Altar wine and Music for Babies CD up for grabs at seminary auction

Former seminary in Drumcondra selling contents in aid of Ukrainian refugees

The three-quarters full bottle of altar wine, alongside an unopened six pack of traditional beeswax altar candles, in the oratory sacristy gave an impression of a seminary hastily abandoned.

Priest's vestments hanging on a rail, lent to that view. But Holy Cross Clonliffe in Dublin's Drumcondra ceased to operate as a seminary in 1999 when its last four students left.

Founded in 1854, it trained almost 3,000 priests primarily for Dublin’s Catholic archdiocese, with 1,250 seminarians coming from the city or county and the majority 1,469 from outside.

Former president Éamonn de Valera taught maths there in 1905 and in 1917 Countess Markievicz was baptised Catholic at Clonliffe College. Her husband, Casimir Dunin Markievicz, was from Ukraine. He attended school in Kherson and studied law at the university in Kyiv.


Holy Cross Clonliffe was founded by Ireland's first Cardinal and then Archbishop of Dublin Paul Cullen. His statue, installed in 1881, stands opposite an even more imposing one of Pope Pius IX – believed to be the only statue of that pope in Ireland – at the College entrance, both formidable sentries as they had been in the Church universal of their day.

The statues were also for auction on Tuesday to help raise funds to help accommodate up to 620 Ukrainian refugees at the former seminary.

Other items on offer included up to 250 John Hogg chairs. Made in Navan, they lined both sides of seemingly endless corridors on on two levels, each with those late Victorian red brick arches and shining parquet floors interrupted at intervals by rugs and carpets.

All were dominated by silence, various artefacts, and religious pictures. Rooms off were full to capacity with tables of finest wood, accompanying chairs, and some trivial detritus.

Among the latter was a mix of hundreds of CDs including Plato's The Republic,William Jefferson Clinton, Great Speeches, The Mozart Effect – Music for Babies, Gilbert and Sullivan, The Early Records. A thurible, cast on its side (lot 420A) beside panels of stained glass, caught the sunlight.

Niall Mullen, of Niall Mullen Antigues on Dublin's Francis St, has been organising the 650 items for auction at Clonliffe this past 15 months. He is doing so on behalf of Victor Mee Auctions, Cloverhill in Cavan, and the date was set for May 10th as US property group Hines take possession of the building on May 19th. Both Hines and the Archdiocese however have agreed Ukrainians refugees can stay there "as long as it takes", he said.

He organised similar Dublin auctions at the Central Bank on Dame St, Cafe En Seine on Dawson St, and Howl at the Moon on Mount St Lwr. "Those John Hogg chairs have lasted 50 years. They're on offer for €10 each and will last another 40 years. They're made of teak," he said.

Some had replaced antiques from the 17th and 18th centuries, which were packed away in basements. They were replaced “with collapsible tables. The antiques will be still here in 150 years times, such is their quality, while what they replaced them with is already gone,” he said.

In the vast building, where he once got lost himself and had to ring someone for help to get out, he said there were also pine rooms “which, if not sold, will be bulldozed.” While high walls of wooden shelving from the library had attracted the attention of a well-known publican as backing for a bar.

One picture of the many religious ones at Clonliffe which attracted his own attention is of St Oliver Plunkett, who was born in his hometown of Oldcastle Co Meath where people, including his family, had been very involved when it came to the canonisation in 1975 of the former Catholic Primate of All Ireland.

St Oliver was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn in London in 1681, the last Catholic martyr to be executed in England.

People were not inclined to believe the picture was of Oliver Plunkett because it presented such a different image to the conventional, long-haired one, “but it is identified on the back of the painting and on the front, across the top, it reads ‘Oliverius Plunkett’,” he pointed out.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times