Wednesday 26 October 2016

Treasures... Blackader memento goes forth

Gong made in honour of British general just one of many artefacts from the 'other side' of 1916 to go under the hammer

Published 16/10/2015 | 02:30

The gong made from a shell from the HMY Helga
The gong made from a shell from the HMY Helga
Frederick Stephens' medal
1916 Defence of Trinity College Presentation Cup
General Charles Guinand Blackadder
Opal and ruby bracelet
Opal cross on a gilt chain

In 1987, a homesick Japanese student, who had moved to the UK to study, purchased a strange-looking gong in the Islington Market in London because it reminded her of a temple bell from a Shinto shrine.

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Years later, she came to live in Ireland, got married and brought the gong with her. Her Irish husband didn't pick up on the significance of the object, but his best mate had paid attention in history class.

Reading the inscription on the frame, he realised the strange looking yoke on the mantelpiece had a very definite Irish historical pedigree.

The stamp on the gong's metal cylinder referred to a ship called HMY Helga. It emerged it was actually made from a 12lb artillery shell case from the Royal Navy ship famously involved in shelling Liberty Hall from the River Liffey during the Easter Rising.

The inscription on the frame was: "G.P.O. MCMXVI - BLACKADDERS (sic) BOYS - THE CALL TO ARMS - RICHMOND BARRACKS." General Charles Guinand Blackader (1869 to 1921) was a British army officer in charge of a unit sent to Dublin during the Easter Rising. Following the Rising, Blackader (the engraver spelled his name wrong) presided over the court martials at Richmond Barracks in Inchicore.

From here, he sent the 1916 leaders to the firing squad with the exception of Connolly, whose court martial took place at Dublin Castle.

After Pearse's trial, he said: "I have just done one of the hardest tasks I have ever had to do. I have had to condemn to death one of the finest characters I have ever come across. There must be something very wrong in the state of things that makes a man like that a rebel. I don't wonder that his pupils adored him."

The dinner gong was created to commemorate his and his men's role in 1916 and, presumably, took pride of place in the men's mess of Richmond Barracks. Nobody knows how it travelled from Inchicore to Islington.

Now, this extraordinary gong is going under the hammer in tomorrow's auction of History, Literature and Collectibles at Whyte's, where it is catalogued as the "only known trophy created to celebrate a British victory in 1916". It is estimated between €800 and €1,200.

Most of the interest in 1916 memorabilia to date has been focused on the republican side. Until recently, Irish families with mementos from the British side of the conflict have tended to keep quiet about them. But, as the centenary approaches, there is a growing awareness of casualties on both sides of the conflict.

This came to the fore earlier this year when the regimental historian for the Sherwood Foresters wrote to the Irish Government suggesting a memorial for the 31 Sherwood Foresters who died on Mount Street Bridge on April 26, 1916.

Now, British 1916 memorabilia is starting to emerge from the back of the cupboard and filter into the auction rooms.

Amongst them is the diary of a Sherwood Forester, Henry Herbert Phillips, who describes going to get his hair cut before boarding the ship from Liverpool to Kingston on April 25, 1916. The following day, his regiment marched to Mount Street Bridge where his best friend was shot beside him.

Phillips must have got a fright because two days later he went out to make his will. His diary goes on to record his account of "rounding up Sinn Féiners". It is estimated between €1,000 and €1,500, also at Whyte's.

In general, those in possession of medals awarded to republicans who took part in the 1916 Rising will be well aware of the value of what they have. A rare 1916 Rising medal, like the one posthumously awarded to Patrick Farrell of the Irish Volunteers, might fetch as much as €3,000.

Farrell was 19 years old on April 30, 1916 when he died on Church Street. A 1966 survivor's medal, awarded on the 50th anniversary to those who had received the original 1916 Rising Service medal, might fetch between €500 and €600. Buyers of random medals beware however as there are convincing fakes in circulation.

Medals awarded to British forces may also have value at auction. A silver medal inscribed "St Andrew's Volunteer Training Corps" is estimated between €3,000 and €5,000 at Whyte's, where it is described as "the only recorded example of a medal to this group of Crown forces involved in the Rising".

The medal was awarded to Frederick Stephens, a bookseller from Terenure who was aged 42 at the time of the Rising. He was a member of the St Andrew's Volunteer Training Corps, one of the four companies of "men over military age" that made up the Georgius Rex militia.

This Irish version of Dad's Army, known as the 'Gorgeous Wrecks', was on the way home from training on April 24, 1916. The volunteers were wearing uniform and carrying obsolete rifles, but had no ammunition. On their way to Beggar's Bush Barracks they came under fire from the Irish Volunteers. With four dead and six wounded, they made it to the barracks, which they defended as best they could.

Other 1916 related items at Whyte's include a set of three public notices. One, entitled "Prevention of Epidemic", gives instructions for those discovering dead bodies. It's a bit of a reality check.

The other notices relate to "separation allowances" for the families of servicemen and emergency food supplies from St Vincent de Paul. These reminders of the aftermath of the Rising are estimated between €150 and €250.

Also featured is an engraved trophy cup - the "1916 Defence of Trinity College Presentation Cup" - awarded to Cadet George J Mathews, of the Dublin University Officer Training Corp. He got this silverware for his "active part in the suppression of the Sinn Fein outbreak".

On April 24, 1916 when gunfire erupted at various locations across Dublin, the gates of Trinity College were closed and locked and all available members of the OTC were deployed around the perimeter and on the rooftops.

For the week of the Easter Rising, the OTC, assisted by regular British Army troops and a group of 14 'colonial' soldiers from Australia, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand, defended the College.

Their presence may or may not have saved the College from incursion by Irish Volunteers, but it almost certainly saved the businesses surrounding it from looting, damage or destruction.

It was these businesses who funded the purchase of two large silver cups and 138 miniature replica cups from West & Sons Grafton Street to present to the OTC and its members. The auctioneers estimate it should achieve somewhere in the order of €2,000-€3,000.

The destruction caused by the fighting is also commemorated in postcards, of greater or lesser value depending on rarity.

Baird's of Belfast sent down a photographer, but the most famous series is probably the Valentine "Ruins of Dublin" set which shows, quite literally, the smoking ruins of the city.

Another postcard, on a lighter note, comes from a photograph of football teams made of Irish prisoners of war, with two prison warders, in Stafford Jail (€200-€300). Full details on

In the salerooms


The beautiful and delicate opal comes with a lot of baggage. Opals, as superstition would have it, are desperately unlucky. Other (pre-Lord of the Rings) tales tell of opals that made the wearer invisible.

This made them popular with those who were up to no good. There have also been rumours that the brilliance of an opal fades when its wearer dies.

On the other hand, an opal is meant to be lucky for people who were born in October. O'Reilly's forthcoming jewellery auction on October 21 includes several opals, including some that are accessibly priced: an antique opal cross on a gilt chain (estimated between €200 and €300) and an antique opal and ruby bracelet with a padlock clasp (€350 to €400).

On a grander scale, an opal and diamond necklace might fetch €3,000 to €5,000. For more details see


The forthcoming auction of Castles, Manors & Mansions: Art & Treasure Troves, which takes place at Sheppard's in Durrow on October 20-22, includes an interesting selection of musical instruments.

Probably the most valuable of these is a French violin bearing the label of Joseph Hel (1919) and estimated between €4,000 and €6,000.

An earlier Italian violin, with the label of David Tehler (1717) is guided at €3,000 to €5,000. Another, possibly Italian, by a maker of the Venetian School (1680-1720) appears to have most of its original varnish and is also estimated between €3,000 and €5,000. Full details on


Mealy's Autumn Sale, which takes place on October 20-21, includes a number of affordable lots of 1916 interest, including a collection of postcards depicting the destruction in Dublin during the rebellion (estimated €100 to €150) and a lot that includes a 1919-21 Active Service Medal, with the Comrac bar (which denotes active service), in its original box.

The medal is often known as the 'Black and Tan Medal'. The lot (€250 to €350) also includes a 1916 Easter Rising participant's medal, also in its original box; and two 1939-1946 Emergency medals.

There is also a great deal of uncovered history in the archive of the Taaffe family of Smarmoure Castle, Ardee, Co Louth, one of the wealthiest and most important families of Catholic-landed gentry (€3,500 to €5,000). See

Antiques & vintage fair

An Antiques & Vintage Fair will run in the Royal Marine Hotel, Dun Laoghaire, on Sunday, October 18 from 11am-6pm. The fair will include a selection of books, maps and prints ranging from 19th century maps of Ireland from James Howell Rare Books and Prints, who will also have signed editions by authors ranging from JP Donleavy and Samuel Beckett to Eoin Colfer and a limited edition copy of The Tain signed by the author Thomas Kinsella and the illustrator Louis Le Brocquy. Jim Magill will also have first editions of Biggles, The Famous Five and PG Wodehouse, all with original dust jackets.

City auction rooms

A highly ornate brass inlaid breakfront boulle cabinet, estimated between €2,500 and €3,500, was the top lot at the recent antiques sale in City Auction Rooms, Waterford, on October 5. It sold for €5,400.

Waterford glass also sold well with one five-branch chandelier selling for €1,800 and three more selling for €1,250 each. A Waterford master cutter's pendant light-fitting exceeded the upper estimate of €600 and sold for €900. See

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