A MATTER of days before the Christie's and Hamilton Osbourne King sale on 25 November, Lissadell House regained some of its most spectacular furnishings – although it probably cost Christie’s and HOK more than €200,000 (£140,000) in additional revenue.
The problem lots were a chamber organ and seven ormolu gasoliers
thought to have been made by William Collins of The Strand, London,
including a monumental pair from the Gallery due to be sold in two
lots and estimated at €50,000-80,000 each.
Although during preparations for the sale the auctioneers had
gained initial approval from Sligo Council on the grounds that
these 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 his
Domestic Architecture, 1833-34) they were introduced only shortly
afterwards perhaps in 1834. They were also likely commissioned from
William Collins 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 Gore-Booth.
So why then, given this legal wrangling, could Christie's and HOK
happily proceed with the sale of items of furniture so clearly
created as an integral part of an architectural vision? The answer,
says heritage officer Ian Lumley is simple: "In Ireland the law
can't be extended to include moveable objects."