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Last Updated: Saturday, 8 April 2006, 08:53 GMT 09:53 UK
1916 collection goes under hammer
Some of the items to be auctioned
BBC Northern Ireland reporter Diarmaid Fleming has been to see some unique relics of Irish history.

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising - but it also marks the largest collection of 1916 memorabilia ever to go on sale.

The collection, much of it on view to the public for the first time, goes under the auctioneer's hammer on Sunday and Wednesday.

The 1916 Easter Rising marked the symbolic birth of the Irish Republic.

The leaders of the doomed rebellion were quickly executed by the British after a fight against hopeless odds and the might of the British Empire, but their deaths inspired the drive for Irish self-determination.

There is fascination in Ireland about the Rising and what inspired it - even among a vocal group of modern critics who argue it was undemocratic, a claim mocked by those in Ireland who today revere the leaders, the great folk-heroes of Irish nationalism.

The 90th anniversary sees two auctions.

Up for grabs are items such as rebel leader Michael Collins' typewriter, the hand-written first manuscript of the Irish National Anthem by its author Peader Kearney, and a vast store of memorabilia - everything from police intelligence reports, personal letters, propaganda posters, medals, to art.

diary pages
The first written copy of the Irish national anthem

Stuart Cole of Dublin fine art auctioneers Adam's, said: "One of the principal unique aspects of this sale is that it contains so much material that comes directly from the families of those who were involved, principally the Thomas Clarke archive which is, to my mind, one of the only intact archives from one of the leaders of 1916."

Clarke's wife Kathleen painstakingly recorded everything to do with his life.

In doing so, she provided a treasure-trove for historians, much of which has not been seen before and which will provide unique new insights into the men and women behind momentous events in modern Irish history.

"She really had an archivist's mind. Every single item, Kathleen annotated - or she sometimes even wrote a letter about it. She had a unique understanding of her place in history," said Mr Cole.

"Tom's last letter to her comes with an explanatory letter from her saying how he'd bribed a soldier with his watch - the only thing of value he had - to get it to her and how she received it two weeks after his death."

1916 memorabilia is now big business. There was little interest in memorabilia for the 50th anniversary in 1966, possibly because Ireland was a poorer country and many participants in the Rising were still alive.

Ireland's economic boom has seen revolutionary relics rocket in value.

Items stored in cupboards and drawers across the country have been brought to the auction rooms in Dublin, often family heirlooms, with owners either keen to cash in, or fearful of caring for and storing items now worth huge amounts of money.

death mask of Theobald Wolfe Tone
A death mask of Wolfe Tone is one of the lots to be auctioned

Auctioneer Fonsey Mealy of Mealy's, said: "There is a big price range. We have items to cater for every pocket.

"The lowest priced item is a bundle of postcards of the republican leaders which might go for 50 euro, up to the original Irish National anthem which we've priced at between 800,000 to 1.2m euro.

"There has never been a record of any country's national anthem going up for auction, so we're in the dark ourselves."

Auctioneer Ian Whyte of Whyte's, who are also holding an auction which includes the personal papers of Peader Kearney, says that Irish wealth in the economic boom now means that 90% of 1916 collectors are Irish-based, the reverse of 30 years ago when most went to the US and abroad.

But some fear the auctions could see the disappearance of jewels of Irish political history and say that the Irish state should have intervened to buy them.

"With the large amount of wealthy collectors around, the museums and archives can't afford to buy all this, they'd need huge amounts of funds," said Mr Whyte.

"The happy medium is where serious and responsible collectors have the pleasure of owning items, conserving them and insuring them - and then they lend it to the museums who wouldn't even have the space for much of this.

"But when they have big exhibitions, they can draw on the resources of collectors - which also enhances the value of their collections. So the private owners are a resource for the national institutions."

Some collectors will be holding on to their memorabilia, while others will be buying at these auctions, mindful that in 10 years time the centenary of the 1916 Rising could see another revolution in prices on anything to do with the Irish rebellion.

One wonders what the executed 1916 socialist leader James Connolly would think of it all...

The 1916 collection is open to the public.

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