More than 200 paintings, letters and personal items belonging to the Yeats family have been sold at auction in London. 

A writing desk used by the poet William Butler Yeats was bought for €170,000, five times its reserve price. 

The Government has said that the State has acquired a number of items in the collection through the National Library of Ireland and the National Museum of Ireland.

In a statement, Minister for Culture Heather Humphreys said: "Over the past nine months, I have been working with the National Library and the National Museum to ensure the purchase for the State of significant items, as identified by both institutions, which were due to be auctioned in London today.

"These items will now form part of the national collections of our cultural institutions."

Among the artefacts acquired by the National Library include over 500 letters between WB Yeats and his wife George Yeats.

It was agreed before the auction that the letters would not be included in the sale, and are being purchased privately for €725,000.

Artefacts that were acquired by the National Museum of Ireland include the writing desk, a Burmese giltwood coffer used to store manuscripts and a chest of drawers decorated on the inside with paintings by Jack Yates.

The National Gallery of Ireland has also purchased a number of works from the auction.The purchases include two paintings, sketches and six photographic portraits of John Butler Yeats.

However, there were concerns by several leading academics and artists that such important items were falling into private hands.

Labour’s spokesperson on culture Joan Burton also raised concerns and said that the failure to secure the Yeats collection in public ownership is a "national embarrassment".

She said: "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."