Michael Collins’ wedding gift to sister could be yours

A set of chairs that Michael Collins gave to one of his sisters as a wedding gift is up for grabs in a Cork auction tomorrow.

The revolutionary is said to have given the six arts and crafts-design chairs to one of his sisters, although his great-grandnephew is not certain which one.

Michael Powell’s great-grandmother, Mary Collins Powell, was a sister of Collins, and married Clare-born Patrick Powell in Edinburgh in 1902, when her youngest brother was 11.

Michael is selling them as part of a clear-out of his auctioneering offices on the city’s Grand Parade — where his solicitor grandfather once had Collins’ Civil War opponent Tom Barry as a client.

The six dining chairs have an embossed design on the leather seats and backs, and are estimated to be worth €300 to €500 by Hugh McPhillips of Marshs auctioneers. He will put them under the hammer in an antiques sale beginning at 12pm on Saturday.

Michael said the family story is that they were definitely a wedding gift from Collins to a sister.

“They were previously in an aunt’s house in Douglas and we came across them again when I was going through things here in the offices with my dad,” he said.

These offices were previously the offices of Michael Powell Solicitors, occupied 80 years ago by the firm started by his grandfather. That Michael Powell was son of Patrick and Mary Collins Powell, having qualified as a solicitor.

He was succeeded in his subsequent role as city sheriff by his son Patrick, whose brother, Michael C, is a partner in the present firm of Michael Powell Solicitors.

The company vacated the Grand Parade premises for nearby Lapps Quay in 2005, when Michael C’s auctioneering son, also Michael, took over the premises.

While the chairs are unlikely to have been bought by a young Collins for the wedding of the seller’s great-grandmother, he was apparently generous to her.

When he was killed at Béal na Bláth in August 1922, 40-year-old Mary Collins-Powell was a widow with eight children. Her husband, Patrick, a customs surveyor, had died in October 1919.

“From the time of her husband’s death, [Collins] had been helping her with gifts in cash and in kind,” a social welfare officer wrote in 1954.

“Deceased had promised her that he would afford her considerable help in maintaining herself and her children and in educating the latter.”

Collins’ other sister, Katherine, or Katie, married Joseph Sheridan in Co Mayo. By that time, in January 1914, Michael was working in London, two years before returning for the Easter Rising.

Katie Sheridan worked for more than 40 years as a school teacher, and died in Dublin in 1964. The presence of the chairs in Cork could be explained by the fact that she spent some of her retirement living in Cork with their older sister, Hannie Collins.

Collins lived with Hannie in London before 1916, and stayed with her during the 1921 talks there that led to the Anglo-Irish Treaty. She lived in Monkstown, Co Cork, from around 1940 until shortly before her death in 1971.

Katie is said to have played an active part in supporting the independence movement with Cumann na mBan in Co Mayo, her home being raided often by Crown Forces during the War of Independence.

She told a story about a train journey to Dublin, where she was due to meet her brother. He was probably then the most wanted man in the British empire, whose intelligence on her movements meant she was being watched by those hoping to capture ‘the Big Fella’.

Her saving grace was that a friend offered her their fur coat when they saw how cold she was on the train, meaning the military did not find her during their search for a woman in a different coat when the train arrived in Dublin. She was unaware sthat he was the subject of the search, but she took ill with shock when she spotted her brother amid so many soldiers on the platform outside.

Unrecognised, Collins daringly pointed her out to a military officer as she sat minutes later on a platform seat, still in shock. He suggested that the ‘poor lady’ be brought immediately to a local hospital, and the officer promptly dispatched two soldiers to see her to a taxi, but not before complimenting the stranger on his consideration of the seemingly unknown woman.

This article was edited to include the following information:
 
Makers' labels for "James Shoolbred & Co, Tottenham House, London", confirm the origin of these chairs. Michael Collins lived in London when his sister Katie got married to Joseph Sheidan in 1914. The Shoolbred department store in Tottenham Court Road made and sold its own furniture from the 1860s until its demise in 1931.
 
It has also been confirmed that the chairs had been in the home of Katie Sheridan's and Michael Collins's sister Hannie Collins in Monkstown, Co Cork - where Katie Sheridan lived for some time after her retirement - for a number of years before they were in the Powell offices in Cork city.


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