Volunteer medals go on sale in New York auction

Large Rising collection to be auctioned including medals awarded to Seán T O’Kelly

One of the largest Easter Rising collections to be put up for sale in decades will be auctioned later this month in New York, including medals awarded to scores of Volunteers, including former president of Ireland, Seán T O'Kelly.

Describing the so-called "Liberty Collection" as "exciting and unique", leading medals auctioneer Spink said it will include medals, historical documents and uniforms from both sides of the 1916 conflict.

The owner of the historically significant collection has not been identified, but is believed to be a a private US-based individual who has put it together over many years.

Many of the items will interest museums, including the National Museum of Ireland, and private collectors in Ireland and throughout the diaspora. The State will come under pressure to buy some of them.


One of the highlights will be the medals awarded to Thomas O'Reilly, Dublin Brigade, Irish Volunteers, who was mortally wounded at the GPO: "This stunning example is estimated to sell for $15,000-$20,000," said Spink.

Cairo Gang

The collection includes a first World War Distinguished Service Order medal granted to one of “The Cairo Gang”, Lieut-Col

Henry Garwood

of the Royal Garrison Artillery, who escaped assassination at the hands of

Michael Collins

on Bloody Sunday, it is believed, by having spent the night in a brothel.

The memorabilia linked to Seán T O’Kelly, which is expected to sell for $20,000 approximately, includes his Rising service medal, a War of Independence medal and a presidential car pennant which displays a gold harp on a St Patrick’s blue field.

In addition, it includes a gold medal given during his time as vice-president of the High Council and minister for local government and public health in 1935, when he turned the first sod at Villa Park in Cabra, Dublin, at the invitation of the local council for the Tram and Bus Workers.

O’Kelly died in November 1966, and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. Spink said that “after his death, a significant portion of his personal belongings, including his Irish medals, were sold by public auction”.

It is not known who bought the medals at the time.

Medals to mark the involvement of people in the Rising and the War of Independence were granted by the Fianna Fáil government headed by Éamon de Valera in 1941 to veterans and the next-of-kin of those who had died.

The collection includes seven medals awarded to Maj Gen William Lowe, 7th Dragoon Guards, who assumed command of the British army in Dublin after the Rising had erupted and later accepted the unconditional surrender of Patrick Pearse.

Cumann na mBan Other highlights in the auction include a 1916 medal awarded to Bridget Connolly, Cumann na mBan, who also served in the GPO; and, a Royal Irish Constabulary Badge of Merit awarded to Constable John Davis "For Gallantry During the Defence of the RIC Barracks at Kilmallock When it Came Under Sustained Fenian Attack" .

Among the more unusual lots is a silver and enamel badge of the "Order of St John of Jerusalem" given to "Lady Superintendent Charlotte Bird, Dundrum Nursing Division, St John Ambulance Brigade, Commandant of the Harcourt Street Nursing Hospital in Dublin, Set Up to Care For the Wounded During the 1916 Easter Rising".

Parchment seal

The “historically important warrant” appointing Sir

John French

as lord lieutenant of Ireland, on a parchment with seal issued at Windsor Castle on May 7th 1918, is among the documents in the auction.

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons

Michael Parsons is a contributor to The Irish Times writing about fine art and antiques