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2003-12-02 They should all hang their heads in shame after auction

Every time I reach the traffic lights at the end of O'Connell Street in Sligo, something catches my attention. As far back as I can remember, I recall enquiring as to why our GPO had "ER 1901" above its door. 102 years later that inscription remains.

 

I am proud to be Irish, and I dream of a United Ireland as much as the next fellow, but I also recognise the importance of holding onto our history, our unique story that made Ireland what it is today.

 

Watching the "Late Late Show" a few weeks ago, I was most impressed with the new owners of Lissadell, and with their plans to keep it open to the public.A few days later I reluctantly attended the pre-auction viewing of Lissadell's contents. I left after an hour, angry and saddened. We must all now hold our breath and wait to see how many of the house's treasures return to their rightful home.

Speaking after the auction the new owners seemed happy to have been able to secure some prize pieces, we hope they were able to out-bid the swarms of vultures who had flocked in from far and wide. If they do so, then this story may yet have a happy ending. If they fail to save the Lissadell treasures, then they are left with a rather bleak shell which they must endeavour to decorate and fill all over again. For without the contents, the house will no longer be "Lissadell House".

 

As in so many cases, the owners may then spend years trying to relocate the contents strewn throughout the globe in order to buy them back.

 

As children, there were certain rooms we were not allowed into at Lissadell, and so it felt wrong last week snooping through basements and even into Miss Gore-Booth's apartments. The rich collection of artefacts assembled over centuries had been dismantled and was up for sale. Those who managed to acquire an object would look after it of course, restore it even, but where would they end up? This was a chance for the locals to see the house's contents in situ for the last time. Over six hundred lots had been tagged - watches presented by the Drumcliffe Creamery workers to the `big house', lacework lovingly crafted by the "Lissadell School of Needlework", stunning 19th century furniture including a the walnut grand piano, all the kitchen's contents, endless memories from Sir Henry's numerous Arctic voyages, including that poor badly-stuffed bear, cannons, countless mounted animal-heads, and a clock by Francis Nelson of Sligo from 1840.

 

Whatever about the several 17th century Italian painting masterpieces (Cerrini's "Death of Lucretia" for example), several art-works ought to be kept in the country. The government should have interceded and bought "The Limerick Piper" by Haverty and Purser's portrait of the young Constance and Eva. They should forever adorn the walls of the Model Niland, the Hugh Lane, the National, or better still, Lissadell.

 

I did attend the auction but left after an hour when I saw an Albino blackbird (a Whitebird?) go for ¬ 1000! What upset me most on my visits however, was the thought of poor Aideen Gore-Booth scrimping and saving throughout her life, lovingly tending to her family's treasures as best she could, in the hope of passing it on to the next generation. Had Aideen been able to sell one of these paintings to an Irish gallery, she could have enjoyed a comfortable and well-deserved retirement.

 

The political world of Countess Markievicz was, as we know, totally at odds with everything her family stood for. She was a mix of British, Irish, Polish and Ukrainian, with a daughter called Maeve, and had the Countess been of the opposite sex she would have been executed for her part in 1916. She has her monument of course (no thanks to Sir Josslyn), not in the city centre, but out in Rathcormack.

 

Why are we hiding our history? We spend millions to have the tallest hotel in the north-west, we spend thousands on some metal swan-impaling spikes in the Garavogue, but we are erasing our past? Are we to pretend it never happened? Should we therefore be ripping down Dublin's Georgian facades, and maybe redesigning Dromahair?

 

To everyone in our present government, our local TDs, Sir Josslyn, Lady Jane - you ought to hang your heads in shame!