Rare copy of US Declaration of Independence up for auction after being discovered in Ireland

Rare Copy Of Us Declaration Of Independence Up For Auction After Being Discovered In Ireland Rare Copy Of Us Declaration Of Independence Up For Auction After Being Discovered In Ireland
The rare copy of the US Declaration of Independence is expected to sell for €20,000.
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Sarah Slater

An extremely rare copy of the United States Declaration of Independence once owned by the first Irish-American Catholic nominated to run in the US Presidential Elections is to go under the auctioneer’s gavel.

It is often assumed that the late Irish-American Wexford descendant, the beloved John F Kennedy, was the first Catholic to be nominated to stand in the US Presidential race being elected to the highest office of the land in 1961 becoming the youngest man to do so aged 42.

However, 89 years earlier a descendant of a Roscommon man was the first Irish-American Catholic to claim that title.

Charles O’Conor, the distinguished Irish-American attorney and politician, descended from the O’Conor Don family of Roscommon, in 1872 was nominated for the Presidency by a southern Democratic group. He declined the nomination, but his name still appeared on the ballot paper — the first Catholic to receive such a nomination.


O’Connor was given one of only 200 original engraved facsimile copies, when a reprint of the Declaration of Independence was issued by order of Congress on July 4th, 1823.

Created using fine parchment — only a dozen still remain in private hands.

The copy going up for auction is one of these 200, and the estimated value of this copy is in the region of €20,000, with direct provenance to the present owner.

The rare copy of the US Declaration of Independence is expected to sell for €20,000.

The copy came to light recently in a country house in the west of Ireland, where presumably it was brought by Charles O’Conor on a visit to his ancestral homeland. Of the 200 original copies issued, a census undertaken in 1991 could find only 31 surviving, of which institutions held 19, and only 12, to which the present copy can be added, were in private hands.

George F Mealy, a director of Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers in Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny, who have been requested to sell the coveted item said the engraved copy, “is an exceptionally rare and important document, truly one that has changed the world”.

“It is a superb memorial to a very distinguished Irish-American, and a confirmation and celebration of the Irish contribution to the constitutional development of the United States. The copy is in excellent condition and has been handed down by unbroken family descent.”


Mr Mealy added that It is no exaggeration to say that the US Declaration changed the world, marking a decisive turn away from the era of unchallenged imperial expansion and the subjection of colonial peoples, “and was thereafter a shining beacon to subject peoples everywhere, most notably the Irish”.

“Three of the 56 signatories were born in Ireland, and a further eight were of Irish descent.

“This is the cornerstone document of American and World History, and to have located a copy with such strong provenance to our Irish/American ancestry is a wonderful rediscovery. “

O’Conor was born in 1804 in New York, was the son of Thomas O’Conor, a member of the ancient family of O'Conor Don; he was named after his great-grandfather, the historian Charles O’Conor of Belnagare, Co Roscommon. His father (a member of the United Irishmen) left Ireland after the failure of the 1798 rising.

At the age of 20 he was called to the bar in 1824. He quickly made his name as a trial lawyer; after his pioneering success in a major divorce and alimony case, he was presented with two silver vases — one by a group of 30 leading New York ladies, the other by 60 members of the bar. Both vases are now in the New York Law Institute Library.

Irish groups

He was active in Irish support groups, including one intended to support a Fenian rising in Ireland, and for many years he was a major figure in Democratic politics. He was US attorney for the southern district of New York from 1853 to 1854. After the Civil War he was senior counsel for the Southern leader Jefferson Davis in his trial for treason. In the 1870s he was prominent in the successful campaign against William (Boss) Tweed of Tammany Hall.

The sale of the copy will take place in December this year.

Meanwhile, in September, the nationally and internationally recognised auction house is involved with the sale of the remaining contents of the renowned Howth Castle — the ancestral home of the line of the Gaisford-St Lawrence family dating back to the 12th Century.

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