At a recent book fair in Kilkenny city I bought a copy of the auction catalogue produced by Allen & Townsend Auctioneers of Dublin in connection with the two day sale of fine art and furniture from Bert House, Athy. The printed catalogue, consisting of 34 pages, came with two extra typed pages of items included in the auction. The auction itself was held on the 4th and 5th of November 1958, starting at 12 o’clock each day. Interestingly the directions to Bert House ‘located 2½ miles west of Athy’ were given as via ‘the Athy – Maryboro main road’. Telephones were apparently not then in common use as evidenced by the telephone number given for Bert House ‘Kilberry 4’.
The auction started on the first day with delph and cutlery, followed by antiques and modern silver items, one of which was described as ‘an important engraved four piece tea and coffee set, Dublin 1845 by Jas Le Bass.’ An extensive range of jewellery was next put under the hammer to be followed by an odd mixture of artefacts ranging from ‘carriage clocks’ to ‘a Persian dagger in sheath’.
An interesting item and one with a provenance which undoubtedly held interesting connections was ‘an antique silver sword, strap and badge – 3rd Queens Own Bombay Light Cavalry’. There were also upwards of 15 Bronzes for sale, including a reproduction of Nelson’s Column in Dublin.
The second day of the auction was undoubtedly expected to generate greater interest and higher financial returns than the previous day. Wednesday saw the auction of cut glass items, followed by antique porcelain and furniture from the drawing room, the ballroom and some ancillary rooms.
Oil paintings, prints, engravings and tapestry works were offered later on that day, with the auction ending with the sale of lace, needlework, embroidery and prayer rugs. The exquisite furniture, some pieces of which were illustrated in the auction catalogue, included early Chippendale and examples of the furniture makers craft from the continent, with Italian and French furniture figuring prominently.
The paintings offered for sale included the works of several great masters, the purchase of whose work would today generate huge interest and cost a veritable fortune. The artists identified whose works had hung on the walls of Bert House included Anton Van Ysendyck, Guiseppe Mazzolini, Guido Reni, Jan Brueghel, Sebastian Viancz, Jan Van de Cappelle and Sir Joshua Reynolds. All these artists are to be found in the great art galleries of the world including the Louvre, the English National Gallery and the Gallery attached to Dulwich College in London.
The presence of work of such quality in Bert House demonstrates the wealth which was once to be found in the great houses of the Irish landlords of old. The dispersal of the furniture and paintings from Bert House followed just a few years after similar auctions had been held in Carton House, Maynooth and Kilkea Castle.
The auction results were reported in the Leinster Leader on 15th November under the heading ‘Good Prices for Antiques’. A total of about £9,000 was realised for what the press report claimed ‘were very good quality articles on sale some of them had been in the house for a couple of hundred years’. The highest price of €500 was paid for a 16 piece set of tapestry chair covers which were exhibited at the Art Exhibition in Paris in 1922 and were considered to be of superlative quality.
The most expensive painting at the auction proved to be a woodland scene by 17th century artist Salvatore Rosa whose work found a new home for a payment of £140. Guido Reni’s painting which today would command a high price was sold for €90.
I wonder what items, if any, offered for sale on those November days 55 years ago remain in and around the Athy area. I am sure there are stories from the auction of items purchased and now treasured in homes around Athy.
The recent departure from St. Michaels of Fr. Morty O’Shea for parish work in America was followed soon thereafter with news of his serious illness. Fr. Morty is an inspiring member of the church clergy and every good wish is extended to him for a speedy recovery.
Last week saw the passing at the advanced age of 94 of Mrs. Sheila Stynes, whose husband Tommy predeceased her by almost 57 years. As a young man I remember Tommy Stynes as a hackney driver who operated out of his premises in Leinster Street. Only a few weeks ago while interviewing a lady who had worked in Shaws in the 1940s, his name was mentioned as having gallantly come to her aid after she missed her bus in Naas one winter’s evening while travelling to Athy. Our sympathies go to the Stynes family on the passing of Mrs. Stynes.