Thursday 23 November 2017

Original Proclamation copy sells for €185k

Feverish bidding as Ireland loses out to US in auction

Camogie teams from St Finbarr’s and Blackrock GAA clubs in Cork played an exhibition match in 1916 gear yesterday to commemorate a similar game 100 years ago. Photo: Provision
Camogie teams from St Finbarr’s and Blackrock GAA clubs in Cork played an exhibition match in 1916 gear yesterday to commemorate a similar game 100 years ago. Photo: Provision
The 1916 Proclamation of Independence featured in the Whyte’s catalogue, which was sold yesterday for €185,000. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Gerry Hunt with his sister Hilda at the auction. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Deirdre Reynolds

Deirdre Reynolds

The Irish lost out as a mystery American bidder splashed out €185,000 on an original copy of the 1916 Proclamation.

Rosary beads given to a British Army lieutenant by a mother whose son was arrested after the Rising and a gold Cumann na mBan badge like the one worn by Countess Markievicz were just two of the century-old artefacts that went under the hammer at a special history and literature auction held by Whyte's in Dublin.

But it was lot 184 that had collectors and casual observers alike on the edge of their seats in the packed lower-ground floor of the Freemasons' Hall on Molesworth Street.

After almost three hours of bidding and outbidding on a hodgepodge of pistols, postcards and plates, there was an audible shuffle when the historic document finally flashed up on a big screen just before 4pm.

Believed to be one of just 50 still in existence, the restored Proclamation published by the Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army on Monday, April 24, 1916, was expected to fetch between €150,000 and €250,000.

Donning an orange tie, white shirt and green socks for the occasion, auctioneer Ian Whyte was the very picture of patriotism as he gripped the gavel for "one of the most important lots in the auction".

Opening the bidding at €120,000, he told those gathered: "We sold this 15 years ago to a collector who's now decided to part with his fantastic collection."

In the space of just 30 seconds, the price had jumped to €150,000 as two anonymous phone bidders battled it out for the 30-inch by 20-inch piece of Irish history - and the crowd held its collective breath.

Eamonn Ceannt, Tom Clarke, James Connolly and the other four signatories, of course, famously fought for liberation from British rule.

One hundred years on, however, Ireland was waging a bidding war against the United States over the rare copy of the Proclamation.

As the Stateside bidder attempted to defeat his Irish adversary in increments first of €5,000 and then €2,000, Mr Whyte joked: "We're not greedy - we'll work for it."

Around 1,000 copies of the Proclamation were first printed in Liberty Hall in 1916, most of which were destroyed during the Rising.

Of the surviving copies, half are in museums such as the National Library and half are privately owned.

Last December, another example of the parchment went for £305,000 (€393,000) at Sotheby's in London.

With Easter Sunday just a fortnight away, in the end, the latest one to go under the hammer went across the Atlantic to the highest bidder, who parted with €185,000, plus a 25pc buyer's fee for the coveted artefact.

As the auction continued into the evening, not every piece drew as much interest as anticipated.

Two bronze 1916 Rising Service Medals posthumously awarded to Joseph Plunkett and Tom Clarke were tipped to fetch up to €220,000 between them - but were withdrawn from the auction after they failed to sell.

Librarian Donna Romano, meanwhile, left happy after managing to secure a hand-drawn booklet by Grace Gifford Plunkett on behalf of the National Irish Visual Arts Library (NIVAL) at the National College of Art and Design.

Created by Gifford while at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, now NCAD, it was expected to sell for between €3,000 and €5,000 - and eventually sold for €7,500.

She explained: "It's part of the heritage of the National College of Art and Design and is one of a kind.

"It's a lot of responsibility. This particular purchase was made possible through a bequest that NIVAL received two years ago from the previous librarian of the college.

"My main concern was that it wouldn't leave the country. At least you know it's staying in Ireland."

With a guide price of just €300-€500, perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was a race card from Fairyhouse on Easter Monday 1916, which left even the seasoned auctioneer baffled when it went for €4,000.

Another phone bidder was sure to be toasting their success after picking up a 100-year-old, 70pc proof bottle of Irish whiskey for €15,000 at the auction.

Mr Whyte revealed: "It's probably the rarest Irish whiskey ever offered at auction.

"It was bottled in 1966 by Frank McGlade up in Belfast and I believe he gave away most of the bottles. There's only four left - this is one of them."

He laughed: "It was put in cask back in 1916 and stayed in cask for 50 years - so it should be nicely matured!"

Irish Independent

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