For sale: Ireland’s history

I promise not to turn this blog into a auction house “greatest hits” repository, but I thought this was particularly interesting.

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. Next Monday, March 23rd, Bloomsbury Auctions here in New York will hold The Irish Sale. The lots are comprised of paintings, silver, books and manuscripts. There’s a first edition of the unreadable (to me, anyway. I tried twice.) ULYSSES by James Joyce (est. $50,000-$70,000) and first editions by Yeats, Samuel Beckett and others.

The most significant (and, by far, expensive) item up for grabs is this only know existing Tricolor from the Irish Revolution. This was the Republic’s first flag and the rallying symbol for the 1916 Easter Uprising. It was captured by British troops at the General Post Office in Dublin in April of 1916. After five days of warfare, the G.P.O. was in ruins but the flag, miraculously, still flew undamaged. It was reported to still be aloft two days after the surrender.

Auction estimate: $500,000-$700,000


The design is borrowed from the French and was intended to unify Ireland. The green stripe represents the Gaelic and Catholic, the orange represents the Protestant minority and the white is the peace between them. From the catalog:

That the flag survived undisturbed for some time is not surprising. Until it was hoisted above the GPO, few of even Dublin’s citizens had seen a Tricolour before and it was certainly unfamiliar to the British forces. It was up to a Sergeant in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers to recognize its importance (no doubt after seeing Tricolour armbands in the ruins of some rebel positions and on the arms of surrendered men).

I can’t imagine this belonging anywhere except with the people of Ireland, however, it’s entirely possible that some wealthy bloke will buy this and stow it away so that no one ever sees it again.

Here’s the full listing in the auction catalog. It’s a bit lengthy but it’s compelling reading. The account of the capture of the Tricolour and its subsequent provenance is fascinating.

13 thoughts on “For sale: Ireland’s history

  1. i got lost reading the catalogue! (i receive some emails from a few sites, but nothing beats holding the information in your hands.) i hope that the flag is purchased and returned to ireland. some symbols need to be honored by being returned to their home country. xoxox

  2. Savannah: The lots go on display this week and I plan on paying my respects. I was ruminating on the fact that the flag is just a piece of cloth, but it can command this price because the symbolism is so heavy. After all, money is just a piece of paper with symbolism attached to it.

  3. Wow that does seem incredibly innapropriate for the flag to go anywhere but back where it belongs…fascinating though…(and p.s. “Ulysses” is one of my very very favorite books, but don’t tell anyone…)

  4. I’ve come back to this a couple of times, and have gone from “is it just a piece of cloth” to “That’s OUR fuckin’ history”! And many other thoughts and emotions along the way. I’m trying to think what would happen if Mr. Lincoln’s hat or the original Declaration Of Independence came up for auction to the highest bidder. Surely items of such significance to history and a country’s freedom must belong to that country and people. If it is not donated back to the people then this ‘government’ we’re under at the moment should do all in their power to have the flag returned, at any costs! They have spent far more on much less in their time in office.(I don’t usually write comments this long, or think this much! I have to lie down now!) :¬)

  5. Map: I can’t IMAGINE that this valuable piece of history would be allowed to fall into private hands. Surely someone in Government will see to it that this is put in its rightful place. Did you click on the link that takes you to the lot description in the catalog? It’s some very powerful writing.

  6. I just don’t understand why humans place such value on things. (At the risk of offending Mapstew)..$500,000 to $700,000 for a flag?Is there anyone even alive anymore who was at the ’16 uprising? If you weren’t there, what possible significance could this flag have for you? I mean, other than to be able to say, “Look what I have! Ain’t I cool?”

  7. Rob: Surely, you can understand what this means to the people of Irelend. It’s not “a flag.” It’s THE flag. What is a crucifix but two stick of wood set perpendicular to one another? What’s money but a piece of paper? Symbolism is a part of the human condition. I completely understand why it would fetch that kind of money.

  8. UB: You miss my point. I appreciate the human fondness for symbols. They are unifying (or dividing) and people always want to belong to “something”.But the Irish tricolour? Is THE flag? I’m not convinced, based on what I’ve read of Irish history. One of the (many) Irish songs of rebellion I listened to growing up had as the refrain, “Wrap the green flag ’round me boys!” That doesn’t sound like “Wrap the green white and orange flag ’round me boys!”So, whose flag is it? The tricolour was presented as a gift in 1848 to Thomas Francis Meagher from a small group of French women sympathetic to the Irish cause. It was recognized as the national flag after the ’16 Rising. Yet today it has no status in Northern Ireland.So, if this flag truly represents powerful symbolism to the Irish people, then it belongs to the people of Ireland. How did it come to be where it is now? Theft? Anyone bidding on stolen goods should be ashamed of themselves. Give the flag back to its rightful owners. Auction be damned.

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