ON 16 June 1906, a bunch of lads from County Kildare were wandering around Newbridge in search of a lift to the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship. They didn't have the price of the train fare. Sounds familiar?
But these lads weren't supporting the Lilywhites, they were the team. Undaunted, the Kildare player Marty Donnelly nipped into Newbridge Barracks and commandeered a British Army truck. The team piled into the open-topped Crossley Tender and set off down the road to Thurles.
The Kildare lads got their boots on, abandoned the "borrowed" truck, and went out to win the match. Morale must have been high and, by half time, they were leading 0-6 to 0-1 against Kerry. Jack Connolly's goal secured the match in the second half and Kildare won their first ever All-Ireland Senior Football Championships. Prudently, Marty Donnelly went into hiding until all the fuss died down.
This tale of derring-do was related by Donnelly's descendant (the current owner of his All-Ireland medal), and told to me by the auctioneer George Fonsie Mealy. The medal will be put up for sale by Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers (guide price €2,000 to €3,000) later on this year. A good story like this one will do the sale no harm at all. Incidentally, although the match was played in 1906, it was actually the 1905 All-Ireland final.
The history of Cumann na gcleas Luith n Gaedhealach (Gaelic Athletic Association) is full of heroic escapades, epic matches, and characters that could have stepped straight out of the ancient legends. "GAA memorabilia is very emotive," says George Fonsie Mealy. "The GAA is the backbone of the Irish psyche."
Unsurprisingly, medals, tickets and programmes, from early matches are highly collectible and sometimes the worse the teams have done in recent decades, the higher the values. There's a lot of interest in memorabilia from counties like Roscommon, which won the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship twice (1943 and 1944); and Clare, whose 1914 All-Ireland Hurling victory was not repeated until 1995. A medal from the 1914 match sold last month for €9,750.
There's also a strong interest in items associated with famous players. An All-Ireland medal (1955) won by the Wexford hurler Nicky Rackard sold for €17,500 last July.
Last month, a collection of three All-Ireland medals won by Kilkenny hurler John T Power between 1907 and 1913 sold at Fonsie Mealy's for €40,000. A sliotar, kept by Power as a memento of the 1913 All-Ireland Hurling final, sold for €2,100. The sliotar marked the first 15-a-side All-Ireland final to be played in Croke Park and was purchased by The Croke Park Museum.
The museum has recently purchased a collection of ring binders of letters and receipts relating to Laois's first and only All-Ireland hurling victory in 1915.
The documents give a fascinating insight into how a county put together a team to win an All-Ireland final, showing both the level of professionalism within the sport and how seriously it was taken. They include training regimes (farm labourers had a lighter schedule than office clerks), the bill for train tickets up to Dublin, and receipts for breakfast at Wynn's Hotel before the match.
The collection of GAA memorabilia is inextricably linked with the development of national identity and The Croke Park Museum is currently appealing for material from 1913 to 1923 for a digital archive that will showcase the history of the GAA during the revolutionary period. The archive will surely include records of one of the saddest incidents in Irish sporting history, the 1920 Great Challenge Match that became known as "Bloody Sunday". The Tipperary v Dublin match, in aid of the Republican Prisoners Fund, took place at Croke Park on 21 November 1920.
Early that morning, men under Michael Collins's command had assassinated 12 British intelligence agents and two policemen. Despite fears of reprisals, the match went ahead as planned. Shortly after kick-off, Croke Park was raided by the British who opened fire on the crowd, killing 12 spectators and Michael Hogan who played for Tipperary. Memorabilia from this tragic event is among the most collectible associated with GAA history. Tickets from the match have sold at Adam's for €14,000 (2008) and €2,000 (2013). Blame the recession for the price differential.
Other matches are remembered for the weather. The 1926 All-Ireland football final was notable for torrential rain, which probably explains why programmes of the match are so rare. A slightly weather-worn example is coming up for sale in Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers later on in the year, where it is estimated to sell between €700 and €900. The match, which resulted in a draw between Kerry and Kildare, has a sad story attached. Kerry's centre back, Jack Murphy, put his clothes back on without taking off his wet playing gear and died of pneumonia before the replay, which the Kingdom won without him.
In last month's auction an All-Ireland Senior Hurling winners' medal from 1939 sold for €3,100. The Kilkenny v Cork match is known as "The Thunder and Lightening Final" both on account of the weather and because it took place on 3 September 1939, shortly after the declaration of the Second World War.
Milltown Auction Rooms
Lev Mitchell & Sons Auctioneers and Valuers will hold an auction of over 630 lots in Milltown Country Auction Rooms, Dromiskin, Dundalk, County Louth on Monday 8 June. The sale includes the complete house contents from Stapleton Place, Dundalk, and 40 lots of antique pine from a restorer who is closing down. A rare antique pine wine cooler is estimated between €400 and €600 and an antique pine Gothic hall table between €300 and €500. Individual items include a Victorian secretaire cabinet (€800 to €1,000); a Georgian mahogany corner table on pad feet (€300 to €400); and a Victorian mahogany mirror-back four-door sideboard (€300 to €500). Paintings include The Hosting of the Táin, an oil on canvas by Michael McKeown (€500 to €700). Viewing is from 6-8 June with the auction starting at 5pm and full details are on www.milltownauctionrooms.com.
A brick from the Mahdi tomb on the Nile that functioned for years as a door stop in one of Ireland's stately homes fetched €800 in Mealy's Summer Sale on 26 and 27 May. Also of Egyptian interest, Frederick Goodall's epically-titled painting, Crossing the Waters of the Nile, with Numerous Figures and Animals and the Pyramids Beyond (1896) realised €3,400. An engaging 1850s satirical print by John Leech, Pretty Sight Ain't It, Charley to See the Youngsters Enjoying Themselves sold for €1,550 (inset above). The market for period mahogany appears to be rising with many pieces exceeding their upper estimates. A mahogany sideboard estimated between €1,200 and €1,800 realised €3,000, while a pair of bedside pedestals realised €1,750 (estimate €400 to €600). Those who turned out expecting vintage wine for Lidl prices may have been disappointed as some wine lots from a liquidation account made ten times their guide prices. George Gerard Mealy commented that: "The main trend was that there were at least two, in many cases three or more bidders on almost all important lots. This contrasted with the recession times, when often a single bidder would battle with just the reserve price."
A Cartier diamond necklace, probably dating from the 1930s, exceeded all expectations when it sold at Adam's for €210,000 on 19 May. The spectacular piece, composed of two rows of cushion-cut diamonds was once owned by the Cahen d'Anvers family, one of the most influential Jewish banking families in France during the fin-de-siècle. It had been estimated between €70,000 and €90,000. The necklace was part of an auction of Fine Jewellery and Watches, in which diamonds dominated the top lots. A single-stone diamond ring with a round brilliant-cut 4.02 carat diamond within an eight-claw 18 carat gold setting reached €40,000. An Art Deco platinum ring with a round brilliant-cut diamond raised between tapered baguette-cut diamonds realised €6,000. Among the watches, an extravagantly styled ladies diamond and 18 carat gold watch by Rolex was estimated between €1,500 and €2,500 but sold for €4,000. Appearing as a bracelet of scalloped links, the watch face was enclosed under a hinged hood set internally with diamonds.