THE news earlier this year that Lissadell House and its 400-acre estate in Co. Sligo was on the market for the first time since its completion in the 1830s led to immediate calls to save the country seat of the Gore-Booth family for the Irish people.
On an art-historical level, the dilapidated Grecian-style
mansion designed for Sir Robert Gore-Booth by the fashionable
English architect Francis Goodwin (1784-1835) is a unique conceit,
retaining so much of its original decor. On an emotional level,
this is a house where Yeats stayed and wrote, and the childhood
home of Sinn Fein heroine Constance Gore-Booth and her poet sister
A report was commissioned by the Irish Government and its
verdict suggested the overall cost of purchasing Lissadell and
refurbishing it as a major visitor attraction would be in the
region of €28m (£19.5m).
The idea of a State purchase of house and contents close to the
asking price of €4.5m (£3.15m) was rejected and, shortly
afterwards, the estate was sold privately to barristers Edward
Walsh and his wife Constance Cassidy for around €3.5m (£2.5m).
Dublin-based auctioneers Hamilton Osbourne King Fine
Art were asked to prepare a catalogue as joint
agents for the sale.
The auctioneers found themselves knee-deep in a controversy
surrounding the sale of a Grade I listed property and so many of
its original furnishings, but here was the opportunity to sell
elements from a uniquely preserved interior.
Vendor Sir Josslynn Gore-Booth had lived comfortably in the
property within a sophisticated flat but had left the rest of the
house much as it was in the second quarter of the 19th century.
That included a remarkable array of bespoke William IV period
mahogany and rosewood furniture by leading Dublin cabinetmakers
Williams & Gibton and seven spectacular ormolu gasoliers from
the first country house in Ireland to be lit by gas that were
quickly to bring all parties up-to-date with recent guidelines laid
out by the Republic's Department of the Environment.
Above: sold privately before the sale, one of two
spectacular London-made ormolu gasoliers estimated at
Although during preparations for the sale on November 25 the
auctioneers had gained initial approval from Sligo Council on the
grounds that the light fittings were not part of the architect's
original vision for the property, An Taisce, the Irish National
Trust, challenged their sale under new legislation in Ireland
regarding fixtures and fittings of listed buildings.
Using guidelines laid out by the Department of the Environment
in 2001, An Taisce argued that the gasoliers were of "technical
importance", given Lissadell's status as the first country house in
Ireland to have an independent gas supply piped into the property
during the construction of the building in the early 1830s.
While the spectacular lights were not part of the building upon
its completion in 1833 (none is present in Francis Goodwin's
View of the Gallery at Lissadell,published as the frontispiece
to hisDomestic Architecture, 1833-34) they were introduced
only shortly afterwards perhaps in 1834. They were also likely
commissioned from William Collins of The Strand specifically for
the property and now, argued An Taisce, make a significant
contribution to the architectural character of the building.
An Taisce, who in August had put together a proposal to acquire
and manage Lissadell for the people of Ireland, also opposed the
sale of a mahogany and parcel gilt chamber organ by Hull of Dublin
on the grounds that its bellows system ran down to the basement
making it an integral part of the fabric of the building.
It had the making of an interesting case (the first to test the
new laws in court) but the legal action was dropped as the matter
reached a happy conclusion. The light fittings and the organ will
remain in Lissadell after an eleventh-hour deal was struck between
the new owners of the property and the vendor Sir Josslynn
But if, as it turned out, the light fittings couldn't be offered
on the market, then the furniture could. In Ireland at least, the
law can't be extended to include moveable objects.
Prior to this sale, as the auctioneers announced proudly in the
catalogue, Lissadell remained the only house in Ireland still to
retain its original Williams & Gibton furniture and much of it
was made to harmonise with Goodwin's architectural vision.
Pieces included, for example, a handsome pair of mahogany
bookcases, each of inverted breakfront form with a pair of brass
floral trellis doors and a heavy cornice flanked by two Egyptian
pillars with long doors applied with berried laurel wreaths.
Originally conceived to complement similar decoration with the
chimneypiece and ceiling of the ante room, they were unfortunately
made to room measurements taken prior to the completion of the
plasterwork. Accordingly this was bespoke furniture that didn't
Nevertheless, they have been in the drawing room since the 1830s
and they will remain there, having been bought by the new owners of
the property who bid €45,000 (£31,470) for them.
Above: a detail of the Williams & Gibton stamp that
appeared on so many pieces at Lissadell.
Much to the satisfaction of those who had fought hard to prevent
this sale and the sale of the house, Edward Walsh and Constance
Cassidy (who had been rebuffed by Gore-Booth when they had put
€750,000 (£525,000) on the table for the contents) bid prominently
in the room to win most of the items with a key relationship with
the history and the architecture of the house.
The one exception was a double portrait of Constance and Eva
Gore-Booth by Sarah Henrietta Purser. This left the house at
€200,000 (£139,860), the top bid of the sale.
The new owners did buy, at €19,000 (£13,300), a rosewood writing
table that shared the same palm flower decoration to its
lyre-scrolled pillars as designed by Goodwin for the chimneypieces
and ceiling plasterwork of Lissadell's banqueting and drawing
rooms. Its black-figured top, with a pair of mahogany and
cedar-lined drawers stamped Williams & Gibton 20359,
was also in the Grecian style, stepped and curved with elliptical
Sold at €16,000 (£11,890) was a diminutive rosewood two-shelf
bookstand with ring-turned supports and spindles terminating in
brass caps and casters and a top with a lid revealing an oval well,
functioning as a jardinière.
Featuring similar ring turning to the arm supports and tapering
legs, a pair of c.1840-50 open armchairs, each with a panelled
frame and button-backed red leather and oil cloth upholstery, sold
at €18,000 (£12,600) - more than double a modest estimate. With the
occasional exception, these pieces survived in the sort of crusty
unpolished state that we all love to find.
The hall was decorated with a set of chairs based on a design in
George Smith's The Cabinet- Maker and Upholsterer's Guide,
1826,their backs designed in the manner of Roman pelta shields
painted with the Gore-Booth crests. There was a pair here (one with
some losses to the seat) which sold at €10,000 (£7000), three times
an estimate that, again, put little pressure on the market.
If these were very much à la mode for c.1835, more unusual were
two claret cotton-upholstered rosewood stools directly inspired by
a pattern published in T. King's The Cabinet Makers' Sketch
Book (1835) where they are described respectively as of
"Elizabethan and Louis XIV style". The Elizabethan-inspired stool,
of square hourglass form on bun feet, sold at €3000 (£2100) while
the Louis XIV-style stool of circular hourglass form made €3800
(£2650) against the same expectations.
A third stool, with a walnut and parcel gilt X-frame in the
Grecian style, clearly owed a debt to Gillows who pictured a
similar dressing stool in the Estimate Sketch Book
of 1827. It sold at €1800 (£1260).
However, despite these appreciative sums for the sometimes
maligned William IV style, it was a slightly earlier Regency style
dining table that, outside the pictures, commanded the top sum.
Although attributed to Williams & Gibton, this three pedestal
table, with a heavy reeded rounded rectangular top and typical
downswept reeded legs, dated stylistically from the 1820s and was
therefore probably bought over from the Gore-Booth family's
earlier, c.1750, house on the Lissadell estate.
The table had some condition issues, including a repair to one
end section that had been reduced in size by 6in (15cm) but it sold
at €65,000 (£45,500), the major purchase of the day for the Irish
Another of the survivors from the earlier house - and one of the
few pieces of furniture in this house not by or attributed to
Williams & Gibton - was a George IV giltwood and ebonised
convex mirror with an eagle and scrolling acanthus surmount, 3ft
4in (1.01m) diameter, carrying the label to the reverse for Dublin
carver, gilder and looking-glass specialist Richard Jackson of No.
5 Essex Bridge. It had likely lost some similar carving to the base
but sold at €16,000 (£11,200).
Although the hanging light fittings were withdrawn from sale
after legal action and a private sale, two of the free-standing
light fittings were sold.
Sold at €37,000 (£25,900) was a pair of bronze three-light
torchère gasoliers, 8ft 5in (2.31m) high, designed in the antique
style with colza-oil lamps of Grecian design supported by fluted
foliate columns and standing on three chimerical-headed lion paw
Related bronze candelabra with lion monopodia tripods were
popularised by bronze founders such as Vulliamy - and a similar
pair of torchères features in Francis Goodwin's View of the
Gallery at Lissadell, published as the frontispiece to his
Domestic Architecture, 1833-34 - but Christie's
suggested this duo might be souvenirs of the Grand Tour and made by
a Neopolitan founder such as Chiurazzi.
A pair of Napoleon III bronze torchère gasolier figures - one of
a crusader with the tunic of St. George, the other a Saracen in
chain mail - carried the inscription Alphonse Lerolle
1853, for the well-known Parisian fondeur. Standing 5ft 5in
(1.65m) high (not including the petal-shaped cut and frosted glass
shades) the torchères doubled the mid-estimate to sell at €26,000
In all, there were an impressive 4000 people who attended the
view for this sale with over 1500 registered bidders contributing
to the near sell-out. According to the auctioneers 95 per cent of
the contents were sold to Irish buyers, including some who plan to
donate their purchases back to a much loved house.
Buyer's Premium: 19.5 per cent (exclusive of 21 per cent
Exchange rate: £1 = €1.43