Commemorating Ireland’s decade of centenaries

Copy of 1916 Proclamation leads auction of historical memorabilia at Adam’s


Ireland’s “decade of centenaries” is likely to generate good business for auctioneers selling historical memorabilia. Items associated with the key events, especially the start of the first World War (1914); the Easter Rising (1916); and the War of Independence (1919-1921), already have a market among specialist collectors. But heightened public interest, sparked by the planned series of commemorative events, is certain to attract more widespread attention from potential buyers – and vendors – hoping to benefit from price rises.

Adam’s in Dublin is holding a major auction titled “800 Years: Irish Political, Literary and Military History” later this month featuring hundreds of collectibles, from war medals to photographs. While many items have relatively modest estimates, the top lot, a copy of the 1916 Proclamation, is expected to sell for between €80,000 and €120,000.

There is no more totemic artefact from that turbulent decade which preceded Ireland’s Independence from Britain and, of the estimated 50 surviving copies, this is one of only a handful which remain in private ownership.

Last year, Adam’s sold another copy of the document, owned by a family in Co Longford, for €100,000 to an Irish bidder.

The highest price ever paid for a copy of the Proclamation was €390,000 (at Adam’s in 2008) but that copy was signed by one of the GPO rebels, Sean McGarry who was aide-de-camp to one of the document’s seven signatories, Tom Clarke.

Much more affordable, but also very evocative, are recruitment posters designed to encourage Irishmen to enlist in the British army during the first World War.

An example estimated at only €100-€150 and dating from 1915, has the slogan “Come Over and Lend a Hand” and the message: “Irishmen, your comrades are calling. There is still time for you to share in the glory of victory”.

Time, indeed. The war dragged on for another three years and claimed the lives of an estimated 30,000 Irish soldiers.

Among a wide selection of medals, a 1916 Easter Rising medal, with green and gold ribbon and clasp bar, engraved with the recipient’s name, Annie Barrett of Athenry, Co Galway is estimated at €2,000-€3,000.

There is already significant interest in an original letter written in 1919 by the informer Harry Quinlisk betraying Michael Collins to the British authorities in Dublin Castle which could well exceed its estimate ( €2,000-€3,000).

Among items from earlier Irish history, a pair of 1840’s hand-coloured lithographic prints depicting Famine-era emigration to the United States are especially interesting and, at just €100-€200, modestly-priced. “An Irish Emigrant Arriving in New York” and “An Irish Emigrant Leaving New York” depict a stereotypical impoverished Irish emigrant upon arrival, and later, having clearly made good in America, wealthy enough to consider returning home. Plus ca change.

The Sweeney Collection
One-third of the lots in this auction come from the estate of the late Tony Sweeney, the well-known racing journalist who died, aged 81, last year. Formerly the racing correspondent of the Daily Mirror, he contributed to the sports section of the Irish Times for many years and was best-known for his “Tony’s Two” tips panels and was the author of the Sweeney Guide To The Irish Turf 1501-2001 . He was also a well-known collector, notably of rare books and silver.

Adam’s said “a substantial portion” of his renowned library is “under negotiation” for sale to an academic institution. The remainder of his collection, including books, silver, pictures and furniture, has been consigned to auction. Some will be in this forthcoming sale, the rest, in a separate auction on May 12th.

The auctioneers said Tony Sweeney’s “collections of books and silver were the finest of their kind that could have been assembled in Ireland during the last thirty years”. He had catalogued his collections in a privately-printed book, Connections and expressed the hope that what he had recorded “at the close of the second millennium” would, in time, find its way to “the collectors of the third millennium”’.

Among the highlights: a George III “Irish vari-coloured gold inlaid silver gilt” box, made in Dublin in 1816, and presented to “His Excellency Charles Chetwynd, Earl Talbot, Lord Lieutenant General and General Governor of Ireland” when he was awarded the freedom of Drogheda (€15,000- €20,000); a copy of The Compleat Horse-Man and Expert Farrier by Thomas De Grey, published in London in 1670, (€2,000-€4,000); and, a Victorian silver-mounted snuff box, made from the hoof of the race horse, Emilius, winner of the 1893 Derby (€1,500- €2,000).

The catalogue is available online at or at the St Stephen’s Green saleroom where viewing commences on Saturday, April 27th ahead of the auction on Tuesday, April 30th.

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