his mother, from March 1925, declined her offer of money, which he said he had no need for.

“I am filled with affection and admiration for the remarkable way you battled alone for us after Papa’s death,” he wrote.

Your difficulties were immense, but they were less than your courage. The hardest troubles you had to bear came from me, & I am never likely to forget this fact.

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Rare children’s books

The collection is to be auctioned along with over 750 other lots of books, letters and designs at a Christmas sale in Dublin later this month.

The rare children’s books being sold include:

  • First editions of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book;
  • A first edition of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang written by Ian Fleming for his son Casper;
  • A signed copy of The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss;
  • A first edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula;
  • A vintage set of 14 James Bond novels, including From Russia with Love, Moonraker and Casino Royale;
  • A first edition of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang written by Ian Fleming for his son Casper.

b30a0f75-d207-4cf1-9226-ae26672f6acc Source: Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers

Stained glass window designs by Irish artist Richard J King are also included in the auction.

Viewing will take place on 13 December and 14 December at the Clyde Court Hotel in Dublin 4. The sale will take place at the same hotel on 15 December from 10.30am.

For more information on the items up for auction, visit Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers’ website here.  

About the author:

Catherine Healy

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