13 April 2006

Irish Artifacts Exceed Sale Estimates, Fetch $4.2 Mln


By Fergal O'Brien
April 13, 2006 08:45 EDT

April 13 (Bloomberg) -- Medals, letters and parliamentary papers marking Ireland's fight for independence from British rule in the early 20th century exceeded estimates at auction, signaling growing interest in Irish historical artifacts.

Around 95 percent of the items sold at auctioneers James Adam & Sons in Dublin late yesterday achieved higher than forecast prices, director Stuart Cole said. The 450 lots fetched 2.8 million euros ($3.4 million) in total. A number of items that failed to sell at the auction were bought today, bringing the total sold to 3.5 million euros.

The auction coincides with the 90th anniversary of Ireland's 1916 Easter Rising, and the Irish government's first official commemoration of the event in more than 30 years. It taps a growing demand for historical artifacts sparked by the sale in May of a surrender order signed by Padraig Pearse, a leader of the uprising, for 700,000 euros, seven times the top estimate.

``This truly has been the sale of the century,'' Cole said in an e-mailed statement. ``Nothing on this historical scale and of this caliber has been auctioned before in Ireland and we imagine it won't be matched for a long time.''

Adam & Sons sold about 1 million euros' worth of Irish historical artifacts last year, including the Pearse surrender letter. That compares with around 500,000 euros for the auctioneer in 2004 and 100,000 euros in 2003.


A medal posthumously awarded to Thomas Clarke for his part in the 1916 uprising sold at the auction for 105,000 euros, seven times the highest pre-sale estimate. A letter from Clarke to his wife, Kathleen, as he awaited execution in prison was bought for 75,000 euros, compared with a 20,000-euro estimate.

Among the items sold today after the auction was the tricolor flag that James Adam said flew over Dublin's General Post Office during the uprising. It was bought for 600,000 euros, having failed to sell last night at 560,000 euros.

The 26 counties that make up Ireland gained independence from Britain in 1921. The six counties of Northern Ireland have since been a U.K. province. A telegram from the Duke of Devonshire informing William T. Cosgrave that the country would be granted independence sold for 25,000 euros, more than four times the top estimate. Cosgrave became the first prime minister of the Irish Free State.


Some political parties and museum curators opposed the sale, concerned that irreplaceable artifacts would be taken out of the country. Sinn Fein, the political party that campaigns for a united Ireland, called on the government to halt the auction. Two members of the party's youth wing were arrested yesterday after disrupting the sale by distributing leaflets in the auction room and shouting ``Shame'' and ``History is not for sale.''

``Is this what the leaders of 1916 and 1921 would have wished?'' said Pat Wallace, director of the National Museum of Ireland in an interview with state broadcaster RTE. ``Would they have wanted us to have been touting them around auction houses like this? I don't think they would.''

Representatives from the museum bid for some items to fill what Wallace said were ``gaps'' in their collections.

The highlight of the auction, an original copy of Ireland's national anthem, written in 1907, failed to make the lowest pre- sale estimate of 800,000 euros.

``Now ladies and gentlemen, anything I can say would be superfluous,'' auctioneer Fonsie Mealy told the packed room on Dublin's St. Stephen's Green as the bidding for the anthem document began. ``Somebody start me at 1 million euros.''

Bidding for the anthem, known as ``The Soldier's Song,'' eventually started at 500,000 euros. The handwritten note was bought by an unidentified telephone bidder for 760,000 euros.

Good Friday Agreement

The resumption of the 1916 commemoration follows the Irish Republican Army's announcement in July that it was ending its armed campaign for a united Ireland. An annual ceremony was held until 1970, when the government canceled it after the outbreak of the ``Troubles'' in Northern Ireland. More than 3,500 people have died in the sectarian hostilities over three decades.

The 1998 Good Friday Agreement was intended to bring the Protestant and Roman Catholic communities of Northern Ireland together in a power-sharing assembly and end decades of violence between pro-British groups and those who want a united republic.

``The government has spent a lot of time and effort revisiting the 1916 celebrations,'' Cole said on RTE radio. ``The political landscape has changed in ways that are almost imperceptible to us if we look back at our attitudes 10 years ago.''

The country's army and police force will take part in the ceremony, while an army officer will read a copy of the Proclamation of Independence, first read by Pearse on the steps of General Post Office at the start of the 1916 rebellion.

The ceremony is also intended to honor Ireland's army and the Irish soldiers who fought in World War I. Around 140,000 Irish soldiers enlisted during the 1914-1918 war, and 49,400 died, according to the National War Memorial.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Fergal O'Brien in Dublin at fobrien@bloomberg.net.

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