1916 Rising surrender letter to leave Ireland
1916 Rising surrender letter to leave Ireland


There have been protests after a surrender letter written by Easter Rising commander Padraig Pearse three days before his execution was placed for auction and is now set to leave Ireland after failing to sell.

As the lot number was called at auction in Dublin, Sinn Fein councillor Micheal Mac Donncha stood up to protest at the sale. “This is a disgrace,” he said. “This is one of the most important documents in Irish history and here we are today in the centenary of the 1916 Rising and it’s on open sale to the highest bidder”.

In the letter Pearse wrote: “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.”

The letter is signed: “P.H. Pearse, Dublin, 30th April 1916.” If it had sold, it would have been the most expensive work of art or historical item ever sold at auction in Ireland.

Earlier, about 15 people took part in a protest outside the auction and there was a small Garda presence. There were 11 bids starting at over half a million euro before the document was withdrawn after less than three minutes.

Adam’s Auctioneers, who had described the letter as “the most significant Irish document to be offered for sale”, said the oversees owner of the letter was disappointed the Dublin government did not bid.

The letter, which was hand-delivered to Captain Garry Holohan by Capuchin priest Father Columbus Murphy just prior to the end of the 1916 Rising, has been in the hands of a private collector since 2005. Captain Holohan, who was in charge of the Four Courts command, ceased hostilities and surrendered after reading the document.

Fr Adrian Curran, who is the provincial minister for the Cupuchin Order in Ireland, wrote that the document was once in the possession of Fr Murphy. It was in the Order’s archives but later removed “by persons unknown”.

“The Capuchin Order regrets to state that this document was later alienated by persons unknown from the archives of the order without the authorisation of its superiors and put up for sale,” Fr Curran wrote.

According to Adam’s, the Pearse letter passed from Br Columbus OFM to Br Conrad OFM who “gifted it to the father” of one vendor in the 1960s. It was then inherited in the 1980s and thereafter it was sold by auction in 2005, only after efforts to sell it to the State failed, the auctioneer claimed. It has been reported that the asking price at that time was far less, at 50,000 euro.

Commenting on the letter, Diarmaid Ferriter, professor of modern Irish history at University College Dublin said in his opinion it belonged to the Capuchins and should be withdrawn from auction.

“When a Capuchin joins the order they commit that any material generated as a result of their work is the property of the Capuchins. This letter clearly falls in to that category,” he said.

“It was, we are told, ‘inherited in the 1980s’ and then sold. Inherited by whom? And why was it sold? And what of the appropriateness and morality of that, not to mention what it says about patriotism? We are entitled to answers to those questions.”

Prof Ferriter said there was a need for “much more probing” of the way in which documents of this importance became privatised and sold for investment and profit.

On Tuesday, addressing similar concerns raised by Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, 26 County Taoiseach Enda Kenny confirmed his government had no intention of purchasing the document.

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