Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Kilkea Castle Auction Catalogue 7th December 1947

The sale of the entire contents of Kilkea Castle took place over four days starting on Wednesday, 5th December 1945. Advertised as an executor’s sale the auctioneers were Greene Bros. and Duthie Large Ltd. of Athy. I have before me the supplementary catalogue of the books from Kilkea library totalling approximately 2,500 volumes which were sold on Friday, 7th December. Kilkea Castle was not sold until 15 years later after the Marquess of Kildare, Gerald Fitzgerald, had concluded a deal with the family of Harry Mallaby-Deeley. Mallaby-Deeley, a wealthy businessman, had in 1919 paid the debts of Gerald’s father, Edward Fitzgerald, on condition that if Edward ever became Duke of Leinster the income from the family’s estate would be paid to him, less £1,000 a year which the Duke could retain. Edward Fitzgerald’s two older brothers died before their father and the title passed in 1922 to the improvident gambler, Edward. He would live until 1976 to be succeeded as Duke of Leinster by his only son Gerald who had earlier agreed to the sale of Carton House, Maynooth for the benefit of the Malaby-Deeley family in return for Kilkea Castle remaining in the ownership of the Fitzgerald family. Gerald Fitzgerald lived in Kilkea Castle for a number of years following his second marriage in 1946. A considerable amount of the land which formed part of the Kilkea estate was compulsory acquired by the Irish Land Commission and the remaining land was farmed by Gerald. He also established an aviation business based in Dublin called ‘Vigors Aviation’ which proved to be much more profitable than farming in the 1950s. The aviation business moved to Oxfordshire and this precipitated the sale of Kilkea Castle in 1965 to the American businessman William Cade. The catalogue for the Kilkea Castle library auction is a bibliophiles wish list with several special editions of famous Irish history works described as ‘Printed for the Marquis of Kildare and presented to him by the editor’. Also for sale were many books by the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens and local Ballitore author Mary Leadbeater, all of which I recognise as first editions even though none were so described. What a wonderful opportunity that December auction offered to anybody interested in Irish history or English literature. In the spring of 1946 the student magazine of St. Patrick’s College Maynooth ‘The Silhouette’ included an article which the author using the nom de plume ‘Knight’ claimed was based ‘on actual facts’. Outlining the story of the fairy Earl of Kildare who dabbled in black magic, he explained how the Earl was able to transform himself into a blackbird. However, following an incident with a cat the Earl, now a blackbird, was unable to revert back and tradition related that the blackbird lives on as a captive of ‘the good people’. The article then related how the auctioneers at Kilkea ‘last December’ sold a portrait of the fairy Earl and a cut glass bowl of which the Earl was especially fond. At the end of the auction the Castle was locked with the sold items stored inside. The next day when the buyers returned to Kilkea Castle to collect their purchases the auctioneers found that the Earl’s portrait had fallen from the wall and was lying face down on a table. The canvas was slashed right down the centre as if with a sword. All the glass items on the table were intact, except for the fairy Earl’s bowl. It was smashed to pieces. The story of the slashed painting and the shattered glass bowl is just one of the many stories which have gathered currency over the years in relation to the Fitzgerald family and Kilkea Castle. The clerical student who penned the article in 1946 insisted that the story he related was based on actual facts. However, the fairy Earl he referred to has been generally known as the wizard Earl. The auction of 74 years ago no doubt saw the contents of Kilkea Castle dispersed far and wide. I would expect that some of the items sold during the auction are to be found today in many households in south Kildare. The books from the Kilkea library had been collected over many years by several of the different generations of the Fitzgeralds including Lord Walter Fitzgerald. Lord Walter was a true Irish patriot whose love for Ireland, its history and its antiquities inspired him to research and write on subjects which showed his remarkable scholarship. His writings are to be found in the pages of the early volumes of the Kildare Archaeological journals and the Journal of the Association for the Preservation of the Memorials of the Dead in Ireland. But where now, I ask, are the books sold at the Kilkea auction on 7th December 1945?

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