Monday 23 April 2018

Volunteer group 'would work for free' to save Russborough's cultural treasures

Russborough House
Russborough House

Daniel McDonald

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

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.

He said: “I’m astounded that the government could sit at a cabinet table and allow this to happen.

Read More: State lacks funds to buy Russborough paintings

“It worries me greatly to see the reasoning of Minister Humphries. 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 the Kilmainham Gaol over a six-year period.

Mr Cassidy added: “There is good will among the population of Ireland and our greatest determination should be to protect the reputation of our heroes in the art world.”

Read More: More than 350 at Gaelscoil fundraiser at Russborough

Minister for the Arts Heather Humphreys will meet with representatives from Russborough House this week to discuss the proposed sale of Rubens paintings next month.

She said: “I have spoken to the chairperson of the Alfred Bite Foundation Judith Woodward, and I am going to meet with her because I need to be sure that all of the options have been considered.

“But one thing I want to be very clear on is that I really don’t have a role in this and I do not have €10m at my disposal to purchase these paintings as much as would like to.

“I want to speak with the chairperson and I will be meeting with her, just to make sure that all of the options have been considered, or to see if there is any other avenue that could be possibly explored.”

Read More: No outrage in Dail as we sell our heritage

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

He said: “There is a legal reality that this house is not in state ownership, the paintings are not in state ownership, there is a trust in place and that trust has a legal responsibility to carry out its decisions and the state must respect that.

“What I want to see happen is that there would be a dialogue in relation to the future of Russborough and in relation to making sure that every single avenue is explored.”

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