Owner of Patrick Pearse letter to keep it in his collection abroad

Historic document may end up on display at cultural institution

The owner of the Patrick Pearse surrender letter which failed to sell at auction this week intends to keep it in his private collection overseas and bequeath it to his children.

The historic document may end up on display at an unspecified cultural institution in the owner’s home country, Adam’s auctioneers has said.

Retaining his anonymity, the proprietor was said to be “philosophical” about the document’s withdrawal from auction on Wednesday when bidding stopped at €770,000. It had a guide of between €1 million and €1.5 million.

The letter, written by Pearse in Easter Week shortly after his surrender to Brig Gen William Lowe, had been the focus of significant attention in the run up to its sale, prompting calls for it to be retained in Ireland.


Adam’s had made efforts to sell it on behalf of its client to the State without success. The Government said it would be an inappropriate way to spend public money and Adam’s will now apply for an export license clearing the way for it to leave the country.

"He [the owner] intends to give it to his kids at some point in the future and say, 'you know what, here is a piece of Irish history and we are lucky to have it'," said Stuart Cole, a director at Adam's.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if at some time you see it being given to an institution outside of Ireland. More than likely a museum or a library.”

Mr Cole said such a move would be taken in order to protect the 100 year old letter which has spent the last 12 years in specialised storage.

The owner, described as being “of substantial means” and not motivated by profit, paid about €800,000 for the document. He is now resigned to the letter not being wanted by the State.

‘Very philosophical’

“He was very philosophical about [its failure to sell at auction]. He said either people will want it or they won’t want it.”

On Thursday, Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys said there was nothing preventing the owner donating it to the State and claiming 80 per cent of the value back in tax relief.

Under Revenue’s S1003 scheme – which encourages the donation of heritage items to Irish institutions – 80 per cent of the market value can be offset against the tax liability of the owner.

Mr Cole said, however, this would not apply to the owner of the Pearse letter as he held no business interests or tax liabilities in the State.

The anonymous collector is a frequent traveller to Ireland and decided last April, having been impressed by the Government’s handling of the 1916 centenary celebrations, it was a suitable time to sell the letter back to the country.

Mr Cole said auction was the last option but the State had shown no interest in their approaches.

Ms Humphreys told RTÉ News it was "very clear to me" that Adam's maximised publicity to "put a very high price on this letter and they have been pressurising the State to use taxpayers' money to purchase it".

“The Minister is correct,” Mr Cole responded of the publicity, “my job was to work for my client and to publicise the auction as much as I could.”

He said they had approached the Government several months before the auction date “out of the limelight” to avoid bringing public pressure.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times