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Banshees of Inisherin and Irish vernacular furniture feature at upcoming auction

Movie-star furniture and an early example of the sofa bed feature alongside garden objects and a bright orange tulip chair

Icons of furniture tell the stories of their times. Mahogany and teak speak of colonial expansion, as well as the beauty of hardwoods that thrive under the heat of a far-flung sun. Today’s flat-pack gems are testament to mass consumption and, unfortunately, to our throwaway culture. With its own rich history, Irish vernacular furniture is under the hammer at Adam’s second annual Vernacular Auction, viewing April 12th-15th and selling on the 16th.

Irish antique country-pine dressers became a hot property in the US in the 1980s and 1990s, as farms and rural homes were modernised and their furniture exported in quantity. Across the water, new generations of Irish American buyers found in them a connection to a nostalgic idea of home. Some were painted in bright colours, or coloured to resemble mahogany. Charmingly, more of them had space at the base to house chickens.

Settles were less sought after, although when Joseph Walsh, contemporary furniture maker extraordinaire, was asked by this newspaper to choose the household item that caused him the greatest joy, he selected his grandfather’s settle, describing how he loved the idea of traditional design that is “versatile, multipurpose and innovative while still having an aspirational quality of design and decoration,” saying “the settle is a perfect example of that ...” So what exactly is a settle?

A settle bed, a fixture of the rural Irish home from the early 1600s, is perhaps best understood as a very early example of today’s staple of spare rooms everywhere: the sofa bed. A bench-chair by day, the tall back prevents you from getting a chill from damp cottage walls, while at night the seat opens on hinges to create a bed. The example on sale with Adam’s (€800-€1,200) has an even more illustrious pedigree, as it featured on the set of The Banshees of Inisherin, and as a result may have been warmed by the backsides of movie stars. Two more lots from the film in the sale are a pair of stools (€200-€300); and a painted pine kitchen table (€1,500-€2,000).


These are not the first pieces from Banshees to be sold at auction. Many went under the hammer last December, when the collection of prop hire company Historic Interiors was sold via More went in the first Adam’s Vernacular Auction in 2023, where a pair of naive landscape paintings sold for €1,600 against an estimate of €300-€400, and a painted pine dowry chest went for €1,800 off an estimate of €1,200-€1,400. A 19th-century dowry chest, although it has no film star credentials, is included in this sale with an estimate of €1,000-€1,500. Something for your bottom drawer, perhaps?

Vernacular furniture – relating to the traditions of the domestic and functional, rather than the grand gestures of the wealthy – swings in and out of fashion, but tends to stand the test of time. Also featured in the sale is a painting of the tea clipper the Cutty Sark, by painter James Dixon (€8,000-€12,000) from Tory Island, Donegal. Dixon’s painting captures the ship, sails aloft, racing scudding white horses topping blue water, with storm clouds massing in the background.

Dixon, who died in 1970, has an immediacy to his work, which catches moments of island history: from Mary Driving the Cattle Home across the Sands of Dee (1967), which is in the collection of the Arts Council of Ireland; to The First and Last Airship to Pass Tory Island on Her Way to America Long before the First World War, which sold at Adam’s in 2022 for €5,000 against an estimate of €2,000-€4,000. With Cutty Sark, it is easy to imagine the admiration of an island man, living by grace of the sea, for what was once the fastest sailing ship in the world.

If Irish vernacular furniture and art is about the practical use of local materials and inspirations, the mid-century and designer furniture that features as part of the Garden Auction at Waterford’s RJ Keighery/Antiques Ireland speaks of different interests entirely. Alongside a selection of nicely mossed antique granite troughs, €600-€1,200, and aged urn planters, €500-€700 for a pair, is a tulip of a different stamp.

Dutch designer Marcel Wanders, born in 1963, was co-founder of Moooi and has been described as “the Lady Gaga of the design world”. Sceptics should just look at his fabulous Snotty Vases (shaped like you might imagine), charred chairs and life-size horse lamp to get the picture. His high-backed Tulip Chairs sell for €7,000-€8,000 new, but a bright orange one, which should be quite at home in a garden auction, is estimated at €2,000-€2,800. Or lie back, 1970s-style, in a Paul Tuttle Chariot Chaise, €1,000-€1,500, just the spot for when you want to settle down. Viewing this weekend, auction April 8th.