I'll Take My Chances in the World

Purchaser’s receipt for a draft dated 22 September 1926 to Aloysius O’Kelly from James Herbert

Aloysius O'Kelly

Aloysius O’Kelly (1853-1936) received a cheque from his nephew, James Herbert, on 6th October 1926. £50 would have been a welcome gift as it was a significant sum of money at that time. Based in New York City, Herbert was O’Kelly’s financial advisor during a restless period in the artist’s life. This gift from his nephew shows the strong friendship which existed between the two men.

O’Kelly emigrated to America in 1895, but travelled regularly to Europe, to Ireland and France in particular, to paint, exhibit, and sell his work. O’Kelly assigned his power of attorney to Herbert in 1914, at the age of 61. This empowered Herbert to manage his uncle’s financial affairs, which he did meticulously for the next two decades, sending O’Kelly his dividends, cash advances, and offering investment advice when requested.

Return to Ireland

In April 1926, O’Kelly travelled to Ireland and took up residence in Thurles, County Tipperary. This chapter of the artist’s later life is uniquely documented in a collection of fifty four letters from O’Kelly to Herbert, between 1926-1930. These letters detail the financial circumstances of O’Kelly as he travelled in Europe and prepared for his financial security in later life. A significant proportion of O’Kelly’s letters include references to cheques that Herbert sent to O’Kelly regularly, some from O’Kelly’s own resources, others from Herbert himself.

In his letter of thanks to Herbert, on receipt of his £50 cheque, O’Kelly writes that:

"It is very kind of you and I am greatly indebted for your generosity which I hope will not be thrown away as I believe the work I am doing will … be profitable".

Tipperary & Travel

O’Kelly’s ‘work’ refers to his paintings of the ancient ecclesiastical buildings of the Rock of Cashel and Holycross Abbey in County Tipperary. Evidence in his later letters, however, indicates the difficulty O’Kelly had in selling his paintings in Ireland, having more luck with tourists in France. A large number of his Irish paintings from this period seem to have travelled with him back to America, where he hoped their theme would appeal to the diaspora community there.

O’Kelly’s desire to travel for his art continued into his later years. However, as his letters to Herbert reveal, the importance of his nephew’s continued support cannot be underestimated. O’Kelly himself wrote, in one letter to Herbert from Concarneau, France, in June 1927, with Herbert’s support ‘I will take my chances in the world.’


Claire Doohan, Mahon Project Archivist

Published online: 2021