All Hallows art auction signals end of an era

The former seminary, now a third-level college, is on the verge of closure

They were once more powerful than cabinet ministers but this week their portraits sold for a few thousand euro in an auction of religious art.

Paintings owned by All Hallows College in Drumcondra, Dublin, went under the hammer at a three-day Sheppard's auction in Durrow which ended yesterday. The former seminary, now a third-level college, is on the verge of closure.

Among the highlights was a series of gilt-framed, life-size portraits by early 20th-century Dublin artist Leo Whelan of distinguished All Hallows alumni including cardinals, archbishops and bishops dressed in the regalia of office. The pictures attracted strong interest and most were sold.

Modest estimates

The auctioneers had given the paintings modest estimates as their value was judged to be chiefly “social history rather than financial”. A portrait of William Walsh, the archbishop of Dublin who died in 1921, made €2,000. In the painting he is wearing a purple cape, holding a violet silk biretta and sporting a large bejewelled ring.


Some portraits depict priests who became important figures in the US. Of those, a picture of the Co Westmeath-born John Glennon, archbishop (later cardinal) of St Louis, Missouri, made €3,400; and a portrait of Richard Scannell, bishop of Omaha, Nebraska, who was born in Cloyne, Co Cork, made €3,000.

At least one of the paintings is going abroad. The American diocese of Sioux City in Iowa said it had paid €2,800 for the portrait of Edmond Heelan, a native of Elton, Co Limerick who was bishop of Sioux City from 1920 to 1948.

All Hallows had hoped to raise up to €60,000 for a 15th-century Flemish “Book of Hours” – an illuminated manuscript on vellum – written in French and Latin. It failed to attract any bids however.

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons is a contributor to The Irish Times writing about fine art and antiques