Royal fruit bowl no trifling matter in Westmeath family dispute

Wedgwood bowl commissioned by Queen Victoria centre-piece in case over estate valuation

A Co Westmeath man has given a court undertaking not to dissipate any funds connected with the estate of his late mother, said to include a Wedgwood fruit bowl, valued about €100,000 which was part of a dinner service specially commissioned by Queen Victoria.

Correspondence, including from London fine art auctioneers Sotheby's, suggested Michael Carroll had sold the bowl back to the family of the Duke of Devonshire for Stg £100,000, the High Court heard last week.

Michael Carroll's family allege the bowl, previously used by the British royal family at Balmoral before it later passed to the family of the Duke of Devonshire, is part of the estate of their late mother Mary Elsie Carroll after she bought it in England in the post-war years.

At the High Court today, John Kerr BL, for Michael Carroll, said his client was prepared to give undertakings not to dissipate any funds connected with the estate of his late mother.


On foot of those undertakings, John Hayden BL, for Marie Ryan, a sister of Mr Carroll and executrix of their late mother's estate, said the matter could be adjourned on consent to October.

The family of the deceased woman had brought an application for orders restraining dissipation by Michael Carroll of any proceeds of sale of the bowl. In a text to his sister Marie Ryan, 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 testate 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, Mr Hayden told the court last week when he got leave from Mr Justice Paul Gilligan to serve short notice of proceedings by Ms Ryan for injunctions against her brother, who lived at Sarsfield Square for a time and also has an address in Dublin.

She wants injunctions restraining him dissipating any proceeds of sale of the bowl or some €30,000 allegedly taken from a joint account in an Irish bank.

When the matter returned to court today, the judge was told there was consent it could be adjourned on foot of undertakings from Mr Carroll, who was in court. The judge noted the undertakings and adjourned the matter to October.

In documents in the case, it was stated, 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.

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 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 for it. Correspondence from Permanent TSB indicated a sum of Stg £100,000 was received from Sotheby's.

Last week, Mr Hayden told the judge the bowl was part of a dinner service commissioned by Queen Victoria when staying at Balmoral Castle.

When the British royal family ceased to visit Balmoral as frequently as previously, the service passed to the family of the Duke of Devonshire at Longleith House, Mr Hayden 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 for the bowl rather than have it sold at auction, the court heard.

It appeared the UK Inland Revenue also 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