If the walls could talk: Merriman pub memorabilia under the hammer

Irish trad performers from Planxty to the Fureys played the famous venue in Clare

From its origins as a mill, grain store and later a secondary school, to one of the most famous Irish music venues in Ireland that ran for 50 years, the Merriman Tavern in Scarriff, Co Clare finally closed its doors in 2015 after the death of proprietor Aidan O'Beirne.

It was the first place that Eddie, Finbar, Paul and George played together as The Furey Brothers, and where the late Brendan Grace played regular gigs with his band The Gingermen as a teenager. It previously played host to Éamon de Valera, who gave his first speech to the people of east Clare from what was to become the bedroom of Aiden and Sile O'Beirne.

Now the contents of the pub and home of the O'Beirne family will be auctioned by Sean Eacrett on April 23rd at its saleroom in Ballybrittas. It will offer a slice of Irish musical history and interesting ephemera in a sale that includes everything from traditional Irish sugan chairs and political and music posters to shiny disco balls.

The 226 lots trace the history of the venue which was the springboard for many traditional bands and singers. "It was a huge part of our childhood and we used to watch the gigs through the spaces in the rafters," recalls Arlene Harris of her former home. "We used to go for spins with Brendan Grace who had a really high-tech van in the late 1970s. He had a pretend phone and television and we thought we were the bees' knees."

As a child Harris used to draw pictures for Enya, in the company of the Chieftains, Clannad and novelist Enda O'Brien – who had a television show in the bar. In the Christy Moore guest book on the singer's official website, he says, "Aidan and Sile ran the best gig in the country [where] lock-ins were legendary" and though "the gigs used to be on Saturday nights, the cooling-off period often lasted 'til Monday morning" in the venue where he played the first of many gigs with Planxty.

The venue takes its name from the bard Brian Merriman, who penned Cúirt An Mheán Oíche (The Midnight Court). Dating from the late 1700s, this 1,000-line poem is widely regarded as the greatest work of comic verse in the history of Irish poetry. Lot 242 is very large oil painted by Sile O'Beirne that occupied an entire wall in the pub which depicts a scene from the bard's work (€400-€600). Further works by O'Beirne include a large and haunting image of Biddy Early, the 18th century Co Clare herbalist who was hauled in front of Ennis courts under the Witchcraft Act of 1586, but later released due to lack of evidence (lot 254, €200-€400).

Along with an abundance of posters announcing gigs, the sale offers a snapshot of Irish history. Lot 27 is a remarkable, wide-angle photograph of the closing ceremony at the Eucharistic Congress in 1932 (€100-€200), while lots 33, 34 and 35 deal with the hunger strikes of 1981 in Northern Ireland.

“The place was full to the rafters as my parents were such collectors and loved auctions and though it’s heartbreaking to take it apart, it must be done,” says Harris of the remarkable selection on offer.

A violin, which "lived behind the sofa upstairs and was used for Saturday night sessions after the gigs" is listed at €800-€1,200. The catalogue suggests it dates from the 19th century or earlier, and attributes the instrument to luthier Joseph Guarnerius whose family have an entire page dedicated to them on the Smithsonian Institute's website.

"The Merriman is currently being purchased by Clare Co Council, and I really do hope that part of it at least will have some dedication to music," says Harris.

Lots for gardens

Taking place this Tuesday and Wednesday, auctioneer Victor Mee will hold an online Decorative Interiors sale. With 1,200 lots, the sale includes classic seating ranging from aviator club chairs (lot 124, €1,800-€2,800 and lot 371, €2,000-€4,000) to an unusual and rare 19th-century Thonet prie-dieu bentwood chair (lot 789, €800-€1,400).

Now that spring has officially begun, many green-fingered enthusiasts have been concentrating on their gardens and the catalogue lists 93 lots of garden furniture. Should you need one, lot 983 is a complete stone gazebo with metal roof listed at €3,000-€5,000, while lot 93 is a pair of terracotta urns that are sculptural pieces in their own right (€300-€900). Also in there are a number of bronze stag statues and an interesting fibreglass and mesh model of a horse's head by Martin Doyle (lot 927, €400-€600).

In Bandon, Hegarty Antiques will hold a live online sale on April 19th with over 200 lots. A good quality mahogany glazed cabinet is listed at €800-€1,000, while a late 19th century Irish oak hall table is certain to attract interest. Listed at €300-€500, with carved shell detail and bobbin turned legs, it is stamped H.P Kearney.

seaneacrettauctions.ie, victormeeauctions.ie, hegartyantiques.com

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