Boxing squirrels or prized Irish table: Our top picks at Drogheda auction

Over 700 lots of fabulous furniture, art, silver and curiosities at Townley Hall sale

 

From the panoramic to the intimate, the exquisite to the outlandish, all aspects of the Irish country house are celebrated in Adam’s on-site sale at Townley Hall outside Drogheda, Co Louth, next week. 

“In recent years, it’s become the most important showcase auction in Ireland, featuring the best of Georgian Irish furniture, silver, paintings and decorative arts,” says the managing director of Adam’s, James O’Halloran. “This is arguably the best one yet and not just because of the ‘Armada Table’, but because of the range and quality of lots, drawn in most cases from important old Irish houses, North and South.”

The key piece in this auction is the Armada Table, one of the earliest pieces of Irish furniture on record and surely one of the most dramatic.

The 430-year-old table, which is being sold by Lord Inchiquin, Conor O’Brien, is made from wood salvaged from a ship that was part of the Spanish Armada.

“In relation to the Armada Table, it’s the first time that this table will have been on the market in its circa 400-year history,” says O’Halloran, and it’s fitting, he says, that it’s to be viewed at Townley Hall, an impressive neo-classical mansion, the interior of which lends itself perfectly to displaying the huge variety of lots on offer.”

 With more than 730 lots coming under the hammer, the sale catalogue runs to 400 pages and weighs nearly as much as a small child. 

Open it at random and your eye might fall on a full-sized 16th/17th-century suit of armour, complete with helmet (Lot 112, €12,000-€15,000) or a spectacular silver tankard, made in Dublin in 1718, complete with lid (Lot 129, €10,000-€15,000). 

There’s a pair of Meissen-style vases bedecked with an entire garden’s worth of flower and fruit (Lot 299, €3,000-€5,000) and a pair of taxidermy scenes involving squirrels kitted out as boxers, battling away in tiny boxing rings (Lot 65, €3,000-€5,000).

 Perhaps the only way to give a clear impression of the range - and quality - of the items on offer is to play the “child in the sweetshop” game, and choose just 11.  Here goes. 

Armada table (Lot 101, €100,000-€200,000)
Armada table (Lot 101, €100,000-€200,000)

Armada Table (Lot 101, €100,000-€200,000)

 There has been some controversy about the sale of this mammoth carved refectory table, and calls on Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan to save it for the nation. Whether or not that comes to pass, it’s a jaw-dropping piece.

Nearly 3m long, it is made from a variety of timbers including oak and tropical hardwoods, from the timbers of a ship from the Spanish Armada which was wrecked off the coast of Co Clare in 1588. The table spent 300 years at Dromoland Castle before moving to Bunratty, Co Clare, where its elaborate series of carved masks became a key attraction.

Boxing squirrels taxidermy (Lot 65, €3,000 - €5,000)
Boxing squirrels taxidermy (Lot 65, €3,000 - €5,000)

Boxing squirrels taxidermy (Lot 65, €3,000-€5,000)

Who owned them? Where did they come from? We don’t know but stuffed animals were perfectly at home in the Victorian Irish country house and these days they’re being snapped up for bar and restaurant refits, and “witty” interiors schemes. These boxing squirrels were stuffed by Alfred Sheals, who came from taxidermy royalty, the Sheals of Belfast, who set up business in the second half of the 19th century and stayed on for generations creating fine displays of birds, foxes, monkeys, cats and, indeed, squirrels.

George II side table (Lot 243, €30,000-€40,000)
George II side table (Lot 243, €30,000-€40,000)

George II side table (Lot 243, €30,000-€40,000)

 If you’d prefer a table which doesn’t require a crane – and the removal of the roof – to get it into your house, this fine rectangular side table will fit the bill perfectly. Dating from circa 1750, it features the scallop-shell beloved of Irish furniture-makers of the period, with a swirl of showy-off swags for good measure. And just look at those squared hairy-paw feet.    

Louis XIV cased mantle clock (Lot 298, €4,000-€6,000)

Louis XIV cased mantle clock (Lot 298, €4,000-€6,000)

 Speaking of hairy paws, there’s a crouching lion on top of this clock, just waiting for you to come and play “fetch” with his ball. 

You’ll be stopped in your tracks, however, by the exquisite beauty of the lapis lazuli and ormolu case on this French clock, whose upper-crust origins are proclaimed by the set of entwined initials surmounted by a crown. 

Set of prehistoric deer antlers and skull (Lot 102, €30,000-€50,000)
Set of prehistoric deer antlers and skull (Lot 102, €30,000-€50,000)

Set of prehistoric deer antlers and skull (Lot 102, €30,000-€50,000)

 Walking with dinosaurs? You could be sitting with Megaloceros Giganteus.  This set of antlers, which may date as far back as 12,000 BC, conveys the majesty of the giant deer which roamed Ireland in the Pleistocene period.

Detail of pacing horse (Lot 303, €3,000-€5,000)
Detail of pacing horse (Lot 303, €3,000-€5,000)

Pacing horse (Lot 303, €3,000-€5,000)

 This high-stepping bronze horse is a miniature of the one in the bronze statue of Cosimo I in the Piazza della Signoria, Florence – so it’s no surprise that the animal is so vigorous it looks as though it might leap from its plinth at any moment. Hard to resist the temptation to run an appreciative hand over its withers – which probably accounts for that attractive patina. 

Detail of 19th-century hat stand (Lot 421, €2,000-€3,000)  
Detail of 19th-century hat stand (Lot 421, €2,000-€3,000)  

19th-century hat stand (Lot 421, €2,000-€3,000)

 They say that wherever you hang your hat is your home, but this jaunty and unusual hall stand will easily cope with your coat – and your walking-stick – as well. It’s in the form of a swan’s elongated neck with upswept “arms”, a lyre-shaped base and a brass stick rail. 

The birds (Lot 224, €1,000-€1,500)  
The birds (Lot 224, €1,000-€1,500)  

The birds (Lot 224, €1,000-€1,500)

 Samuel Dixon’s jewel-like, exotic bird and flower paintings were all the rage in Georgian Dublin. With its selection of birds, flowers and a butterfly this 18th-century watercolour is slightly more botanical than Dixon’s work, but equally striking.

Detail of wall mirror showing ho-ho bird (Lot 438, €8,000-€12,000)
Detail of wall mirror showing ho-ho bird (Lot 438, €8,000-€12,000)

Framed wall mirror (Lot 438, €8,000-€12,000)

 The ho-ho bird is part phoenix, part stork, part heron, part bird of paradise and part pheasant. It’ll never fly, but it will bring good luck to a house – which is why it’s often to be found carved on mirrors. This giltwood George III mirror also has an intricate design of entwined branches, rocaille formations and a pair of cheeky, nut-eating squirrels. 

Detail of carved mahogany armchair (Lot 196, €12,000-€18,000)
Detail of carved mahogany armchair (Lot 196, €12,000-€18,000)

Carved mahogany armchair (Lot 196, €12,000-€18,000)

It’s a stiff price for a soft chair: but this George II armchair, with its carved serpentine crest rail, acanthus sprays and human mask, its padded arms and claw and ball feet, really is a seat fit for a queen. Or – let’s be magnanimous – a king.

Breakfront bookcase (Lot 194, €15,000-€20,000)  
Breakfront bookcase (Lot 194, €15,000-€20,000)  

Breakfront bookcase (Lot 194, €15,000-€20,000)

 One of the most famous house contents auctions ever to be held in Ireland was that of Ely House in Dublin in November 1910. The palazzo belonged to Dr Thomas Stoker – brother of Dracula author Bram – and this gorgeous bookcase, with its four glazed, panelled doors, got a whole page to itself in the catalogue. If it makes a good price this time around, the famously grumpy doctor will be spinning in his grave.

Adam’s, 26 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2. Country House Collections auction at Townley Hall, Drogheda, Co Louth, Tuesday, October 16th, 11am. For online catalogue, viewing times and bidding details see adams.ie

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