Sybil le Brocquy

LifeWorksCriticismCommentaryQuotationsReferencesNotes

Life
1892-1973 [Helen Mary Sybil le Brocquy; norm. Sybil Le Brocquy; nom-de-plume, Helen Staunton]; b. 21 Dec., Herbert St., Dublin dg. barrister-turned solicitor, later residing at Aram Lodge, Castlerea, Co. Roscommon, where he practised; grew up in Dublin and later at Howth; ed. Loreta Abbey, Rathfarnham, and later at Loreto Convent, St. Stephen’s Green for a final year; studied German and singing at Coblenz; m. Albert le Brocquy; settled at 4, Zion Rd., where visitors incl. Joseph O’Neill and Ernie O’Malley; was on terms of friendship with Mrs Yeats, who later took on the le Brocquy family maid Maggie; children Louis (b.1916), Noel (b.1917) and Melanie (b.1919);
 
involved in organising Womens’ International League of Peace and Freedom [aka Women’s International Congress], Dublin 9-15 July, 1926; with Albert, active in League of Nations Association, which Albert served as Hon. Sec., and instrumental in estab. of Irish Civil Rights, PEN, and Amnesty in Ireland; served as sometime President of the Irish Women Writers’ Society and long-term member of Old Dublin Society; member of Drama League from mid-1920s, first appearing as “Helen Staunton” [pseud.] in Cradle Song, which Yeats attended - by repute - each night for a week; her play Winning Ways was produced by the Drama League at the Abbey Theatre (1931), and broadcast by Radio Éireann;
 
closely associated with Dora McAuliffe of Radio Éireann Drama Dept. and wrote a number of short dramatic pieces which were transmitted, incl. a ghost play and a drama on Robert Emmet; moved to 51 Kenilworth Sq., Rathmines, 1931 - at first in an upper-storey flat before acquiring the house after two years; co-fnd. of Living Art Exhibition, with Louis le Brocquy and others, 1941; located the actual birthplace - then unknown - of W. B. Yeats (George’s Ville - later Sandymount Ave.) from records, and instrumental in the placing of a plaque there in the centenary year, 1965 - though unable to attend the event through illness; arranged for erection of Arthur Power’s bust of Yeats in Sandymount Green;
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issued Cadenus: A Reassessment (1962), arguing that Swift had a boy-child (Brian McLoughlin) by Vanessa who died aetat. 8 and was buried pseudonymously in St. Patrick’s yard under the family name of Swift’s verger; active committee member in Swift Tercentenary celebrations with Cearbhall Ó Dalaigh, et al., communicating with Brian Lenihan, the Minister of Education, about National Library holdings of Swiftiana and later with Noel Lemass about space and physical arrangements in the Library; she also donated antiquarian books when she found them the Trinity College, Library, noted as valuable additions to the collection; issued Stella’s Birth-Day Poems (1967); co-opted as member of the Cultural Committee of the Dept. of External Affairs;
 
appt. Trustee of the National Library of Ireland by Brian Lenihan (for the State), April 1968; representative of the Library on the Royal Irish Academy’s National Committee for Anglo-Irish Literature; materially responsible for securing a subsidy for the Gate Theatre, Dublin under MacLiammoir and Edwards, through communication with Charles Haughey, then Min. of Finance, 1970; Hon. Sec. of the Yeats Society, 1965-70, then inaugurated “Yeats Country” tours; suffered from undiagnosed illness in last years and d. 4 Sept. 1973, at the Meath Hospital, Dublin; characterised as ‘that rarest of things, a disinterested enthusiast’ in an Irish Times obituary (Terence de Vere White; 6 Sept. 1973);
 
a commemorative pamphlet, including “A Personal Appreciation” by Mary Manning, was printed by Dolmen Press (June 1976) in conjunction with the renovation of the Rutland Fountain on Lwr. Merrion St., facing the National Gallery of Ireland, arranged by a memorial committee led by Patrick Henchy (NLI Dir.), a finely-bound contemporary copy of William Molyneux’s Case for Ireland’s being Bound by Acts of Parliament in England Stated being presented to the National Library of Ireland at the same time; her literary papers, incl. several plays, are in the National Library of Ireland; her letters are in the possession of her dg. Melanie [née le Brocquy] Stewart; her husband Albert lived on until March 1976.
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Works
Drama, Winning Ways (Drama League 1931), MS in NLI ; A View on Vanessa: A Correspondence with Interludes for the Stage (Dublin: The Dolmen Press 1967), 80pp. [details]

Studies, Cadenus: A Reassessment in the Light of New Evidence of the Relationships between Swift, Stella, and Vanessa (Dublin: Dolmen 1962), xiii, 160pp.; ed., Stella’s / Birth-days / Poems by Jonathan Swift / edited with a commentary by Sybil Le Brocquy (Dublin: Dolmen Press 1967) [details]; Swift’s Most Valuable Friend (Dublin: Dolmen 1968), 128pp. [in mem. of Emil Pons; intro. signed June 1967].

Reprint, Cadenus & Swift’s Most Valuable Friend, with an introduction by Andrew Carpenter (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2003) [xiii, 160pp.; 128pp.]

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Bibliograpical details
Stella’s / Birth-days / Poems by Jonathan Swift / edited with a commentary by Sybil Le Brocquy (Dublin: Dolmen Press 1967), [7]-39pp., with front. port of “Stella from orig. drawing by Revd. George Parnel, Archdeacon of Clogher, in the possession of G. Faulkner” [formerly front. to Faulkner’s edn. of Swift’s Works, 1768]. Contents: Introduction [7]; Stella’s Birth-Days [9]; 1: 1718-19 [21]; II: 1719-20 [22]; III: 1721-22 [24]; IV: 1722-23 [25]; V: 1723-24 [28]; VI: 1724-25 [30]; VII: 1726-27 [32]; Stella to Doctor Swift, 1721 [36]; Appendix A: Jealousy [38]; Appendix B: On Censure [39].

A View on Vanessa: A Correspondence with Interludes for the Stage (Dublin: The Dolmen Press 1967), 80pp. [Introduction, p.[8]; A View, 9-79; notice: A view on Vanessa was first produced at the Lantern Theatre, Dublin, on Wednesday, 19th April, 1967, with the following cast: Jim O’Brien - Tom Thurley; Kate O’Brien - Miriam McCann; Hetty Moore - Deirdre Maher; Sean Macken - Paul Clarke; Eileen Maguire - Eugenie Merritt; Ricky Maguire - Denis Merritt; the play was directed and designed by Liam Miller. (p.80.) [See Introduction, infra.]

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Criticism
Mary Manning, “Sybil Le Brocquy”, An Appreciation, in Hibernia ( 21 Sept. 1973), p.15 [infra]; Manning, “A Personal Appreciation of Sybil le Brocquy” (priv. 1976) [pamph.].

See also Anne Madden le Brocquy, Louis le Brocquy: A Painter Seeing His Way (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1994). There is a “Quidnunc” column containing a copy of a letter by Sybil Le Brocquy concerning her discovery of the birth-place of W. B. Yeats [as infra].

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Commentary
Winning Ways
(1932): Splendid New Comedy Produced at the Abbey ‘Hearty congratulations to Helen Staunton the writer of the play, Winning Ways, produced for the first time at the Abbey Theatre last night. It is a comedy of life in Dublin’s Suburbia, cleverly constructed and brimful of original ideas. Sequence is maintained by the authoress through three acts of fun-making. The result is a perfect round of light entertainment, evenly balanced and ingeniously dispensed. / We are introduced to the diningroom (the Abbey stage has never had such a tastefully furnished apartment) in the house of Pewter Kearney, a building contractor’s manager, where we meet Mrs. Kearney with his son and daughter,. Poor Peter was ignorant of his native tongue, but to go one better than his “Ard-na-Greine” neighbours, de decided on Ardnocmurd for his door-plate, which, though sounding very good, derived its origin from Drumcondra spelt backwards. Peter’s interest, apart from his business, centre on horse racing, while his dear wife is absorbed in the mysticism of the séance. That very evening a meeting of the local “circle” is to be held at her house. Naturally, in the circumstances, her husband’s lost shoe and her son’s boiled shirts do not hold her interest. / Domestic perplexities provide plenty of amusement in the first act. Next we are treated to a realistic séance in which, through the “medium”, we hear from Napoleon and Julius Caesar. Peter Kearney is sceptical and tests the power of the “medium” by asking for the winner of a big race. The question is side-tracked. Later, however, that good woman of the house comes across the tail end of a love letter written by the maid and signed “White Flower”. This happens to be the name of a horse, and naturally Mrs Kearney believes it to be heaven-sent. One would hardly expect her to put all her savings on this info0rmation, but she does, despite the fact that the maid has identified the “medium” as the man who met her following a matrimonial advertisement correspondence and posed as a secret agent. In the final act we find that young Kearney, living beyond his means, has appropriated some of his employer’s funds. If his mother had not been so strong in her mystic faith, the play would certainly have ended in tragedy. It didn’t. “White Flower” won! / The company of artistes selected for the cast are deserving of praise. there was no hitch, each part bearing evidence of thorough rehearsal. Pat Hayden in the role of Peter Kearney is thoroughly convincing. His irate manner and feeble protestations evoke much merriment. / Fay Sergeant has a difficult task in the portrayal of Mrs. Kearney. She carried it through with success. At times the setting of the lines tends to slow down the action, but the artiste manages to cover over the awkward moments with commendable effect. A special word of praise is due for Dorothy Day, who plays the part of the general servant, and is also responsible for the production of the play. Gabriel Fallon as the “medium” is responsible for the success of the séance scene. Eithne Mahon and Lal Cranfield do well as the young members of the Kearney family. Christine Hayden, Edith Brambell, and Frederick W. King are capable as the visiting members of the mystic circle. / The authored was called before the curtain at the close, and was accorded a wonderful ovation. We will be glad to hear more from Helene Staunton. / The orchestra, under Dr. J. F. Larchet, performed a delightful programme of Irish airs during the interval.’ [Contemporary Irish newspaper review; undated; prop. Irish Times – contains obit. For Prof. H. A. W. Hewins; among family cuttings.]

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Signe Toksvigs, Irish Diaries, 1922-1937, briefly refers to ‘Mrs le Brocquy (Helen Staunton), a fresh-faced, well-bred, nicely dressed young woman who left in a few minutes.’ (q.p.)

Terence de Vere White, ‘Jonathan What?’, in ‘Swift’, Irish Times Special Supplement [6d.] (30th Nov. 1967), counters Sybil le Brocquy’s ‘passionate plea’ on behalf Vanessa in Cadenus: ‘Sybil le Brocquy has argued on documentary records that he had a child called Patrick with Vanessa, the cause of his passionate quarrel with her and the sundering of his friendship with Stella [...]’

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Terence de Vere White, ‘In Memory of Sybil le Brocquy’, in The Irish Times (16 June 1976): ‘When Sybil le Brocquy died some of her friend formed themselves into a committee to make a suitable memorial for her. She had devoted herself unselfishly to many good causes – the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom, the League of National Society, the Irish Association, the National Library, the Friends of the National Collections, Amnesty International and the Book Association of Ireland. She had made herself an authority on Swift and her book Cadenus was a worthwhile contribution to Swift scholarship. She acted and wrote plays. And she played an important part in the resurrection of the Gate Theatre. / It was decided as a fitting tribute to her memory to restore the Rutland Fountain in Merrion Square. Percy de Clerc, MRIAI, RIDA, acted as honorary architect for the work, which with the active assistance of Dublin Corporation has restored the fountain to its former elegance. In addition the Committee has acquired a copy of William Molyneux’s The Case for Ireland State (168). This will be presented to the National Library on whose board of trustee Miss Le Brocquy played an energetic and resourceful part. A commemorative illustrated booklet compiled by Andrew Carpenter and designed by Liam Miller, has been published by the Dolmen Press, limited to 400 copies.’ [T. d. V. W.]

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Patrick Henchy, The National Library of Ireland, 1941-1976 - A Look Back: A Paper Read to the National Library of Ireland Society (NLI 1986): ‘Sybil Le Brocquy was a lady who involved herself in a wide range of cultural activities and in doing good wherever she went. I recall how one Sunday in 1974[?] she got me to drive her to Offaly to search for the grave of Jaspar Joly. We found it eventually in Clonbullogue, and this Society was responsible for putting on the tombstone the inscription which tells of Joly’s great gift of books, MSS and maps which led to the establishment of the National Library. That trip also led to the discovery of the Joly family papers which were acquired by the National Library and were the subject of a paper read by me to the Society which was later published in the issue of the Irish University Review devoted to the National Library centenary in 1977. / When Sybil died in 1973 her friends decided to commemorate her [27] by seeking to restore the decaying Rutland memorial in Merrion Square. The restoration which was carried out in co-operation with the Corporation of Dublin bears the inscription cut in the seat facing the street which reads: “This fountain was restored by the Corporation of Dublin as part of its contribution to European Architectural Heritage Year 1975. The project was assisted by generous donations from friends of Sybil Le Brocquy, 1892-1973 whose enthusiasm for life, literature and the arts enriched many lives.” / I have in my possession a film of the opening ceremony which was performed by President Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh. / Among the many readers and scholars whom it was my privilege to know and assist over the years, there is one scholar whom I will select for special mention - Richard Ellmann - but, as in the case of Sybil Le Brocquy, it is not possible to convey here an adequate picture of this outstanding scholar.’ (pp.27-28.)

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Quidnunc (The Irish Times, in 1965): ‘[...] I am very grateful to Sybil Le Brocquy, and I am sure Cyril Duff will be, too, for this letter. / “Many years ago I was amazed to find that nobody knew where Yeats was born, neither his family nor close associates like Lennox Robinson. Jack Yeats’s only clue was a family joke that ‘Willy was born in a lane in Sandymount.’ The Register of Births states that he was born in ‘1 Georgeville, Sandymount Strand,’ but there never existed a Georgeville on Sandymount Strand. When I pointed this out to the official who copied the certificate, he said that “fathers weren’t always in a reliable condition,” but John Butler Yeats certainly knew the locality - he was a tenant of 18 Madeley terrace, Sandymount, in 1863. / The Valuation Office books, fortunately, give clear proof, because in October, 1864, John B. Yeats is entered as tenant of 3 Sandymount avenue. On the map of that year, 3 Sandymount avenue proves to be a newly-built house, which was later described as ‘1 George’s ville.’ When Pembroke Urban District was taken over by the Dublin Corporation, Sandymount avenue was renumbered, and Yeat’s birthplace lost its identity. Fortunately on the reverse of a granite stone on the gateway ‘1 Georges Ville’ is still inscribed. / The ‘lane’ which amused the Yeats family is now Prince of Wales Terrace. It is a bitter reflection on Dublin that it has required a centenary to jog its civic memory into recognising the birthplace of its most famous son. Had the house been in Sligo, as many people believe, it would now be a place of international pilgrimage. How many of your ‘litherary illitherates’ know where Synge was born?” / I’ve always thought he was born in Shaw street, as Shaw was born in Synge street.’ / QUIDNUNC.’ [i.e., Seamus Kelly.]

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P. J. Kavanagh, Voices in Ireland (1994), p.276, and n.41 (p.335) cites Sybil le Brocquy’s Cadenus as ‘an example of the legend at its extreme’.

Bruce Arnold, Swift: An Illustrated Life (Dublin: Lilliput Press 1999), draws on le Brocquy’s theory of a child born to Swift and Vanessa as well as on Denis Johnston’s view of his abhorrence of sexual relations with Stella whom he loved but whom he believe to be a half-sister.

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Kevin Kiely, review of Cadenus and Swift’s Most Valuable Friend, in Books Ireland (May 2004), p.114: Kiely treats le Brocquy’s theory that Swift and Vanessa had son called Bryan McLoughlin, fostered after her death by Stella, and who is referred to as ‘the little master’ in the correspondence and later mentioned in Monck Berkeley’s Literary Relics (1789) as being ‘reported [wrongly] to be the Dean’s son by Mrs Johnston [...] the boy strongly resembled the Dean in his complexion ... he dined constantly at the Deanery on Sunday’. According to le Brocquy, the boy died eight years after Vanessa. Kiely notes that ‘Andrew Carpenter in the introduction does not accept her findings from the cryptic references in the Swift-Vanessa correspondence’, but remarks: ‘If you give it half a chance it seems a plausible enough theory.’ (See further under Swift, Commentary, infra.)

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“Sybil Le Brocquy” by Helen O’Malley Roelofs (in The Irish Times, q.d. [1973])

Tall, an ivory face, yet flush of gentle heart, A scarf of lace
Wisdom of the mother, that made us all her child
Mellow mind with trend of scholar
All artists were her friends
Discipline of great tradition, yet infinitely kind,
Her cause well able to defend.

The quiet of her passing leaves melody behind,
Where none intrude
A spirit we rejoiced to see, anytime of night or day,
No mark is needed, ground be turned,
For stone or planted tree
Space left of deep respect, affection in our hearts
Her chosen way.

Each year on meeting her smile was fresh
As Ashleigh Falls
As much a part of Dublin, as Jack Yeats
These later years,
Our privilege to see her grant to all
The understanding hand.
Leaves great talents in her children
With years ahead at their command.

Source: Papers of Sybil le Brocquy, preserved by her husband Albert

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Mary Manning, ‘Sybil Le Brocquy’, An Appreciation, in Hibernia (21 Sept. 1973), p.15: ‘She withdrew quietly and gracefully as she had lived-to die. She was buried, without any fanfare: only the family assembled to see her off. No shots were fired over her grave but if anyone earned the Freedom of the City it was Sybil Le Brocquy. I have been thinking about her the last sad weeks and it’s only the beginning of a long sadness for she has left a gap which can never be filled. Sybil did not belong to the twentieth century. She would, I think, have been most at home with the great ladies of the nineteenth century. All those intelligent charming women who found their intellectual outlet in writing letters, keeping diaries which are now in valuable, who read all the new books with passionate fervour, helped young artists and writers and enjoyed the company of the great names in literature, and at the same time adored their children and reigned like queens over their orderly households. / Sybil, I suppose, would have been described as a blue-stocking and possibly even now might have earned that label but she also loved the sensual joys. She took infinite pleasure in her conservatory and her fragrant oldfashioned garden. “See those delphiniums. I grew them from seed. They were sent to mefrem Frank Hatch in Boston. I suppose it was illegal but I find all illegal things have a peculiar charm. Illegitimate children were once known as love children. Don’t you think that it is beautiful? The children of love …”.’ (See full text, infra.)

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Nuala O’Faolain, ‘Orphanages not just consigned to history’, in The Irish Times (March 1996). ‘[...] Perhaps even one light in the darkness counts. This woman in London adds: "I was saved by a lady called Mrs Le Brocquy. Her son is some kind of famous artist. My mother worked for them before I was born. Then she had to let my ma go because she couldn’t keep us both. But she was so kind to my ma - took her to the hospital and then to the home. Down through the years when things got really bad for me - I was always in trouble - my mother would write to Mrs Le Brocquy from England. Mrs Le Brocquy saved my skin so many times …” / Mrs Le Brocquy lent the beautiful family christening robe for the baby - now the woman in London - to be baptised in. That’s respect. The woman has never told her mother - who lives near her in London - what the orphanages were like: the mother thinks she had a happy childhood. That’s surely love. And the women who spend an afternoon drinking and reminiscing and supporting each other - that’s a reaching for life and health. Dunblane happened. But so does this. So does this.’ [End] (For full text, see infra.)

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Quotations
A View on Vanessa (1967), Introduction: ‘A short time after Swift’s death, in 1745, Lord Orrery published the following account of Esther Van Homerigh: Vanessa was exceedingly vain, fond of dress, impatient to be admired, bappy in the thoughts of being Swift’s concubine, but still aiming and intending to be his wife ... So perished at Celbridge, a miserable example of an ill-spent life, fantastic wit, visionary schemes and female weakness. / A couple of years later, Swift’s cousin and biographer, Deane Swift, wrote his account of Vanessa: I have been assured that Mrs. Van Homrigh was as far from encouraging any style of address inconsistent with the Rules of Honour and good-breeding as any woman alive ... Her only misfortune was that she had a passion for Doctor Swift. Thus died, at Celbridge, worthy of a happier fate, the celebrated Mrs. Van Homrigh, a martyr to Love and Constancy. / Eleven years after Swift first met the girl, he wrote to her: What beasts in petticoats are all the women in the world to me, compared with you ... What cruelty to make me despise so many, whom, did I not compare them with you, I could tolerate ... Be assured that your friend has never loved, honoured, esteemed, adored anyone else in this world except yourself. / A VIEW ON VANESSA is an attempt to reconcile conflicting opinions as to the relationship of Swift and Vanessa, by using some of their genuine letters and linking them with imaginary interludes.’ [End; op. cit., Dolmen Press 1967, p.[5].)

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Reference
The National Library of Ireland contains manuscript articles and holographs; personal correspondence with Mrs. W. B. Yeats, Austin Clarke, Joseph O’Neill, Blanaid Salkeld, et al., and num. docs. relating to her studies of Jonathan Swift, League of Nations and Amnesty International (Irel.) held as MS 24,218-252; 20 items relating to Drama League, 1926-1942; Minutes of Drama League, 2 vols., 1941-42; Papers of the New Players Society, 1930; 100 items relating to the Yeats Society, 1965-70; 200 items relating to Swift Tercentenary. The Library also holds papers of Albert le Brocquy incl. 100 items relating to the League of Nations Society of Ireland, 1923-47, and 20 relating to the Concordia Association, 1927-35, with others relating to the International Affairs Assoc., 1947.

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Notes
On the Threshold: Threshold 5, 1 (Summer 1961), ed. Mary O’Malley, contains a letter to the editor from Sybil le Brocquy arguing that ‘it really is time the critics bothered to read Swift’s letters to the tragic young woman [i.e., Vanessa Van Homerigh]’ (p.69).

Commemoration: The commemorative committee convened to honour Sybil le Brocquy consisted of Patrick Henchy, Bryan Guinness, Norah McGuinness, Mary Manning, Liam Miller, Shelah Richards, Michael Scott, Lilo Stephens and Andrew Carpenter.

William Molyneux, Case for Ireland [...; &c.], donated to NLI in copy formerly owned by William King in honour of Sybil le Brocquy. (See further in Mary Manning, ‘A Personal Appreciation [of Sybil le Brocquy]’, 1976, under Wm. Molyneux, infra.)

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Living Quarters: Sybil le Brocquy lived all her married life at 51, Kenilworth Sq., Rathmines, [Co.] Dublin, at first in a rented flat above above the main rooms for three years, and later in the whole house when purchased for £1,400 by her father-in-law Louis le Brocquy Snr, prop. of Greenmount Oil Co. (Harold’s Cross).

Date of death: By her own request Sybil Le Brocquy's funeral was not noticed in the papers in advance; instead, a notice was placed there saying goodbye to all her friends after her interrment which was attended by close family members only. An appreciate by Terence de Vere White appeared in The Irish Times (6 Sept. 1973), referring to the death as having occurred on Tuesday of the same week.

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W. B. Yeats: a photo-port. of “W. B. Yeats during his Senate Years” reprinted as full-page plate in Donald Pearce, ed., The Senate Speeches of W. B. Yeats (London: Faber & Faber 1960), facing p.30, acknowledges the “courtesy of Mr. Albert Le Brocquy.” A letter of request from Thames and Hudson Ltd., slipped into the copy in the possession of Mrs. Melanie Stewart [née le Brocquy], being addressed to Mr Le Brocquy and signed by Imogen Bright, dated 5th April 1968, seeks permission to print the photo in A Pictorial Biography of W. B. Yeats by Michael Mac Liammoir, to contain about 150 ills. In a subsequent letter, also slipped into this volume, Bright responds with thanks to a letter of 8th April and further asks for the address of Donald Pearse, together with a query: ‘Is the photograph on loan to him, or does it now belong to him?’ There is no record of a response.

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