Monday 23 September 2019

Return to sender: Pearse surrender letter fails to meet rising expectation

James O’Halloran of Adam’s auctioneers with the surrender letter that failed to sell. Photo: Fergal Phillips
James O’Halloran of Adam’s auctioneers with the surrender letter that failed to sell. Photo: Fergal Phillips
Ryan Nugent

Ryan Nugent

A surrender letter from the 1916 Rising has been withdrawn at auction after the highest bid only reached half the expected price.

The hand-written letter, by revolutionary Padraig Pearse, went under the hammer at Adam's Auctioneers on St Stephen's Green last night.

Despite the auctioneers giving a guide price of between €1m and €1.5m, bidding was halted at €770,000, with the highest bidder now due to negotiate with the owner over a potential sale.

However, this could only go through at the current owner's approval.

The letter was written by Pearse in his prison cell on April 30 shortly after his surrender.

He was executed three days later at Kilmainham Gaol.

The sale of the document had caused a degree of controversy; many called on the Government to prevent it from going up for auction for fear it would leave the country on the 100th anniversary of the Rising.

Stuart Cole, of Adam's Auctioneers, told the Irish Independent prior to the auction that the majority of interest in the document had come from abroad.

And while the Government would have to give an export licence for the letter, he said he expected that to go through.

Professor of modern Irish history at UCD, Diarmaid Ferriter said the letter had no place at an auction, while Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams called on the Government to buy the document.

However, earlier this week, Taoiseach Enda Kenny insisted that the Government had no intention of purchasing the letter, which Mr Cole said was a disappointment, given its importance to the history of the Irish State.

A number of gardaí were present outside the auctioneers yesterday, with some protesters outside the building showing their dissatisfaction with the potential sale.

The bidding for the letter, which was lot number 50 at the auction, was momentarily halted when a local Sinn Féin representative stood up labeling the sale a disgrace.

"It's a shame on whoever is in possession of this and it's a shame on this auction house. This belongs by right to the people of Ireland," Councillor Micheál Mac Donncha said.

"Here we are today, for sale to the highest bidder, perhaps to leave the country."

The councillor was subsequently escorted out of the building by security staff.

The seller of the historic letter does not wish to be identified, but is understood not to be Irish and is living outside the country.

He had temporarily loaned it to the GPO Witness History Museum. It was bought for €800,000 back in 2005.

Mr Cole told the Irish Independent that it had been offered to the State for a mere €50,000 at the time - a price it deemed too high.

"So far I think they've said they don't have the money or that it's not worth the money," Mr Cole said.

"It's a very strange situation when a greyhound is worth €1m and the final order of surrender by Padraig Pearse isn't.

"Whoever buys it will require a licence to remove it from the country - we've had inquiries and we've made inquiries to the Government and it has been indicated they will grant a licence.

"From an international point of view it's an iconic piece of Irish history."

Irish Independent

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