Bandon is often described as a gateway to the craggy peninsulas and jewelled landscapes of west Cork. But this modest river town has some hidden gems of its own.
By the side of the N71 on the road to Skibbereen, an unassuming warehouse building is labelled “Hegarty’s Auction Rooms”. Step inside and you step into another world – an Aladdin’s cave of antiques, where beautiful objects are presented with respect and care.
This week the saleroom team is busy preparing for its big end-of-summer auction on Sunday, August 26th. Second-generation auctioneer Ted Hegarty has more than 30 years experience in the trade, but insists that “the real work is done by the women”.
His female colleagues are his wife, Margaret, who looks after the accounting side of the business and supervises the uploading and printing of the online catalogue, and Noirin Collins, who catalogues and photographs the items for sale.
Collins joined the company two years ago, after spending four years in the Client Service department at Christie’s of London. The forthcoming auction, she explains, is an important one for two reasons. It’s built around the Denniss Collection from a good country house in Schull; and it’s the first in which Hegarty’s will offer a live online bidding service.
“People come to an auction with furnishing in their heads,” Collins says. “So before a viewing, we lay out the furniture as it would be placed in a room.”
As well as giving the auction rooms an accessible, welcoming atmosphere, this allows the buyer to visualise how a particular piece might look in their house.
On the day of the sale the excitement will ramp up a notch or two. By keeping each sale to between 250 and 350 lots, Hegarty’s keep the quality of the objects high and the pace of the auction slow.
“It’s something of a theatre here, and we get great feedback from people who really enjoy the atmosphere,” adds Collins.
Ted Hegarty admits to being a little nervous about making his internet debut, but says they hope to maintain the balance between global and local which has always been a hallmark of country auction rooms.
“Take the Denniss Collection,” he says. “The family were medical people with connections to London, and this is a good country house – not a really big, aristocratic house but one full of beautiful, high-quality things.”
Following the death of the lady of the house at the age of 90, this is a probate sale. “So there’s no reserve on many of the items,” he says. “At the moment, the value is all to the buyer. Take that walnut writing desk, for example.”
He makes a bee-line for Lot 27, an exceptionally neat bureau du jour, running his hand over its cupid’s bow apron and teardrop brass handles.
“It’s full of character. Somebody has been sitting writing at that desk for a 100 years or more.”
Every piece of furniture bought at auction, he says, has a story to tell.
“These objects have had to be looked after. You don’t survive for 200 years if somebody hasn’t cared for you and polished you and loved you.”
He has a particular fondness for antique Irish silver and glassware, and points to an Irish Georgian silver sauce boat, circa 1770, as a superb example from the current sale. Sitting on three legs, it features ostrich-feather plume knees and shell feet.
More contemporary creations also feature in the sale.
“If I were to sell you a painting for your collection,” Hegarty says, “it would have to be one of these.”
He indicates Figures In An Abstract World, an abstract work by the Limerick-born painter Martin Finnin, an explosion of colour and bold shapes set against a multilayered backdrop (Lot 104, €2,500–€3,000).
This is a sale designed to appeal to a wide range of buyers. Alongside the furniture, silver and paintings are a number of pieces of fine jewellery such as an 18-carat ruby and diamond ring in an art deco setting (Lot 6, €3,000–€4,000) and a selection of Steiff teddy bears, including a blond Growler (Lot 119, €60–€100) complete with button and tag.
Along with the regular public auctions, Hegarty’s also offers a private sales service, sourcing specific objects and giving buyers the option to view in private, whether at the auction rooms or in their own home. And everything, of course, can be delivered to just about anywhere.
If, on the surface, it looks very different to the business set up in Bandon by Ted Hegarty’s father, the core values are still the same. It all adds up to a 21st-century antiques business.
Hegarty Antiques and Fine Art, Bandon, Co Cork. West Cork Country House Auction, Sunday August 26, 4pm. For online catalogue, viewing times and bidding details see hegartyantiques.com