Queen’s £100,000 fruit bowl ‘last seen’ in Athlone fridge

Sale of Wedgwood bowl at centre of family dispute

A valuable Wedgwood bowl which was part of a dinner service specially commissioned by Queen Victoria is at the centre of a High Court dispute.

The fruit bowl, valued at least Stg £80,000 (€113,160), was used exclusively by the British royal family at Balmoral, and later by the family of the Duke of Devonshire, before it came to the midlands home of an Irish family, the court heard.

Recently discovered correspondence suggests that the bowl, purchased in England in the post-war years by the late Mary Elsie Carroll, had been sold back by the deceased’s son Michael to the family of the Duke of Devonshire, for Stg £100,000 (€141,400), the court heard.

The family of the deceased woman are seeking court orders restraining dissipation by Michael Carroll of any proceeds of sale of the bowl.


In a text to his sister Marie, Mr Carroll claimed he last saw the bowl, containing some trifle, in the fridge of the family home at Sarsfield Square, Athlone, Co Westmeath, it was stated in court documents.

Marie Elsie Carroll died in 2011 and, in her will, left her home, valued some €53,000, to her daughter and six sons. The residue of the estate was also divided between the siblings. The bowl is part of the estate and is valued at more than the entire estate, John Hayden BL, for Marie Ryan, daughter of Ms Carroll and executrix of her will, said.

When working in England in the post-war years, Mary Elsie Carroll bought the bowl at a local market in the Bury St Edmunds area, which is close to Longleith House, home of the Duke of Devonshire, it was stated in documents. After Ms Carroll returned to Ireland, the bowl was regularly used for salads at her home without any awareness of its value.

In court documents, it was stated Ms Ryan had found letters under the mattress of a bed used by her brother Michael in the family home at Sarsfield Square after Michael had left the house. These included correspondence from Sotheby’s indicating the family of the Duke of Devonshire did not wish the bowl to be sold at auction and would pay some Stg £100,000 (€141,400) for it.

Correspondence from Permanent TSB indicated a sum of Stg £100,000 (€141,400)was received from Sotheby's.

Ms Ryan, as executrix of her mother’s will, has brought proceedings seeking orders against Michael, including restraining dissipation of proceeds of any sale of the bowl or of some €30,000 funds alleged to have been removed from a joint account held in an Irish bank.

Mr Justice Gilligan granted an ex parte application by Mr Hayden, with Christina Burke BL, for Ms Carroll, to serve short notice of the application for injunctions against her brother, who had lived at Sarsfield Square for a time, and also has an address in Dublin. The judge returned the matter to Wednesday next.

Counsel said the application arose because Michael Carroll had withdrawn some €30,000 from a joint account and also taken the bowl. His side believed the bowl had been sold to its original owners, the family of the Duke of Devonshire.

The bowl was part of a dinner service commissioned by Queen Victoria when staying at Balmoral Castle, counsel said. When the British royal family ceased to visit Balmoral as frequently as previously, the service was passed on to the family of the Duke of Devonshire at Longleith House, counsel said. Individual parts of the service later appeared to have been sold.

In the correspondence from Sotheby’s, it appeared the family of the Duke of Devonshire said they would pay Stg £100,000 (€141,400) for the bowl rather than have it sold at auction, the court heard.

It appeared the UK Inland Revenue had issued a notice of waiver removing any tax liability concerning the sale of the bowl, Mr Hayden added.

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan

Mary Carolan is the Legal Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times