Sir Anthony O’Reilly’s Castlemartin collection goes on sale

There is expected to be huge interest in sale of the Tony O’Reilly collection this week


There could hardly be a more appropriate – or grisly – memento of Ireland’s Celtic Tiger era than an actual big cat’s head owned by Sir Anthony O’Reilly, whose business empire went bust in the crash.

A stuffed and mounted Indian tiger’s head “with glass eyes and a snarling mouth” from Castlemartin House, the former home of the bankrupt businessman, is among is among the lots consigned to Mealy’s auction on Tuesday, October 4th. The auction, titled “Kilfane House: The Autumn Sale”, includes antiques and art assembled by Sir Anthony O’Reilly, the late US businessman Hal Clarke and other unnamed collectors.

Kilfane House is yet another Anglo-Irish big house and is near Thomastown and Mount Juliet in Co Kilkenny. The house was home to generations of “gentry” families, starting with that of Col John Bushe of Somerset who was granted the land by Cromwell and subsequently by the aristocratic Power family.

In the 1970s, the 1,390sq m (15,000sq ft) Georgian mansion was spotted by American tourists, namely the wealthy Clarke family of Atlanta, Georgia who bought the house, saved it from demolition and restored it for use as a summer holiday home.

Hal Clarke, who was born in 1914, was the founder of Clarke and Anderson, a law firm in Atlanta where he specialised in real estate law and savings and loans law.

The firm later expanded and became Mitchell, Clarke, Pate and Anderson. According to the auctioneers, “over the years, five generations of Clarkes have visited and enjoyed Kilfane, its grounds and the local community”. Hal Clarke died last year aged 99 and the family is now selling the house which is on 79 acres by private treaty through Sherry FitzGerald with an asking price of €1.75 million. Separately, Mealy’s has been asked to sell the contents of the house on the instructions of the Clarke family.

Bank debts

As Kilfane House was a holiday home rather than the Clarke family’s principal residence, it was sparsely furnished. Mealy’s therefore decided to use the occasion of the auction to “bring in” consignments from other clients, most notably some furniture and antiques from Castlemartin House, Co Kildare, the former home of businessman Sir Anthony who was declared bankrupt by the supreme court in the Bahamas last year.

Castlemartin House itself has already been sold to help repay the former billionaire media tycoon’s bank debts. Mealy’s said furniture, antiques and items of decorative art had been removed from Castlemartin House and were being offered for sale “on the instructions of the trustee in bankruptcy appointed by the Bahamian Court”.

Overall some 600 items will go under the hammer. Some 40 per cent of the lots come from Castlemartin House, which is clearly just a fraction of its contents. It is not known what happened to the rest of the O’Reilly collection including some very famous art. The catalogue does not make clear which items are from Castlemartin and which are from the other clients, so ask the auctioneers’ staff about the provenance if this is of interest.

Public viewing

Three days of public viewing take place on the premises at Kilfane House, Thomastown, Co Kilkenny: Saturday, October 1st, and Sunday, October 2nd from 11am to 5pm daily; and, Monday October 3rd from 10am-5pm. Entry is by catalogue only (€20 admits two adults).

The auction will not take place in Kilfane House itself due to limited parking, but is on in the function room in a nearby pub, The Long Man of Kilfane, on Tuesday, October 4th starting at 11am.

Inevitably, most of the interest will be in the lots from Sir Anthony’s collection, including a grand piano and dining table from Castlemartin House where guests included Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela and Ted Kennedy.

Among notable items of furniture are: lot 126, a mid-18th century Irish side table estimated at €20,000-€30,000; lot 120, a “fine, rare 18th century carved Irish giltwood mirror” with carving depicting two squirrels, estimated at €8,000-€10,000 ; and lot 521, a pair of 18th century carved giltwood open armchairs, described as “Exhibited at the Franco-British Exhibition of 1908” estimated at €3,000-€5,000.

Lot 381 is Sir Anthony’s “William IV period Irish mahogany dining table, probably by Williams & Gibton” (€20,000-€30,000); and lot 470 is his “Bechstein Boudoir Grand Piano” (€2,000 - €3,000). Lot 312, the aforementioned tiger head, is estimated at €500-€700.

Other lots

Overall, Mealy’s said the auction includes “period furniture, paintings and prints, works of art, ceramics, glass, silver and silver plateware, carpets and rugs, rare books, garden furniture and statuary, and other assorted chattels”.

Appropriately, given Kilfane House’s famous gardens, there’s a big selection of garden statuary and furniture, including lot 244, “an important pair of Victorian cast-iron garden seat ends” made to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887 by Grahamston Iron Company Falkirk, “each cast with trellis pattern and a portrait of Queen Victoria in relief, inside a roundel, the main panel depicting the rose, thistle and shamrock, and raised on six block feet” (€1,000-€1,500).

Separately, Mealy’s said the gardens, which include a spectacular waterfall, normally open to the public only in July and August, would open “exclusively” for attendees of the auction viewing with a €5 charge. All proceeds will go to a local cancer charity.


Both Kilfane House and the Long Man of Kilfane are on the R448 road, a few kilometres from Thomastown, Co Kilkenny. Mealy’s said there would be no direct access for private vehicles to Kilfane House.

For the viewing, parking is being provided at the Long Man of Kilfane from where a shuttle bus will operate to and from Kilfane House.

To get to Kilfane from Dublin by motorway, from the Red Cow junction on the M50, take the M7 (towards The South) and exit at Junction 11 for the M9 (Waterford/Kilkenny/Carlow).

Then, exit the M9 at Junction 7 (Paulstown services/direction Thomastown) and follow the R448 through Paulstown, Gowran and Dungarvan. The Long Man of Kilfane is located 3.9km from Dungarvan and will be signposted by Mealy’s.

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