Alfred Chester Beatty (1875-1968) was born in New York; of Irish descent, his great grandfather came from Armagh city and his great grandmother from Mountrath, county Laois. Chester Beatty graduated as a mining engineer from Columbia University School of Mines and began work as a labourer in the mines in Colorado. Ten years later he was a mine owner and millionaire, though his health was impaired by silicosis.
In 1911 his wife Grace died leaving him with two young children. He moved to London and bought Baroda house in Kensington park gardens. In 1912 he married Edith Dunn of New York. Together with his wife he visited Egypt, where he bought a house and spent many winters, the dry climate being beneficial for his health. His interest in Arabic manuscripts dates from this time. He founded his own mining company, Selection Trust limited, in 1914 and during the 1920’s this became extremely successful. Chester Beatty was often referred to as the ‘King of Copper’ for his exploitation of the copper mines in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). A collector since childhood, his art collections began with Chinese snuff bottles and he developed a fascination with the Orient following a journey to Japan and China in 1917.
Chester Beatty, a naturalised British citizen since 1933, moved to Ireland in 1950 and bought a house in Ailesbury road, Dublin. He donated a large number of paintings and drawings to the Irish State and was generous in giving the National Gallery of Ireland loans from his collections when he was out of the country. He also donated a collection of armour, frescoes and miniatures. His initial donation in 1950 consisted of ninety three French nineteenth century paintings from the Barbizon School and was followed by further donations of pictures, frescoes and miniatures. He later loaned Impressionist paintings to the gallery and donated a Cezanne watercolour. Owing to ill-health, he spent the winters in the South of France.
In 1954 the Chester Beatty Library was opened at 20 Shrewsbury Road and made accessible to the public his vast and priceless collection of Oriental art and Eastern manuscripts. This collection is now housed in the Chester Beatty Library at Dublin Castle.
Chester Beatty was made Ireland’s first Honorary Citizen in 1957. He was given a State funeral in 1968 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.