No deal is highly unlikely in this Border-straddling ‘Brexit auction’

Items include Rolls-Royce, Lambeg drum, and U2 and Michael Schumaker jackets


Most of us prefer to shy away from the “B” word, but one man who’s embracing it with open arms is antique dealer Niall Mullen. He’s staging a “Brexit Auction” at the Heritage Hotel in Killenard, Co Laois next week.  

Why “Brexit”?

“Because we have so many things which straddle the Border,” he says. “It’s a very quirky, mad cacophony of stuff which highlights the long-standing links between our two nations. 

“We have a Rolls-Royce which belonged to a deputy prime minister in the UK in the 1960s. We have a pub mirror which says ‘Londonderry’. We have a Lambeg drum. We have a road sign which reads ‘Belfast-Dromore-Dublin’.  

“Signs like that don’t exist any more. Years ago, you had a sign like that every three miles along the road; now you’re on the M1 and you have a big blue sign saying, ‘Exit at Ardee’. They are genuine bits of our past, and when they’re gone you can’t get them again. I just thought, this is an indicator of what, potentially, may happen to that Border in March 2019.”

This is the latest signature auction from Mullen and Mark O’Dwyer, who last year auctioned off the contents of the Central Bank, followed by those of the Dublin pubs Cafe en Seine and Howl at the Moon. It will be held in conjunction with Victor Mee Auctions in Belturbet, Co Cavan.  

Among the items which will come under the hammer are an antique delivery bike from Dublin’s GPO featuring a giant mail basket, which still has all its original accoutrements and paperwork. A collection of Irish rock memorabilia includes a U2 jacket from the band’s Joshua Tree tour.  

Papal Mass

Also in the “rock star” category, arguably, is a 40ft-long yellow-and-white flag which formed the backdrop to the papal Mass in the Phoenix Park for the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979. Motorsports enthusiasts will make a beeline for a jacket from the 1999 Barcelona Grand Prix, signed by Michael Schumacher, as well as a jacket signed by the former Formula One driver Eddie Irvine.

The trap used by the actor Peter Bowles in the 1980s TV series The Irish RM, based on the Somerville and Ross novels about an Anglo-Irish resident magistrate and filmed in Kildare and Wicklow, will also be for sale with a guide price of €2,000-€3,000. 

Trap from the iconic TV series The Irish RM, at Niall Mullins Antiques’ Brexit Auction
Trap from the iconic TV series The Irish RM, at Niall Mullins Antiques’ Brexit Auction
Eddie Irvine’s jacket to be auctioned at the Heritage Hotel, Killenard, Co Laois on October 29th and 30th
Eddie Irvine’s jacket to be auctioned at the Heritage Hotel, Killenard, Co Laois on October 29th and 30th

The star of the Killenard show, however, is likely to be a collection of vintage cars. “There’s a collector who has a phenomenal collection of sound equipment, and he said to me, quite nonchalantly: ‘Do you take in stuff for auction?’ I said, ‘I do.’ So we went off to see him in the Midlands and we went into this shed  – now, it was a secure and dry shed, but a shed nonetheless – and inside was a vintage Rolls, a 1940s Ford Model T and a mass of chemist’s equipment and pub memorabilia which had been there for 20 years.”

The Rolls-Royce was the property of the politician Rab Butler – aka The Lord Butler, Baron of Saffron Walden – a liberal Conservative who served as Britain’s home secretary, foreign minister, chancellor of the exchequer and, in the early 1960s, deputy prime minister.

Textile empire

The 1930 3.7-litre Rolls-Royce Continental Sports Saloon was originally built for Elizabeth Courtald, heir to the industrial textile empire, before passing through her family to Butler’s ownership in 1946. Bought by an Irish collector for £25,000 in the mid-1990s, the car is expected to reach between €50,000 and €70,000 at the auction.

A lot of what we have for sale is pre-Partition. Not many people down here would talk about ‘Londonderry’ nowadays

Although the sale’s “Brexit” label is really just a bit of fun, it has its serious side. “If the Border does come back, it will affect our presumption that we can buy stuff in the UK and bring it back,” says Mullen. 

What will happen after the Brexit deadline is, for the antiques business as for every other, a mystery. This particular auction, however, is a reminder that political change in Ireland – on both sides of the Border – is nothing new.

“A lot of what we have for sale is pre-Partition,” Mullen says. “Not many people down here would talk about ‘Londonderry’ nowadays.”

And, in the meantime, it’s the old auction story: everything at this sale must go.

“There is no reserve, we take absentee and online bids and we are looking forward to welcoming lots of eager bidders.”

Brexit Auction, the Heritage Hotel and Spa, Killenard, Portarlington, Co Laois, Monday and Tuesday October 29th and 30th