Government will not force sale of Pádraig Pearse surrender letter
Hand-written note which marked end of 1916 rising failed to reach €1 million guide price
Stuart Cole, director, Adams Fine Art Auctioneers, with actor Sarah Kinlen, holding the historic Patrick Pearse letter. File photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
Government officials have ruled out forcing the owner of Pádraig Pearse’s handwritten surrender letter to sell it to the state.
The note, which marked the end of the 1916 Rising, failed to reach the €1million to €1.5 million guide price at auction in December.
Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Heather Humphreys subsequently signed it into the Register of Cultural Objects - a tome of records held in Killarney - preventing the unidentified owner from taking it out of Ireland.
It is the first time anything other than a painting in the National Gallery has been put on the protective list.
Officials in the minister’s office have since dismissed speculation that a compulsory purchase, known as a vesting order, was being lined up.
“The issue does not arise in this case,” a spokesman for the department said.
But the minister has already raised the prospect of the owner availing themselves of a €1.2 million euro tax break if it is donated to the state.
Pearse wrote the letter in his prison cell on April 30th, 1916.
Auctioneers regarded it as one of the most historically significant artefacts from the rebellion years to have been offered publicly.
It was on display in the GPO.
The ownership of the letter was at the centre of a dispute in the run-up to auction as it was originally said to have been part of the archive of the Capuchin Franciscan Order of priests.
The order has stated that Capuchin priest Fr Columbus Murphy received the letter from Pearse, three days before his execution, to be delivered to the commander of the rebels in the Four Courts.
Stuart Cole, director of James Adam and Sons in Dublin where the auction was held earlier in the month, said the owner, who does not live in Ireland, intends to put the letter back on public viewing while the government considers its next move.
“The owners intend to put it back on public display rather than leaving it in a bank vault or an auctioneer’s vault,” he said.
Diarmaid Ferriter, professor of modern Irish history at University College Dublin, said: “The department was very clear and adamant that it was not going to buy the letter. There was no ambiguity.
“You’d have to wonder why the export licence was refused unless something has changed in the meantime. I suspect that maybe something is going on behind the scenes.”
Professor Ferriter has no knowledge of government efforts to keep the letter in Ireland but said the entire controversy ignites debate about ownership of documents associated with the Rising and the foundation of the Republic.
The letter was withdrawn from sale in Dublin when bidding stopped at €770,000.
The owner paid €800,000 for it at auction in 2005 despite a guide price as low as €50,000 to €70,000.