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How I got my hands on a little piece of Irish history

EIGHT hundred years of Irish history crammed into a Dublin auction room drew a major crowd of busy bidders. And I was among them.

Some, like me, were novices, hoping to spot a historical bargain, while others were seasoned campaigners who knew exactly what they wanted -- and how much they were willing to push the price for it.

It takes a little time to acclimatise to the fast moving atmosphere of a busy auction room like Adam's on St Stephen's Green, where bids come in thick and fast from the floor by phone and on the internet.

Items on offer ran the gamut from documents dating from the 13th Century, right up to books from the 21st Century.

Perhaps the most talked about items on offer were a lock of Michael Collins' hair and an original copy of the 1916 Proclamation.

The sellers of Collins' hair withdrew it from the auction after some controversy, while the Proclamation sold for a whopping €124,000.

My interest was in the area of historical firearms and military memorabilia. To bid, you register and then you're issued with a "paddle," a bit like an oversized tennis table bat with a number on it.

Some particular firearms of Dublin interest, from 17th and 18th Century gunmakers with famous names such as Rigby and Meredith, were way beyond my reach. They were snapped up by bidders with hefty budgets. I was also outbid on a very nice Colt 1849 pocket pistol.


The Colt, with US markings rather than London ones -- Sam Colt opened a very profitable London agency and an Irish owner might have been expected to purchase it there -- sold for €850, which with the 20pc commission and VAT, brought it to more than €1,000.

But I did manage to secure a 1866 Snider rifle, used by the British Army and British Indian Army well into the 20th Century.

The Snider, an ingenious invention by American Jacob Snider, meant the army could turn vast quantities of obsolete muzzle loaders into modern breechloaders which had twice the rate of fire.

The single shot Snider, with its huge .577 cartridge, was designed to be used like artillery and was used all over the British Empire and was also issued in Ireland to militia units and the Royal Irish Constabulary. I picked one up for the princely sum of €170.

Sporting and military firearms, letters and postcards from all sides of the Irish conflict: rebels and loyalists, IRA and British Army, republican heroes and Black and Tans, were snapped up by experienced collectors at the auction.

Great fun, I will definitely be back!