Thursday, December 08, 2016

Capuchins back down from suggestions of 1916 surrender letter theft

Ireland’s Capuchins have backed down from intimations that a 1916 surrender letter by Patrick Pearse, put forward for sale by auction this week, was improperly removed from the order’s archives.

The letter, described by Adams Auctioneers as “the most significant Irish document to be offered for sale”, directed Cmdt Edward Daly, leading the Volunteers’ First Battalion at Dublin’s Four Courts, to have his men lay down their arms. It was expected to fetch over €1million.

Originally carried to Cmdt Daly by Fr Columbus Murphy OFM Cap., who died in 1952, the letter passed into the ownership of the Irish Capuchin province, where it was “held in care as part of the Order’s heritage in connection with the 1916 Rising” according to a statement from the Capuchin Provincial, Fr Adrian Curran.

Emphasising the Irish Capuchins’ belief that the letter is “a precious monument of the history of the Irish People and worthy to be preserved as such for future generations”, Fr Curran said the letter had been “alienated by persons unknown from the archives of the Order without the authorisation of its superiors and put up for sale”.


Adams Auctioneers, however, rejected this claim, saying the provenance of the letter had been established in 2005, when it first went to auction and was sold for €700,000. 

The 2005 auction catalogue said the letter had been given to Fr Conrad O’Donovan, Capuchin Provincial between 1961 and 1967, and was subsequently inherited by the anonymous vendor. 

The Auctioneers has since clarified that Fr O’Donovan had gifted the letter to the father of the 2005 vendor in the 1960s.


Although the Irish Capuchin Province, which in 2005 did not employ a full-time professional archivist, raised no objection to the letter’s sale at the time, UCD historian Prof. Diarmaid Ferriter has questioned whether Fr O’Donovan would have had authority to give away the order’s property.

Following a meeting with Adams Auctioneers, Fr Curran issued a fresh statement reiterating the order’s view that the letter should be preserved in Ireland for the Irish people, he was now “in full possession of the facts surrounding the provenance of [the] letter and considers the matter closed”.

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