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Heritage group 'will work for free to save Russborough art'


Russborough House, close to Blessington in Co Wicklow

Russborough House, close to Blessington in Co Wicklow

Russborough House, close to Blessington in Co Wicklow

A heritage group has said that it would work for free to ensure the upkeep of Russborough House, if it meant avoiding the proposed sale of historical paintings.

The works, which were left in trust to the people of Ireland by the late Sir Alfred Beit, are being sold to establish an endowment fund to ensure the long-term future of the house.

Chairman of the National Conservation and Heritage Group Damien Cassidy told the Irish Independent that members of the group would work on a volunteer basis to maintain the site.

"I'm astounded that the Government could sit at a cabinet table and allow this to happen.

"It worries me greatly to see the reasoning of Minister [Heather] Humphreys. It sets a ridiculous precedent. If all comes to all, our voluntary workers could be sent down to Russborough to aid in upkeep on an unpaid level.

"This Government could take a lesson from Kilmainham, when people were willing to give up their time and their money for the sake of preserving cultural treasures."

In the 1960s, hundreds of volunteers worked free of charge in a major programme to restore Kilmainham Jail over a six-year period.

Mr Cassidy said: "There is goodwill among the population of Ireland and our greatest determination should be to protect the reputation of our heroes in the art world."

Two paintings by 19th century English artist John Atkinson Grimshaw were sold by Christie's in London for a combined total of £112,500 (€156,000) last Tuesday.

And more paintings, including two by Rubens, are scheduled to go under the hammer next month.

An Taisce has called for the auction to be delayed "to allow imaginative solutions to be found".

Minister for the Arts Humphreys has already faced a backlash from all parties in Leinster House as a result of the row.

The Government lost a vote in the Seanad last week, forcing her to appear in the Upper House to explain the Government's position.

Minister of State for the Office of Public Works Simon Harris has that the State has no legal authority over Russborough House or its assets.

"There is a legal reality that this house is not in State ownership, the paintings are not in State ownership," he said.

Irish Independent