Trophy marking British ‘victory’ in 1916 for sale at Whyte’s

Antique made from Rising artillery shell was uncovered in Islington flea market in 1987

An artillery shell from 1916, turned into a dinner gong, which was found in a London flea market and which will go under the hammer in Whyte’s, with an estimate of between €800 and €1,200, next month.

An artillery shell from 1916, turned into a dinner gong, which was found in a London flea market and which will go under the hammer in Whyte’s, with an estimate of between €800 and €1,200, next month.

 

An impulse purchase at a London flea market has uncovered the only known trophy made to celebrate British “victory” in the 1916 Rising.

A “fascinating object”, consigned to Whyte’s auctioneers in Dublin, has been identified as an antique dinner-gong made with an artillery shell from the ship Helga which was deployed by the British forces to bombard the rebels in central Dublin during Easter Week 99 years ago.

The gong – a 12lb shell, suspended from a timber and brass frame, was bought by a Japanese woman, for a nominal sum, while browsing antiques in Islington market almost 30 years ago.

Whyte’s said the woman, who now lives in Ireland was, in 1987, “a student in London, and with no connections to Ireland”.

She had bought the gong as a decorative object “because it was reminiscent of a Shinto temple bell” . Bonsho bells are found in Buddhist temples throughout Japan.

Years later the woman married an Irishman who noticed the inscriptions on the object and realised their historical significance.

The inscriptions, crucially, include references to 1916 (rendered in Roman numerals), the GPO, “Blackader”, and, “HMY [His Majesty’s Yacht] Helga.

Helga

Helga was an armed auxiliary patrol yacht which sailed from Dún Laoghaire (then Kingstown) on April 25th, 1916, up the river Liffey to shell the rebel-occupied Boland’s Mills, and, on the following day fired at the rebel-held GPO and surrounding areas.

The base of the shell in the gong is inscribed: “HMY HELGA THE CALL TO ARMS – LIBERTY STRIKES”.

The wooden frame is inscribed: “MENS MESS RICHMOND BKS”. Richmond Barracks in Inchicore was one of a number of British army facilities in Dublin.

Most of the leaders of the Rising were court-martialled and sentenced to death in Richmond Barracks before being taken to Kilmainham Gaol to be executed.

A copper dome below the shell is inscribed: “G. P. O. MCMXVI – BLACKADERS BOYS – THE CALL TO ARMS – RICHMOND BKS”.

Maj-Gen Charles Blackader was a senior officer in the British army who was dispatched to Ireland with fresh troops in late April 1916 to quell the Rising.

He chaired some of the subsequent courts-martial – including those of five signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, among them Pádraig Pearse.

The gong was essentially, a trophy made for, or possibly by, the soldiers who had served with Blackader as a memento of their “victory”, albeit short-lived, in suppressing the Rising.

It was presumably brought back to England when the troops vacated the barracks and left Ireland on the eve of Irish Independence in 1922.

How it ended up in a flea market decades later remains a mystery.

Stuart Purcell, head of collectibles at Whyte’s auctioneers, said the gong – which is missing its mallet – had been consigned by the Japanese woman who did not wish to be named.

“This is unique,” he added. “I am not aware of another object created as a trophy to celebrate a British victory in 1916.”

The gong will go under the hammer in Whyte’s History Sale with an estimate of between €800 and €1,200 on October 17th in Dublin.