First-ever GAA All-Ireland medal is the star attraction at Fonsie Mealy’s collectors’ sale

‘Excessively rare’ 9ct gold medal was issued to commemorate the first Senior Football Championship in 1887

Interesting and eclectic are fitting words to describe Fonsie Mealy’s Rare Book, Literature & Collectors’ sale, which will take place this Tuesday and Wednesday at the Talbot Hotel in Stillorgan in a live online auction.

The unique collection includes volumes on astronomy and fishing, photographs of the moon and finely coloured plates of exotic birds, animals and plants, along with limited and first editions of rare Irish books and Irish republican medals, letters and papers. The catalogue of more than 1,000 lots makes for most interesting bedtime reading.

Described as “excessively rare”, and listed with a €15,000-€20,000 estimate, is a 9ct gold medal issued to commemorate the first-ever GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, held in 1887. Hallmarked and with the name of the retailer, A Duffner of Tipperary, it was won by Jeremiah Kennedy of Commercials of Limerick, who beat Young Irelands of Louth with a score of 1-4 to 0-3, in a game that was played on a field in Clonskeagh known as “the Big Bank” on April 28th, 1888.

Though the medal was to commemorate the first All-Ireland championship, the winning team were not photographed at the time, nor did they receive any trophy or medal until 1910, when many were deceased or had emigrated.


“The first 25 years of the GAA were a bit all over the place,” explains George Fonsie Mealy, who curated the sale. “Then, they had to contend with the first World War, mass emigration and Bloody Sunday, which makes this particular medal extremely rare.”

Malachi O’Brien – known as the Little Wonder, a renowned player on the Limerick Commercials side who beat Louth’s Young Irelands – was reportedly man of the match and his medal (one of three known to exist, according to Mealy) was sold to the Limerick Leader through Sotheby’s in 2005 for €35,500 (including fees). It equated to three times its guide price at the time, so the medal in this sale may reach its higher estimate.

Adding to the rarity of GAA memorabilia is the Mick Darcy Tipperary and Dublin GAA medal collection. “Mick Darcy won back-to-back titles for two different counties [Tipperary and Dublin, on account of his attendance at UCD, where he was a trainer and selector for many years], which makes them highly collectable,” says Mealy (€7,000-€9,000).

Another important lot is John Gould: The Birds of Great Britain in five volumes, which was published by the author and is a first edition, with more than 300 hand-coloured plates. It comes from the Birr Castle estate collection. Gould was a prolific artist of birds, so much so he was given the moniker the Bird Man or the Audubon of Australia, and created this book over a period of 11 years (€9,000-€15,000). Other collectibles from the Birr Castle estate include a unique collection of four oversized photographs of Lord Rosse and his “Leviathan of Parsonstown” telescope, which was the largest telescope in the world from 1845 until 1917 (€1,000-€1,500).

Taking place on Saturday May 27th is Lynes & Lynes’ online sale of Rushbrooke, home of the late Craig and Mary McKechnie. Included are a selection of 19th-century lithographs by David Roberts of views of Egypt and the Holy Land (€100-€300 per lot). A set of eight 11-bar Cork dining chairs (€2,500-€3,500) and a 19th-century server by Maple & Co, with an interesting monogram (€600-€1,000) feature, as do several pieces of Cork furniture to include side tables and chests of drawers; books on Cork interest together with a collection of yachting and gardening books.

If you are in search of a rather large sideboard, lot 110, from 1820, extends to 12ft in length. Estimated at €1,000-€1,500, it resided at Midleton College, but would have come from one of the great houses of east Cork. Of interest is an old chemist shop display cabinet (€200-€300), as is a large carved oak pulpit by Thomas Manning of Bagenalstown (€500-€800).

Ending this Monday is Dolan’s art sale, which has some very rare Midleton Whiskeys, including lot 2, which is a very collectable 1986 Midleton Very Rare listed at €6,000-€8,000. Curator of the sale Niall Dolan says he sees “continued strong interest from collectors all around the world as far afield as Sydney and San Francisco”.

This coming Tuesday, May 30th, John Weldon of Temple Bar will hold its monthly jewellery and silverware auction. With more than 400 lots of jewels, silver, coins and collectables, highlights include a really lovely three-stone diamond ring set in 18ct gold. With a total estimated weight of diamonds between 4.90 and 5.40 carats, it’s a super piece and estimated at €16,000-€19,000. An Appleby 1.34ct three-stone diamond ring (with a valuation cert at €8,495) is seeking €2,000-€3,000, and a fine diamond solitaire in platinum (with a valuation cert at €13,500 from 2003) is listed at €2,500-€3,500.;;;

Elizabeth Birdthistle

Elizabeth Birdthistle

Elizabeth Birdthistle, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about property, fine arts, antiques and collectables