A surrender letter written by Easter Rising leader Patrick Pearse is set to leave Ireland after failing to reach its reserve price at an auction in Dublin on Wednesday evening. The price guide on the letter was set at a minimum of $1.06 million (€1 million) but was withdrawn from auction after three minutes when bidding stopped at $818,000 (€770,000). The letter was estimated to sell for as much as $1.6 million (€1.5 million) but bidding failed to live up the hype around the document and the international attention it received.
Auctioneers at James Adam’s have now confirmed the current unidentified owner has requested they seek an export license so it can leave the country, describing it as “the most significant Irish document to be offered for sale” earlier this week.
The letter, dated April 29, 1916, was written by Pearse just three days before his execution by British forces on May 3 in Kilmainham Jail. It was then handed to Capuchin priest Fr. Columba who delivered it to the rebels still fighting for freedom in the Four Courts. The text called on the Four Courts Irish Volunteers to surrender stating: "In order to prevent further slaughter of the civil population and in the hope of saving the lives of our followers... commandants or officers commanding districts will order their commands to lay down arms".
Two similar letters sent to other garrisons in Dublin in the final days of the Rising are currently owned by Irish state cultural institutions.
“On this occasion, the reserve was not met,” said Stuart Cole, a Director at Adam’s.
“The owner, based overseas, has requested that Adam’s apply for an export license today to formally notify the Government that the document will be leaving Ireland and for the process to be expedited.
“The owner was saddened that the Government refused to bid for the document but now feels relieved of his obligations to keep the document in Ireland.”
Calls were made to the Irish government to purchase the document in the lead up to the auction and several protests were made to its sale both inside and outside the auction room on Wednesday, December 7. The document was offered to the Government to purchase on several occasions in the last few years but they believed the price to be too high.
As the lot was called in the auction, Sinn Féin councilor Mícheál Mac Donncha, made a protest at its sale. Sinn Féin politicians had been among the most vocal in the weeks preceding the sale in stating that it should be purchased by the government.
“This is a disgrace. This is one of the most important documents in Irish history and here we are today in the centenary of the 1916 Rising and it’s on open sale to the highest bidder,” Mac Donncha stated before he was escorted from the auction.
Outside the auction, an estimated 15 people protested accompanied by a small Garda presence.
Responding to criticism about the government’s decision not to purchase the letter earlier this year, Irish Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphries stated, “The cost mentioned was between €1m and €1.5m so there were other pressures that we felt we had to meet.”
"There were a number of such letters of a similar type. We felt that to spend €1m or €1.5m on one single letter would be rather a lot," she continued, emphasizing that the country’s National Museum already has two other surrender letters written by Pearse and sent to other garrisons in Dublin during the rebellion.
We might honour Pearse better by doing something about homelessness instead of talk about sale of letter. We have spent enough on 1916.— Michael O'Regan (@MOReganIT) December 6, 2016
Taoiseach Enda Kenny once again answered the concerns of Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams on Tuesday, confirming that the government had no intention of purchasing the document. Adams previously wrote to Taoiseach Kenny and to Minister Humphries urging them to make the purchase.
“It is a quite frankly bizarre decision, particularly so in the centenary year of the 1916 Rising, for an Irish government to again pass up the opportunity to acquire a document of such historical import and significance,” Adams said.
The letter was last sold to a private collector for a smaller figure of $748,000 (€700,000) in 2005, a purchase also overseen by James Adam’s Auctioneers. The Irish National Library had refused to buy the document privately before this sale when approached with a $53,000 (€50,000) price tag, a small fraction of the figure now placed on the note.
"The most the National Library were prepared to pay was €10,000 [$10,700], so he told us 'if they can't be reasonable' to go ahead and sell it and it achieved €700,000 [$748,000]," said Cole.
If the letter had reached its auction estimate, it would have become the most expensive document to ever be sold at an Irish auction.
Do you think the Irish government should purchase the letter despite the high price tag? Let us know in the comments section, below.