An auction of Irish famine letters has generated huge interest from potential US buyers.

Adam’s auctioneers are handling the sale of the letters, and they said that the state has been called on to purchase the letters so that they do not leave the country.

The sale consists of letters from landlords’ agents and sub-landlords all over the country.

The documents contain information mainly about the collection of rent money.

There are also letters form priests asking for the landlords to show mercy to those that could not afford to pay the rent.

Adams auctioneers have described the letters as an "unparalleled collection."

The auctioneers said that an anonymous private collector is selling the letters. They were found in the archives of a Dublin firm of solicitors, Stewart and Kincaid. The solicitors acted largely on behalf of landlords’ agents.

The solicitors’ clients included Lord Palmerston, Col Wingfield in Sligo, Daniel Ferrall in Roscommon, the Marquess of Westmeath (Roscommon), the Stratford estate in Clare and Limerick and the Frankfort estates in Kilkenny and Carlow.

Director of Adam's auctioneers Stuart Cole said that it was important to read the letters in the mid 1840s when people had no idea of what lay ahead.

A letter from Kilkenny in 1848 acknowledged the receipt of money to purchase seeds but added; “I must for that pound buy food for my family consisting of seven. I mean to let you know gentlemen, my son daughter had to forfeit their cloths to get food some days ago . . . My son can be of no assistance to me at present as there is no employment or no earning in the country, nothing but starvation and distress.”

Another letter from Col Wingfield in the Wingfield estate in Sligo London in 1848 discussed a project to widen the Moy River.

"I think obtaining a grant for such a purpose would be the means of bringing back the idle population which I paid so much to get rid of by transporting to America the year before last."

An 1842 letter from John Blackwell in Toureen, Co. Clare read:  "Thomas Riedy of Toureen has his mind made up to remove to Vandiemensland [sic] with his family ten in number, himself wife eight children . . . he has no means neither to pay the arrear or go away.”

In 1845, Blackwell wrote another letter about the failing of the potato crop in Toureen.

“A neighbour of mine brought 9 men with him last week to dig conacre in the west part of this parish [when] they came back home there was not a potato in what they dug but was infected . . . I traveled through the Estate according to your direction to take a view of the Potato crop which is dreadful to be looked at . . . I walked from garden to garden through the Estate indeed it was a melancholy view.”

The sale of the letters is expected to fetch $500,000.

Last Tuesday, Senator David Norris called on the government to purchase "at least some of them."

“I consider these letters should be donated to the State. They are of huge interest and it’s a new low when letters of this poignancy telling a tale of death, loss and starvation are put up for sale,” said Norris.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport said it was not appropriate for the department to disclose in advance if they have an interest in purchasing documents that are at auction.