Up for auction: personal Bible carried by Michael Collins on the day he died

Michael Collins’ personal Bible.
Michael Collins’ personal Bible, which he had with him when he was killed in action at Béal na Blá, is set to be auctioned on 14 November (credit: © Gormleys Auctions; edited IHN).

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Michael Collins’ Bible, which he carried with him when he was killed in action, is set to be auctioned with a guide price tag of between €20,900 and €25,600. This auction also features other historical items, such as a first-hand account of Collins’ death by Emmet Dalton, correspondence from Lady Lavery and an original speech by Wolfe Tone, the father of Irish Republicanism.

Michael Collins’ Bible

Michael Collins’ personal Bible is among the items featured in an upcoming auction of a remarkable array of historical memorabilia, which will be hosted by Gormleys later this month.

Interestingly, this is a King James Bible – a Protestant edition. Michael Collins, the Irish revolutionary and a Catholic, received this compact Bible when he began employment as a post office worker in London in 1906, aged 16. Published in London by the Scripture Gift Mission and Naval and Military Bible Society, it bears the stamp of the king’s crown and was among the many Bibles distributed to British civil service employees in the past.

King James Bible owned by Michael Collins.
This King James Bible, a Protestant edition, was issued to Michael Collins when he began employment as a post office worker in London (credit: © Gormleys Auctions; edited IHN).

Surprisingly, Collins carried this Bible throughout his life, and it was in his pocket when he was killed during an ambush at Béal na Blá in 1922 during the Irish Civil War.

Within its pages is a memorial card for Mrs Catherine Collins, the wife of Michael’s brother Johnny. Catherine and Johnny had nine children together, but her life was cut short by tuberculosis in February 1921. Michael Collins was deeply affected by the death of his sister-in-law.

Catherine Collins sister-in-law to Michael Collins.
Catherine Collins née Hurley, sister-in-law to Michael Collins.

Catherine’s brother, Seán Hurley, also shared a close friendship with Michael Collins. They not only attended the same school in Clonakilty but worked together in London. Hurley was killed in action during the 1916 Rising in Dublin. Michael Collins wrote the following about his friend:

“He has the sharpness of wit to see my own particular mood. We think the same way on Irish matters. We have walked London’s streets on many a night silently because our thinking was elsewhere. I appreciate him because his mind seems compact, whereas mine fritters away hours in idle thought. At worse he is a boon companion, at best there is no one else I would have as a friend.”

After Collins’ death, his Bible passed to his niece, who gifted it to Dr James A. Lynch before being recently acquired by the current owner. It carries a guide price of between €20,900 and €25,600.

>>> RELATED: Who was Michael Collins’ mother? Mary Anne O’Brien explored

Account of Michael Collins’ death by Dalton

In the context of the Irish struggle for freedom, there are several other interesting items set to go under the hammer. Among these is a detailed first-hand account of the death of Michael Collins composed by Emmet Dalton, which is estimated between €820 and €1,200. On 22 August 1922, Dalton was part of Collins’ convoy as they journeyed through rural West Cork. When anti-treaty forces unexpectedly set upon them at Béal na Blá, Dalton advised him to drive on but Collins, who lacked combat experience, opted instead to stop and fight.

Major General Emmet Dalton and his wife Alice Shannon.
Major General Emmet Dalton and his bride Alice Shannon on their wedding day in October 1922, just a few months after he witnessed the killing of Michael Collins (photographer: W. D. Hogan, © National Library of Ireland via Flickr).

Kevin Barry’s death card

Also on sale is the death card of 18-year-old Irish revolutionary Kevin Barry, with an estimated hammer price of €240–€470. Barry was executed for his involvement in an attack on a British Army supply lorry that resulted in the deaths of three British soldiers. The US and the Vatican made unsuccessful attempts to secure him a reprieve.

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Letters from Lady Lavery

The auction features correspondence from Lady Hazel Lavery to Garda Commissioner Eoin O’Duffy lamenting the death of Kevin O’Higgins, a prominent Irish statesman who served as Vice-President of the Executive Council and Minister for Justice, Minister for External Affairs and Minister for Economic Affairs for the Irish Free State. In addition to the disputed rumours of an affair with Michael Collins, Lady Lavery was romantically linked with O’Higgins who was killed by anti-treaty members of the IRA.

Letters written by Lady Hazel Lavery to Eoin O'Duffy on the death of Kevin O'Higgins.
Among the items up for auction is a collection of letters from Lady Hazel Lavery to Eoin O’Duffy on the death of Kevin O’Higgins (credit: © Gormleys Auctions).

An American painter and the wife of the esteemed artist Sir John Lavery, Lady Lavery was celebrated for her beauty and her likeness was adopted as the visual representation of the Irish Free State and appeared on Irish banknotes. The collection of letters has an estimated value of €3,500–€5,800.

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Wolfe Tone’s final speech

One of the older items on sale is an original speech handwritten by Theobald Wolfe Tone, a founding member of the United Irishmen. He delivered this speech during his trial for treason, where he was sentenced to death for the key role he played in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. This rare document sheds light on the early narrative of the Irish pursuit of independence. It carries an estimated value ranging from €23,000 to €29,000.

Shortly before this, in October 1798, Wolfe Tone was apprehended and detained in Buncrana Castle. Read about the history of Buncrana Castle here.

Che Guevara’s lucky Irish lighter and other items

Another item of historical interest on auction is Che Guevara’s lucky Irish lighter, with an estimate of €1,750–€2,350. The iconic Argentine-Cuban revolutionary, with ancestral ties to Ireland through his paternal Lynch lineage, purchased the lighter in Shannon Airport during an unscheduled stopover in 1965. The lighter became his cherished talisman, but he later gifted it to Natalia Revuelta Clews, the mistress of Fidel Castro, after a disastrous voyage to Africa, declaring it was not so lucky after all.

Che Guevara’s Irish lighter.
Che Guevara’s lucky Irish lighter to be auctioned on 14 November (credit: © Gormleys Auctions).

Also up for grabs is a rare first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses, in excellent condition, with a guide price of €25,600-€29,000 and a penal-era cross (or crucifix) carved from yew wood, likely originating from Connacht and dated 1716, with an estimated value of €4,650–€7,000.

Eighteenth-century wooden penal cross.
Penal cross from Connacht dated 1716 to be auctioned on 14 November (credit: © Gormleys Auctions).

The auction: Gormleys Signature Sale

The online auction, offering a total of 67 high-end lots, is scheduled for 14 November at 7:30 pm. Viewings of the items in Gormleys Signature Sale will be available at Gormleys Dublin from 2–5 November and at Gormleys Belfast from 9–11 November, with the online auction closing on 14 November.

For more details on the auction, visit Gormleys Auctions website.

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