The contents of one of the few big houses of Ulster still in family ownership went under the auctioneer’s hammer today after the resolution of a bitter feud among siblings.
A two-day sale of the heirlooms of the Earls of Kilmorey began in the family home, Mourne Park, outside Kilkeel in the foothills of Co Down’s Mountains of Mourne.
An estimated £1m (€1.4m) to £1.5m (€2.1m) is expected to be raised from the sale of fine art, rare books, silver and furniture.
The lots include the leather-bound memoirs of kings and political leaders, many dating from the 19th Century.
Everything has to go, including the kitchen sink – lot 17.
Dealers and collectors from throughout Ireland and the UK, across Europe and the United States converged on the house for the auction.
The Earls of Kilmorey can trace their heritage back to at least Elizabethan times but the fourth earl was the last to live in the house and died in 1961. The house has not been lived in since the early 1980s.
The sixth earl is the former Conservative Northern Ireland minister Sir Richard Needham, who lives in England and has no connection with the property.
The sale was only given the go ahead after a bitter battle between the wings of the family which currently own the property.
It was only resolved last year after Marion Russell, 38, spent seven days in Maghaberry Prison for contempt of court after failing to reveal where she had hidden paintings and furniture worth some £250,000 (€365,000) which she took from the house.
Under a deal worked out she keeps what she took and gets title to the somewhat dilapidated house which she plans to restore and develop.
Her brother, sister and mother will divide the proceeds of the auction.
None of the family were present as their ancestors’ history went under the hammer.
Sarah Kenny, Director of Fine Art at auctioneers Hamilton Osbourne King of Dublin who are handling the sale, said: “There are many wonderful and unusual items. This has been collected over generations.
“We’re selling everything, the furniture, the silver, the paintings, even the contents of the attics and kitchens.”
She said there had been huge interest in the auction and over the weekend some 2,000 people had visited the house to view the lots.
With the auctioneers working their way through some 1,700 lots to be sold she said: “Bidding is going very well, prices being achieved are good.”
The key and more valuable items will be sold tomorrow when the auction moves to a hotel a few miles up the Co Down coast at Newcastle.
The Earls of Kilmorey had a chequered history, repeatedly going bust and recovering and only moved to Mourne House and its then 40,000 acres in the 19th Century.
Debts run up by “black sheep” forced them to leave their main mansion, Shavington in Shropshire.
The family joined the anti home rule lobby and campaigned against Gladstone. The Ulster Volunteer Force was founded in Mourne House.
Nick Nicholson, a specialist consultant to Hamilton Osbourne King said: “This was an incredibly rich family at one time. They kept going bust and marrying well and much of the contents of this house which is up for auction was shipped over from Shavington when they were forced to move.”
He expects the top price at the auction to be achieved by a larger than life-sized marble statue of Ulysses which has an estimate of £20,000 (€29,000) to £30,000 (€43,000) on it.
It was commissioned by the second earl “Black Jack” in 1850 after he abandoned his wife and eloped with his young ward to Rome where he lived to the age of 92.