The James Reilly auction: everything you need to know about the biggest sale of the year

With 2,700 lots, the sale of the contents of Loughton House will run for four days

Viewing begins this morning for the auction of the contents of Loughton House – the country estate of Fine Gael deputy leader and Senator, Dr James Reilly, and his wife, Dorothy. It is the biggest auction of the year – with some 2,700 lots going under the hammer – and likely to attract quite a crowd.

What’s the story?

In 2001, the Reillys bought Loughton House, a 13-bedroom Georgian mansion on 82 acres, outside the village of Moneygall, Co Offaly. They also bought some of the original contents of the house which had been home to generations of Tipperary Anglo-Irish gentry. The house is for sale by private treaty through estate agents Ganly Walters and the contents are being auctioned separately by Sheppard's in a big four-day sale on the premises.

Where and when?

The contents will be on view in Loughton House today, tomorrow and Monday from 10am-5pm daily. The auction itself begins on Tuesday at 10.30am and continues daily until Friday, September 30th. How to get there and what's the entry cost? Exit the M8 Dublin-Limerick motorway at junction 23 – for the services area known as the Barack Obama Plaza – take the R445 road through Moneygall village and then follow Sheppard's signage to Loughton House where there will be on-site parking. Entry to the viewing and the auction is by catalogue only, which costs €20 and admits two people. Sheppard's says there will be on-site catering at Loughton House. Alternatively, there is a "food court" at the Barack Obama Plaza; among options in Moneygall village is Ollie Hayes's pub, which was famously visited by President and Michelle Obama in 2011.

What is for sale?

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A vast array of more than 2,700 items which includes: “exceptional Irish silver, important Irish furniture, garden and architectural statuary, original library and archives, historic Irish portraits, and vintage and classic cars”.

Lots and estimates range from cheap and cheerful – for example, lot 264, a pair of Victorian Delph candlesticks (€20-€30) – to seriously expensive, such as lot 630, a pair of mid-18th-century Irish silver ewers estimated at €60,000-€80,000 and described as among “the finest examples of Irish silver wrought in Dublin during the golden age of silversmithing”. Although the sale is expected to realise “in excess of €1 million” – the vast majority of the lots are in the – relatively – “affordable” category with estimates in the hundreds – not thousands – of euros.

Is there a catalogue available?

The two-volume catalogue – which runs to more than 400 pages – will be on sale at the entrance to Loughton House and can also be viewed online at sheppards.ie. Sheppard’s said “about 70 per cent” of the lots are being sold by the Reillys – original contents of Loughton House acquired by generations of previous owners plus items they have bought during the past 15 years. The rest of the lots – and notably some of the pieces of silver – have been “brought in” from other unnamed clients. Given the sheer scale of the sale, prospective bidders should do their homework and talk to the staff on duty at the viewing.

The highlights?

There is a big selection of antique beds including lot 263, the King’s Bed, a carved oak sleigh bed reputedly made for King George IV’s visit to Slane Castle in 1821 and later moved to Loughton House, “attributed to Mack, Williams & Gibton”, the renowned Dublin furniture makers, and estimated at €4,000-€6,000. Lot 371 is a 19th-century carved-oak marriage bed carved with fertility symbols and estimated at €3,000-€5,000.

Among the paintings, lot 522 is a portrait of Maj Gen Benjamin Bloomfield, the first Lord Bloomfield, 1768-1846, a former resident of Loughton House who "commanded a battery of artillery at Vinegar Hill during the rebellion of 1798 and 'received a handsome sword in acknowledgement of his services'." He was private secretary to King George IV. In 1823 he was created a baron in the Irish peerage. The sword is depicted in the painting. The artist was John Lilley and the estimate is €5,000-€7,000.

In the library, lot 1968, The Tale of Two Bad Mice by Beatrix Potter – is a first edition copy of the book published in London in 1904, estimated at €700-€900.

Among Dr Reilly's collection of vintage and classic cars (including 10 Jaguars and three Daimlers in varying condition) is lot 2568, a 1960s red Jaguar Mark II car adapted for use by a "fire chief" estimated at €10,000-€15,000; lot 2564, a 1939 Daimler, estimated at €12,000-€18,000, was, according to catalogue notes, "registered to the British admiralty" and "reputedly used by Winston Churchill", first lord of the admiralty at the beginning of the second World War before taking over as British prime minster in 1940.

The features all the items you would expect in a big country house sale – from rugs to vintage luggage, clocks to crockery – and plenty of weird and wonderful stuff besides. Examples include lot 1154, a “leopard-skin and fur foot-warmer” (€100-€150); and, lot 1358, estimated at €80-€120, a “cased Japanese shellfish necessaire”. A chap never knows when – or where – he might be asked to butterfly a lobster.