“IT is indeed a lovely spot of earth, lonely and secluded; the wood full of game, the lake full of fish, and nature full of poetry.” Luggala, as so eloquently observed by Hermann, Prince von Pückler-Muskau after a visit in 1828, is one of the most beautiful private estates in Ireland.
This white-painted shooting lodge in the gothic style set in
5000 acres of the Wicklow Hills was built between 1787 and 1805 by
members of the Huguenot banking family, the La Touches. However, in
more recent years it has become synonymous with a very Irish
Many of the 2000 people who journeyed to the Wicklow National
Park late last month (and the 300 bidders who braved Mealy's
marquees on a very wet Wicklow day on May 2), were lured not just
by 400 lots of estate furnishings but by Guinness.
Luggala's reputation as what rock singer Bono has called "the
epicentre of Irish culture", dates from 1936 and the wedding of the
4th Lord Oranmore and Browne and Oonagh Guinness.
Lady Oranmore and Browne, as she became, was given the lodge by
her father and chose it as both a family retreat and a welcoming
place for Irish poets, writers and musicians. The eldest of her
three sons continued to foster the artistic ambience.
The Hon Garech Browne is the pony-tailed squire, a champion of
traditional Irish music through his label Claddagh Records and an
all round mixer in bohemian circles. But he is also a pioneering
and knowledgeable collector of Irish paintings, furniture and
silver. This was not so much a contents sale as an excess contents
Many of the works on offer had been acquired over half a century
of collecting, or had belonged to his late mother. Some had been in
store since the old family home in Woodtown, Co. Dublin was sold in
1996. Some has made way for the indoor swimming pool and gothic
library that were part of a recent £5m refurbishment that will
raise the profile of Luggala as a deluxe corporate venue. It all
made for perhaps the best Irish house sale for close to a
Parting with 'the family silver' evidently proved difficult for
Garech Browne. As Mealy's sale approached, he was - as vendors
often do - given to changing his mind. This meant a handful of
withdrawn lots (including two late 18th century Claddagh rings) and
the raising of reserves to prohibitive heights on three items.
Above: among the Irish furniture offered by Mealy's at the
sale of 400 lots from the Luggala estate, was this c.1760 mahogany
side table which sold at €180,000 (£131,390) against an estimate of
One obviously favourite item was Louis Le Brocquy's Head and
Hands of Francis Bacon. Mr Browne knew both men and played an
important role in securing Francis Bacon's studio, for the Hugh
Lane Municipal Gallery in Dublin. Although it appeared in the
catalogue with an estimate of €100,000-150,000, the reserve was
shifted much higher and the auctioneer declared no sale when
bidding stopped at €320,000 (£235,580).
It was not until the final viewing days that Mr Browne agreed a
reserve for the so-called Francis Johnston- Speaker Clock. This
monumental mahogany longcase had stood in the old Irish Parliament
House on College Green, Dublin until its abolition in 1803. It was
later acquired by the architect Francis Johnson, who added both his
coat of arms to a rococo case c.1760 already drowning in hanging
wreaths, trellis and caryatids and a carillon or musical movement
of 15 graduating steel bells and 30 hammers. Bidding reached
€420,000 (£306,570) but it was not enough for a sale.
However, a post-sale agreement is being negotiated at something
close to this sum that will take the overall total for the
dispersal to over €3m (£2.19m).
There remains tremendous interest in Irish country house
furniture, both within the local economy, where people still have
money to spend, and among Irish emigrés in America. Adding to a
roster of impressive sums recently chalked up for Irish mahogany
furniture was the €180,000 (£131,390) bid for a side table from the
1760s estimated at €80,000- 100,000.
Standing 4ft 9in wide x 2ft 3in deep (1.45m x 67cm), it lacked
the riotous apron carving associated with the most developed Gallic
rococo and instead employed simple S-scrolls around a central shell
- a feature repeated to the sides. It was also a very attractive
colour and, like most of the furniture for sale, was in the sort of
unrestored condition that serious collectors and dealers are happy
to pay for.
The names of many of the great Irish 18th century houses are
associated with the furniture at Luggala.
From Lissadell House in Co. Sligo was a pair of George IV
straight-back, upholstered mahogany sofas in newly covered striped
This pair (possibly by leading Dublin cabinetmakers Williams
& Gibton who made much of the furniture at Lissadell) was sold
in the rough by Mealy's in 2002 at their saleroom in Castlecomer.
Here, after refurbishment, it was sold at €24,000 (£17,520).
A humpback, mahogany-framed sofa in the Chippendale style was
part of a vast set of seat furniture commissioned at various dates
for Russborough, also in County Wicklow. The Russborough suite was
dispersed in the early 20th century: part of it acquired for Moore
Abbey and used by the opera singer Count John McCormack
(1884-1945).This sofa (a much-imitated design) was probably made in
the late 19th century. It made €16,000 (£11,680).
The most eye-catching English furniture entry was a Regency
library chair distinctive for a high back of deep reeded upholstery
and two gothic fluted columns forming the front legs and arm
It was once part of the furnishings at Eaton Hall in Cheshire,
the country seat of the first Earl Grosvenor which was reappointed
in the gothic style by the architect William Porden (c.1755-1822)
around the same time he was building the Indo-Sarenic riding school
at Brighton Pavilion.
Porden furniture is rare - and this imposing design standing
close to 5ft (1.52m) high is one of his more successful - but he is
not a major name to conjure with. Nevertheless, the chair, bought
by Mr Browne from a London dealer around 15 years ago but latterly
deemed too large for the house, stormed to €42,000 (£30,660).
Clocks, Cabinets and Chairs
As if they needed to, Mealy's did a fine job promoting the sale
and the traditionally strong Irish private buyers were much in
evidence. An Irish longcase from the first decades of the 18th
century is a rarity at auction. The example at Luggala, in a
burr-maple case with seaweed and feather marquetry, was inscribed
to a square brass dial for John Crampton of Dublin (master
George Mealy thought it was in very fine condition and a private
buyer agreed, bidding €26,000 (£18,980).
Dating from c.1760 was a 6ft 3in (1.91m) high display cabinet in
the manner of William Vile which sold to a private buyer at €90,000
(£65,690), while a 16ft 1in (4.9m) wide, triple-breakfront library
bookcase, one of two supplied by Gillows to the Co. Galway estate
of 2nd Lord Clonbrock in 1801, sold to a hotel owner at €70,000
(£51,090). This was last seen at auction in 1976 when Christie's
conducted a sale at Clonbrock House and sold this mighty example of
estate furniture at £3800.
But the best-selling lot at the Luggala sale was neither Irish
nor English but a superb Anglo-Indian ivory-inlaid padouk cabinet
on stand. At 5ft 6in high x 3ft wide (1.68m x 93cm) it stands among
the more ambitious creations made under the direction of the Dutch
and English Companies at Vizigapatam on the Coromandel Coast during
the second half of the 18th century.
The Hon. Garach Browne's love of Indian culture is well-known
(he is married to Princess Harshad Purna Devi of Morvi in India
where he spends part of each year).
But this was evidently a family piece. It had come through the
line of Major General Sir Eyre Coote of Ash Hill, Co. Limerick, a
fiery soldier whose campaigns against the French in India financed
an estate in Hampshire and a place in the House of Commons. Its
commercial fortunes were hindered by later glazing to the doors (no
doubt a pair of splendid panels had been removed and sold as works
of art long ago).
Nevertheless, underbid by the London trade, it sold privately at
€200,000 (£145,990) - double the top estimate.
Among the later furniture in the sale was a pair of carved oak
armorial hall chairs - typically Victorian and typically Irish
creations profusely carved with grotesques, C-scrolls, leafage and
the central figure of a leaping greyhound for the More O'Ferrall
They were possibly made for Sir Richard More O'Ferrall
(1797-1880) who, among other things, was Lord of the Treasury,
First Secretary of the Admiralty and the first civilian Governor of
Malta. The estimate of €3000-5000 was a little on the generous side
for such a good quality duo but the winning bid of €16,000
(£11,680) tendered by a private buyer must be close to retail.
The More O'Ferrall crest, doubtless from an earlier generation,
was seen on a 12.5in (32cm) fiddle pattern gravy skimming spoon
made by Dublin's Richard Sawyer in 1812. It's not a common form and
sold at €2400 (£1750).
Garech Browne has an eye for Irish silver. This was not a large
offering but it was much admired - many items purchased a
generation or more ago from well-known dealers and in much better
condition than country house life often allows.
It is rare to find a set of four Dublin wine coasters and the
quartet here made by William Nolan in 1824 were sophisticated
examples in the rococo taste, with galleries populated by fruiting
vines, birds and hunting hounds divided by cartouches engraved with
the crest of Conolly of Castletown. A clearance sale was held at
the Palladian grandeur of Castletown in Co. Kildare in 1966 when
the coasters were likely purchased.
At the Luggala sale they brought a strong, above-estimate
€37,000 (£27,000) from a private buyer.
A pair of Dublin bottle holders by Robert Smith, 1844 were
crested for Vernon of Clontarf Castle in suburban Dublin. Weighing
a total of 59oz, they were profusely chased and pierced with
scrolling vines and applied with a leaf and floral crest edge and
conforming rococo base. They sold privately at €28,000 (£20,440)
against an estimate of €12,000-18,000.
A real Victorian rarity was a silver post horn by John Smyth,
Dublin, 1867. It carried the presentation inscription: Daniel
McDevitt in memory of his exertions in establishing a Mail-Car
between Glenties and Stranorlar from the Marquess of Conyngham,
November 4, 1867. It looked very much something for an
institution and it went to the National Museum in Dublin at €24,000
Dublin silver dealers J.W. Weldon bought a very fine and
historically interesting 5oz silver gilt freedom box by Wests at an
upper-estimate €20,000 (£14,600). Superbly chased in relief with
the arms of Drogheda to the front and engraved with the arms of
Lieutenant General Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole to the reverse, it was
inscribed: The Freedom of the Ancient Corporation of Drogheda
and this Box were unanimously voted to Lieut. General Sir Galbraith
Lowry Cole G.C.B., a gallant associate of The Illustrious
Wellington. A Sincere Tribute of Respect Admiration, Drogheda 7th
Another piece of desirable Irish silver was a bright-cut ladle
for salad oil carrying the rare mark for Limerick smith Maurice
Fitzgerald, 1784, It measured just 4in (10cm) long but took a
remarkable €2800 (£1600).
The choice English silver entries were two attractively pitched,
London-made late Victorian novelties.
Sold at a ten-times estimate €3600 (£2055) was a 2.75in (7cm)
vesta stand in the form of a chimpanzee holding a barrel, while
€5000 (£3650) was bid against similar expectations for a 21/2in x
31/2in (6.5cm x 9cm) mustard pot modelled as a monkey pushing a
coopered circular barrel. Both were bought by the London trade.
Eighteenth century rosary beads (many of them were made in Galway)
are a rare sight at auction and much collected in Catholic
There were two strings here: each with a silver crucifix with
attached I.N.R.I., and original Corpus Christi, one with
silver paters and hardwood aves, the other with mother-of-pearl
aves. They sold at €3600 (£2630) and €3000 £2190) respectively.
Exchange rate £1 =€1.37
20% buyer's premium inc VAT