Parnell’s funeral expenses laid to rest after 120 years

Collins, Pearse, Lady Lavery and the GAA also share the limelight in Dublin history auction


The undertakers Fanagans, with headquarters on Dublin’s Aungier Street, has been operating for almost 200 years. The family-run business, founded in 1819, is still going strong with the fifth, sixth and seventh generations of Fanagans now involved. In 1891, the undertakers organised the funeral of Charles Stewart Parnell – the Home Rule campaigner and “Uncrowned King of Ireland” – one of the biggest funerals ever held in Ireland.

An invoice and a receipt issued by Fanagan’s Funeral Establishment which appear to show that Parnell’s Irish Parliamentary Party haggled over his funeral expenses, went under the hammer at Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers’ sale in Dublin on Wednesday. The lot was chased by five bidders who drove the price up to €1,250 – more than three times the highest estimate (€300- €400). The winning bid was made by Alan Fanagan, a director of Fanagans funeral directors, who said afterwards he was “very pleased” and that the documents would now be framed and hung in the company boardroom.

The auction, titled A Gathering of All Things Irish, featured over 950 lots of historical memorabilia, collectible GAA medals and programmes, and rare books. There was standing room only in the saleroom, at the Clyde Court Hotel in Ballsbridge, and telephone and online bidders for many items.

Overall , 80 per cent of lots were sold. The top price was achieved for an archive of letters, manuscripts and documents by Edmund Downey (1856-1937), the well-known journalist, writer, publisher and newspaper editor, which made €12,000, more than double the estimate (€4,000-€6,000).

Correspondence from Lady Lavery in London, 1927, revealing that she was “frozen in misery and utterly alone” following the assassination in Dublin of her friend, minister for justice Kevin O’Higgins, made €5,000 (€1,000-€1,500).

Rebel playwright
How different modern Irish history might have been was revealed in lot 464, a letter from PH Pearse – headmaster of Dublin’s Scoil Éanna and sent to an unnamed Reverend Mother – regarding his creative writing ambitions. In 1913 Pearse wrote: “I must write a play with a girl heroine. I have an idea for one in my mind, but am too busy to work it out.” Instead, he went on to lead the rebels in the 1916 Rising. The letter made €1,000 (€900-€1,200).

GAA medals and match programmes were much sought after. The top lot was a medal awarded to a member of the Kildare team that beat Kerry in the 1905 All-Ireland football final. It sold for €4,200 (€2,000-€3,000).

A medal from a member of the Dublin team that beat Tipperary in the 1917 All-Ireland hurling final made €2,100 (€1,400-€1,800). A copy of the programme for the 1944 hurling final (Cork’s fourth-in-a-row victory) made €900 (€350-€500).

A magnificent freedom box, made in 1910 to contain the scroll awarding the Freedom of the City of Dublin to Sir Charles A Cameron, sold for €9,000 (€7,000-€12,000).

The auctioneers had described the box – decorated with brass, bronze, copper, coloured marbles and semi-precious stones – as “a very important” and museum-quality example of Irish Arts and Crafts design.

A collection of poignant “letters from Flanders”, sent to Waterford from the trenches of the first World War by soldier Henry Meagher, made €500 (€600-€800) and a collection of four medals awarded to TH Shannon, a private in the Irish Guards during the same conflict, sold for €1,600 – way above the estimate (€100-€150).

Among the rare books a copy of Seamus Heaney’s first collection, Eleven Poems, published in 1965 by Festival Publications and described as a “very rare first edition”, made €2,700 (€1,600-€2,200).

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