But the keen buyer forked out the reserve price to get his or her hands on the 11-word letter which had a huge part in the direction of Irish history.
“Straight away after the bidding ended, we got a phone call offering €30,000, as they were aware it didn’t make the reserve,” Kieran O’Boyle of Adam’s auctioneers said.
They were selling the letter for the family of the messenger Edward Moran who carried the letter back to his Volunteer colleagues in Co Kildare. It was one of around 20 which MacNeill is believed to have written on Easter Saturday 1916, urging Irish Volunteer leaders around the country to cancel the following day’s manoeuvres, after he had discovered the Irish Republican Brotherhood’s efforts to have him believe a more pressing need for rebellion than might have been the case.
The confusion over the validity of the order, and conflicting messages from Dublin, meant most other parts of the country did not go ahead with their plans. Rebel leaders in Cork marched west out of the city, only to return again without a shot being fired.
The identity of the new owner remains unknown, except that it is a private buyer in Ireland. But copies — the only others known to exist — can be seen in the National Museum and in the National Library.
The same auction saw a €90,000 hammer price for an extremely rare original copy of the 1916 Proclamation of Independence of the Irish Republic, which had sold for almost three times that amount in 2007.
“We sold it here to today’s seller for around €240,000, but times have changed enormously since then. But we had a great turnout at the auction and there was a lot of interest in many of the historical items, even though the proclamation didn’t quite reach the lower estimate,” Mr O’Boyle said yesterday.
It was estimated to fetch €100,000 to €140,000, while the MacNeill letter had a €30,000 to €50,000 estimate.
But an original press photograph of Michael Collins, Arthur Griffith, and other negotiators of the 1921 Treaty in the delegation headquarters in London made €2,600 — far higher than the €1,500 estimated value.
A telephone bidder paid €24,000 plus fees for the gold medal won by Harold Mahony in 1896 when he was the last Irishman to become Wimbledon tennis champion.