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Publisher bequeaths collection to Oxfam Books

O’Brien Press founder Michael O’Brien’s family donate 2,500 books to charity


Donations are the lifeblood of charity shops but Oxfam Books has recently benefited from an exceptional infusion from the estate of the late publisher Michael O’Brien.

The family of the founder of the O’Brien Press has donated 2,500 books to Oxfam Books on Parliament Street, Dublin, consisting of most of Michael’s private collection, which offers a wonderful window onto history.

Oxfam’s archivist, Greischa Raffin, said it included the largest private collection of books on Dublin history that the charity had come across, including several books from the 1700s about laws and trading in Dublin that are in exquisite condition.

There are also signed and rare copies of many books, including limited signed editions of Gallery Press poetry books, for example Seamus Heaney’s Hailstones.

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For any history buffs, a gem in the collection is a special limited edition of The Birmingham Six: An Appalling Vista, edited by Oscar Gilligan. This is signed by Seamus Heaney, Louis le Brocquy, Thomas Kinsella and others. Another rare find in the collection is the Lewis Topographical Dictionary of Ireland Vols 1&2 by Samuel Lewis, published in 1837.

The Great Book of Irish Genealogies, compiled (1645-66) by Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh, published by De Burca in 2003, is another valuable item.

These books and more will be up for auction.

Michael O’Brien died in July 2022. His son Ivan, managing director of O’Brien Press, said: “Books were central in Michael O’Brien’s life. He was a huge collector. He spent most of his life making books. If he wasn’t making them, he was reading them, talking about them, or creating other art. He was particularly interested in Irish history and Ireland’s built heritage, as well as cultural independence.

“Michael wanted to make sure the right thing happened to his collection of books. I’ve known Christine for many years and trusted that Oxfam’s Parliament Street shop was the best place to find good homes for my father’s precious books. The work that Oxfam does across the world is really important.”

Trevor Anderson, director of trading at Oxfam Ireland, said: “For Oxfam Ireland this is an especially generous donation as it represents the life’s work and passion of the late Michael O’Brien. We are honoured to be entrusted with this priceless collection. Our Parliament Street shop is a haunt of bibliophiles. That includes our customers and staff and it has been a delight to find new homes for these books. It’s no exaggeration to say the impact of this legacy donation will be felt globally as the funds raised reaches places such as Gaza, South Sudan and the Horn of Africa.”