Bidders snap up mementos of British Empire in Cork auction

More than 7,000 queue to see contents of ‘house that time forgot’ over three days

“Going, going – the moose head – gone, for €1,600.” Auctioneer George Mealy didn’t bat an eyelid as he brought down the hammer on the spectacularly antlered, stuffed and mounted Victorian hunting trophy.

Lot 128 was among the unlikely attractions in yesterday’s auction of art, antiques and collectibles from Lotabeg House in Cork, a “merchant prince” mansion in Tivoli overlooking the River Lee.

The “house that time forgot” had been virtually untouched since the 1930s and more than 7,000 people had queued to view the contents in the previous three days.

Another piece of startling taxidermy – a lifesize mountain goat that had adorned the hallway – sold for €3,800.


Auction-goers crammed into a temporary saleroom established by Mealy’s in the convention centre of the adjacent Clayton Hotel Silver Springs for the marathon day-long sale.

Among them was a Cork man who, understandably, did not wish to be named as he had been “warned” by his wife “not to buy anything as we have too much junk already”.

British Raj

But Joe O’Sullivan from Cobh was more forthcoming and bemoaned being outbid on at least three lots including a “rare Irish carved bog oak walking cane etched with scrolling shamrocks” that he described as “a beauty” and for which he was “prepared to go to €300”. But it sold for €800.

The contents were sold by the descendants of Vincent Hart, an engineer who died in 1939 after decades of service to the British Raj in India.

A neck badge he received from King George V in 1935 on being made a Companion of the Order of the Star of India sold for €2,200. It was one of many lots that evoked the British Empire that were eagerly chased by bidders – from pith helmets to steamer trunks, teak furniture and photo albums with snaps of polo players out in the midday sun. A three-volume album of 92 “extremely rare and important” photographs of Victorian India made €12,000.

‘Mysterious allure’

The end-of-an-era theme was not confined to expensive items. Some auction-goers seemed determined to acquire a souvenir of Lotabeg regardless of quality. Lot 565, described as the “remaining contents of pantry, mainly part tea services”, was expected to sell for between €20 and €30 but it sparked intense bidding and sold for €225.

A four-piece Edwardian mahogany bedroom suite sold for €400 and a pair of German porcelain dolls with “limbs, some detached” made €90. The 1830s dining table, described as a “very important” piece of Irish-made furniture, sold for €26,000.

George Gerard Mealy, whose father conducted the sale, said he had "never seen an auction capture the public imagination to such an extent" and that the "thousands" of bidders online and on the telephone, in addition to the hundreds in the saleroom, "were a testament to the mysterious allure of Lotabeg".

While most of the 760 lots had come from Lotabeg House, some had been "brought in to fill gaps in the house" , a customary practice in Irish house contents auctions. Among them was an oil-on-canvas Portrait of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde that sold for €120,000.

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons

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