Northern Ireland

Mary Colette McAlister's rare books collection auctioned

A selection of some of the books collected by Mary Colette McAlister Image copyright Matthews Auction Rooms
Image caption The private library includes many first editions and copies bearing well-known signatures

A Northern Ireland woman's personal collection of more than 25,000 rare books is being sold at the biggest auction of its type in 30 years.

The private library was amassed by Mary Colette McAlister who died last year.

After her death, her house was sold and her book collection was transported to Matthews Auction Rooms in County Meath.

Auctioneer Damien Matthews told the Irish Times: "She didn't buy rubbish. The majority are first editions; serious books by serious authors."

The late Ms McAlister, who was from Bangor in County Down, managed to fund her "extraordinary" library by living an otherwise very "frugal" life.

The Irish Times reported that she was "happy to live on toast and margarine if it meant she could add to her collection of beloved books".

Ms McAlister was in her 80s when she died and the auctioneer told the paper it took six men almost a week to clear the books from the vicarage she called home.

Mr Matthews commissioned a carpenter to build bespoke shelves at the Duke Brothers building on Market Street, Kells, and then began the daunting task of cataloguing the many thousands of volumes.

Ms McAlister's library was opened for public viewing earlier this week and are now being sold in a two-day auction which began at noon on Saturday.

The lots going under the hammer include an early edition of Darwin's 'On the Origin of Species' but many focus on Irish history.

There is a large book detailing the opening of the Stormont parliament in 1921 and a signed copy of Seán Mac Bride's Nobel Prize speech.

Mac Bride, a founding member of Amnesty International, was the son of one of the executed leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising and Maud Gonne - a political activist and long time muse of the poet, WB Yeats.

Another lot, Mr Keeling's Five Years in Russia, once belonged to another Irish republican rebel - Constance Markievicz - and bears her signature.

Other rare items include a copy of a 1777 survey of Irish road maps and a History of the Irish Parliament 1692 to 1800, which the auction house described as a "major reference resource for all aspects of 18th Century Ireland".

There are also several bound volumes of the Ulster Journal of Archaeology Belfast 1895 and a first edition of James Connolly's book, Labour in Irish History.

Ms McAlister had also purchased a volume on the book trade and records of Irish book auctions - suggesting that she was well aware of the value of her collection.

However, many of the books have been placed for auction without a reserve price.

"It's all to be cleared," Mr Matthews told the Irish Times.

"It doesn't matter if it's signed by Yeats or whoever else, I'm here to sell."

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