Sunday, April 6, 2008

Irish History Auctioned Off

A 'prison break' letter written by Michael Collins and a rare signed copy of the 1916 Proclamation of Independence go under the hammer this month.

The Proclamation document, signed by rebel leader Sean McGarry is estimated to fetch up to €400,000 - a new record - at a sale in Dublin.

The third annual 'Independence' sale features a total of 650 lots featuring documents, medals and collectibles with an estimated auction value of €2m.

The sale is being held by Adam's and Mealy's auctioneers on April 15.

"Signed copies of the Proclamation are notably scarce and with an unbreakable line of provenance from Sean McGarry down to the private Irish family selling, this previously unseen, unique document will create significant interest when it potentially breaks the €350,000 record for a Proclamation of Independence," auctioneer Fonsie Mealy said.

McGarry was Tom Clarke's aide-de-camp and was stationed in the GPO with him and Padraig Pearse throughout Easter Week.

He survived the fighting and went on to become president of the Irish Republican Brotherhood's new supreme council, working directly with Collins and becoming his close and trusted associate.
The handwritten and signed letter from Collins to his Republican colleague Austin Stack in Belfast Jail makes arrangements for a prison break.

Dated March 30, 1919, Collins describes how to cut prison bars using a file or hacksaw and escape over the wall with ladders or explosives.

The guide price for the document is €50,000.

Director of Adam's, Stuart Cole, said: "With no more than 50 complete original copies of the Proclamation surviving, many of which are in institutional collections, and no more than a handful signed by participants in the Rising, this is a very rare and very valuable copy of possibly the singularly most important document in the history of the Irish nation.

"As it is also in good original condition with an excellent provenance, it will be an extremely desirable acquisition for both public and private collectors of Irish history.

On the Collins letter, he added: "Operational letters from Collins are usually couched in heavily veiled or coded language. In view of the very plain speak in this letter he must have arranged to deliver it though an absolutely secure channel.

"Written in Collins' hand and signed twice with his initial 'M', this is a remarkably rare Collins document offering great insight into the revolutionary leader's tactical, illicit operations during the troubles."

In the letter, Collins says: "We now go for Belfast. If we got a hacksaw or a few files into you would these enable you to do any good . My suggestion would be . that you cut your bars so as to enable you to leave your cells at a time when we would have either a ladder for the wall, or if that . is not practical we would make a breach. This latter would be extremely difficult from the mere point of explosives alone."

Also in the auction is Sean Mac Diarmada's 1916 Easter Week Combatant's Bronze Medal estimated at €70,000-€90,000 and an original printed admission ticket for the Bloody Sunday match, estimated at €8,000-€12,000.

Collins' Sam Browne officer's belt, estimated at €30,000-€40,000 and a collection of 1916 and War of Independence medals also feature.

A portrait by Maud Gonne that she painted for WB Yeats, which is one of the very few items still in private hands that links their love affair is estimated at €30,000-€50,000.

Mr Mealy, of Mealy's Auctioneers, said: "Having established this sale just three years ago, the market for Irish artefacts has steadily risen in value and public interest for Irish history has grown considerably."

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