Wednesday 17 January 2018

Treasures: Furness sale set to ignite

19th century carriage in the Furness sale and (inset) the coat of arms
19th century carriage in the Furness sale and (inset) the coat of arms
Longcase clock

'Harris, I am not well, fetch me a brandy." Such was the reaction of the Prince Regent of England on meeting his future queen, Princess Caroline of Brunswick, according to the historian Turtle Bunbury.

Caroline responded that the prince was "very fat and nothing as handsome as his portrait". It was clearly not a match made in heaven. The prince tried to divorce her on his ascension to the throne and Caroline died in 1821 amid rumours she had been poisoned.

A few days later, the king set off to Ireland to visit his mistress, the "ample, though still handsome" Marchioness of Conyngham who lived at Slane Castle. The road from Slane to Dublin was reputedly straightened to ease his progress.

Now, the horse-drawn carriage in which the king and his mistress may have travelled is up for sale as part of the contents of Furness, Co Kildare for an estimated €20,000 to €30,000.

It's a graceful piece of transport history, built in London in 1820, in the days before solid rubber tyres. Designed for times when the journey from Dublin to Athy was a 13-hour adventure, the gentry must have been snug but jolted inside the carriage, while the driver, perched high above, would have needed a warm coat and a keen sense of balance.

The carriage is in need of restoration, but you can still see the Conyngham coat of arms on both doors. "It's lovely to image King George IV having a bonk in there with his Irish girlfriend, but there's no way of knowing," says Patrick Guinness, the owner of Furness.

The other horse-drawn vehicles in the sale include a pony trap made by Taggart of Cavan (€600 to €800), a 19th century brougham coach (€2,000 to €3,000) and a horse drawn sidecar (€1,000 t0 €1,500). On a smaller scale, a collection of Victorian children's toys includes a toy horse on wheels with a tipping cart (€400 to €600).

Furness was built around 1740 and has been attributed to the architect Francis Bindon. In the 1980s it appeared as Castle Knox in the television series, The Irish RM, based on the hilarious stories of Somerville and Ross.

The current owners bought it in 1994 and now find the 15-bedroom house too large for their needs. Guinness is the son of Desmond and Mariga Guinness (Princess Marie Gabrielle of Urach), co-founders of the Irish Georgian Society, and much of his own collection has come to him by way of his family.

Mariga, for example, collected carriages and coaches (as you do) and was responsible for picking up the Marchioness's 1820 example. Perhaps her direct descendant Lord Henry Mount Charles might want it back for the Slane dynasty.

One of the top lots in the sale, a portrait of the feminist icon, Caroline Norton, posing with a harp as The Figure of Justice, a Figure Of Erin by Daniel Maclise (1806-1870), is estimated between €50,000 and €70,000.

Norton was an early campaigner for child custody and divorce law. Items of specific Guinness interest range from a pair of old coopers' barrels (€1,500 to €2,000) to a Guinness advertising ashtray in the shape of a barrel (€100 to €150).

Amid the things that you might expect to find in an Irish country house of character - a crocodile under the piano (€800 to €1,200), an upright harpsichord (€1,000 to €1,500), and a set of bagpipes (€600 to €800) - are some pieces of extraordinary history.

These include the helmet (€2,500 to €3,500), breastplate (€350 to €500) and swords of Sir Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford and Lord Deputy of Ireland (1632-39). Wentworth established a strong rule in Ireland, but went above his station, was recalled to England and executed in 1641 at the behest of King Charles 1.

The room where these significant artefacts are housed also contains a frivolous piece of 19th-century taxidermy. The diorama (€1,500 to €2,000) shows a schoolroom with a learned hedgehog instructing the other animals - weasels, squirrels, and kittens - with one kitten on a high stool in the corner wearing a dunces' cap.

Guinness points out a framed city plan in the hallway, A Prospect of the City of Dublin from the North (€4,000 to €6,000). It dates from 1728 when Francis Street was considered a major thoroughfare and Drogheda Street, now O'Connell Street, did not run as far as the Liffey. The area that we know as the North Docklands was not yet solid ground.

"That area was walled but as yet overflowing with the tide," Guinness explained. "They filled it in gradually with ballast from the ships. People forget that this part of Dublin is not just man-made but handmade."

I ask him if it is difficult to let go of things like this, which he obviously cares for. He is philosophical. "Some things, not necessarily valuable things, mean more to you than others. But this is the other side of collecting. We all collect things and then we let them go, in different ways."

The sale of the contents of Furness is conducted by Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers and will take place in Kilashee Hotel, Naas, on October 6 at 10.30am. Viewing is on the premises at Furness on Saturday and Sunday, October 3-4 from noon until 6pm and on Monday, October 5 from 10.30am-5pm.

About 10pc of the objects in the house have been brought in for the sale, although the rooms have been styled so that everything looks as it belongs. Full details on

In the salerooms


The sale of jewellery is a seasonal business, with early autumn offering particularly rich pickings as the once-wealthy sell their trinkets to keep their children in school fees.

Another, although less seasonal, route by which fine jewellery comes on the market is when women sell the diamonds of bygone romance, following divorce.

"Many of those ladies are seeking final closure on that part of their lives. As I think of it, however, I tend not to see men selling jewellery from a divorce settlement. I guess it's the old adage - the engagement ring legally becomes hers on the day they marry," says John Weldon, whose forthcoming sale on October 6 includes a diamond ring set with diamond shoulders (est €10,000 to €12,000); pair of sapphire and diamond cluster earrings ( €2,500 to €3,500); and a delicate antique flora diamond set brooch (€800 to €1,200).

Other highlights include an Irish silver sugar bowl (1966) made in Dublin by James Weldon (€300 to €500). The piece is rare in that it shows the Weldon makers' mark, coming back to the same family that sold it almost 50 years ago.

Pieces with the 1966 hallmark have the special An Cladheamh Solals (The Sword of Light) hallmark placed on items made in that year to mark the 15th anniversary of the Easter Rising.

Viewing from October 3 to 6, auction on Tuesday, October 6 at 2pm. Full details on


DeVere's forthcoming design furniture auction includes several Danish and Italian 20th-century classics. These include a set of six rosewood Model 83 dining chairs, designed in the 1960s by Niels Otto Moller, one of Denmark's most famous designers. The chairs are made in rosewood and estimated between €2,000 and €3,000 for the set. A rare pair of Model 138 teak lounge chairs from 1961 was designed by the architect Finn Juhl for France & Sons (€2,000 to €3,000).

A set of six three-legged Costes chairs was designed in the 1980s by Philippe Starck for the trendy Café Costes in Paris. The three-legged design was, apparently, to make it easier for the waiters to rush around the chairs without tripping over them (estimate €1,500 to €2,500).

Viewing from October 2 to 6, auction on Tuesday, October 6 at 6pm. Full details on


Hugh Douglas Hamilton (1739-1803) performed slightly less strongly than expected at the recent auction of Fine Period Interiors, which took place at Adam's on September 20.

A pastel and crayon portrait of Mary Preston (nee Hamilton) estimated between €5,000 and €8,000 sold for €4,800, while Hamilton's portrait of Viscountess Lifford, estimated between €4,000 and €6,000, sold for €3,500.

Other pieces exceeded their upper estimate with the top lot, a seascape oil on canvas, Shipping Off The Coast At Genoa, by Edwin Hayes (1819-1904) selling for €8,200.

A 19th-century mahogany telescopic extending dining table exceeded the upper estimate of €6,000 to sell for €7,700. An early 19th-century longcase clock inscribed Charles Craig, Dublin, sold for €3,700. Full results on

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