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."