Tapestries fit for a French queen on show at €2m auction sale of three centuries
A RARE set of tapestries commissioned by the French King Louis XV to mark the engagement of his son and the future Queen Marie-Antoinette will form part of the single most important contents sale of an Irish 'great house' for over a decade.
The tapestries are among a series of prized paintings, furniture, collectables, porcelain and curiosities of historical importance that are expected to fetch up to €2m when they go under the hammer at a sale spanning three centuries at Bantry House in West Cork.
Scottish auction house Lyon and Turnbull have been entrusted with the auction at the ancestral seat of the Earls of Bantry on October 21.
Sophie Shelswell-White, who has been managing Bantry House for the past four years, said the decision to sanction the sale was an "agonising" one, but the family hope that it will mark a bright new era both for the house and its owners.
Sophie's father, Egerton Shelswell-White, ran the house for decades and is largely credited with major repairs and restoration to one of Ireland's most historic properties.
"It has been a very difficult decision," Sophie told the Sunday Independent.
"But it is also an exciting and stimulating time for us. The funds from the sale will inject a new energy into the house and hopefully also into us as a family."
The title of Earl of Bantry became void in the 1890s, but the current Shelswell-White family are the ninth generation to have lived in the great house.
Other items of historical interest for auction include a set of paintings of British monarchs. The 1st Earl of Bantry, when he was elevated to the peerage the year after the Battle of Waterloo, was formally presented with a set of paintings of King George III and his wife, Queen Charlotte.
The honour was bestowed to recognise the White family's loyalty to the Crown during the French wars and, in particular, the attempted invasion of west Cork led by Admiral Hoche and Wolfe Tone's United Irishmen in 1796.
Richard White organised a Bantry militia and posted soldiers on nearby head- lands when word spread of the threatened French invasion.
Bantry House was used as the co-ordination centre for the militia and also stored the weapons and gunpowder used to repel the French.
However, severe gales wrecked the French plan and the armada, comprising of 44 ships and almost 15,000, soldiers, was forced to abandon the invasion. Several French ships were lost including 'La Surveillante' which foundered off Bantry Bay.
Wolfe Tone remarked as the fleet fled back to Brest that: "We were near enough to toss a biscuit ashore."
Bantry House has been open to the public since 1946. The Shelswell-Whites stress the property and its award-winning gardens will remain open as a tourist attraction.