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Pearse 1916 surrender letter “could leave Ireland” after upcoming auction

The Department of Arts says buying the letter would “not be the best use of taxpayers’ money”.

Padraig Pearse's final surrender letter
Padraig Pearse's final surrender letter
Image: RollingNews.ie

THE FINAL ORDER of surrender written by revolutionary leader Padraig Pearse during the Easter Rising on 30 April 1916 could be set to leave Ireland, as several American bidders have expressed interest ahead of an upcoming auction next month.

The document is set to be sold by public auction on 7 December at James Adam’s Irish art and historical document sale. It is currently on display at the GPO and was last sold in 2005.

Unconditional surrender

The letter calls for all volunteers to “lay down arms” in order to “prevent further slaughter of the civil population.”

An initial letter of surrender, written by Pearse and James Connolly, and relayed by Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell to rebels fighting at various points in the city, is currently housed at the Imperial War Museum in London.

As several pockets of volunteers fought on, and when no additional copies of the original order could be reproduced, Pearse, who was being held at Arbour Hill Detention Barracks, was compelled to write another order of surrender.

The letter reads:

In order to prevent further slaughter of the civil population and in the hope of saving the lives of our followers, the members of the Provisional Government present at headquarters have decided on an unconditional surrender, and commandants or officers commanding districts will order their commands to lay down arms. PH Pearse, Dublin, 30th April 1916.

Pearse was executed at Kilmainham Jail by British forces just three days later on 3 May 1916.

American interest

The auctioneer, Stuart Cole, said that despite spending several months in contact with the National Library and the Department of Arts Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, the letter had been deemed “too expensive” by figures from the Department.

He told TheJournal.ie that interest from potential bidders from the United States meant that the final surrender letter could soon leave the country.

Cole said: “In the 2005 auction, there was considerable American interest at the time. The person who was pipped to the post by the eventual winning bidder was American. There’s been similar interest this time round. One client has already asked for an export license for the letter. If the State does not wish to purchase the letter this request should not be denied.”

The letter could be set to leave Ireland, and that is an awful shame that two of the most important letters of surrender may not be in Ireland.

Cole added that, at the time that it was last sold in 2005, the owner wished for the document to remain in Ireland, and offered it to the National Library for €50,000. Their counter offer of €10,000 was turned down, and Pearse’s letter sold for €800,000 at auction.

Taxpayer’s Money

The Government believes that the letter, with a guide price of between €1 million and €1.5 million would not constitute an efficient use of taxpayer’s money.

A spokesperson from the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs told TheJournal.ie:

The Department consulted with a number of our national cultural institutions in relation to the sale of this Pearse letter and it was a shared view that the amount being sought for this one letter, in the order of €1.5m, would not be the best use of taxpayers’ money, especially considering the fact that our cultural institutions hold several other letters written by Pearse during and after the Rising.

Historical Significance

Writing in the auction brochure, Professor of Modern Irish History at UCD, Diarmaid Ferriter, said the document is of “immense historical significance”.

He writes: “Unlike the surrender order that was composed in Parkgate, it was handwritten and signed by Pearse alone. It was the last official letter Pearse wrote, three days before his execution by firing squad on the morning of 3 May 1916 and is therefore a vital part of the archive of the newly declared republic in 1916.”

Read: We won’t be getting a bank holiday to celebrate the Easter Rising

Read: Government challenge over Moore Street battlefield site likely to be paid for out of centenary commemoration fund

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Sean Murray

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