Tricolour taken from GPO in 1916 fails to sell in US auction


NO ONE rallied round the flag in New York yesterday, as the only full-size Tricolour that survives from the 1916 Rising failed to sell at auction.

The flag, put up for sale by a Dublin family descended from an unidentified early leader of Sinn Féin, was withdrawn at $400,000 (€295,880). The flag’s value had been estimated at between $500,000 and $700,000.

The rare artefact may yet find a home in the US, however. Ian Whyte, a director of Whyte’s of Dublin, which organised the auction with Bloomsbury of New York, told The Irish Timesdiscussions were continuing with two potential US-based buyers.

Mr Whyte said he understood a deal for the flag had been agreed about three years ago only to fall through. The price then, he asserted, had been about €600,000, which is over $800,000 at today’s exchange rates.

Well over half the 69 lots in what was titled “The Irish Sale” were withdrawn, a performance that Mr Whyte acknowledged was “a bit disappointing, a little bit flat”. But there were some bright moments, most notably the sale of Belfast-born Sir John Lavery’s 1936 oil on canvas painting Sunbathersfor $320,000.

Several literary offerings also performed well, albeit in more modest price ranges. An edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses, number 537 among the 900 copies that formed the novel’s first print-run in England, sold for $2,200. A lot comprising four volumes of poetry by Seamus Heaney fetched $1,100.

But most attention remained focused on the 94-year-old Tricolour. It was taken from the GPO after the surrender by a 53-year-old member of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, Sgt Thomas Davis. Davis later gave the Tricolour to a Lisburn doctor, George St George, in gratitude for St George’s work in treating the injuries Davis sustained in the first World War.

On St George’s death, the flag passed to his daughter, who lived in Kells.

When she died, her husband gave the flag to a neighbour, described by the auctioneers as “the son of a famous Irish nationalist and statesman, co-founder and early president of Sinn Féin”. This family still owns the flag.