Bidders vie for ascendancy's trappings in 'austerity-free zone'


NOT MANY people arrive by Rolls Royce at Irish country house auctions but last night someone was preparing to leave in one.

A Phantom VI model of the world’s most luxurious car was among the lots sold on day one of the auction at Mount Congreve – an Anglo-Irish mansion in Co Waterford.

The shell-grey saloon sold for €46,000 after very lively bidding. There was applause when a Dublin man in the room made his successful bid – beating off competition from telephone bidders. Afterwards he said he was “an innocent abroad” and the price was “a bargain”.

The car had been imported to Ireland in 1969 by Ambrose Congreve whose wife once reputedly said: “Always have a second Rolls in case one breaks down.” In their heyday, the Congreves had two – and a brace of Bentleys.

The car has 68,000 miles on its pre-metric clock, old Waterford “IK” registration plates and a silver “EIR” plate for travel outside the jurisdiction. The interior is fitted with carpeted foot rests, cream leather upholstery, silver-plated ashtrays and a walnut cocktail cabinet stocked with crystal decanters and port glasses.

The buyer, who did not want his name “in the paper”, has certainly acquired a rarity. Only 374 of the cars were made and the elite international group of Phantom VI owners includes Britain’s Queen Elizabeth who provided one (of two she owns) to transport Kate Middleton to Westminster Abbey last year for her wedding to Prince William.

Mr Congreve, who was predeceased by his wife, died last year aged 104, and the contents of their house near the river Suir are being sold by Irish firm Mealy’s in association with Christie’s – the London auctioneers with a long history of assisting the Irish gentry to declutter.

Auctioneer George Gerard Mealy said public interest was “unprecedented” and thousands had attended the viewing last weekend.

The auction is taking place in a billowing cream marquee, fitted with chandeliers, which one woman described as “an austerity-free zone”. There was standing-room only.

A Waterford businessman, who didn’t wish to be named, surveyed the crowd and observed cryptically: “New money is loud; old money is silent.”

But there was no shortage of either denomination and it was certainly being spent with abandon.

Never has the phrase “relics of ‘oul’ dacency” been more apt – to describe both the lots on offer and at least some of the people in attendance.

The paraphernalia of “ascendancy” life was snapped up by eager bidders in the room and from no fewer than 67 countries.

Every lot sold – many above their estimates. A pair of china cabinets – filled with Staffordshire ceramics – inherited by Mr Congreve from an ancestor, Lady Schreiber, sold for €55,000 “to a UK buyer”. An 18th century “fine cut-glass, 10-light chandelier” sold for €44,000 and a Georgian mirror, “circa 1760”, made €32,000.

The sale concludes today with hundreds more items due to go under the hammer, including a cabinet reputedly once owned by the “let them eat cake” queen, Marie-Antoinette.