‘National embarrassment’ – Ireland's Government condemned for ‘failing’ to buy Irish artefacts ‘lost forever’ at London auction
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‘National embarrassment’ – Ireland's Government condemned for ‘failing’ to buy Irish artefacts ‘lost forever’ at London auction

THE Irish Government has been condemned for its “failure” to purchase the entire Yeats Family Collection to stop it going under the hammer in London.

Labour TD Joan Burton criticised Heritage Minister Heather Humphreys for not stumping up €2 million to thwart Wednesday’s “shameful auction” from going ahead.

Minister Humphreys provided Ireland’s National Library and National Museum with €500,000 to buy a number of items – including 500 letters between Irish poet WB Yeats and his wife George – in advance of the Sotheby’s sale.

But Ms Burton complained that Ireland had only acquired a “few” items, while allowing a number of historically significant objects to be sold abroad.

She said the Minister should be “ashamed” and should feel “regret and embarrassment that a key part of Ireland’s literary, artistic and cultural history has been sold off to the highest bidder through a London auction room”.

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Ms Burton added: "The Yeats family collection has now been broken up and lost to the State. Ireland had the chance to secure the full contents before a sale but failed to do so.

"A late intervention has seen a few items bought by the National Library and National Museum but failed to bring the full collection home for a price of less than €2 million.

"The Minister will now seek credit for purchasing a number of items, but it is on her watch that this unique collection of materials has been scattered around the world.

"Yeats was one of our greatest poets, a globally famous writer who played an instrumental role in the formation of modern Ireland, serving as well in our Parliament.

Irish poet WB Yeats remains one of Ireland's most celebrated literary figures (Picture: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

“It is a shame that these documents have now been lost forever."

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However, Minister Humphreys insisted that she had ensured “that the most significant items were purchased”.

She pointed out that she “does not have an endless pot of gold… as much as I would like to” but stressed that “this is very good news today because Ireland has acquired some very important items to add to our existing WB Yeats collection”.

Ms Humphreys explained that in the past few years the State had spent more than €4 million in acquiring material from the Yeats collection, which “by any standards . . . is a very significant investment”.

This meant that “Ireland has the single biggest Yeats collection in the world”, she added.

But Labour arts spokeswoman Ms Burton reiterated that the Irish Government should feel “ashamed” following the sale.

“The Minister speaks of not having a pot of gold, but I am sure she is very well versed in WB Yeats' contribution to Ireland," she said.

“She wants to be so crude as to measure in money the value of WB Yeats to practically every man, woman and child in Ireland, but it is part of what we are as Irish people.

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“The Minister has presided over the collection being scattered to the four winds with respect to our national legacy.”

Ms Burton added: "It is a national embarrassment".